4 Whidbey Islanders competete in Triathalon World Championships

Blake Willeford

The best triathletes in world were on hand Saturday for the 2008 Triathlon World Championships in Vancouver, B.C.

Four of them came from South Whidbey. In their respective age groups, Blake Willeford placed seventh in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 42 seconds; Kurt Johnson was 21st in 2:04.19; Patricia Buchanan was 38th in 2:42.07 and Challis Stringer placed 73rd with 2:33.06.

Even before the first wave started, race officials shortened the swim by 500 meters as the water temperature was measured at a coolish 54 degrees.

A number of hypothermia cases were reported on Friday and extra medical facilities were put in place in anticipation for the event.

When cancellation of the 1.5-kilometer swim portion of the race was forced by high winds on English Bay, the event became a “duathlon” with a 3K run, 40K bike race and 10K final run.

Stringer was the only member of the team to actually swim.

“And, with the currents and choppy waves, I actually ended up swimming the full distance,” Stringer said. “I feel sorry for those who had to wait around so

I probably lucked out.”

The first age-group of swimmers were the 18-19 women and 20-24 women who raced into the chilly waters of English Bay. A few more age categories were started before the winds picked up, creating extremely unsettled conditions. The swim was canceled for the groups of women over age 55, as well as for the entire group of men competitors.

“I have to admit that made me happy,” Willeford said Monday.

“I found it increasingly hard to stay warm with all the waiting around we did. Even the safety boats were having a hard time

getting back for the next group,” he said. “Overall, I was disappointed but relieved.”

Willeford noted that the race was well-coordinated with what he termed, “typical Canadian politeness and civility.”

The final age groups to enter the water were the 45-49 women and 50-54 women. Every classification after that was turned into a duathlon consisting of a 3K run, 40K bike race and 10K run.

In all, 672 athletes entered the water while the remaining

1,030 completed the duathlon.

Buchanan, who had already entered the water for a misnamed “warm-up,” headed to her hotel room for a hot shower before starting the first run.

The bike portion — four laps around Stanley Park — went well as the city stopped traffic. But then Buchanan ran into a slight problem.

“There were a lot of people and some confusion at the transition point,” she recalled. “I put on my hot pink running shoes and off I go: “I looked down and soon discovered they weren’t mine and were two sizes too small. My feet were killing me but I kept going, fueling up on half-eaten food gels to keep my energy up.”

Stringer and the others were amazed at her fortitude.

“She is such a trooper,” Stringer said.

After the race, Buchanan found a woman complaining of running in pink shoes that were too big.

“We worked things out,” Buchanan said. “No one’s going to forget this race for years.”

For Johnson, cutting the swim portion was not good.

“I’ve been training in Holmes Harbor so the cold didn’t affect me,” he said. “But I found that the unexpected first run took a lot out of my legs and that bothered me in the second run.”

Johnson said the waiting around was a negative but the bike race the best.

“I had my wet suit on, there was a postponement, then the cancellation and they had to set up the run and we all hustled over to the start,” he said.

“On the other hand, the ride was terrific with an undulating, curvy surface and very interesting, even the fourth loop,” he said. “Plus, no traffic on a Saturday in the middle of a big city.”

During last week’s Langley City Council meeting, Mayor Paul Samuelson issued a proclamation lauding the four triathletes.

Springer said the proclamation was most appreciated.

“And a little embarrassing,” she laughed.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or sports@southwhidbeyrecord.com.