Racing more than 225 kilometres with 3,000 people, Peter and Danica Lee had no expectation of seeing each other on the route of Ironman Canada.
The Nelson father and daughter had trained together for a year year to prepare for the three-sport endurance race, spending 25 hours per week swimming, biking and running during the peak of their training. But at the race on August 26, they planned to take the challenge at their own pace and meet at the end.
“When the starting gun went off we gave each other a hug and said, ‘see you at the finish line,'” Danica recalled. “I swam behind him for the first 500 metres, then he got ahead and I thought I’d be by myself for the rest of the race.”
But as luck would have it, the two would meet up several times during the race and ended up running the final marathon together and crossing the finish line hand-in-hand with a time of 16:32.
Peter, 58, raced Ironman once five years earlier. Danica, 23, convinced him to sign up again for her first attempt at it. The pair had to sign up in person a year in advance and pay a couple hundred dollars in entry fees to secure their spot.
The 3.86 km swim, 180.25 bike and 42.2 km run isn’t something you can do without considerable preparation. Athletes make pacing plans for themselves and carefully plan how much water and nutrition they’ll need to last them through the day. It’s not uncommon to see athletes puking or being treated by medics at the side of the course.
“You need to think about having enough calories to replace what you’re burning off or you’re not going to make it to the finish line,” Peter said.
But as well as you plan, things can always go wrong. Peter was slowed down during his swim-to-bike transition when the zipper on his bike jersey broke. He had an extra jersey with him, but he had to leave his transition area to get it.
In the time Peter spent getting his jersey, Danica finished the swim and set out on her bike unaware her father was behind her at this point.
He caught up to her during a climb on the bike route.
“We rode, very slowly, together up the hill. Then I went off ahead,” Peter said.
The two saw each other again briefly at the special needs tent, midway through the bike course, where athletes stop to pickup a bag of nutrition and other items that they packed for themselves before the race.
Then during their bike-to-race transition, they happened to bump into each other a third time on their way to the Porta Potties.
“At that point we decided to stop the silliness and just stay together,” Peter said.
It was dusk when they began their run. Ironman starts at 7 a.m. and participants are required to finish in the 17 hours before midnight.
As the sun set, runners were handed glow sticks to light their way.
“I think it would have been really lonely, in the dark, without someone to run with,” Danica said.
At one point in the run Sister Madonna Buder, the so-called Iron Nun, ran pass them. The 82-year-old from Spokane authored the book The Grace to Race and is the oldest woman ever to complete an Ironman.
“I yelled to her, ‘you’re my hero,’ as she passed,” Danica said.
Awhile later they passed the nun while she was puking in the bushes (not uncommon, remember). Eventually she passed them again, then they got ahead of her for awhile and they continued to leapfrog back and forth like that throughout the run.
In the final stretch, runners enter a kilometre long finishing shoot where fences line the road and spectators wait to to cheer on the finishers. When Peter and Danica reached the shoot, the nun was just behind then.
“I told Danica we couldn’t let an 82-year-old beat us,” Peter laughed . “We were running as hard as we could to stay ahead of her.”
They finished just 20 seconds ahead of her.
The next day, the two of them got tattoos of the Ironman logo.
Looking back at the experience, Danica said, “It was one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life.”
Peter said the experience was made better by having his daughter along with him.
“It’s just a lame excuse to hang out with your kid,” he joked.
Peter may be convinced to do the race a third time, because his 14-year-old granddaughter wants to do it in a few years (she’ll need to be 18 to register).
After 30 years in Penticton, this was the final year Ironman Canada will be held there. Next year Penticton will host a Challenge triathlon, which will basically be the same race but with a different sponsor. Ironman Canada, meanwhile, is seeking bids from other cities interested in hosting the event.
Kim Irving of Nelson also competed in Ironman Canada, finishing in 13:23.