Spectating Ironman Canada 2012: a backstage pass (almost)

I attended the 30th anniversary Ironman Canada event held on August 26th, 2012, to provide moral support and shoot pictures to document this special day for a very good buddy of mine Alex (#982 in the pictures). Ironman Canada, or IMC for short, is one of the oldest Ironman event and has been held in Penticton, BC, since its inception. Penticton is located in the Okanagan valley and nested at the southern end of the humongously long Okanagan lake. Its lakefront area is very pleasant and, for a week every year, Penticton IS Ironman as thousands of athletes and supporters take over the town. Athletes can be seen swimming, biking or running all over the place and no other topic of conversation besides Ironman is tolerated!

The Ironman triathlon series features a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bike ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run to top it off. Pro athletes start the swim 15 minutes before the field, which gets going as a mass start at 07.00 sharp. The course must be completed before 24.00 to get an official time and to be considered as a finisher. For IMC, the swim is a triangular pattern in the lake, the bike ride is a scenic single loop through hills south of Penticton and the marathon is an out and back course with 2 short out and backs along the lakeshore lined with spectators.

Spectating an Ironman event requires solid logistics skills which were provided by Janet, an Ironman herself from IMC  a few years back: her thorough knowledge of the course and expected timings felt like we had backstage passes as we were able to capture important moments throughout the day from privileged vantage points. Thanx Janet for spoon feeding me the great photo ops!

The day of the event was beautiful, sunny and hot: great weather for spectating but maybe not so much for endurance sports… The day started real early (05.00) as we had to strategically place ourselves to capture the mass start, a moment that sets the Ironman series apart from other triathlons. Imagine 2600+ swimmers all starting the swim simultaneously. The sense of anticipation is really high just before the start, and then chaos ensues!

After the mass swim start, we hustle through blocked streets to get to the far side of the transition area to catch the swimmers exiting water. We had also access to the bike park and the start of the bike ride from locations nearby (by outrunning Alex!)

The next moment we set out to capture was about 2/3rds into the bike ride during a climb by taking Green Mountain Rd. As soon as Alex rode through, we hustled back into Penticton to catch the end of the bike and the beginning of the run during the first short out and back for the spectators. Subsequently, we drove to Okanagan Falls, a small town where the halfway mark of the marathon resides and finally, we drove back to catch the finish. I must admit that I did not bring a flash so I shot pictures of the finish using Alex’s camera so there are none included.

Although Alex had probably signed up for the event under a bout of drunken stupor, his dedication to the training program paid off and he did finish in a time of 13.50 without looking very strained at the end of the run. Congrats for the excellent time for a first attendance at such an event!

I am showing a selection of pictures in an attempt to convey the atmosphere of the event. The first thing of note is that it is a very festive atmosphere with spectators, armed with signs, chalk to write messages on the road course and noisemakers, encourage all participants. It was a great experience and we stayed on the course until midnight to encourage the last few athletes that were in danger of missing the cut-off by mere minutes after being a grueling 17 hours on the course. In the end, everybody is greeted at the finish line with loud cheers by the hordes amassed in the stands; I can only imagine the thrill it must have been for all finishers. Congratulations to all! And thanx to Peggy, Capri and Stace for the company all day long!

Unfortunately, the 30th running of the IMC in Penticton may be the last as the city council has decided not to renew licensing rights for Ironman and is planning an event with similar distances under a different umbrella. Whether the mythic Penticton course is sufficient to attract hordes of athletes next year without the Ironman banner remains to be determined…

Equipment: Canon 5D Mk II, Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS, Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L, RAW conversion using Lightroom 3.6

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