RCAF triathletes compete in Ironman 70.3 at Mont-Tremblant

News Article / September 12, 2017

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By Captain Wright Eruebi

Twenty-three members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) gathered in Québec’s Laurentian Mountain region on June 22, 2017, to test their physical and mental endurance against 2,900 professional and amateur civilian triathletes during the Ironman 70.3 at Mont-Tremblant.

The Ironman 70.3 race is “not for the faint of heart,” said Major-General Christian Drouin, commander of 1 Canadian Air Division / Canadian NORAD Region (1 CAD/CANR) and CAF triathlon patron.

Both Major-General Drouin and Chief Warrant Officer Mike Scarcella, former 1 CAD/CANR chief warrant officer, competed in the event. Shortly after registering, they issued a call-to-action to CAF triathletes in what came to be known as the “1 CAD Command Team Challenge”.

The Ironman 70.3, a half-Ironman race, involves swimming 1.9 kilometres (1.2 miles), cycling 90 kilometres (56 miles) and running 21 kilometres (13.1 miles). The course adds up to 70.3 miles, hence the Ironman 70.3 moniker. 

“I want to congratulate all the athletes who took part in Ironman Mont-Tremblant 70.3,” Major-General Drouin said. “Just to participate in and finish this grueling race is truly noteworthy and, as CAF triathlon patron, it made me incredibly proud to see such an amazing turnout of our own triathletes representing the CAF at such an incredible and memorable event.”

The military presence at the event was almost double that of the previous year. Of the 23 CAF athletes taking part in the race, 11 were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force from across Canada. A CF-188 Hornet fighter roared overhead following the National Anthem, marking the official start of the race.

Major Eric Travis, an aerospace engineer from 404 Long Range Patrol and Training Squadron at 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, is a long-course athlete and the current CAF International Military Sports Council (CISM) triathlon team manager. He described the conditions faced by the racers as “ideal” for a triathlon. Though the forecast initially called for thunderstorms, athletes were instead greeted by brisk, refreshing air, a small fog layer, and smooth water conditions that were perfect for swimming.

Ironman events are widely considered among the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. “Race morning arrived early, with athletes waking up around 4:30 a.m. for breakfast and getting ‘body-marked’ by 5 a.m.,” Major Travis said. “After a short warm-up, we walked the kilometre to the swim starting point and put on our wet suits as we got ready for a four- to eight-hour day of continuous racing.” 

In an effort to increase athlete safety during the swim portion, Major Travis highlighted that organizers implemented a new Ironman “safe-swim start” during the competition, which made for a much more pleasant experience upon departure.

“It essentially involves a rolling start at the beginning of the swim phase and a timing mat at the water’s edge to ensure only three athletes enter the water at a time,” he said. He added that ensuring sufficient spacing among competitors prevents the turbulence, caused by swimmers hustling for position, that has troubled athletes in past events.

Major Travis noted that even the event transitions were challenging, adding to the already lengthy course. “Transition from the swim zone to the bike area was on bare feet, and a distance of about a kilometre,” he said. “Some athletes stripped their wetsuit at the lakeshore so as not to run in their heavy suits to the transition zone.” 

The cycling course took the athletes through the hilly Québec countryside surrounding the Mont-Tremblant ski resort. Major Travis said that, while scenic, it made for a challenging course with an impressive amount of climbing. 

To finish the race, athletes ran a half-marathon along the famous "P’tit Train du Nord", a former railway bed that is now considered the longest linear park in Canada.

Despite being accomplished athletes and fitness enthusiasts, Major-General Drouin and Chief Warrant Officer Scarcella spent more than seven months training for the event. Dubbing the military portion of the Ironman Mont-Tremblant 70.3 event the “1 CAD Command Team Challenge” is part of Major-General Drouin’s ongoing commitment to promoting the importance of fitness and goal-setting to those under his command and mentorship.

“Every achievement helps us improve, and our organization recognizes that as long as we are the best versions of ourselves, we are able to offer the best service to the defence and safeguarding of our fellow Canadians,” he said, adding that he and Chief Warrant Officer Scarcella had to work hard to navigate the balance between their busy jobs and meeting their fitness goals. “It wasn’t easy, but we made a commitment and we just found a way to make the time, to train hard every day and get to that moment where we could cross that finish line.”

Three race highlights among the RCAF participants stood out. Corporal Alexandre Boule, a cook from 3 Wing Bagotville, Québec, finished in 4:14:20, placing first in his age category and 13th overall. Major David Simpkin, an air combat systems operator posted to Collège militaire royal de St-Jean, Québec, completed his first Ironman 70.3 with a time of 4:27:29, placing third in his age group. Sergeant Fred Nolin, assistant wing chief warrant officer at 16 Wing Borden, Ontario, finished in 4:32:40, placing eighth in his age group.

“By all accounts, the first 1 CAD/CANR Commander’s Challenge was a roaring success,” Major Travis said. “Between the perfect race conditions, the excellent organization by the Ironman race committee, and the added teambuilding opportunity, our athletes were free to focus on putting forward their best effort, and the result was a collection of outstanding individual and combined CAF team results.”

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