After years of intense training and support from his community and family, Neil Blacksmith has finally done what he set out to do. On June 26, the triathlete from the Cree Nation of Mistissini completed his first-ever Ironman 70.3 Challenge in Mont-Tremblant, finishing the grueling course with a time of 5:58:22.
“I feel great about the end result,” Blacksmith told the Nation. “I never thought I could have completed the race in under six hours.”
He placed 750th out of 1774 participants, and 79th in his age division.
Described as a “world-class triathlon experience” and set in the heart of Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, the Subaru Half Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant is known as one of the world’s best Ironman destinations.
To begin the race, Blacksmith and the other competitors leapt into the cold blue waters of Lac Tremblant and swam 1.9km to their waiting bikes.
“I swim around four hours per week, every week,” he said. “Each session is around 30-45 minutes.”
Blacksmith completed the swimming section in 38:39.
This was followed by cycling a hilly 90km distance winding down Route 117 which he completed in 2:50:11.
“Biking is my favourite sport,” he said. “It’s a great cardiovascular workout that burns large amounts of fat and calories without any impact.”
In a final test of endurance, Blacksmith completed the 21.1km run in 2:16:58.
“It was a long tough race in the heat,” he stated, explaining how his thoughts during the competition were focused on staying hydrated, listening to his body and keeping a good pace.
“You just have to know what your body can do and not force it. It’s all about keeping going and not giving up.”
Although the race itself was the final test for the Cree Ironman, Blacksmith’s endurance was tried even before the race began. “I have been trying to attend this event since 2019 but due to Covid-19, both the 2020 and 2021 events were shut down.”
Blacksmith began running in triathlons five years ago and now, as a father of four, he looks back on how his own father, George, introduced him to the sport.
“I watched him compete in the Annual Cree Nation Fitness Challenge for 10 years. Triathlon and endurance sports are a big part of the Mistissini community. Being a triathlete means everything to me.”
Starting in 1996, the Annual Cree Nation Fitness Challenge began with the intention of creating a new sporting event for Eeyou Istchee, one that would promote health and fitness while bringing the region closer together. The event itself is a pentathlon, meaning the competitors swim, cycle, canoe, portage and run.
“It is much tougher, but I love the challenge,” Blacksmith stated, explaining the difference between a triathlon and the Cree Nation’s pentathlon. “You have to be good at portaging and canoeing. Without practicing those, it would be very difficult to even finish the race.”
According to the event website, the race is intended for only “the top athlete from each community [so that] it would be the best of the best…the first athletes to cross the finish line are crowned the fittest in the Cree Nation.”
Following in his father’s footsteps, Blacksmith will represent Mistissini in this year’s event in Nemaska August 6-7.
Community and family are what got Blacksmith into the sport and now, as an established athlete, he says they are what keeps him going, both in training and when he’s on the course.
“My spouse, Charity Longchap, is my number one supporter in all my events. I would also like to thank the entire Cree Nation of Mistissini, my community sponsors, CINI-FM, my parents George and Laurie, and my whole family for all their support and help,” Blacksmith concluded.