When Whistler triathlete John Blok was making plans for this year's Xterra World Championships in Hawaii on Oct. 27, he admittedly had his eyes set on a medal in the men's 65-to-69 division.
"My hope was for a podium finish," the 65-year-old Blok said. "If anybody asked me, I would say I wasn't sure what to expect but my hope was to be on the podium."
Sure enough, Blok accomplished the feat, finishing the course in four hours, 23 minutes and 31 seconds (4:23:31) to take third in the age group. Blok acknowledged that moving up an age group this year knocked out some of his potential competition in younger age groups, as fewer of them progress like he did.
"I'm racing the same course as 20- and 30-year-olds, and it gets much tougher the older you become," he said. "A lot of the people, as they age, find it impossible to do now."
An Xterra World veteran, Blok noted that this year's 31-kilometre biking course had less elevation gain, as it took a route that diminished the potential impact of mud sticking to riders' tires.
However, Blok said the course had more roots, which made him feel at home, though several others struggled to navigate it, especially during the rainier first lap.
To start the race, Blok acknowledged that the 1.5-km ocean swim is always difficult, not only for the practical reasons of cutting through tall waves, but because it's unnerving to do so.
"The swells come in pretty big on that side of the island, and it's near some surf areas, but it breaks on the shore and it can break twice as high as you're standing there," he said. "I've done it a few times before, so I have a little bit of experience, but I'm still pretty afraid of it.
"I definitely lost some sleep the night before worrying about the waves coming in."
As well, the 10.5-km run route provided its share of issues, presenting a tough run full of twisty corners at a time when the temperature neared 32 Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity. Blok said, thankfully, running in the heat is his forte.
"I love heat," he said. "I run on the really hot days here in the afternoons when nobody else is out running.
"You have to run hills and you have to run in temperatures where most people aren't comfortable anymore."
Ultimately, Blok credited the good fortune that his body held up for coming away with some hardware.
"Your body has to work during the race. Whoever comes away with the least injuries probably does the best," he said. "That's so very key in long events like that."
Looking ahead, both Blok and his wife Grace will keep with their triathlon training, as both have registered for next year's Subaru Ironman Canada return to Penticton. For Blok, it will be his 10th Ironman overall. He'll also look to return to next year's Xterra World Championships.
"It's their 25th anniversary of doing the World Championship in Maui, and that might be quite exciting," he said. "It would be a special occasion for sure. I remember doing Penticton's Ironman at their 25th anniversary, and that was a pretty big milestone also."
Blok said he often is asked about triathlon by aspiring athletes, and is always eager to provide a helping hand. Those interested in his advice are welcome to reach out to him at Whistler Core Climbing and Fitness Gym.