by Basia Vanderveen
The Canada Man / Canada Woman extreme triathlon took place at Lac Mégantic on the anniversary of the rail tragedy four years ago. The quiet winding walk just before the race start was a respectful way to mark the moment. The town is rebuilding and its strong people welcomed us with open arms.
Back to the race! An unsupported event of this magnitude takes months of training and a strong, reliable and loving support team. I was extremely lucky to be in excellent hands with Cheryl and Kristi, my heroes on this day.
The 3.8 km swim started in the dark at 4:30 a.m. We were required to have small lights on our heads. A full moon shone on us, which looked pretty cool. The water was choppy and I didn’t handle it well, getting dizzy and seasick and honestly, I thought about stopping. I had my own kayaker beside me to direct me, who wanted to know if I spoke English or French. He kept telling me to go right and I think I might have swum in a circle, going right. I focused on the beautiful day ahead and I was very determined to finish on top of the mountain, to reach the stars before midnight.
At the first transition (T1) at 6 a.m., we changed in tents, helped by our assistants. I was still dizzy. I put on dry clothes for the 180 km ride ahead. The hills are long, steep and provide beautiful fast downhills. The region is gorgeous. The course also offered two extremely steep ascents. The ride lasted from early morning to afternoon and the weather was generally on our side with one brief rain shower.
Riding toward T2, I came across runners well into their run who looked like they were hurting. Cheryl followed me to the end and cheered me on during the final brutal 13 per cent climb. I had 30 minutes to spare at T2, where a change tent was also provided. Getting off the bike was a bit comical with my legs acting like giant gummy worms – not ideal at the start of a 42.2 km run!
The run section started off with a climb up a rocky trail. I looked up and saw another magnificent view of the area, this time facing Mont Mégantic with the finish in the far distance. I ran on the downhills and felt pain and cramping in my quads. I had never experienced cramps like this and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep going, but they passed.
I kept a close watch on my speed on the run course. Cheryl followed me closely with water and even cold watermelon! After a mix of road and trail, at 28 km Kristi joined me for the very wild section. I changed into trail runners and got my hydration vest, jacket, extra shirt, light and poles. It was 8 p.m. and we had one hour until the next cutoff. I was in pain, mentally and physically tired, and had to focus on eating and drinking. Kristi was on fresh legs and very upbeat. The ground was very muddy, slippery and steep, albeit a beautiful forest run/hike. At just before 9 p.m., we made the cutoff with 10 minutes to spare and were given the green light to climb to the top! I was thrilled despite being utterly exhausted.
The Last Leg
Just after 9 p.m. we entered the next thick boreal forest trail in pitch darkness for the final 8 km stretch. I soon realized that I had no water left and my lamp was almost out of battery. After 15 hours of racing, it doesn’t take much to shift focus and go negative. Kristi assured me that things were fine, but I was depleted and I questioned my ability to complete this climb. My lack of attention to water made me doubt myself. This was not a good start on the last leg.
We moved very slowly but steadily on the steep rocky trail. As I had hoped, the moon shone on us, the air was fresh, and the views were splendid. We even managed some laughs – delirium can be a blessing. Despite the poles, I fell, but only once. After two checkpoints, we suddenly had racers behind us and, near the top, we managed to increase our speed. I imagined falling over, fainting, cracking my head open on a rock. We heard voices, but we could not see the finish.
That last kilometer was the toughest, with another steep short climb to the observatory where a red carpet was rolled out. Euphoric, we jogged it. The poor MC had almost lost his voice. It wasn’t exactly midnight, but we were done and I got a silver medal in my age group. Not too shabby at all!
Basia Vanderveen is an athlete and consultant active in the Glebe community.