Friday, September 4, 2015

Challenge Penticton, 2015

This year was the year of BIG fires in NE Washington and British Columbia so the first step was deciding how to get to Penticton. Our normal route through the Okanogan Valley was an unknown due to the massive fires and the potential for road closures, not to mention smoke. In the end we chose to use the Canada Hwy 3 route. Smoke was minimal until we reached the Manning Lodge area in Manning Park and pretty thick from there on.

Once in Penticton there was a smoke layer that hung right down on the lake. Those familiar with the swim course will remember that leg 1 goes across the lake towards Sand Mesa. This view was quite obscured by smoke as was the view towards Naramata. This was the case for the first couple of days in Penticton. Then we got some wind and rain and the air cleared up.

The air also got cold! Normally temperatures are 80s and 90s but dropped into the 60s and 70s. Nice for racing, but not what I expected.

It was a small field again, only about 1200 competitors across the 2 races (full and half courses, plus relays).

There were about 200 athletes in the full distance race and we started the swim in a single wave at 6:30 AM. The half distance racers started a half hour later and we all came together for the last few 100 meters of the swim. This swim was the first time that I've had someone draft off me. I'm such a lame swimmer that this was a weird experience. Through about the 2/3 point I could feel the delicate touch of fingers on my toes, then the person either dropped away or surged ahead.

My swim was even better than I had planned at 1:12, maybe a personal best!

Then it was off on the bike and into the wind. Oh, the wind! The wind that cleared the smoke was now directly in our face. All the way to Osoyoos (~40 miles) into the wind. Places where I should be going 25MPH I was working to go 15.

And lonely. We shared the road with the half athletes to just before Oliver where they turned off for the return to Penticton. I watched riders turn right, turn right, turn right until only myself and another rider continued on. We were all alone at that point. After a time I passed him and saw a single rider maybe a half mile ahead of me. That's the way it was all the way to Osoyoos. And the only time we got relief from the wind was a big hill just a few miles before Osoyoos which was tall enough to provide some shelter.

As we started up Richter Pass I could see a few more riders aread of me and folks got more bunched up as we continued to climb. I stopped at the Richter summit to scatter some ashes of a good Ironman friend who died this summer. A very kind volunteer took pictures of me and emailed them to me later so I now have a photo record to share.

After the windy ride to Osoyoos the headwinds into Keremeos were a piece of cake. We had a course change from prior years so went all the way into Keremeos then a very short out and back. We made this up later, after Yellow Lake.

Which was the next destination and aid station. On the climb to Yellow Lake I encountered a few miles of rain and got quite soaked. Others I talked with actually got hit with hail hard enough to cause bruising! Then something brand new: onto a secondary road with a couple of short, steep climbing pitches and then a couple of long, cold descents on very gnarly roads. I got cold enough that I stopped and put on arm warmers. After the gnarly road, out onto highway 97 and a couple of very fast downhill miles into Okanogan Falls. The last few miles of the bike were along Skaha Lake with a tail wind! I managed to get 22-26MPH with the tail wind and the thought of getting off the bike.
With all the head wind I was off my target time by almost a half hour, finishing in a few minutes under 7 hours.

T2 was a challenge because I'd packed my run shorts into my transition back inside out and had a helluva time getting them turned right side out!

Another course change this year for the run: after running Lakeshore over to the Sicamous we headed south along the canal to Skaha Lake (almost) then back and finally out of town. This was great because I've been struggling all summer with a sore heel and running on soft surfaces, which I could do along the canal, was much easier on my foot. Also, with this addition we didn't have to run up (twice) the monster hill out along Skaha Lake; our turn around was just before the rise up the hill.
I stayed right on plan for the run: with my Garmin set to give me an alarm every 1/2 mile I took a short walk and drank from my water bottle. With HEED at just about every aid station I was totally hydrated. My marathon target was 6 hrs, so my time of 5:47+ was a big plus.

The run finish was quite exciting, even though dark. The race organizers built a small stadium with bleacher seats and everything so I came out of the darkness into the U-shaped and red-carpeted finish area in front of the crowd. Even with the small race field this felt big.

It was still windy at the end so the main thing I wanted to do was to get out of the wind and warm up. Wrapped in my space blanket I sat for a while in the massage tent then got a volunteer to help me retrieve my stuff.

This year the race organizers decided to recognize the athletes who have kept coming back year after year, so anyone with at least 10 races in Penticton was named as a 'legend'. We had our own special race numbers (mine was 15) and bike racks right next to the pros. I'd guess that there were 25 or so legends in the rack. We also got a plaque at the awards ceremony the next day; mine was for 20 years, this being my 23rd time racing in Penticton. Only a couple more years and I'll be a 25-year legend!

Overall, this was a good race for me. It was cool and my hydration plan worked just fine so I didn't have my usual heat related problems. At the end of the race I was alert and conscious. Even able to take a shower when I got back to our room. Out of the approximately 200 athletes in the long race, there were 5 in my age group. Three of us finished and I snagged 2nd with a time a few minutes under 14 hours.

This could possibly be the last year for a full distance race in Penticton. Next year it will host the Canadian Long Distance ITU Championship so the race will be at the ITU distances (3K/120K/30K). This is in preparation for the ITU Worlds in 2017 when ALL the ITU distance championships will be in Penticton. Consider coming next year; the distances are a LOT more approachable than the IM distance and Penticton is a great destiination.

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