Ironman descends upon Whistler for fifth year

Final year of five-year contract will see 3,000 athletes compete

By now, most Whistler residents will have noticed the signs posted around town warning motorists of the various highway closures on Sunday (July 30).

These traffic notices are just one sign that Subaru Ironman Canada is set to return to Whistler for its fifth year — the last under its current contract, which organizers say they’re currently in discussions to possibly continue.

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The event will bring 3,000 endurance athletes to the corridor — about 60 per cent of whom come from outside the country — which is up from last year.

The event will kick off with a self-seeding rolling start in Rainbow Park, on the shores of Alta Lake, with pro women entering the water at 6:40 a.m., followed by age group competitors at 6:50 a.m. After finishing the double-loop, 3.8 kilometre swim portion, competitors will transition onto their bikes for the 180 km cycle portion.

The single-loop course will take athletes south into the Callaghan Valley before steering them back up Highway 99 through Whistler to Pemberton, before heading back south to the resort. The final stage of the race is made up of a two-loop, 42.2 km run course — a full marathon — that will follow the Valley Trail past Lost Lake and Green Lake, before passing the finish line on Blackcomb Way, adjacent to Olympic Plaza.

“I think it’s amazing to be able to have an event like this in our hometown,” said Whistler local and Ironman veteran Trevor Hopkins. “I had never seen an Ironman race before so I spectated the first year it was in Whistler and I was blown away with the fitness levels and commitment of all levels of athletes that competed.”

Hopkins will be racing the 70.3 event this year, following his participation in two 70.3 Ironmans in Victoria, two full Ironmans in Whistler and four standard, or Olympic distance, Ironman triathlons.

This year will also mark Ironman’s second time including the 70.3 event on Whistler’s race day roster. Comprised of a 1.9 km swim, a 90 km bike course and a 21.1 km run, this race is set to follow the same terrain as the full Ironman course, though it’s half the distance.

For local spectators, Keats McGonigal, Ironman’s senior regional director, said the must-see portions of the gruelling event include “(the) swim start and the last hour, 11 p.m. to midnight at the finish line,” he wrote, in an email, referencing the event’s signature midnight cutoff. “The emotions of the athletes are amazing to witness,” he added.

Spectator support plays a significant role in the athletes’ success, according to Hopkins. “My first triathlon was Ironman Whistler in 2014 and I didn’t really know what I was doing. If it wasn’t for the support of the crowds all along the course I don’t think I would have made it to the finish,” he said. “Hearing all kinds of family, locals and strangers cheering kept me putting one foot in front of the other all along the run course. I was happy to make it to the finish with the sun still up.”

Whether or not athletes cross the finish line before the sun goes down, the end of the race is sure to be emotional for many finishers. Training for the gruelling endurance event is, for most competitors, akin to a part-time job.

For those hoping to take in some finish line action earlier in the day, 70.3 finishers will begin crossing the finish line at approximately 12:30 p.m., while Ironman finishers will start rolling in at about 3:30 p.m., McGonigal added.

This year, the event will feature the addition of the professional women’s division, drawing some of the world’s top female triathletes to the Sea to Sky. Some contenders to keep an eye on? Americans Danielle Mack, Uli Bromme, as well as Canadians Melanie McQuaid and Jen Annett are all expected to finish near the top of the pack.

Meanwhile, anyone in or travelling through Whistler should be prepared for significant road closures on Sunday. The most impactful closure will see Highway 99 southbound closed from Portage Road to Alpine Way from 7 a.m to 5:30 p.m., and from Alpine Way to Callaghan Valley from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The highway will also be closed northbound from Alpine Way to Portage Road from 8:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Northbound traffic may flow through to Whistler throughout the event, though no left-hand turns will permitted from Callaghan Valley to Blueberry drive from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m, and between Whistler Cay Drive and Emerald Drive from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (For a list of full road closures, visit whistler.ca.)

For a list of full road closures, visit whistler.ca.

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