Kate Bevilaqua wins Ultra 520 in Penticton
Prior to this year, no woman had ever finished higher than third overall in an Ultradistance multisport event anywhere in the world.
Enter Kate Bevilaqua, a 38-year-old professional triathlete from Perth, Western Australia, who stunned the triathlon endurance community by grabbing the top spot overall in the brutal Ultra520 – formerly Ultraman Canada – held in Penticton Aug. 1–3.
Day 1 involved a 10-km swim in Lake Skaha, followed by a 149.8-km ride on parts of the old Ironman Canada course, Day 2 incorporated a 275.8-km bike ride to Princeton, and – on extremely tired legs – Day 3 dealt out a double-marathon 84.4 km of road and trail running.
Bevilaqua, accompanied by her entourage, which included husband and professional triathlete, Guy Crawford, posted an cumulative time of 24:16:27 to finish ahead of men’s champion Juan Bautista Castilla Arroyo, who clocked a 24:42:02.
Over the three days, Bevilaqua set five records in the 520-km event: the women’s (10 km) swim course (2:37:57), the Day 1 combined time (7:26:38), the Day 1 and 2 combined time (16:44:21), and the 84.4-km double-marathon on Day 3 (7:32:06), thereby smashing the women’s old mark of 25:24:32 set in 2014 by Yvonne Timewell by more than an hour.
On the long ride during Day 2 the race started to get interesting for Bevilaqua. “It was such a struggle at the end of the bike and I was lying in bed wondering if I could run 84 kilometres,” she admitted. The following morning she allowed the front runners to move ahead and opted not to have her support crew or a pacer for the first 42.2 km. “I wanted to hold that off, save it as a treat for the second half,” she said.
Consuming a gel every 30 minutes, while continuing to take in her electrolyte drink and briefly walking through aid stations every 10 km, she focused on two-kilometre increments to inch toward the line. “I knew 50 to 70 km was the toughest in terms of terrain. The hills were bigger and I was exposed to the elements,” she noted. At this point she opted to run with a member of her crew beside her. “It was at this stage I was starting to get demanding. I didn’t want to know how great I looked or that I was nearly there because I wasn’t. I didn’t want to know about keeping a high cadence, staying relaxed and strong. I was in my own little world and it didn’t involve any of that.”
With just over 20 km of the run to go, race director Steve Brown drove by in his car toward the finish line. He slowed to pass on words of encouragement, provided time gaps and then informed Bevilaqua that if she continued at the pace she would create history; it would be the first time a female had won an Ultraman event outright in the 32-year history of the event.
Finally, after more than seven and a half hours of running, she made the last left-hand turn and, with her crew, crossed the finish line together. “No words will ever be able to describe the emotions I was feeling. I saw the time on the clock and could not believe what I had done. That Day 3 was what dreams were made of. That day you know you have in you – but just never think it is possible – until it happens.”
After crossing the finish line, Bevilaqua said, “I had a lot of personal things I wanted to achieve and winning the overall [title] was an incredible bonus. It was just an amazing experience all around and I exceeded all my expectations.”
Brown was thrilled with the first version of the Ultra520k.
“It’s just fantastic for the event and the sport to have a female win the race outright,” said Brown. “It’s just a tremendous accomplishment. Women are on the cusp of doing some amazing things in ultra-endurance racing and what Kate did here – it’s a new benchmark. I just think it’s great for female athletes and hopefully it gives even more of them the courage to step forward and take on the challenge.”