As triathlon continues to mature as a sport, with more athletes specializing in one distance and focusing on one or two events, the summer racing season has turned from its traditional buyer's market (race every weekend!) to a tactical affair, where competitors slot races into a careful build, aiming to peak for 70.3 Worlds or Kona. 2017 is made even more complicated by the addition of ITU Long Distance Worlds, held in Penticton, B.C. the final weekend of August, adding a third world championship race to the crowded fall season.
Heather Jackson and Josh Amberger both punched their Kona tickets back in June, with Jackson validating her 2016 podium finish by taking second place at Ironman Boulder, and Amberger winning Ironman Cairns and securing one of the automatic qualifying spots to Hawaii. For Jackson, Calgary marked her first race back since the hard, hot race in Boulder, while Amberger had raced once before, taking the win at 70.3 Jonkoping in Sweden two weeks prior.
"I won Calgary 70.3 in 2016, and I was eager to return to defend my title in 2017," says Amberger. "It's a fun race to do, and the course seems to suit my strengths. I won by a wide margin last year, and with good form in 2017, I wanted to clench the iron fist once more and dominate. The race opens with a technical swim course, that challenges you to navigate and stay on course. Like 2016, I pushed the pace really fast in the opening minutes to force a gap between me and my competitors. Coming from sea level, I felt a massive burn in the lungs swimming in the 3,500ft high Lake Auburn, which reminded me that I should probably calm down and remember that while 70.3s are raced at Olympic-distance pace, I needed to respect the distance to not risk physiological depletion too early. I settled into a good low cadence grind on the bike, and went about padding my lead along the non-technical and crazy fast course. I kept my head down and followed the white line, not knowing where the racers were behind me. Delightfully, I set the fastest bike split of the day with a 45km/h average (28 mph), and still felt good coming off the bike to start the run. The first chance we had to see the order of the race was at the run turn, over 3 hours into the race, and I counted back to see I had a six-minute lead over 2nd place. Satisfied with my gap, I dialed the pace down and just wanted to cruise into the line, but the last 5km of the run course was really brutal, and ensured I still had to really work hard to hold my lead. I like the idea of returning to Calgary in 2018 for a three-peat, but I request that they align the race with Stampede weekend. Imagine that, yeehaa!"
Amberger now "goes into hibernation mode" until the Penticton ITU World Championships, just under four weeks distant.
Jackson, too, went on to dominate the field, winning by over six-and-a-half minutes. "Calgary was my first race back after Boulder," she told me the day after the race. "I took a couple weeks of easy recovery following Boulder before a solid three-week block leading into this race. I went out hard in the swim and was able to stay with swim leader Jen Spieldenner for about 200 meters before completely imploding and lost all feet or hips to latch onto. I made my way through the swim solo to hear 2:50 behind the leader when I got on the bike. Not bad for me but not great—I will continue to focus my efforts on my swim starts, pacing, and threshold work! For me, this race was about testing how hard I could push across four-ish hours as we fit it into my overall Kona build. I felt great on the bike and run and it's always an honor to be able to break the tape at any race. The course here in Calgary was beautiful and the fans on course cheering were great. I'm happy with where my fitness is at sitting at 12 weeks out from Kona."