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Ironwill in Fort McMurray

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Ironman Races are arguably some of the most challenging endurance events in the world, combining a 3.8km open water swim, 180km of biking, and you finish the day with a full marathon of 42.2km. Kellan Scheiris, Bryan Adams, Whitney Williams, Jon Gresl and Julie Mellon from Fort McMurray made their dream come true of finishing one, by flying all the way to Melbourne, Australia to race along the gold coast in the Asia-Pacific Championships. For some it was a year of carefully planning their training program, eating habits, and equipment selection, while others relied more on their indestructible character, but all have one thing in common: They can now call themselves an Ironman!

The other thing they had in common is that except for Kellan, none of them had participated in any triathlon event before joining the Northern Lights Triathlon Club. Jon grew up in Penticton, so he has witnessed many people finish an Ironman while he was out on the beach. Then three years ago he decided, that maybe it should be him finishing one of them, and he started training with the NLTC in Fort McMurray. “I took every training session, every post swim hot tub talk, every tri-club social gathering, every race day experience, and every injury sustained to prepare for the biggest challenge I’ve ever undertaken so far: finishing an Ironman.”

The timing of the event of it being in March created an extra challenge: How to train your biking and running distances while it is winter in Fort McMurray. Bryan explains that most of the winter training has taken place in his basement on an indoor cycling trainer or treadmill. This made it not only a physical task, but because of it being all indoors it required becoming mentally resilient to press through rough spots when it gets hard or boring. Whitney adds that this probably helped them more to get through race day than they originally realized. A week in Arizona at the end of January gave some relieve of the winter cold, to rack up outside training hours, and getting used to working out in the heat. Then two weeks before the event they left for Melbourne so they would have time to scope out the course and get their body adjusted into the proper condition. “I bet we ran the last 5km of the marathon 20 times,” Kellan jokes.

As the race day approached Kellan could tell they were on to something pretty special. “I noticed I wasn’t getting nervous like I had for most races. Bike check, bag drop, race morning seemed to speed right by. Next thing I knew, we were on the start line being seeded into our swim waves. We had swam in some rough ocean conditions in the weeks prior, but we lucked out race morning with nearly still conditions.” But as soon as the race started the rush of adrenaline kicked in for Julie.  “Nothing like jumping into open water with more than 2,500 other triathletes!”

The bike is normally the longest leg of the day, but everyone came out rather unscathed from the bike, no flats and no wipe outs, maybe just a few burnt layers of skin in the heat of the 29’C Melbourne sun. This was where all the long hours in Bryan’s basement started to pay off. “It was feeling like a consistent training day and when I started on the 3rd 45 km section into a head wind I didn’t panic. I must have passed well over a hundred people, who had pushed too hard too early and were now paying for it. On the run I still had some rough moments, but I knew the last 14km of the course, so when I regrouped by the 27th km it was time to finish strong.” Jon was one of those who had not trained as much as Bryan did, so for him the bike is where it got hard. “The second half of the bike and the first half of the run were absolutely miserable. I was in “the dark place” but as the finish line came within reach, the pain went away and the adrenaline took over. I finished the race strong and I did way better than I expected.” Kellan adds that thankfully, the last 3km were filled with people cheering you on, because they had nothing left. He crossed the line in 6th place for his age category, but had no idea. “The mass swim start makes it difficult to know where you are placed in the race. I was just happy the pain was over.”

All five finished their race, so when race celebrations started all of them walked away with a profound sense of self-growth, awareness, respect for their bodies and realization of what they just accomplished. The cherry on top of it all for Julie was celebrating with the overall race winner, Canadian Jeff Symonds, who is a childhood friend of Jon. “All six of us sat at a table at the official Ironman after party, ocean view out in front, talking about the race, the recovery, and what’s next. You can be sure that there was a strong sense of Canadian pride felt at that table.” At the end of the day though, if there is one thing they all agree on it is that you never know what you are capable of until you try, or as Jon puts it “If you’re going to doubt anything, doubt your limits.” 


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