Name: Holly Bennett
Challenge Penticton 2013 is now officially under our belts, although I’m still north of the border enjoying a few vacation days and the best wine tasting the Okanagan Valley has to offer–and trust me, the wine alone is reason enough to visit and race in this region. Eclectic and elaborate vineyards dot the bike and run course, as do numerous farm stands full of juicy fruit and fresh produce, tempting athletes with respite from the relentless hills and overdose of sports drink and gels. It’s a bountiful and welcoming area–a must for any athlete looking for a cool dose of Canadian culture and stunning environs within which to frame their competitive experience.
I choose destination race locales for exactly this reason: because regardless of the result, the race and the experiences surrounding it ultimately prove positive. Although my performance on Sunday wasn’t quite up to par with what I hoped I would pull off–and what I felt perfectly prepared to do–with a day or two of perspective the end result doesn’t matter. Sure, I allowed myself a 24-hour “wallow window” to bemoan the ways in which I feel I fell short. But then I shut that window hard and fast, preferring instead to glean the many positives from my race day, to revel in what I’ve accomplished and to relax and enjoy this amazing venue.
Race day itself was, in fact, awesome. I carried a feeling of honor into the water with me, being part of a milestone in Challenge Family history, one of the first athletes racing under the Challenge banner in their inaugural North American event. I was excited yet calm, full of the intense emotion of race morning while also feeling ready for whatever would confront me on the course ahead. Pretty much immediately I faced the first obstacle–unusually choppy water in normally calm Lake Okanagan, which seemed to slow the swim for even the strongest competitors (not to mention swim weaklings like myself). When I finally returned to shore 10 minutes behind my goal time I didn’t let the clock deter my confidence–I simply turned my focus to the bike, knowing that I could only influence the road ahead.
The bike course in Penticton is far tougher than I remembered from my race here three years ago. It’s honestly not the oft-talked about climbs up Richter Pass and Yellow Lake that sapped my strength, but rather the order of things. The first section is the easiest, with a series of rollers and flats that allowed me to feel absolutely on fire. I was ready for Richter when I rolled up to its base, and my ascent was strong, steady and controlled. But after cresting and descending I hit the next series of climbs–the part my memory had magically erased–that simply seemed endless. Hill upon hill arose ahead of me and bit-by-bit my pace slowed. My “on fire” feeling was far gone, as were my Plan A, B, C and probably D. But as endurance events nearly always necessitate, I adjusted on the fly, gave myself a major pep talk and turned my attention to the marathon.
Of all three disciplines, I love to run. Unlike a majority of triathletes I long to get out of the saddle and into the final race leg. No matter what happens in the swim and on the bike, T2 offers a fresh start–one I’m always eager to embrace. I felt that so much so on Sunday (and I was so far off where I wanted to be time-wise when I finally racked my bike) that I stopped and restarted my watch, honing in solely on running the best marathon I could muster.
The first stretch through downtown Penticton is energizing, the cheering crowds easing the awkward discomfort and shock to the body of transitioning from bike to run. I didn’t exactly fly through town, but I felt strong enough and fairly certain I could increase my pace as I clicked through the next few kilometers. Unfortunately, the next few kilometers led me directly into a hard headwind, which significantly hindered my run speed. I kept driving my elbows and turning over my legs and I never once walked, but my progress felt frustratingly slow. The demons of disappointment hovered, threatening to derail what remained of my positive attitude.
The center section of the run course is a six-kilometer stretch replete with hills. It’s anything but easy, and I knew I was going to need something special to get through it unscathed. My coach had said that when it gets tough I should try to find something to focus on–maybe something as simple as counting to myself. So I tried it: One, two, three...The first hill came and went with relative ease. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Over and over, the entire second half of the marathon straight through to the finish line, I counted off sets of 10 with every exhale. And with that I finally found my mojo, managed to get into strong running form, dug deep into my energy stores and in the end was able to negative split the run. It wasn’t an inspirational message or a gutsy mantra that kept me going–it was merely 10 simple numbers strung out like a lifeline that ultimately saved my race.
Crossing the Challenge finish line felt like running straight into the heart of a huge embrace from family and friends. Felix (Challenge Family CEO) was there to welcome and hug me, and to take me straight to the medical tent when my lungs closed up in an asthma attack the moment I stopped running. Thanks to Felix for staying with me until he was assured I was OK, as well as to Chris for his awesome race day support and for waiting for what must have seemed like forever outside the tent (he was not allowed inside) until I was released. A big shout-out goes to my teammates Jené and Julia, who I am insanely proud of for their personal best performances (and for the ass-whooping they both gave me). I’m also deeply thankful to the incredible race staff, the flawless volunteers and the entire city of Penticton for opening their hearts and streets to us athletes in support of this crazy cool journey called Challenge.
So that’s a wrap on my Baker’s Dozen race for August. I’ll still need four more races to complete my 2013 race-a-month project, but at the moment I can’t quite fathom finding my way to another start line as soon as September. First I’ll let my post-race cankles subside and continue sipping some fine Okanagan wine.
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