Beating the heat at Ironman 

Firefighter completes run in full gear

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DEVON BAILEY - WHERE'S THE FIRE? Stephen Sanderson completed Subaru Ironman Canada for the second consecutive year on Sunday, July 29.
  • Photo by Devon Bailey
  • WHERE'S THE FIRE? Stephen Sanderson completed Subaru Ironman Canada for the second consecutive year on Sunday, July 29.

Stephen Sanderson's approach to Ironman is poetic: he pushes his muscles to the limit to raise funds and awareness for muscular dystrophy research.

But this year, there was an added layer. Sanderson completed the marathon-length run portion in full firefighting gear. At this year's Subaru Ironman Canada race on July 29, it was hot as blazes, with Sanderson suiting up in the late-afternoon mid-30s heat.

"I did it last year, and it was nothing compared to the temperatures this year," said the Lions Bay Fire Rescue fireman.

Sanderson finished in 16 hours, 35 minutes and one second (16:35:01), including a 7:36:12 run. While the heat was more intense than last year, Sanderson also noted that the tougher bike course—which was a three-looped course instead of a there-and-back to Pemberton this year—had also left him more drained by the time he started the run.

"I put the gear on and by that point, it was about 34 degrees. As soon as I put it on in the tent, I was almost seeing double vision," he said. "I was completely dizzy. My calves were cramping up. My groin, hamstrings, everything was just wanting to shut down.

"After eight kilometres, it was hard to put one foot ahead of the other. It was hard on the mind when I realized I had about 30 kilometres to go and it was hard to take one step. I just had to tell my mind to shut up.

"My feet were raw. They were soaking wet with sweat for almost 12 hours at that point so there were blisters and trench foot, basically. The weight of the air tank on my neck and my back ... It was all mental at that point."

However, Sanderson pressed on thinking about his friend, also named Stephen, who lives with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Sanderson also credited the volunteers at aid stations with helping him keep cool, dumping water and ice on him while providing vocal support.

Sanderson's campaign started in 2014 when he completed the Grouse Grind and subsequently completed the BMO Vancouver Marathon and the last two Ironman Canada races. As a result, he's raised over $55,000, including almost $15,000 this year.

Not all athletes could handle the heat quite like Sanderson. Ironman senior regional director Keats McGonigal said the completion rate was lower than the regular rate of 89 to 92 per cent, instead dropping to about 85 per cent.

"We do attribute that to the heat, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been, so I think the heat mitigation measures that we took in terms of (bringing) extra ice and extra water on the course and cooling buses that athletes could get into certainly did the trick."

In addition to competitors, the crowds of friends, family and fans who lined up along the course with signs and bells employed several strategies to beat the heat while cheering on the athletes, from sporting sun hats and sunscreen to sucking down sports drinks.

For Joanna Holland and her group, who made the trek up Highway 99 from Vancouver to support her boyfriend, Jonathan, keeping cool meant bringing along some Super Soaker water guns.

"We're just staying hydrated, in the shade and feeling bad for him," she said, while posted up with lawn chairs and matching T-shirts underneath the Nordic overpass. "We were spraying each other, and Jon, and then if the other athletes asked for it, we'd give them (a spray)."

-with files from Megan Lalonde

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