In his first trip to Whistler, Andy Potts made tracks like a seasoned local.
The Colorado Springs, Colo., resident and 2004 Olympic swimmer buzzed through the Subaru Ironman Canada competition in a time of eight hours, 20 minutes and 23 seconds (8:20:23) to win his seventh Ironman overall.
Though strong all around, Potts is particularly famous for his swimming ability, which often allows him to get an early jump on his competitors. Here in Whistler, he got the jump after he was the first to emerge from Alta Lake and didn't look back. Arizona's Pedro Gomes and Kelowna's Trevor Wurtele were his nearest challengers, with Gomes crossing the line 7:08 after Potts and Wurtele arriving 10:02 after the winner.
Potts explained after the race he found his pacing well — pushing his limits without going over.
"I don't measure my speed based on how I feel, because if you're going hard, it doesn't feel very good," he said. "If I was feeling good, that means I wasn't pushing hard enough, so I was right on the limit. I wanted to swim hard and ride really hard."
Though he didn't have the opportunity to soak in all the natural glory of the Sea to Sky corridor, Potts noted it still helped play a role in his win.
"I'm super pleased with today. There was enough variety out on the race course to keep you engaged all day long, mentally, so I never felt I got stale because the race course offered so much," he said. "On the ride, there was always something to concentrate on and focus on whether you're going up, paying attention on the descents, trying to be disciplined on the flats. Then on the run, there was a ton of variety. I really liked running around Lost Lake with the rollers and the softer surface."
It may have seemed like a perfect day for Potts, who has won in 40-degree heat, but with so much time on the course, there's bound to be something that goes wrong.
"I had a little bit of a bad spell on the run, but there's ebbs and flows to everybody's Ironman. My dark moments came on the run for a little bit," he said. "When you have tough moments in any race, you try to simplify it. You don't want it to get too big.
"I dial it back to form. I think about, 'Bring your hands and make sure you can see your knuckles and drive the knees.'"
With Potts at times holding a lead of over 10 minutes, his competitors knew it was going to be tough to cut into. With Wurtele right on his tail, Gomes challenged as hard as he could for much of the marathon course before realizing he wouldn't catch Potts and sought to race for the silver when the gold was out of reach.
"When Potts is racing and you know he's going to go in as hard as he can from the gun, he outswims everyone most of the time," he said. "Once we were on the way back (from Pemberton), the pace really picked up. I was lucky to get away with Trevor coming into T2 (the bike-to-run transition). Once we got into T2, I immediately said to Trevor, 'This is going to be a race for second.'"
Potts knew he had some wiggle room, but it wasn't until quite late that he felt he had secured his win.
"I could tell they were coming back. I had two bathroom breaks, so that doesn't help the cause when you're not moving forward. The goal of the day is to continue to move forward always," he said. "The thing about a pit stop is you actually feel better and you start to run better afterwards. Otherwise you lock up a little bit.
"When I ran past 35 (kilometres), that's 7K (remaining) at seven minutes (up), I was sure I'm not going to get outrun by a minute a K to close it out. I was like 'Just be smart, don't hurt yourself, but you can't go off the gas.'"
Gomes explained that in his first trip to the event, he didn't research the course as thoroughly as he perhaps should have. However, riding alongside Wurtele gave him confidence.
"I was not expecting such a hot course. I didn't preview the course this year, which was kind of a mistake. But I knew that riding with Trevor, he has done the race, so he was probably pacing himself wisely. I just followed him and tried my best to stay within touch and then ran as fast as possible," he said. "But then the last half of the marathon, it felt entirely uphill.
"It would be hard to grab the lead, but I'm happy with second."
With the result, Gomes has likely punched his ticket to the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii this fall. There, he'll look to improve on last year's 18th-place finish.
"I still need to work on my swim. I still got out of the water in third, but we were still far back from Andy," he said.
Wurtele acknowledged feeling some annoyance that the group chasing Potts on the bike course didn't gel as well as he might have hoped as the frontrunner extended his advantage.
"It was a little frustrating in that group. We didn't really work well together. Guys were slowing up at the front. Andy up front just put a ton of time into us. No one really wanted to set the pace and pull everyone along, so it just ended up being pretty slow for awhile all the way through the Pemberton flats," he said. "Finally we picked it up on the climb back up, but Andy had about 10 minutes on us and it was a race for second at that point."
Wurtele, a winner here in 2013, came in with the goal of hitting the podium and in the end, did just that.
"I knew with Andy here it would be tough to get a repeat win, but I can't complain about third place," he said. "He's got that Olympic-calibre swim and there's no way anyone in this field could have swam with him today."
And Wurtele actually trimmed nine minutes from his winning time in 2013, meaning the competition is getting better and better each year.
"All said, I had a faster day," he said. "(Even) with the bit of lollygagging on the bike, it was all around a good day."
Wurtele plans to attend both world championships, heading to Hawaii just over a month after racing the 70.3 (half distance) worlds in Australia.
The men's age-group champions were: Sebastian Munro (18-24), Scott Cooper (25-29), Matthew Malone (30-34), Martin Caron (35-39), Rodney Scott (40-44), Richard Albrow (45-49), Uwe Roepstorf (50-54), Peter Kornelsen (55-59), Len Ireland (60-64), Even Evensen (65-69), Sandy Roberts (70-74) and Milos Kostic (75-79). As for the women, Jamiee Davis (18-24), Megan Morley (25-29), Steph Corker (30-34), Michelle Andres (35-39), Claire Young (40-44), Britni Bakk (45-49), Kate Stebbings (50-54), Cheryl Rose (55-59), Joyce Langridge (60-64) and Beatrice Van Horne (65-69) were victorious in their respective divisions.
Vancouver's Corker was the first woman to finish the full race and was proud of how she overcame the day's various struggles.
"All races have a lowlight and overcoming the lowlight is what makes the day worthwhile in my opinion. I really struggled on the flats this year in Pemberton. The sun was getting hot, the wind was relentless. And it is during those moments when I let my mind wonder to think 'how will I possibly run a marathon off of this?'" she wrote in an email. "Thankfully, by the time I hit the climb back home, I was back in a 'good moment.'"
The 70.3 race was on offer for the first time in Whistler this year, with Americans dominating the podium. Andrew Hall won with a time of 4:11:54, followed closely by Jake McDonald. Owen Kendall took third. As for the women, Fawn Whiting, Kelly O'Mara and Brittany Dunbar were the first three to finish.
A total of 1,405 athletes signed up for the full race while 519 registered for the half-distance.
-with files from Megan Lalonde