Stage 1 - Ultra520k Canada 2018
“Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines,
but it is to the one that endures that the final victory comes.”
I’m still working on finding words to describe the 3 days of racing I had at Ultra520K Canada. I’m not sure words can give justice to what I experienced with those 32 athletes from 11 countries. I had one goal which was to carry my two kids across that finish line at the end of stage 3. What I learned along the way was far more than physical or mental, it was spiritual. A journey where I connected with myself on a deeper level than I’ve ever done before, finding gears that I never knew existed have I had not taken myself there.
Swim 10km - Bike 149.8km
If there was any uncertainty that I had about the 520km of this race it was going to be in the first leg of stage one. It was fitting that not only was I tackling this ultra distance for the first time, the 10km swim across Skaha Lake kicked off this event and was going to be my biggest challenge.
Before I headed out to Penticton to get set up with my team my wife said to me, “babe lean on your mental game, you know it’s strong.” I would go on to repeat that to myself over the next 3 days countless times.
The past 9 weeks I had been dealing with a pulled groin and had no training leading up to the race and heading into the biggest weekend of my life I really wasn’t sure how the groin was going to hold up.
My goal was to hit 90% of my training going into this event but instead had to work with only about 40 - 45% and a majority of my long stuff was non-existent. Prior to my injury the longest distances I had accomplished was a 3.5km swim, a couple 30km runs and a couple 80km bike rides. To say I felt underprepared was an understatement, either way I was committed to this race and there was no turning back.
The evening prior to stage one we went out for dinner and it was nice to distract myself from thinking about what I was about to embark on over the next three days. We enjoyed some laughs and shared stories which was exactly what I needed. After dinner it was a quick meeting with my team to go over final preparations for the first stage and we were off to bed.
As my alarm went off for an early 4am wakeup call I was pleased to see myself bank about 5 1/2 hours of sleep, in my experience getting sleep the night before races usually doesn’t amount to much. I guess my body knew what was in store for the next 3 long days.
Breakfast consisted of some granola and yogurt, a slice of bread with peanut butter and a banana, an avocado and a spoonful of coconut oil. I always go a little lighter on the first meal of the day, it's easier to put more in than take it out. I would grab my apple and almonds to snack on leading up to the start of the swim and we would be on our way.
As we drove out to Skaha Lake and began to get set up the sun was rising, revealing clear blue skies and calm waters, it was a perfect setting. I would get registered and check in with the medical team, Tim would gather the kayak and start to get himself organized for the swim and Ron would get all the things he needed on his list to meet us at the end of the swim.
Throughout the 3 days of racing I had a two-man team that would be with me the entire time, they both would be a vital lifeline to me along the way. My team consisted of Tim who is like a brother to me, he would not only be in the car but was also guiding me across the lake for the swim portion. My father-in-law Ron who was the crew captain and would be driving the entire course with Tim supporting me along the way.
After registration, weigh in and seeing the medical team to have my vitals taken I began to go through my own final preparations, a warmup which consisted of a slow jog with some dynamic stretches to get the blood flowing. Lastly my wetsuit on, swim cap and goggles.
I would join the other athletes as we all gathered in a circle on the beach prior to the race start with the support teams forming another circle behind us as we began the pre-race ceremony. As I took a look around I was grateful to be here, moments away from hearing the gun go off it was surreal to think of the journey to get here and the adventure that was about to begin.
As the ceremony concluded I found my position in the lake next to Tim who was in the kayak. I took one last look back at the beach and said my goodbyes.
Moments later the countdown was on 3,2,1 and the gun sounded, I took a deep breath and dove in. I had no idea what to expect as I had never swam outside of 4km before. I was going to have to be patient with myself, my original goal prior to my injury was to be in and out of the water in 3 hours 20 minutes, my new goal was 4 hours.
The first few kilometres were all about finding my rhythm and at the same time maintaining the distance between the kayak and myself. The game plan was for Tim to set the direction and I would set the pace. Having never practiced together it was much easier said than done. Tim was my eyes leading me across the lake and I had to let go and trust in him fully.
I remember hitting the half way point and saying to myself, I can’t believe this is only half way! I was beginning to have some issues with my injured groin, both my hamstrings and left quad were starting to act up. I really had to dial in and focus on my stroke as I had to drag my legs behind me as my legs worked through their issues.
As I approached Ponderosa Point there was a wind coming from behind me that was pushing small waves over my head and as a result I was taking in some water. I was feeling frustrated at this point but needed to stay focused. Soon enough I would swim past the first of two buoys, the waters became calm and I found a better rhythm. I had less than 2km to go!
I rounded the last buoy and swam for shore. The winds that were previously overtaking me from behind were now slapping me in the side of the face when I was breathing to the left which gave me no other option but to breath on my right side. Tim fought hard to keep us straight as the wind was working to push us off course, mother nature was not making this easy for us.
The last 100 meters I could hear Steve King’s voice welcoming people back to shore, as I put my feet down I was relieved and thankful to be on solid ground. I was welcomed by my father-in-law who had all my gear ready for the bike ride and my family was off to my left cheering me on along with my mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Seeing everyone always gives me that extra push to work harder. Coming out of the water in 4 hours and 15 minutes I needed that extra boost.
I entered the transition tent and quickly changed into my bike gear. After a quick bite of a wrap I jumped on my bike, said goodbye to my family. I could hear their cheering half way up the hill as I began the first kilometre of the 149.8km bike ride.
I quickly made my way out of OK Falls towards Osoyoos, other than some rolling hills it was pretty much flat until I exited Osoyoos and began to make a lengthy climb up Richter Pass. This was the first time I could feel the sun on my back and beads of sweat ran down my face.
So far, my support team was doing a great job leap frogging back forth with me and making sure that I had everything I needed nutrition wise. Along the way I had my family pass by cheering me on and they would pull over to greet me as I passed by them. The moments were short lived but left me full of love, I even had a few tears seeing my kids, especially my daughter saying, “go daddy go” as she rang her cow bell.
Soon after I would get to the summit and begin the decent. As I rode through the rolling hills into Keremeos, to the south the wild fires were burning down the mountain and into the fields, the smoke rising high into the sky.
I arrived in Keremeos with a few athletes in my sights as I rode the out and back portion before I began the final ascent back into Okanagan Falls. The climb was subtle but continued on for a long stretch. I wouldn’t really realize how far it was until I was in stage 2 coming down that same hill the next day.
I remember looking down at my garmin and seeing less than 50km to the finish of stage 1, it was at this point that I began to dig deep and started to make a harder effort to get there. After hitting the summit of the climb, it was all winding road down to the finish. Only 6km to go as I made my turn leading me into OK Falls.
I could hear Steve King’s voice as I made a left-hand turn onto the final straightaway, moments later I would cross under the finish line with cheers from my family and sponsors at Natera Sport. I had moved into 25th position, up 4 spots from coming out of the swim where I was 29th.
After a quick cool down in the lake, massage, congratulations and hugs from my family and supporters I was back in the car with my support team on our way to the hotel. The road back to Penticton runs parallel with Skaha Lake, as I was glancing out the window my father-in-law said to me, “Mikey you swam that whole lake this morning.” We all just shook our heads and had a little chuckle, not sure what else I could have done in that moment, I still hadn’t had any time to let it soak in as stage 2 was less than 12 hours away.