Invermere’s fantastic four competitors

IronMan competitors reflect on the journey to and through the ultimate triathalon day

Invermere’s very own fantastic four – a group of dedicated triathletes – recently returned from Ironman Coeur d’Alene held in Idaho.

The athletes each competed in a 3.86-kilometre swim, a 180.25-kilometre bike, ending with a 42.1-kilometre run in the heat of the day, all with different experience levels. From a seasoned Ironman competitor to a first timer, Hal Saunders, Haru Watanabe, Veronique Hul, and Liz Vanderkruk each broke personal records throughout the course of the day.

“We have become a close-knit little Ironman family. Liz and I are hard core ‘stick to the schedule’ kind of girls. Hal and Haru are game for whatever is on the schedule. We really complement each other and we have a nice balance,” said Veronique Hul.

For Ms. Hul, Mr. Saunders, and Mrs. Vanderkruk, Coeur d’Alene wasn’t their first time competing in an Ironman competition. They each entered the race hoping to improve their times from previous challenges.

“The competition at any Ironman is intense. I personally don’t go into it looking to compete against anyone; my goal is to just finish the race in the best time I can under whatever conditions I’m dealing with that day,” said Mr. Saunders.

Coeur d’Alene was Mr. Watanabe’s first time entering an Ironman competition and he quickly fell into pace training with the other seasoned athletes.

“Haru Watanabe is the kid in our group. He has trained extremely hard and was so excited in Coeur d’Alene. We discuss a lot of scenarios prior to the race so I don’t know if I said anything in particular but if I was to give him one piece of advice it would be to try and swim straight and don’t swim in circles like when we train,” said Mr. Saunders.

Mr. Watanabe said competing in an Ironman had always been a bucket list item, something that he wanted to finish no matter what his finish time was. Expecting to finish in 16 hours, Mr. Watanabe surpassed his expectations finishing in 13:38:35.

“I wasn’t sure how my body was going to react in a marathon so I took a little less effort on the bike, like saving effort on the bike, and got off the bike and felt great so I just kept running and running and running,” said Mr. Watanabe.

Mr. Watanabe’s day got off to a rocky start. He checked his bike before the start of the competition and found he had a flat tire. He had to leave his bike in the hands of technicians while he started his swim, hoping it would be fixed by the time he finished swimming.

“When I changed to my wetsuit to go swim my bike wasn’t in my spot yet, they were still fixing it. So that was the worst moment. I told the bike tech normally my swim takes about 90 minutes … so they said ‘OK, we think we can do something in an hour and a half’,” said Mr. Watanabe.

While Mr. Watanabe was dealing with his bike issues, Mrs. Vanderkruk was preparing to crush her previous records. While she struggled with the heat during her run portion she was still able to make a new personal best in the other aspects of the event.

“I was very happy with my swim. My swim was a personal best over all my other Ironmans. My bike, I did awesome; I was really happy with my bike. It was also personal best,” said Mrs. Vanderkruk.

Over the past eight months preparing for the competition, the fantastic four trained every week together. Over the winter the group checked in with each other but did not start training together until spring. Describing the group as a family, Mrs. Hul said she wouldn’t be able to do the long bike training without the others.

“It really makes it fun, social and motivating. I could not do those long bike rides (5-6 hour rides) without them,” said Mrs. Hul.

The fantastic four found motivation throughout the Coeur d’Alene competition when they got to see each other.

“The neatest part of the race was we got to see each other on the race a lot. A lot of them were out and backs – so out and back on the bike and out and back on the run – so we could high five each other,” said Mrs. Vanderkruk.

It seems this group has the competitive spirit as each athlete is looking for their next competition, whether it be next summer or in a few years. The fantastic four will continue to represent the community at Ironman competitions in the future.

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