Photo by Rick Kent
Day one of Ultraman Canada is in the books, and what a day it’s been. Two course records were broken, but after more than seven hours and 150 kilometers of racing, there are only seven minutes between first and second place, with the remainder of the top five athletes well within striking distance.
Craig Percival of Melbourne, Australia seized the top spot early with an astonishing 10k swim, beating the course record by eight minutes with a 2:24:28. He was followed closely by Penticton’s own Dave Matheson, clocking a fifth all-time record of 2:36:11. Matheson promptly chewed nearly two minutes out of Percival’s lead with a 34-second transition to the bike. After that, the chase was on through a course that closely follows the historic Challenge Penticton bike course before turning to the steep climbs along the Richter Pass. Percival tacked on a thunderous bike ride to the finish, breaking the overall day one record. Matheson rode just a bit faster, putting the gap to just seven minutes by the end of the first day’s racing.
Though a multiple Iron-distance race finisher, this was Percival’s first Ultraman and he was overall surprised with his outcome on the day. He was happy with the result, but remains humbled by the course.
“I’ve always been a little bit of a swim-biker. It’s a massive race, so I kept trying to tell myself to slow down, but I guess you could say I got a bit of white line fever. I’ve never won too many races in my life, so to come across the line first today was a great feeling for me. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s going to make my wife and kids at home really happy. It’s a solid course. Even in moments when I was groveling with my tongue on the handlebars I still tried to find time to appreciate the beauty here.”
An 18-time Ironman finisher (seven of which in Penticton), Matheson says he was drawn to compete in Ultraman because of his longtime involvement volunteering in the event and a desire to try something new. He was happy with his overall performance today and looks forward to continuing tomorrow. He gives credit to his crew for his record-book swim.
“I expected myself to be anywhere from 2:30 to 2:45. The big thing was that I could swim that time if I swam that distance, so having an escort kayak to keep me straight was key. I owe my support crew huge on that.”
“I felt a huge hometown advantage. I ride the Challenge Penticton course a couple of times a week. We’ll see how things go tomorrow, but at this point I feel pretty good.”
More Than Sport athlete Christian Isaakson, Inaki de la Parra of Mexico City, and Seattle’s John Bergen emerged from the water about 20 minutes behind the leaders. Isaakson and Bergen each struggled through the bike, with some stomach and cramping issues respectively, but remain within 40 minutes of the lead– still close enough to threaten the leaders with 275.8km of cycling and a double marathon to go.
The women’s race is an all-Canadian affair. Iona MacKenzie of Edmonton holds a 35 minute lead over Ultraman rookie Kathleen Wood of Kelowna. Lucy Ryan of Coquitlam is in third by 34 minutes. MacKenzie, a veteran Ultraman athlete who competed at the World Championships in Hawai’I in 2010, gave credit to the Penticton route. “You can’t fake it on a swim that long.”Day two is a 275.8-km bike out of Penticton west through the mountains to the town of Princeton.