After a tough IM I was ready for time to rest before Holland but it was not to be. Tracey and I volunteered to crew for Ultraman as this race is a special one. After a bit of regret for saying I’d do this, due to other commitments and the need to rest, all negative feelings were dispelled as we found out we’d be crewing for John Brooks who did the race last year. John was a great competitor last year and an even greater person. We knew it would be an honour to crew for him. Once I got up to Penticton I felt like I was in another world with only the race to focus on.
I got off work Friday morning and we drove up right after. Pretty tiring driving that distance twice in one week. We tracked down John and our other crew-mate, Candise aka Candy, that day and went over some pre-race stuff like nutrition and equipment, then it was off to bed for him and some beer drinking for us.
5 am came early and we all met at Skaha Lake for the start of the 10km swim Tracey was paddling for. Lots of unfamiliar faces were there - crews and athletes from last year like the amazing Toni Barstis along with her husband, Dave, who was doing the race this year as well. Also there were Ferg Hawke, Steve King of course, Gerard Charlton, winner of the ’05 race, and a host of others. I think because of the relay this year there were more spectators and people a the start which was exciting.
When all the paddlers were out of sight I went for a quick 90 minute run, the first since Ironman six days prior. The right calf was still so tight I didn’t know if I should keep going or not. It settled into a steady ache that was manageable but I wasn’t happy about it. As I went down East Lake Rd. I shadowed the swimmers and their kayaks. It was very peaceful watching them go down the lake with me. I ran back to the start, got the car, and headed down to the swim finish with about ten minutes to spare as the swimmers were coming out.
Candy and I got John’s gear ready for the next evolution, a 140km bike ride. He exited the water in 3:50, beating his last year’s time by thirteen minutes. Nice line Tracey!! We got John on his way then headed out after him in the van. It’s been two years since I crewed and as hard as it is, it’s the same amount of fun that I remembered. Seeing the other crews and talking with them is great while waiting for the athletes to come by. Everyone was so nice and friendly which epitomizes this race.
John was doing a great job staying relaxed and steady but needed to be reminded to spin up the hills instead of attacking them. The weather got warmer but there was no wind like the weekend before at Ironman. Nevertheless John started getting cramps in his legs going up Richter Pass and needed the girls’ massaging at the top. It got worse on the rollers when he stopped for another break and basically fell screaming with leg cramps into the chair we set up for him. I actually thought to myself, “he won’t get up from this, he’s done.” We still had more rollers, and out and back and then the climb up Yellow Lake. We figured out at that point it was probably the copious amounts of Advil he took before and during the swim that weren’t allowing water to his muscles. After another rub-down he set off slowly and managed to get back into a good rhythm. He managed a good ride from then on in (albeit with a few too many “chat-stops”). His climb up Yellow was stellar - very steady and strong. He rode down to Christie Beach with a time of 6:12, seven minutes faster than last year. A new Day 1 record for him.
The next time he was feeling a bit tired but with no Advil we figured it couldn’t be as bad as the cramping the day before. The first big excitement of the 273km bike day was coming back to OK Falls around 90km when Jenn Dawkins almost got attacked and eaten by a HUGE bear at the side of the road!! Whew was she lucky! Then there was the flat front tire John had but didn’t realize it until after he’d finished climbing “the Wall” - the hardest, steepest section of the course. John’s a real stats guy, always wanting to know how far he has to go to the next section of the course. Being from the States we were always trying to convert the kms quickly to miles for him and sometimes my guesses as to the distances were underestimated. Even though he didn’t have a bike computer, he seemed to know and call me on my bullshit estimates.
Near Hedley he was getting pretty low in the blood sugar department so an excellent decision (one of many) from Candy was to go ahead and get him a ham sandwich. We tore ahead, dropped off Tracey in Hedley and screamed back to John. He got his sandwich not long after and basically ate the meat and left the bread which was fine because salt is never a bad thing in endurance racing.
Past Princeton was when things slowed down and John became concerned about whether he would make the cut-off time of twelve hours. We were wanting him to beat last year’s time but quite frankly we had the cut-off time in our heads as well and he needed constant reassurance that he would make it. Goes to show how important the crew is for the mental wellness of the athlete. He did so much on his own though because he’d been through it before and knew what he needed to do. It sucked though when he said he felt like he was going faster than last year but the time wasn’t reflecting that. He finished in 11:25, somewhat slower than last year’s 10:44 but just as relieved and grateful to be done.
Unfortunately Tracey and I had to go home that night and couldn’t stay for the double-marathon run the next day. So after more than twenty hours driving in two days we had another four and a half to go. On the run the next day John blasted out a 10:44 run, with help from Cam and Barb, beating last year by almost an hour even with stomach issues. It was sad to see the end of Penticton for a while. It always feels like end of summer after Ironman and Ultraman and I guess it is, back to the responsibilities of real life. Summer may be almost over but the base training for next year’s running starts as soon as I can walk again after Holland, so it’s not all bad. We definitely missed an exciting finish as the difference between first and second place this year was a mere 19 seconds! And between third and fourth it was only 3 seconds! Congratulations to everyone on their race.
I could probably look back at the last two years’ Ultraman report endings and they would mirror this last paragraph. Suffice to say it is a most magical race that brings people from all over the world to a little place in the Okanagan Valley for three days that they’ll remember forever. Can’t wait for next year.