Challenge Penticton saw 215 athletes participate in the annual race through the streets of Penticton. (Steve Kidd/Western News)

Dramatic finish for Challenge Penticton race

Leon Griffin made up a five-minute gap on the run portion to win the triathlon

With Nathan Killam leading him by five minutes, Leon Griffin had his work cut out for him as he headed out on the run portion of this year’s Challenge Penticton.

Leon Griffin made up a five-minute deficit to win the 2017 Challenge. (Steve Kidd/Western News)

“He had a pretty significant lead. I just kept chipping away and finally got him in sight and tasted blood, as they say,” said Griffin, who finished the race with an overall time of three hours, 59 minutes, 48 seconds, a minute ahead of Killam’s 4:00:43 in the two kilometre swim, 93-km bike and 21.1-km run.

Griffin, from Boulder, Co., said once he got close, he put the hammer down for the last little stretch.

“It is one of those sports you never give up. With three legs (swim, cycle, run), you never know what is going to happen,” said Griffin.

“I took the lead going up the hill in OK Falls, I had to push so hard to catch those guys and just put in a good effort on the climb out of OK Falls on the first loops,” said Killam. “I knew Leon could run like the wind so just went gangbusters and went all in on the bike. I heard I had a pretty big gap coming into the run. Just tried to run smart, not too hard, steady and I just couldn’t quite hold him off. I think he caught me around 17 K or so. I ran with him for a little bit. I just couldn’t hold his wheel. He just slowly drifted away. “

Killam admitted to feeling down about it.

“He was the overwhelming favourite to win,” added Killam, who became a father almost seven weeks ago to son Aiden. “I made him work for it that’s for sure.”

Griffin said he did what was needed to cruise in for the win. He got a boost of energy after learning he had cut Killam’s lead by half. It was then his goal to get really close by the five-kilometre turn. Griffin figures that Killam sank a bit after seeing him around a corner. Griffin, who originally hails from Australia, said he had lost some of his speed and didn’t have his usual sharpness, which can happen with more long distance races done and training. He experienced disappointment a month ago at an Ironman race in Boulder, where he was disqualified after the race when he missed 50 metres of the course when a volunteer guided him in the wrong direction. It hurt his chances of qualifying for the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Griffin said it was good to come to Challenge Penticton, where he stayed at Jeff Symonds parents house. He said they took him in like another son.

Third place for the men’s was Shawn Wilyman, with a time of 4:05:25. Last week, Wilyman won the Peach Classic Triathlon, with the third fastest time in that race’s 35-year history.

Griffin called Challenge “an honest course” with some “nice little climbs” and a beautiful view along the water.

“Running along the canal was pretty nice. I wanted to jump in a couple of times and cool off, but the race was too close,” said Griffin.

Vancouver’s Claire Robinson topped Kristi Buescher of Spokane, Wash., by nearly a minute, but didn’t know she had won the half distance until after. Robinson knew there were girls ahead of her, then mentioned that pro Carly Johan of Culver City, Calif. was taken away in an ambulance and later released with a separated shoulder. The only other female pro, Mackenzie Madison of Springfield, Ore. pulled out because of heat issues, but is OK.

“I knew I was close to the top. It was hard to gauge who was doing what,” she said. “It was pretty exciting when they told me.”

Robinson, originally from Toronto, credited keeping a steady pace for her success. It proved to be a good test run for her as she will return next month for the International Triathlon Union Multisport World Championship Festival. Robinson automatically qualified when she finished second at the 2016 Oklahoma ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships. She also qualified at the Great White North triathlon, also put on by Challenge Penticton race director Michael Brown. She completed that event in 8:33:47. Robinson looks to have a good month of training to find herself on the podium. What she learned about the Challenge Penticton course is to keep the run slow and steady.

“Knowing it’s just going to be hot and you can’t put too much pressure on yourself to go fast, take it slow,” said Robinson. “Base it more on effort than pace. The pace will be off no matter what.”

Claire Robinson, the first female age group winner with a time of 5:02:40, agreed with Griffin’s assessment of the heat.

“My swim was great and my bike was great. The run, I can’t be too harsh on myself, just because it was so hot,” said Robinson, who finished 15th overall, and first in the female 18-24 age group. “Definitely not my fastest time by any means, but I gave it my all and considering the conditions, I am pretty happy with how I did.

“I knew going into it that it was going to be 35 to 40 C on the run and right from the get go, I wouldn’t let myself go above a certain pace, I just kept it slow and steady.”

Lindsay Glassford of Invermere was second in 5:05:21.0 and Victoria Gilbert of Brentwood Bay, B.C. was third in 5:09:37.

The Aqua Bike (two-km swim, 93-km bike) attracted 47 athletes, including 27 males. Brentwood Bay’s Robert Johnson, 35 to 39, won in 2:58:43, while Simi Valley, Calif., Leslie Hancock, 40 to 44, was victorious on the women’s side. The Standard distance (1.5 swim, 46.5-km bike, 10.5-km run) was won by Victoria’s Mike Neill and Kiah Wheeler. Neill, 45 to 49, finished in 2:24;24, while Wheeler, 18 to 24, finished in 2:44:50. Bad Tattoo Brewing won the Half Relay (two-km swim, 93-km bike, 21.1-km run) finished in 4:37:08. The Half relay featured 32 teams.