Ironman winners to descend on Whistler 

Experienced competitors anticipate a challenge

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - past champ Ironman competitor Liz Lyles expects to be put to the test in the July 26 Subaru Ironman Canada.
  • Photo submitted
  • past champ Ironman competitor Liz Lyles expects to be put to the test in the July 26 Subaru Ironman Canada.

Ironman: there can only be one.

A plethora of racers who have won Ironman competitions from New York to South Africa to Australia are set to come to Whistler for Subaru Ironman Canada on Sunday, July 26.

And several of those well-versed in the challenges the endurance race can offer have a sense that Whistler, by nature, will be its own beautiful beast.

American competitor Liz Lyles will be making her first trip to Canada, though she feels she should have a fair sense of what she'll be up against. The 37-year-old two-time winner lives in Reno, Nevada and trains close to Lake Tahoe, so she's prepared for hills and altitude.

"I expect it to be absolutely gorgeous, from what I've heard," she said. "I'm expecting a beautiful swim, a scenic bike ride, and (for it to be) challenging with the hills. For the run, I'm not quite sure what to expect quite yet."

Vermont's Jessie Donovan, meanwhile, likes to get out of town when she competes and feels Whistler will be an ideal fit. Donavan, 39, is particularly driven to test herself on her bike, which precipitated a cross-continental trip.

"I love challenging bike courses, so that's what drew me," she said. "I've done some city races, and I definitely prefer the mountains."

Australian Paul Ambrose, who's returning for a second crack at the course after taking part last year, feels a repeat performance will help him move up from third overall.

"I went in (to Whistler with the course) relatively unknown. I got in there late before the race and discovered the course as I was going around it," he said. "This year, going around, I kind of know what I'm in for. I went into that race just thinking it's another Ironman, but I found it's a lot more challenging and there's a certain proper preparation. I've adjusted my training accordingly."

He said he's taking on more hills and mountains as he gets ready for the B.C.-based Ironman, striving to up his endurance.

Ambrose has won twice in his home country (in 2012 and 2015) in addition to his first win in Louisville, Ky. in 2010. Knowing what it takes to win proves useful in future races, he said.

"It gives you a lot of knowledge going into a race. You know how to prepare yourself. You know how to pace yourself," he said. "It's a real confidence booster going into races knowing you've won races like that in the past."

Donavan, meanwhile, is a three-time Ironman winner, earning titles in Mont Tremblant, Lake Placid and South Africa. Winning in South Africa, in particular, is special for Donavan as she was coming off a rough outing at the Ironman in Los Cabos where her bike broke down and kept her from finishing. She flew across the world on a whim for the race and ended up having a fine result in a unique atmosphere.

"Even before winning, just being in South Africa, I just kept thinking 'I can't believe this is my life' and how lucky I felt," she said. "I kept thinking about the map we have on the wall and thinking 'I am at the tip of Africa right now' when I was swimming in the ocean. There were monkeys that were running across the road. And the people were so warm and welcoming and excited about the race."

Donavan opts to enjoy the smaller-sized places that host Ironman events, as she makes a point of chatting with other competitors and gains a higher appreciation for the race. In part, it's a result of her current living situation, where she can ride for 150 kilometres and encounter just a single streetlight, as well as her relatively recent promotion to the pro ranks.

"I feel that I really connect with amateurs. I'm a mother. I have children. I have a job that's not triathlon," she said. "You feel like you're more a part of the community. I feel like there's more opportunities to connect with other athletes as opposed to just being swallowed up in a city."

Lyles, meanwhile, has a bit of beginner's luck on her side, having won her first-ever pro race in Wisconsin in 2012 after competing as an amateur for the previous decade.

"It reaffirmed that I should be professional and I should keep doing this and training," she said of her first win.

A second victory in Western Australia the following year taught Lyles how to manage a significant time change and long travel while proving she could win in different conditions, neither of which will necessarily come into play on this side of the border.

For another boost of confidence, Lyles also won the Wildflower Triathlon in central California in May and was second in the Latin American championships (a half Ironman distance) in April.

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