Two men from Fort St. James completed the Whistler Ironman Triathlon on August 25.
Sam Grill, born and raised in Fort, but now living in the Lower Mainland, and Andrew Tait, who works in Fort St. James for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Management.
Both men completed the epic event which requires athletes to complete a 3.8 km swim, then a 180 km bicycle ride followed by a 42.2 km run.
It was Sam Grill’s first ever Ironman race, and he was what you might call an unlikely Ironman, given his reasons for doing one.
Grill had never really thought about attempting an Ironman before, not being an athlete who really enjoyed biking, running or swimming particularly.
“It was really the idea of the challenge,” he said, explaining how he came to sign up for one. In the end, Grill “kind of signed up on a whim” he said, and was just one of a group of four guys who decided to attempt the Whistler race.
But while he may not have signed up with focussed intentions of becoming a Lycra-wearing Ironman champion, he did not shirk on his training. He put in serious time, beginning light training in November of the previous year, then heavier training in January to build up to the heavy 20-week intense training leading up to the race.
While his body type may not be ideal for triathlons, Grill had done one olympic-length triathlon before the Ironman and then did a half Ironman in July to help prepare for the Whistler event.
“I’m kind of a bigger guy, not really built for endurance sports,” said Grill.
Going into the race, Grill had a goal of doing the event in under 12 and a half hours, which he surpassed handily, taking 12 hours, nine minutes and eight seconds.
While he was just over his goal time on the run portion of four and a half hours, he did accomplish his main goal of running the entire marathon.
Going into the race, Grill said he was not feeling good about his preparation, and had begun to feel weak from tapering off his training.
“To be honest … I was kind of down,” he said.
But the day of the race, after he arrived, the energy of the volunteers and the spectators took effect as he got going.
“During the race I was kind of euphoric,” said Grill. “People were so amazing.”
He described the highs and lows a competitor goes through during the long race as your body goes through cycles of wanting to quit and getting yet another wind to carry on through.
At points, he described “feeling like you’re going to die in the baking sun” and the bike ride especially had some challenges.
“It’s so hard and people are dieing on hills,” he said. “That’s all part of it.”
But his friends had put signs up along the way to cheer him on, which helped buoy his spirits.
With beautiful weather, a fantastic location and amazing volunteers from all over the world coming to help make the event happen for the 3,000 participants, Grill said how impressed he was by the event itself.
“(The volunteers) were just so unbelievable,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”
The finish was the best part of the race for Grill, a surprise he said.
“You come around this corner and you can hear the crowd,” he said. “It’s way better than I thought it would be.”
After such an amazing experience, is Grill chomping at the bit to sign up for the next Ironman event?
“Not a chance,” he said. Instead, he’ll use the time he had dedicated to training to get back to the sports he loves: team sports and especially skiing.
Andrew Tait, however, you may see sign up for another Ironman, as Whistler was Tait’s second Ironman event, having completed his first one in Penticton in 2011.
“I’ve always wanted to do one,” said Tait. “In 2011 I turned 40 and I decided I’d do it for my 40th.”
But having a hamstring injury during the 2011 one and becoming sick with a fever not long before the event, Tait was disappointed with his time of 12 hours and 19 minutes in 2011.
Not having had the race he wanted, Tait wanted to go back and try again, which he did this year at Whistler.
His goal was to finish in under 12 hours, and he began training just after Christmas last year to get there.
Training for Tait had the added challenge of northern winter thrown in, limiting his ability to train for swimming and biking.
The swimming training began in April, in a full wetsuit, complete with hoody, gloves and booties.
“You give it a couple weeks to warm it up a bit,” he said.
The bike training was indoors for most of the winter, on a stationary trainer, limiting his practice on hills.
He must have trained well though, because he completed the Whistler event in 11 hours and 47 minutes and 44 seconds, an impressive time.
During the race, Tait said he felt good, though the swim was his least favourite part.
The two-lap swim in Alta Lake was very crowded, with “lots of banging and crashing going on,” he said and he “came out of the water a little frustrated.”
“Some people relate it to going through the washing machine,” said Tait.
Coming out of the water onto the bike improved things, however, and he described the climb on the bike as being his favourite part of the course, the sun still low on the horizon.
“It was nice and cool still,” he said.
The rest of the course went well for Tait, and he described the bike course as good because it was such a challenge, with lots of climbing and descent.
“It made it interesting,” he said.
Tait had his two nine-year-old twins, his wife and his parents there to cheer him on and other friends and family followed along online.
While Tait enjoyed the event and said he would like to do another, he won’t want to dedicate the time to one for a bit, but maybe in a couple years.