Being labeled an Ironman is impressive. To achieve this noteworthy title means that you have overcome the physical and mental exhaustion that comes with swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles in under 17 hours. While the sport of triathlon is growing in popularity, thanks to Ironman, the dedication needed to accomplish such a feat remains the same.
What is it like to participate in the Whistler Ironman? We asked Whistler local, Scott Brammer, about his experience. Not only has Scott participated in multiple Ironman events, but he has also photographed and observed the event from the sidelines. His well-rounded view on the sport is a story just aching to be told! (Check out this post for a full Ironman Whistler course review.)
Into and Through the Ironman: Insights from a Competitor
Q: How many Ironmans have you competed in and where?
A: I have done nine Ironman Races. My first one was in 1989 in Penticton at age 19, I then did it every year after that for three more years, then basically have been doing one every four to five years since then. My first eight were in Penticton, the original home of Ironman Canada, then I did the first event held in Whistler in 2013.
Q: Which was the toughest and why?
A: The first was the toughest, but interestingly enough it was also my fastest. My friend Rob Forman and I had this conversation, “I’ll do it if you do it!” Then he said, “Well, I’ll do it if you do it!” Then we said, “So I guess we are doing it!” We entered it not really knowing if it was even possible. So in my training for it, I was basically training to do the impossible. From the moment I mailed in my entry, almost everything I did was in training for it. We would drive out to Penticton to ride the course multiple times over the summer, we ran the Vancouver Marathon, which was a first for both of us. The hardest was trying to swim the 3.8 km in a 25m pool in training, just so we knew we could do it. That is 152 lengths by the way, for two guys with almost no swim background, that’s a long way. We were so frightened by the distances that we did everything we could to prepare for it. In future years, I knew I could do it, so I was never able to push myself so hard, and my times have never been as fast as that first year.
Q: Do you have any Ironman day of rituals?
A: My race preparation always begins the night before the race. There is so much to do in the days leading up to the race, from signing in, to getting all of your gear ready, dropping off your bike the day before and getting a good last meal in. I always like to remove myself from it all by finding a quiet spot to sit down and meditate. I will mentally go through the entire race day from checking in, warming up, the swim start, the transitions, the biking, etc. Going through every possible scenario of what can happen, like get bumped in the swim and my goggles getting knocked off or getting a flat tire on the bike. I see myself eating every 20 mins and figure out what I will do if I drop my gels accidentally. I walk myself through each transition, mentally picturing what I will do, what clothes I will put on and in what order. If it is raining what will I wear? I visualize myself gliding through the water, spinning easily on the bike, running effortlessly and most importantly, crossing the finish line. The whole visualization process can take up to an hour, as I often have to repeat certain scenarios to get them just right in my mind. But once I have completed this ritual, I am ready to go. I find it puts my mind at ease and allows me to sleep easier. I can usually maintain this calmness right up until they sing the national anthem right before the race begins; it’s at this point that the eyes tear up as you realize that the last year of training has come down to this moment.
Q: Do you think an Ironman is more mentally or physically trying?
A: Ironman is definitely more of a mental game. There are so many reasons to quit, or not put the proper training in, you have to push through all of that. Physically, I think most people are capable of completing an ironman. Almost anybody can do an Ironman with proper training, coaching, and putting in the time on the bike, run, and swim. Be at the finish line just before the midnight cutoff and you will see all different types of people making their way across the line. I guarantee you will get a lump in your throat and the eyes will start to tear up as you watch these people realize their dream of finishing the Ironman. The one thing they all have in common is they had the mental fortitude to keep going.
Q: What was your motivation for competing?
A: In the beginning, for me, it was to do the impossible. I remember as a kid watching the Ironman on TV, and saying to myself, “This is not possible! There is no way they can do this.” The thought of running for four hours non-stop just didn’t make sense to me. So during my first Ironman, I kept thinking, “I am doing the impossible.” Once I finished it, having done what was once impossible, I was unstoppable, anything was now possible it seemed. This was very powerful stuff for a 19-year-old. Now it is about trying to regain that feeling, about doing something out of the ordinary and about reaching for a challenging goal that will push your limits.
Q: Are you interested in competing again?
A: I will definitely compete again. As I get older and busier, it does get harder to put the required training in, but it all comes down to priorities. My ultimate Ironman goal since day one has been to complete the Ironman course in Kona, Hawaii. I will never be fast enough to qualify for the World Championships, but they have a legacy program that allows entry for athletes who have never qualified, but have competed in 12 Ironman races at other locations. I only have three more to go! Wish me luck.
Behind the Lens: Capturing the Whistler Ironman
Q: Being a competitor first, how did it feel to be on the other side of the lens?
A: It was pretty eye-opening. A few races I was able to get on the back of a motorcycle for the bike portion and out on a boat for the swim. Seeing the pros compete up close, photographing them while knowing what they are going through is pretty amazing. Last year the weather was terrible, it was cold and raining, and I could not believe what some of the athletes were wearing. I stayed out shooting in the rain, in the same conditions, trying to capture what they were going through, knowing that this was the worst conditions many of them have ever competed in.
Q: Do you feel you are better able to photograph the emotion of the day after experiencing what the competitors are going through?
A: Definitely, most photographers are out to capture the beauty shots, the scenics, the top pros and the winners at the finish line. I will always try to capture these same types of shots, but I know the real stories are with the rest of the competitors, those people who will be out on the course for up to 17 hours. I always try to capture the lonely moments of the event, running in the dark with a glow stick providing the only light, as well as the camaraderie shown by two athletes running side-by-side encouraging each other. I aim to capture the importance of the race volunteers and spectators to the athletes and how they can help push them beyond their limits. The finish line just before midnight is equally important to photograph, as athletes come out of the darkness towards the crowds and the bright lights set up to greet them.
Q: How do you move from about the course and try to get everyone and everything? Any method to your madness?
A: The best way to see the course is on a bike. I will start at the swim start, either in the transition area if I have a media pass, or standing waist-deep in the water to get closer to the swimmers and in front of the spectators on the beach. The morning mist from the waterline is quite something. Last year I wanted a different angle so I shot from the other side of the lake, high up on Blueberry Hill. For the bike, the athletes ride past the village and up to Callaghan before coming back past Whistler Village on the way to Pemberton. I usually try to capture the pro’s going through the Village the first time, then I ride out towards Emerald to capture them as they ride past Green Lake with Whistler mountain in the background. The highway is closed at this point so the only way to get out there is by bike. Once they head out to Pemberton, you have a bit of time before they return. For the run, the bike comes in handy as well. It allows you easy access to some scenic spots along Lost Lake, then out past Nicklaus North to capture athletes along Green Lake again.
Q: Will you be photographing this year’s event?
A: While I do not have any pending assignments for the race as yet, I will be out again on the course. Ironman has been a huge part of who I am for the past 27 years and now that the home of Ironman Canada is in my hometown of Whistler, the only reason I will not be shooting the race is if I am competing in it.
We applauded you and your accomplishments as a photographer and as an Ironman competitor Scott Brammer! Your story is truly an inspirational insider’s view. You better believe we will be out and about cheering on all the new and returning Whistler Ironman participants on July 28th, 2019. We hope to see you there!
Whistler is a great location for the swimming, cycling and running of the Whistler Ironman, but there’s plenty more to do in our beautiful mountain town – Whistler truly is a mecca for multi-sport activities. So, whether competing in an Ironman is your ideal Whistler adventure or not, our expert team can help you plan an amazing getaway – no matter what activities take your fancy. Contact our concierge service today and turn your dream Whistler trip into a reality.
Feature Image: Scott Brammer, Coast Mountain Photography