When Whistler long-distance runner Marla Zucht found out the deferred 2021 Ironman World Championship race was moved to St. George, Utah instead of its usual location of Kona, Hawaii, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
But not even that uncertainty was going to stop her from competing in the 226-kilometre triathlon event, held on May 7, even with the more challenging conditions.
“There was some skepticism of how it would feel as a World Championship not being held in Kona, but really the communities of St. George, Hurricane, and Washington, Utah, where the race spanned, did a fantastic job of welcoming the athletes, friends and families to the area—but it was definitely difficult,” said Zucht.
“For me, I would probably say it was more challenging. The heat and the winds probably would be similar to what we get in Hawaii, but what made it more challenging would be the hilly terrain.”
However, even with the approximately 35-degree heat, strong winds, colder water requiring a wetsuit and nearly 2,500 metres of climbing combined in the biking and running legs of the race, nothing could put a damper on the energy and camaraderie that comes with the return of in-person competitions after two years without them, according to Zucht.
Zucht’s final time of 12:20:04 was good enough for 11th-place—and first Canadian finisher—in her age category, representing her best finish out of the five Ironman World Championships she’s raced in so far.
“I just feel very honoured to race among the best triathletes in the world,” she said. “It’s a very humbling experience and it’s incredibly impressive and inspirational to be among these very strong athletes, and the World Championship event itself is really nothing short of amazing. It’s kind of the pinnacle of the race experience.”
The swim portion went well for her, Zucht said, adding that she felt “really good” getting on the bike, too.
“I think I did a good job of pacing and did a good job with my nutrition and staying hydrated. But the marathon was definitely challenging for me with the heat,” she said.
“I had a hard time keeping my body cool enough through the marathon, and then just getting enough fluids and calories in. I think I probably did sacrifice some of the nutrition and hydration that I needed. It’s not easy by any means, but I can look back afterwards and feel happy with my performance, and just being able to endure it and get through it takes a lot of mental fortitude.”
For Zucht, who has been long-distance running for years, starting with the sprint distances before working her way up to the Olympic distance, Half Irons and then full Ironman distance, participating in these types of races has always been about continuously challenging and pushing herself to bigger and better things.
Keeping with that trajectory, Zucht now plans to take the next step and compete in the Ultraman Canada race in the Okanagan in July. Unlike the one-day Ironman races, the Ultraman happens over an entire weekend with a 10-km swim and 180-km bike on the first day, a 280-km bike the second day, and finishing off with back-to-back marathons on the third day.
In addition to July’s Ultraman, Zucht’s summer race schedule includes a Half Iron in Oliver in June, as well as the Ironman Canada race in Penticton at the end of August where she hopes to once again qualify for the World Championships.
“It’s an event that attracts and inspires people from all over the world, so it’s an amazing experience to be a part of,” she said. “I’m always full of gratitude when I get the opportunity to race in these events and they are experiences that I savour because I never know if I’ll have that opportunity again to compete at the world championships, so they’re pretty special. And it’s nice to have friends and family to share it with too.”
For anyone who is interested in getting into long-distance running but doesn’t know where to start, Zucht suggests getting involved with Whistler’s “really great triathlon community” and building up your endurance from there.