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Locals tame Ironman

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Suter, Palm qualify for World Championships

Although wildfires continued to burn up and down the valley, conditions were near perfect for this year’s Ironman Canada in Penticton. After weeks of heat waves and droughts, temperatures cooled and the skies clouded over, providing some relief to the more than 1,930 athletes who took part.

However, the local forest fires did take their toll. The firefighters who typically volunteer as lifeguards for the swim leg were on duty, forcing organizers to switch to a two-lap format to concentrate the available volunteers. As a result the course had more corners, and many of the slower swimmers – including many who were uncomfortable swimming in a dense pack – were lapped.

In addition, the marathon course was altered to keep a road open to fire crews and the possible evacuation of nearby towns. The marathon stayed close to town and to the cheering crowds as athletes made three laps of a new course.

The Ironman includes a 3.8 km swim, a 180.2 km bike and a 42.2 km run.

This year the top time belonged to Raynard Tissink of Jannesburg, South Africa, who completed the course in eight hours, 35 minutes and 11 seconds.

He was trailed by Tom Evans of Naramata, B.C. with a time of 8:37:01, and Gordo Byrn of New Zealand in 8:46:57.

Lisa Bentley of Caledon, Ontario, was the top woman in 9:21:18. Gillian Bakker of Winfield, B.C. was second in 9:47:09, followed by Andrea Fisher of Austin, Texas in 9:51:20.

The top Whistler athlete was Paul Suter, who finished 95 th overall and 10 th in the men’s 40 to 44 group with a time of 10:07:14. His goal from the beginning was to qualify for a berth in the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii this fall, and he succeeded.

"Things went as I had planned them to go, which is always a good thing – it’s not often that things go as planned in this sport… It’s impossible to run a perfect race, but this was as good as I could ever have hoped for," said Paul.

His swim went well, said Suter, and he tried to be as consistent as possible on the bike leg. "I was counting the people in my age group that were passing me – you could tell by the numbers they had on – and I had to stop myself from trying to chase them all down. I just focussed on running my own race, saving up for the run.

"I was fortunate that not too many people passed me, and I managed to pass a few on the run and knew I had to be pretty close to the top ten. It paid off because my run was five minutes faster than I thought it would be."

Suter praised the organizers for working around the fire, and the volunteers for getting the event off under the circumstances. "Even some of the people evacuated from their homes in Kelowna were out volunteering," he said.

Suter’s goal for Hawaii is just to have fun, "although I know when I get into the water for the swim, I know I’ll be racing."

Although five weeks isn’t enough time to properly recover from one Ironman before entering another one, Suter says he will continue to train and hope for the best.

Christine Suter, Paul’s wife, also spent time last year recovering from various injuries. She entered with every intention of taking it easy, but that plan went out the window the moment she stepped out of the water.

"I had an awesome swim, a few minutes faster than my last race, and I had my best bike time ever," she said. "Going into the run I thought I might be able to finish with my best time every. Then my stomach kind of shut down, and I had to walk the second half of the run. I just couldn’t shake it. I’ve felt nausea before in races, but never like that."

Suter was 168 th overall on the swim, 819 th on the bike, and1,493rd on the run.

"The run took me more than five hours, which put me a lot farther back then I would have normally finished, but I’m happy I walked across that line," she said.

She consoled herself with the fact that she got to watch Paul cross the line ahead of his expected time, and with the fact that she will be going to Hawaii with him in a few weeks.

She never found out what caused her stomach problems, although she noticed that a lot of other athletes were suffering with the same symptoms. She said people thought it might have had something to do with either the lake water or the smoke – sections of the bike ride were still smoldering from a fire that swept through the area the week before.

Although she walked most of the run stage, she still managed to finish 77 th out of 153 women in the 30 to 34 age group with a time of 12:43:09.

Paul Nicholas finished just two spots and 29 seconds back of Suter to place 26 th out of 295 racers in the men’s 35 to 39 age category. Although he improved on all of his stage times, he had hoped to qualify for Hawaii this year and fell just seven minutes short of that goal.

"I was quite happy with my time, but you’re never quite satisfied. You always say to yourself, ‘I could have cut some time here, and here’, after a race."

Nicholas enjoyed the changes to the course, and the fact that he had Paul Suter to chase down on the run stage. "It was a bit nerve-wracking, sitting around and waiting to find out if the event was going to be cancelled after a year of training for it, but the changes worked really well," he said.

Although he planned to take some time off after racing Ironman five years in a row, Nicholas is already reconsidering. "Now that I’ve come so close (to qualifying for Hawaii) and I didn’t quite get to where I wanted to go, I want to go back and do it again. That’s how you get hooked into this sport, I guess, trying to do just a little better, and a little better than that.

"I haven’t decided anything yet, but it’s on my mind."

Ian Goard was 194 th overall, posting a time of 10:29:42 to finish 40 th in the 30 to 34 group.

David Higgins, also competing in the 30 to 34 group, was 322 nd overall, and 64 th among his peers with a time of 10:51:43. Brandi Higgins, David’s spouse, was 94 th in the 30 to 34 category with a time of 13:03:31.

Daniel Havens was 334 th across the line, and 26 th out of 175 racers in the 45 to 49 age group with his time of 10:54:10. Havens missed out on months of training and was considering pulling out of the race as a result of a foot injury.

"I was ecstatic with my race," said Havens. "I put in a volume of training all winter, and spring and summer, but it wasn’t intensity training or power training. I wasn’t going to compete this year, but changed my mind a week and a half before the race. I just wanted to have fun, finish – anything else would be a bonus."

Havens had an infection in his foot after scraping it on some coral last fall. He didn’t even know he had an infection until recently, treating it as a common runner’s injury.

He decided to tough it out, and while he didn’t beat his time of last year, his first Ironman, he still surprised himself.

"I had the best swim of my life," he said. Havens said his strategy was to fall in behind faster swimmers and keep up as long as he could before dropping back to the next swimmer or group.

"You had to pick your lines like that, and use (the other swimmers) as a kind of sling shot."

Havens was the 283 rd swimmer out of the water, but dropped back on the next leg. Because of the smoke from fires at different sections of the road, Havens decided to take it easy and focus on the run. He was 940 th on the bike.

His strongest section was the run, where he completed the marathon distance in a strong 3:37:48 – the 165 th fastest run time of the day.

"I really felt I had my legs under me going into the run," said Havens. "I felt my foot a little in the second half of the first lap, but that went away by the second lap.

The three lap marathon format also agreed with Havens, who says he usually prefers straighter courses with longer sections.

"All the corners… broke up my run a little bit, and of course the spectators, the music, they were very motivating as well all the way through," he said.

Havens said he would not participate next year at Penticton, but planned to compete in the Ironman in New Zealand instead.

Also in the 45 to 49 age category, Whistler’s John Block finished 36 th out of 175 competitors, landing 417 th overall in 11:07:12. Like Havens, Blok missed out on early season preparation as a result of a knee injury.

Although the injury was still bothering him in the weeks leading up to the race, Blok said the races chiropractors took care of the pain before the race by performing Active Release Techniques.

"I would say every Whistler athlete went to them for one thing or another, and they were amazing," said Blok.

The low point of the race came after the swim leg.

"I came out of the water and my stomach was upset, either from drinking too much (lake) water, or going a little too hard and not pacing myself. It definitely didn’t settle down while riding the bike," said Blok.

Because of his discomfort, Blok felt that his bike leg was taking too long to complete. Still, he managed to finish the bike leg three minutes faster than his previous Ironman, passing more than 660 competitors on his bike. He was in 1,245 th place after the swim, and in 585 th after the run.

Blok went on to pass another 168 people on the run as he began to feel better.

"The highlight of my day was definitely the run. Because we made three laps of the course, we kept passing all the Whistler supporters out there. It really helped me," he said.

Next year Blok will move into a higher age category, where he hopes to qualify for the World Championships. He estimates he will need to cut 20 minutes off this year’s time to make the cut, and plans to start training this winter.

Mae Palm once again qualified for the Ironman World Championships after winning the women’s 60 to 64 age category with a time of 13:24:02.