Three years ago, the long-standing host of Ironman Canada (Penticton, British Columbia) announced that the race in its city was no longer going to be an Ironman event, but rather a Challenge iron-distance one. Hence, Challenge Penticton. There’s a whole lot of mess that went down about who owned the long-running race and who owns it now and why Penticton opted to go with Challenge and exactly how well that choice is working out for them.
But in summary: Ironman then moved itself to Whistler for 2013. Since then, the new Ironman Canada has not so far drawn as deep or as competitive a field as it used to or as many of WTC’s other races do this time of year. I get that. You have to make choices and a P-2000 race at the end of July just isn’t a choice worth making for most pros.
In fact, if we were going to speculate wildly—and, you know, let’s—then I would guess that the only reason WTC didn’t choose to include Whistler on its list of races that no longer have a pro field this year is because it didn’t yet want to cede any ground to Challenge. It wants to prove Canada wrong.
It might this year. With a number of top racers still looking to lock up points for Kona before the first cut-off, the field at the start included some big names like Kyle Buckingham, Chris McDonald, Barrett Brandon, Laurel Wassner, and Caitlyn Snow, plus first-time Ironman racer Melanie McQuaid. But Canada is doing it’s best to spoil any plans for a fast and fun race—lots of cold and rain all day. Along with pride and a dry spot at the finish, the pros were fighting for $100,000 worth of prize money: $20,000 for the winner, half that for second, all the way down to $750 for 10th.
Part of what has drawn some of them to Whistler, even those, like Liz Lyles and Jeff Symonds, who are already a lock for Kona, is that the course is no joke. After a relatively calm lake swim, the athletes hit a hard and hilly bike course with two particularly long climbs—one of which comes painfully around 90 miles. They then ran through the rain partially on trails and partially on a rolling paved bike path, trying to avoid the local bears who have meandered across runners’ paths at past races.
But How Fast Can Melanie McQuaid Run In An Ironman?
The big factor on the day was the weather. Pretty much from start to finish, it was cold (in the low-50s, or around 10 Celsius for you Canadians) and raining. Who was going to play it smart—putting on enough warm clothes and keeping their core temperature up—but also be able to tough it out at the end?
The first two to exit the water were no big surprise—Laurel Wassner and Karen Thibodeau came out together around 54:10. They had a little under four minutes on Melanie McQuaid, Liz Lyles, and Caitlyn Snow, with Mackenzie Madison right behind that. Wassner, who was looking for a podium spot to lock-up Kona qualification, had said beforehand that she was hoping to put time on the chasers during her swim and she did manage to make it first to the first checkpoint (and to the $1,000 prime bonus).
She didn’t hold onto that spot for long though. As the TRS crew predicted, and many expected, McQuaid put her head down in the rain and rode hard to the front. By 50km (or about 30 miles for you Americans), she was in the lead and adding to her gap. She didn’t seem particularly bothered by the rain and simply continued to ride farther away from the pack behind her, made up of Wassner, Madison, Danielle Mack, Jessica Fleming, and Jessie Donavan, who had moved up after exiting the water. Meanwhile, Thibudeau may have been the first casualty of the day, dropping out from the cold rain. Lyles soon followed exiting the course.
Thx for cheers & concerns..Got a little hypothermic on bike in pouring rain. Hoping for warmth & safety for all the girls still out there!
— elizabeth lyles (@lizlylestri) July 26, 2015
As everyone else plowed on, hoping to be the last woman standing, McQuaid made it to T2 first after biking 5:22:43. Next in were Fleming and Mack, with 5:30 to make up on McQuaid. And then Donavan another four minutes behind, with Madison chasing her. Wassner had fallen slowly back over the end of the bike. Her twin sister was impressed, though, with how the cancer-survivor was dealing with the conditions.
Btw, I'm just relieved to see she's still in the race.
— Rebeccah Wassner (@becwassner) July 26, 2015
I honestly don't know how she's even running given her history and the low core body temperature chemo so nicely left her.
— Rebeccah Wassner (@becwassner) July 26, 2015
Wassner and Caitlyn Snow were not the only ones headed out on the run determined to use their leg speed over the marathon. McQuaid had never run a marathon at the end of an Ironman before. And, anything can happen in these conditions, right?
For nearly half the marathon, no one closed on McQuaid. But slowly, slowly Danielle Mack started to move up. And today’s race was about nothing so much as who could survive the longest. As McQuaid’s lack of Ironman experience caught up with her in the last half of the marathon, Mack made the pass with just 5k to go. McQuaid hung on briefly, running with the new leader, but couldn’t hold onto it. Mack crossed the line first in 9:46:19 after running a 3:16:09. McQuaid lost two minutes in those final miles, but finished her first-ever Ironman in second. In third, Jen Annett came out of nowhere—well, not really nowhere, but farther back—to run the fastest marathon of the day, barely (3:16:03). Madison managed to catch Fleming for fourth, while Fleming held off those fading behind her.
Ironman Canada 2015 Results:
1. Danielle Mack – 9:46:19
2. Melanie McQuaid – 9:48:23
3. Jen Annett – 9:55:06
4. Mackenzie Madison – 9:59:34
5. Jessica Fleming – 10:00:18
A True Battle of Wills
Emily Cocks told you Barrett Brandon would be the first out of the water. And he was, in 48:22. Luke Bell was just six seconds behind and Kyle Buckingham was another 10 seconds back of that. Paul Ambrose and Jeff Symonds were just three minutes off of them and ready to make up the time, with a big group another minute slower.
Buckingham was first to the $1,000 bonus spot, but he didn’t slow down after that. By halfway, he had an almost seven-minute lead on Luke McDonald and Viktor Zyemtsev, both of whom made up time from a slower swim and possibly from taking the time to put on warmer clothes. Buckingham got to T2 first with a headstart of over five minutes. But McDonald, who was next, and the group of Derek Garcia, Zyemtsev, and Justin Daerr, a minute back of McDonald, were all hoping they’d be able to run down the South African. All of them had biked around 4:57, and all in the same rain, so it was simply going to come down to who spent more energy to do that.
Bell, Symonds, and Ambrose, though, didn’t make it to the end of the bike. If you don’t need the points, why put up with the hypothermia?
Gutted to say the least, had to pull the pin via an ambulance due to hypothermia on the bike.. #IronmanCanada
— Paul Ambrose (@AmbroseLive) July 26, 2015
For those still left in the race, it all came down to the run. (Though, when people say that, doesn’t the finish almost always come down to the thing that is last?) Zyemtsev started to move up through the crowd and cut into Buckingham’s lead, with Garcia right behind him and McDonald falling far back. As it became a battle of attrition—except for Zyemtsev, who seemed unbothered by the conditions—Daerr passed Garcia to come into third.
About 30km into the race (or three-quarters-ish), Zyemtsev took the lead. But Buckingham found some extra toughness that hadn’t been spent on the bike—theme for the day?—and hung onto the speedier runner’s shoulder. Mile after mile went by like that and neither gave an inch.
It wasn’t until the final kilometers that Zyemtsev was able to pull ahead for the win. Buckingham obviously held onto second. To put into context how impressive the last 10k was, Zyemtsev ran a 2:54:28 marathon to catch up, while Buckingham ran a 3:01:24. Yet, somehow they were step for step at the end. Daerr took third with a just sub-3:00 run, and Garcia was fourth. Despite slowing down earlier, McDonald managed to finish this race of attrition in fifth, as the rain started to let up and the sun came out.
Ironman Canada 2015 Results:
1. Viktor Zyemtsev – 8:49:46
2. Kyle Buckingham – 8:50:30
3. Justin Daerr – 8:54:45
4. Derek Garcia – 9:02:55
5. Chris McDonald – 9:08:45