Once in a lifetime race

Queen’s student Ben Rudson finishes 14th in division at Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii

Ben Rudson began running triathlons in 2014.
Ben Rudson began running triathlons in 2014.
Supplied by Ben Rudson

With TV helicopters flying over Kailua Bay, and spectators watching as the sun crept over Mt. Hualalai, Ben Rudson couldn’t help but remove himself from the moment.

“You kind of have to take a step back and say ‘holy crap here I am, right?’”

After watching as a spectator for as long as he could remember, Rudson was in the water as a competitor at the 2016 Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

During the race, Rudson would complete a 3.86 km swim, a 180.25 km bicycle ride and run an entire marathon (42.2 km) in 46.1 degree Celsius weather without a break. In total, he’d travel 226.31 km in a time of 10:18:07, good for 14th in his division of runners.

And while it may seem like Rudson had planned to qualify for this triathlon for a long time, the idea of completing one of the most physically-unforgiving races on the planet was a farfetched idea just a few years ago.

After finishing his first year at Queen’s in engineering, Rudson had a lot of free time in the summer of 2014. When work was over he would either go to the Pier, have a beer, or watch Breaking Bad with his friends. But by the end of May, when Rudson racked up the empties and looked at his credit card statement riddled with junk food purchases, he decided that he needed to makea change.

Rudson began to run. His first goal was to compete in the Kingston Long course Triathlon, because his father used to compete in triathlons.

So beginning in June of 2014, Rudson swam, cycled or ran every day. Without any of the equipment needed to compete in a triathlon, he relied on the ARC. In the mornings, Rudson would head to the gym to swim, and at the end of his day, he would watch YouTube videos on how to swim properly.

Rudson’s plan to actually become a triathlete hinged on his father’s equipment. Not telling him about the race, he headed home to Vancouver Island for a week. His father was unsure when Ben presented the plan.

“We went out to the lake and I swam while he kayaked and he said ‘I still don’t agree with this, but you can take my equipment and give it a go’.”

When Rudson completed the Kingston Long Course Triathlon in July of 2014, he starting itching for more. During the 2014-15 school year, he joined up with the Queen’s Triathlon team. With every event that passed, Rudson moved up the ranks, setting his next goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Supplied by Ben Rudson

At the 2015 Ottawa Marathon, Rudson was on pace for Boston, but 200 metres from the finish line he blacked out and went unconscious. After spending  time in the ICU getting treated, friends and family didn’t want him to continue.

And when it came to re-evaluating the situation, Rudson decided to continue on, running the 2015 Toronto Marathon and finishing with a time that qualified him for the 2017 Boston Marathon. After the race in Toronto, he decided to set another goal.

“I said lets go crazy and do the Ironman.”

To qualify for the World Championships, Rudson had to win in the 18-24 male division at the Ironman Mont-Tremblant race in August, earlier this year. After coming out of the bike portion 16 minutes ahead of second place, Rudson extended his lead in the run, winning by 23 minutes.

Just six weeks later, Rudson packed his racing gear and engineering homework and hopped on a flight to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

No matter the race, Rudson says fear keeps him motivated to continue.

“It might sound kind of ridiculous but you’re almost terrified of these races and are training to make it less terrifying.”

After a strong swim in Kailua Bay, Rudson climbed onto his bike and headed around the concrete Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. Just 40 kilometers into the bike, Rudson noticed that his power output was dropping, losing ground as athletes zoomed by. Racing with a short recovery time, the gamble to go to Hawaii left an impact on his body.

This is the equavilent of the Hawaii running course in Kingston.
Graphic by Rachel Liu

Going into the run, Rudson can usually tell in the transition tent if he’s going to have a good day and this race was no different.

“I threw my shoes on and was thinking, how am I going to do this?”

In the opening states of the run on Ali’i Drive — along the spectator-full beach — he wasn’t going at the pace he wanted. Heading back onto the highway was the last thing Rudson wanted to do.

“I don’t care what people say after the race, no one is finding that part fun — you might love the race but you don’t love that part.” 

On Queen Ha’ahumanu road, Rudson had a change of fortune. While he believes that his body was fed up and wanted to finish, Rudson found another gear.

“It was the weirdest thing, and I was passing people and people on the road were like ‘what the heck,’ and I don’t know where it came from to this day.”

As he headed onto the final stretch, he found his parents in the crowd, who threw him a Canadian flag to don on his back till the finish.

When he crossed the finish line, Rudson was 14th in his age group, placing as the top Canadian.

With this strong showing, he moved up in the world rankings, currently placed seventh in the 18-24 male division.

And while Rudson doesn’t know what the future brings, he knows the next step in his career is to maximize his potential by bringing on a coach.

At the end of the day, Rudson didn’t dive into triathlons for the praise, but because he enjoys it. While doing only one of running, biking and swimming is arduous, the combination of all three is what poses the greatest challenge. 

Supplied By Ben Rudson

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