Sports » Features

Ironman Canada close to selling out for Whistler

Local trainers offering programs for athletes



Ironman Canada does not release the total number of spots available for the 2013 race in Whistler, but Ironman Race Director Keats McGonigal said on Tuesday, Oct. 30 that only a few hundred spots remain, and that they expect a field of 2,000 to 2,500 athletes at the start line at Rainbow Park on Aug. 25, 2013.

"It's going pretty well with only a couple of hundred spots left, and we expect those to fill up in the next little while," said McGonigal.

In recent weeks, McGonigal and other race planners have been meeting with the Resort Municipality of Whistler and other stakeholders like the Ministry of Transportation to plan the event, which includes a 3.8km swim course, an 180km bike course and full-length 42.2km marathon. McGonigal said there's still a lot of work to do putting together an operational plan, but he's pleased with the progress they've made so far.

"Everything has been really, really positive, the municipality has been very accommodating and Bob Andrea (Manager of Village Animation) and his crew have been working hard to get some of the logistical pieces figured out with us," said McGonigal. "We're still in conversations with the Ministry of Transportation on the exact traffic control plans and things like that, but so far things are moving along and progressing as we would anticipate."

Ironman planners will be back in Whistler in December to continue discussions with stakeholders, and will be announcing details to racers and the public as early as they can.

Trainers hosting Ironman programs

One of the side effects of hosting an Ironman is that you get more local interest in doing the event, as well as more athletes coming to the community to pre-race sections of the course and orient themselves.

The result is more demand for personal training. Christine Suter of C2Sky Multisport has worked with a few local athletes every year to prepare them for Ironman Canada, drawing on her own eight Ironman finishes as well as her experiences as a coach.

She's already signed on a few athletes for the 2013 race, but expects her numbers to grow a lot for the 2014 edition. "It's a big decision to race, but I think a lot of people are going to watch the race and go 'wow, I want to do that.' Watching the race is going to inspire them," she said.

As well as working one-on-one with athletes, she's also planning to host additional camps and clinics in the lead-up to the event. She anticipates that a lot of interest will be coming from outside the community as racers visit Whistler to train for the event.

"I'll definitely host a few training camps leading up the race in June and July, because June's probably the earliest you can get into the lakes with a wetsuit and neoprene swim cap," she said.

They say it takes a full year to prepare for Ironman, but Suter says most athletes don't start training heavily until January, giving them almost eight full months to prepare.

"Right now, before January, is the time to work on your weaknesses," she said. "Most people come into the sport with one strength or one or two things they feel comfortable with, and they need to round that out. If you're not a strong swimmer, you need to be in the pool. Or if you're not confident on the bike, then you need to be on the trainer if you can't get outside."

As well, she emphasizes strength training until January, because once the endurance training starts they won't have another chance.

"It's a good time to correct muscle imbalances and do some strength training, because all the heavy endurance training will start eating away at your muscles," she said. "Doing that now is a great thing to get ready for when you start to pound away the big mileage, and you won't deplete your body as much."

Suter says most people are put off by the level of commitment that's required, with a minimum of 10 to 12 hours of training a week from January to May, and increasing that significantly in June and July. By then athletes are putting in big days and long distances, and linking up two or more of the Ironman disciplines into a workout. "It can almost become like another full time job," said Suter.

As for race-day inspiration, she says it's not hard to come by.

"I've done Ironman races in Canada and the States, and at the start wherever you are they always sing the national anthem. In Canada it's O Canada. It's so cool to hear that before you start — I don't know any athletes standing on the beach singing along with that without tears in their eyes. It's so powerful."

Suter's website is

Ultra athlete Jen Segger of Challenge By Choice in Squamish is currently working with a group of six Ironman athletes, and is also organizing a mix of camps and clinics at her gym facility.

The fact that the course is challenging will draw people from outside the community to train, which she says will be good for local trainers offering programs.

"I think it's going to be huge," she said. "We've watched how the interior and Penticton have capitalized on Ironman for years, that's been the hub for training camps and they have lots of people going there to be on the course."

As well, she agrees with Suter's assessment that the number of local participants is going to grow once people have seen the event and decide to sign up. "I think it's going to inspire a lot of people in the area that they can do an Ironman," she said. "It won't be a foreign thing. And we have the coaches and the training opportunities around here to get people comfortable with racing, and I'm sure we'll see tons of locals do it as the years go by."

Like Suter, her athletes are focusing on weaknesses and building strength. She expects her numbers to grow in January as more athletes get into more serious training.

Most people are nervous about the race, but Segger points out that you have 18 hours to finish the race — and lots of people come through the finish line in the closing minutes of the event.

"We have elite athletes here that are going for it, and also people that are in their first Ironman and are just looking to have a great day out there. The time to finish is so long that all levels of athletes are very capable of doing it with some training. You don't have to be the fastest, it's rewarding just to go out and give it a try and get it done — people always underestimate what they are capable of."

Plus, she says, local athletes generally have a few aces up their sleeves, whether its knowledge of the course, familiarity with riding hills or just friends and family.

"We actually have the advantage because locals will have friends and family around here that will be on course to support you, and we know so many people that will be cheering the athletes — that energy alone can get you to the finish line."

Segger herself has never raced the Ironman distance — she did a half iron two summers ago, then followed it up by winning the women's title and placing third overall at Ultraman Canada, a race that's over twice as long as Ironman with a 10km swim, 421km bike and 84.3km run. Segger's website is