Friday, September 3, 2010
Ironman Canada is Different
Ironman Canada is different. Yes it shares the same race distances as all the other growing ranks of Ironman races around the world, but this is a very different event.
First of all it has some history. This year was the 28th running of Ironman Canada. Some of the greatest triathletes of all time have raced on this course. They say one of the single greatest Ironman Triathlons ever raced - Thomas Hellreigel's 8:09.42 winning performance in 1996 - was done on this course. Yes, they have broken 8:00 and gone faster elsewhere, but this is not an easy course - it can be very challenging.
Speaking of the course, this is perhaps, at least in North America, the only Ironman race that sticks to it's single big loop routes on each of the swim, bike and run. You feel like you are doing something - not just going around in circles. This can be daunting. Particularly as you make the turn at the half-way point in the marathon run, climb a little hill out of Okanagan Falls, and then if you look to your left, you can see the town of Penticton 11 miles off in the distance over the full length of Skaha Lake. It dawns on you that, I now have to run all the way back there!
This is a race that has tradition and honors it's champions. Few know this, but there is a large bronze plaque for each years mens and womens race winner, that has been put into the ground in a very nice arrangement surrounding a beautiful flower bed in Rotary Park. The plaque honoring Lori Bowden's win in 1998 is pictured at the top. During the race, Rotary Park serves as the transition area, and many athletes taking part in the race, will have run right over some of these winners plaques, perhaps drawing power and strength from the great champions of the past.
This was the race that defined what being a volunteer at an Ironman race was all about. This is were the 3000+ strong Iron Army came to be. Unlike many of the other IM races, at Ironman Canada, almost all the volunteers come from Penticton and other communities in the South Okanagan. This is their race. They want it to be the best. They want each and every competitor to feel welcome and have the best day that they can have out there. Everyone pitches in. The planning for next years race and the anticipation amongst the Iron Army has started already.
Then there is the stunning beauty of the area. Of course, it's a wine growing region growing some of the best wine grapes in the world. That helps to. Why is it that all the key wine growing areas around the world are like this? The Okanagan Valley is an amazing place.
This race is put on and run by the best race and event management people in the sport. Not only do they do a great job of putting on what logistically is an absolutely extraordinary event( people would not believe the details that need to be covered - and they are all covered), they are really down to earth people who really care about the sport of triathlon, this one event, Ironman Canada in particular, and each and every participant in the race. To see Graham Fraser or Joe Dixon talk, you can see the care and passion they have in their faces and you can hear the emotional connection to the event in their voices.
Finally, there is Steve King - the Voice of Ironman Canada. Yes there are other great race announcers of triathlon around the world, but it was Steve who really defined the term Triathlon Race Announcer making sure that each and every finishers name was called out and noted. I don't know how he keeps going and how he's able to keep all that information in his head, but he is so extraordinarily passionate about this sport and this race - that you can't help but want him to keep going on forever doing this.
I will admit that for me it is a bit personal. I had my single greatest day as a triathlete out on the Ironman Canada course - and so did my wife. And so have a number of my closest triathlon friends. I also raced the last triathlon I ever did, at this amazing race. I was glad and fortunate to go out on a good note and on good terms with this race, but the high-light for me that day was holding my then one month old son in my arms, after I crossed the finish line. He's 13 years old now, and when I look at him, I often reflect back to that day at IMC in 1997 and marvel at how much he has grown.
Ironman Canada . . it's different!