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Racing in the Okanagan Valley

Racing in the Okanagan Valley

Triathlon has long been a part of the Okanagan valley and in August of 2012 Mark was lucky enough to take part in what is now Challenge Penticton but at the time was Ironman Canada. The natural ruggedness and beauty of the landscape made, and continues to make, for a fantastic venue for triathlon.

Penticton is located in the southern interior of British Columbia, a little over a 400 km drive from the coast but is not quite that far inland the way the bird flies. Penticton is a city that is settled between two lakes. To the south of city lies Skaha Lake and to the north of the city is Lake Okanagan which separates the city of Penticton from the city of Kelowna. Many people often think the entire province of British Columbia is lush mountain ranges. However this is certainly not the case for the Okanagan Valley which has its own unique, semi-arid climate.  This climate provides warm summers, tons of sunshine and a truly dry heat that us Ontarians absolutely adore. It is just about as much of a guarantee of sunshine as you are going to get anywhere in Canada. It is a nice change from the humid thick heat to which we east coasters are accustomed.


The semi-arid climate is perfect for growing grapes and as a result much of local economy is based on wine and tourism. There are dozens of award winning wineries featuring some of the best wine the country has to offer. It is not unusual to have vineyards on one side of the road and an apple orchard on the other – all of this nestled in the small valleys between majestic mountains.  With that in mind, whether you are seeing the vistas by car or bike, the natural beauty of the area will simply take your breath away. Mark has been fortunate to race in many locations over the years and he swears the Okanagan Valley is, without a doubt, the most beautiful course on which he has raced.

The start line, transition and finish line are all downtown which makes it very convenient if your accommodations are in the city. The city is well equipped with many places to sleep, fantastic restaurants, bike shops and pretty much everything else a triathlete could ever ask for. Recommended eats: Theo’s Restaurant – arguably the best Greek food this side of the Atlantic, Fibonacci Roastery & Café, and Ogos Ice Cream.

The swim portion of Ironman Canada, now Challenge Penticton, takes place in Lake Okanagan and is right downtown Penticton. The lake is nestled between mountains and is normally close to wetsuit legal temperatures.

Lake Okanagan

The bike ride can be broken down into three distinct parts. The first 60 kms is quite flat until you make you the turn at Osoyoos, and this where things get interesting. Right after the turn, you immediately start a 10 km climb. The hill is not particularly steep, but it’s a grind! Next, what goes up must come down! You descend the mountain and then you are officially into the second part of the bike course. The next 60 kms features many rolling hills which none are too big. This is where you will make or break your bike ride. Be ready for these hills and take it easy. Finally coming home you have another long climb up to Yellow Lake. After all the rollers this, mentally, can be disastrous but luckily there are usually spectators lining the road. And finally the last 20 or so kilometres are all downhill before starting the run!


Last but not least, we have the run. Mark’s favourite way to describe this run course is “fair.” There are some hills that are difficult but there is equally a lot of flat during the race. The run can be mentally challenging because it’s 21.1kms out and 21.1kms home.

The energy of the day, the rugged beauty of the Okanagan Valley, and the ideal climate really tally up to create the perfect race.

After all the exertion, make sure to set some time aside for a relaxing wine tasting.

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