Spectators and athletes that stuck around until the clock ran out at midnight at Ironman Canada on Sunday night would have seen some amazing things — no fewer than two marriage proposals, grown men with extensive tattoo work and the physique of bouncers breaking down in tears of joy and pain at the finish line, athletes in their mid-60s finishing their first-ever Ironman, and hundreds of happy people who had been pushing their own personal limits since 7 a.m. that morning, proving to themselves they were bigger than the challenge before them.
The 31st anniversary of Ironman Canada — and the first year of five years that the event is being based out of Whistler — went as well as it possibly could have gone. The air temperature was on the cool side at the start of the 3.8km swim leg, just eight degrees, but the water in Alta Lake was comparitively warm.
The 180km bike leg was described as one of the hardest on the global Ironman circuit with two huge climbs — the road up the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley and the long climb from Pemberton to Whistler — but there were next to no headwinds on the course, something athletes agreed was both welcome and rare.
The two-lap 42.2km run course was winding with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns, but there was shade for the runners during the hottest part of the day and there were no cars driving alongside long sections of it to give racers a break from exhaust.
In the end the victories went to a pair of first-time Ironman champions; nomad Trevor Wurtele pulled ahead early on the run course to win the men's pro category while Uli Bromme of Colorado had a spectacular time on the bike leg to take control of the women's race.
Wurtele and his wife, professional Ironman athlete Heather Wurtele, live and train out of an RV most of the year, and the rest of the time they're based in the Vernon area. Wurtele also grew up in the Lower Mainland and skied and rode mountain bikes in Whistler when he was younger.
This was the one race he wanted.
"I've been thinking about this race since November of last year, this is my biggest goal of the year and everything I've done in the last year was to come here in top shape and get this win. And to do that was huge," he said. He actually arrived in Whistler a month before the race to train on the course, something he says was a huge advantage — especially on the last 40km of the bike leg when other athletes were falling off the pace.
Wurtele has finished as high as third at Ironman races in the past, and his only win came in a shorter distance Ironman 70.3 race in 2012. And while anything can happen in a race like Ironman, Wurtele had close to a perfect day to earn his $15,000 first place prize.
"I had one of those days which was pretty much awesome all day long," he said. "I had a pretty rough patch when Matt (Matthew Russell) came up to me (on the bike) and I knew I couldn't let him go because that guy can run 2:50 (marathons) all the time."
Wurtele pulled ahead of Russell early in the marathon and continued to build a gap until the finish. Only a few racers managed to finish the run course in less than three hours.
Wurtele was actually off the pace in the swim, getting out of the water in 54 minutes and 27 seconds, almost six minutes back of New Zealand's Bryan Rhodes. He followed up with the second-fastest bike leg at 4:46:51, maintaining an average pace of 37.65km/h. Only Matt Russell was faster with a 4:42:53 bike leg, which is how the two races found themselves tied heading out onto the run. Wurtele's time was almost six minutes faster than Russell, giving him the win in a total time of 8:39:33, followed by Russell in 8:45:15 and Paul Amey in 8:53.27. Only two other runners cracked nine hours, which says a lot about the course — course records on fast, flat courses are around seven hours and 40 minutes, and pro times at Ironman Canada's former home in Penticton were about half an hour less.
Wurtele was amazed to win the run leg.
"I just ran on the borderline of being uncomfortable and finally (Russell) dropped off at mile six or seven, something like that, and once that happened it gave me a little boost of energy, and I just kept going. It was great to see the mile splits get larger and larger," he said.