Penticton has always been a safe haven of sorts for professional triathletes Jen Annett and Jeff Symonds.
A city they know like the back of their hands and where crossing the finish line in first place isn’t unusual. But, come Sunday they will be up against the best as they vie for the Multisport Long Course World Championship title and even with the hometown crowd assistance they know it will be a battle.
“I put the most pressure on myself,” said Annett, a self-proclaimed perfectionist. “Sometimes racing locally, I absolutely love it. But I do feel, and it’s just my personality not that I have something to prove, that there is more pressure to do well.”
While both the athletes find themselves in very familiar territory on Sunday, they have taken completely different paths on the way here this racing season.
Shortly after taking second at Subaru Ironman Canada in Whistler earlier this month, Annett admitted this weekend’s championship had been on the back burner in terms of preparation. IMC in Whistler was her “A race,” which was followed by a recovery period before training again for this weekend. That is, in between juggling finding quality time with her family and taking care of personal commitments.
“My life is a total circus,” she laughs. “It doesn’t matter how simple I try to make my life, there is always something that comes into it that makes it complicated. It’s just the life of having a family. A five year old. The things that we like to do as a family. It’s not your ideal pro athlete situation where I can just go have a nap whenever I feel like it. I guess it definitely takes my mind off of it.”
Even with the hectic schedule, Annett has been getting results this season. She placed 10th at Ironman St. George 70.3 in May, then took second in Ironman Victoria 70.3 on June 3 and Ironman Coeur d’Alene on June 25. Annett heads into the weekend confident from what she accomplished in Whistler. She proved to herself she belongs with the other top pros.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost knowing that I’m finally where I want to be,” she said. “It’s definitely making me feel good about kind of where I’m sitting with my training. It proved that I’m making gains.”
The women’s field features fellow top Canadians such as Whistler Ironman third place finisher Rachel McBride, who also finished third at the ITU world championship last year. Melanie McQuaid is coming off winning the Cross Triathlon championship on Wednesday and Heather Wurtele (Kelowna) is a six-time Ironman champion. The ITU 2016 world champion Jodie Swallow isn’t competing and McBride is the lone female from the podium finishers that is returning.
Symonds comes into the race looking to turn his season around.
“I haven’t finished too many. I definitely haven’t had a race worth noting, that I would consider to be a respectable race,” he said. “I’m hoping this will be a respectable race.”
Symonds described his season as “terrible,” but part of his struggles come from not being healthy. The Penticton native has been sick a few times and it never allowed him to get on a roll. A long winter also didn’t do Symonds any favours. He tried to catch up and get his rhythm back by jumping into big races, but admitted he may not have been as prepared as in the past.
“It kind of grinds you down,” he said. “It was hard to build and get better. It kind of takes its mental toll on you too. You’re not really able to compete where you want to be or train at the level you want to train.”
Symonds sees the world championship as a way to change his fortunes.
“I definitely don’t feel like given the way the year has gone that I’m one of the favourites,” he said. “It’s kind of a weird mentality. In previous years I would have been.”
Despite what he has gone through this season, he expects Sunday to be “a fun day” competing alongside the top Canadian men including Lionel Sanders a 12 time Ironman 70.3 championship, Jordan Bryden who is the 2017 Ultra 520K champion, Nathan Killam who finished third in the 2016 Canadian long distance championship and Cody Beals the 2017 Ironman 703. Eagelman second place finisher.
While Annett, Symonds and the rest of the field battle for the Long Course World Championship title, the first Aquabike World Championship will also take place Sunday. The Aquabike is a three-km swim and 120-km bike ride. There are no elite athletes competing in the event.
“The multisport world continues to grow at an incredible rate,” said ITU president and IOC member Marisol Casado. “Offering multisport races like Aquabike promotes the growth of triathlon worldwide, as it makes the sport accessible to everyone of all ages and abilities no matter where they are.”