RMC Class of 76 - Tales and photos from 2009 Penticton Peach Classic Triathlon

Swim, bike, run

This year, The boys (Gebbie, McManus and Debienne) got together and competed in the same race

Last year, in 2008, all three of 'the boys' competed in a series of different races but were unable to find a common race to get the "Class of '76 tri guys" together.  Both Bob and Don were concentrating on the 2008 Age Group World Championships in Vancouver, so their race schedule was very full.  During the winter of 2008/09, the three triathletes poured over the BC triathlon race schedule and tried to find a common race using email.  There were many races that worked for 2 of the 3, but it was difficult to find an acceptable distance, in a location that all could get to, and fit into all three competitors summer personal schedule.

In the late spring of 2009, Bob announced that he was going to be in Don's area of the province in July with his wife and several athletes that were training to enter Ironman Canada in Penticton during August.  Bob decided to enter the Penticton Peach Classic while he was there.  Don, who regularly does this race, then convinced John to enter the Peach Classic Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40 km bike, and 10 km run).  That set up the 2009 Class of '76 Triathlon competition because Don regularly competes in this race.  All three of the competitors were able to compete in the same event since their Senior Year 1975-76 Wing Harriers Race which they were all in together.

Mike Ellis, who is from the RMC Class of '60, also competed in the Penticton Peach Classic Triathlon, and he wrote the following article for e-Veritas:


This was one of those classic events to sort out just who had bragging rights as the fittest man of the RMC Class of ’76.  There were three contenders for that crown way out west in British Columbia, and they, at least, felt it most unlikely that anyone east of the Rockies or south of the 49th parallel could challenge them, so they would fight it out amongst themselves.

First there was John J. (Rocky) McManus, 10973, naval aviator, skilled in navigating helicopters, recently retired from the Regular Forces, but joined the Reserve Forces to assist in the provision of air security for the 2010 Winter Olympics.  A formidable swimmer as a cadet, McManus has kept up his swimming at a very high level, competing regularly over the years in Masters swimming competitions as his postings would allow.  Recently, Rocky has also been doing serious training on the bike and the run.  Mentored by his 78-year old running companion, he has done well in running races in the Victoria area, and has simultaneously built up both speed and endurance on a fancy and expensive bicycle he acquired from former world Ironman triathlon champion Peter Reid.

Don Debienne, 11061, is an experienced cyclist, who has been in the electrical utility game since 1980, and supplying electricity to the southern part of BC for many years when he is not skiing the back country or backpacking on the trails.  As VP of Power Supply and Strategic Planning for FORTIS BC he has taken special care of the wineries of the Okanagan Valley and the Columbia Brewing Company in Creston which brews Kokanee beer.  In the last few years, motivated by trying to keep up with his new partner, Laurelee, who is an expert triathlete and holds the record for the women’s 50-54 age group at Ironman Canada, Don has taken up running and swimming seriously.  Don is on the cusp of retirement, happy and healthy, and enjoying life to the max in Kelowna, BC.

Bob Gebbie, 11075, served 25 years in the navy after graduating from RRMC/RMC in 1976 and then settled in Victoria where he joined the BC Provincial Government where he is currently a Director of Information Protection.  Bob and his wife Carolyn caught the triathlon bug big time about 10 years ago and they have travelled the world doing Ironman and Olympic distance triathlons, including age group world championships.  They will be competing in Australia this September.  While Bob, whose strength in the triathlon is his running ability, coaches the triathlon club at the Victoria YM/YWCA, Carolyn is a nationally certified triathlon coach and runs a coaching business - carolyngebbie.com.

The venue for the competition between these three, the swimmer, the cyclist, and the runner, was the BC Provincial Triathlon championships held at Penticton BC on July 19th.  All three were competing in the Men’s 55-59 age group in which there were 18 competitors.

Normally, Okanagan Lake at Penticton is calm and peaceful at 7 AM on a summer morning, making the cool clear waters very pleasant for swimming, but on July 19th strong breezes from the north had kicked up a two-foot chop which was sending whitecaps in to the beach.  The race began with a mass start, with all competitors running into the water, to swim 750 meters parallel to the shore, turn around a buoy, and swim the 750 meters back to the starting point.  The waves coming in from the lake made the swim difficult for everyone, as they upset the rhythm, and interfered with breathing when the swimmer tried to take a breath on the windward side and the wind whipped water into his/her face.  These difficult conditions seem to affect weaker swimmers more than the strong, fast, powerful swimmers.  Rocky McManus completed the swim in 24 minutes, in 22nd place overall, and gained a 5-minute lead on Don Debienne, and almost 8 minutes on Gebbie.  

The bike course is a challenging ride, with over 1500 feet of climbing in its 40 km length.  It climbs out of Penticton to the Naramata Bench, and the outbound leg has a lot of uphills and downhills to a turnaround 20 km from town.  There are spectacular views of Okanagan Lake along this road where the orchards are rapidly being transformed into vineyards.  Only about 3 minutes separated our contestants on the bike: Don was under 1:16 for the fastest ride of the three, good for 57th overall in the race, Bob rode 1:17, and Rocky 1:19, so at the start of the final segment of the competition, a 10 km run, McManus had a 1 minute 30 second lead over Debienne, and a 4 minute 40 second lead over Gebbie.  Would it be enough?  Running is Gebbie’s strength.

The run course divides into sections by the mile, as the first mile is flat along the lake, the second mile involves a 400 foot climb to the west bench mesa, and the third mile is rolling up and down along the bench; then a turnaround and back over the same ground to the finish.  All three of the Class of ‘76ers came together near the halfway point of the run, and the other two knew that Gebbie had them beaten.  Rocky only just beat Don for second place by 13 seconds as Rocky suffered a cramp about a mile from the finish and was unable to even walk until Don caught up to him, and then suddenly he was able to move again.  Bob ran under 44 minutes for the 40th best time overall, Don’s time was 51:50 and John ran 52:50

The finishing times placed them 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, respectively in their age-group.   I’m sure these guys will race against each other again, but for this time at least, Bob (the runner) proved superior.

A fourth ex-cadet, Mike Ellis, 4670, from the Class of ’60, a retiree enjoying life in Victoria, competed in the event as well, winning the Men’s 70+ category in 3:09:19.  You will note from the photos that Ellis was there at the start but his younger companions had left for a beer before he finished, so he didn’t make the post race photo.

Each of the Class of '76 Triathletes tell their race story:

Bob:  The swim leg of the triathlon was incredible choppy and for a swim “struggler” I knew that I had my work cut out for me.  The only saving grace of the chilly (below 22 C) water was that we were allowed to wear our wetsuits which does not benefit good swimmers but is a great help for poor swimmers as it provides critical floatation.  I really enjoy swimming in the Lake Okanagan having done a few Ironman races in Penticton.  However today the big rollers were coming in and pushing us ashore.  I recall at one point seeing some participants standing up and walking back out to deeper waters so they could start swimming again.

With the swim finally over I entered the swim to bike transition to mount my trusty steed (Scott Plasma) and cycle out to the beautiful rolling hills in Okanogan wine country.  I was not surprised to see that Rocky and Don’s bikes were long gone.    As I headed out it was thrilling to see friends and family (Carolyn and her clients were in Penticton for an Ironman Training Camp).  It was time to consume lots of sports drinks on the bike but of course the trick is to learn how to pee on the bike so that you don’t lose time waiting in line at port-a-potties!  

 After cycling 40 km, the legs are as heavy as lead at the start of the 10 km run.  I knew I would have to push it to catch up to the boys of '76 but experience had taught me to “let the run come to you”.  So slowly my running speed and rhythm returned and it made me feel strong as I passed all those fast “swimmers”.  I had competed in this race several years ago and I knew it was critical to patiently grind up the 3 km rise up to the Bench overlooking the Lake Okanagan.  Having reached the Bench, I was just starting to catch my breath on the flat near the turnaround at the 5km mark when I spotted Don.  He was running alongside someone and having a friendly chat!  So I snuck up on Don and pushed by because at that point Rocky suddenly came into sight.  Voila – the boys of '76 were in a cluster at the 5 km turn around point.  After a few friendly exchanges, I headed back down the hill and enjoyed encouraging those who were just starting to come up.  Supporting others is one of the friendly aspects of Triathlon racing.  Of course, after the race it was time to enjoy the sunshine and camaraderie and exchange war stories.  I think Don, John and I are all well conditioned but I was fortunate to have the least numbers of injuries which won the day.  However the gauntlet has been thrown down and the friendly rivalry is to be continued next year.

John:  Even though I do not usually have any problems during a triathlon swim, this was the most difficult open-water race that I have ever been exposed to.  The swell, chop and whitecaps caused me to drink much of Lake Okanagan, and I had difficulty getting a smooth rhythm going in the water.  On the return portion, I got blown almost into the shoreline and I had to struggle to get back in water deep enough to swim properly.  The only positive thought that I had during the swim was that I figured that the folks who were not experienced swimmers would be having more problems than me!

Once out on the bike, the hills that we had to climb were much harder than the hills that I trained on in Victoria.  It was major uphill and against the wind most of the way out, and downhill with the wind on the return leg.  The tailwind did not do me much good as I was already cycling as fast as I felt safe on the way downhill.  I took it easy on the last portion of the bike as we approached the town of Penticton because I knew that the run would take its toll on my legs.

Most of the way out to the 5 km run turn marker was uphill, I was monitoring my heart rate to keep it under 160.  I made the 5 km turn, and was thinking "Where are Bob and Don?"  I was sure that the 2 Mech Eng'ers were going to get hunted down by the Apple Sci guy!  Well, a few metres after the turn, I saw them both.  The boys from the Class of '76 all came together at the same point in the race, with Bob having just passed Don, and he was going to pass me shortly.  At that point, I knew that Bob would win the "Class of '76" bragging rights.  As for Don, I knew that he had a bad leg, and I thought that I should be able to open up a bit of a gap on the run down the hill.  Sure enough, I did extend my pace length and opened up about a 2 minute gap on him.  Even though I was running much faster downhill, Bob continued to open the gap on me.  At the base of the hill, I was back on level ground and was 1.5 km from the finish line.  As I was running through the last aid station, I got the most painful cramp I have ever had in the upper back portion of my right leg.  I could not even walk, or even fully stand up.  As I was hunched over, about 20-25 competitors went by me.  Each time that I tried to walk, shooting pains disabled me!  After about 2 minutes, Don arrived and asked me what was happening.  I took a couple of steps with him and found that I could handle the pain.  Then, as fast as the cramp arrived, it was gone.  I ran with Don for a short while, but then was able to sprint the last portion as I hoped that I was still in line for the Bronze medal in our age group.  It felt good to pass a few runners on the home stretch as I don't often get to pass people in the run! 

I am looking forward to finding a race in 2010 that the three of us can again compete in, and hopefully, we will get other members of the Class of 76 to join us.

Don:  After a lot of emailing, Bob, Rocky and I finally settled on a triathlon event that we could all compete in at the same time and enjoy some long overdue camaraderie.  However, as with all ‘A’ types, there was an undercurrent of curiosity as to how it was all going to unfold…who was going to cross the finish line first?  There was Bob….the most experienced triathlete of the group and whose strong suit is the run….a formidable combination.  Then there’s Rocky who can swim like a 14 year old swim club fish!  He puts some major hurt into his competition in the first event of the triathlon and then they have to kill the bike and the run to catch him.  Then there’s me, on home turf and my strength is the biking.  So, the outcome was unclear at the outset.

Race day dawned warm, clear and uncharacteristically windy.  There was a sizeable chop coming in from the north.  The swim course ran parallel to the beach out and back, perpendicular to the wind direction and it was a mass start with some over 250 competitors jammed into a small swim start area.  Washing machine! This would be one of those days when I wished I could breathe to my left and my right because once we rounded the turnaround point, I was breathing right into the chop….by the time I got out of the water, I was well hydrated from swallowing half the lake!   Rocky exited the water way out in front, followed by me, then Bobber who must have taken a scenic route around the buoys!

On to the bike…my killer instinct was in full force and I was mashing those pedals with a vengeance.  I was pretty sure I could ride Rocky down but he must have put in some serious bike training miles because when I finished the bike segment, I had only taken 3 minutes out of his 5 minute swim lead.   The good news was that Bob did not catch me on the bike so I had a small cushion of time with which to start the run.

This run is tough.  By the time we start running, the July Okanagan sun is doing its thing and it is HOT.  After a couple of flat  kms, we start a 3 km uphill climb which is a good character test.  As I was grinding up that hill, the inevitable happened….Bob caught me, and after a good natured chat, he left me in the dust and went off to hunt Rocky down.   I was quite happy to be in the hunt and kept churning away until the last km when I spotted Rocky on the side of the course clutching his hamstring and not looking too good.  The pain was written all over his face…major cramp.  I stopped to see if he needed any help, salt pills or whatever….well…as soon as Rocky saw that I had caught up to him….the heavens be praised!!!…he was immediately cured!!!  He started to run and leaves me in the dust!  I ran as hard as my legs would go, but he still had a well-earned and no doubt painful 13 second lead on me at the finish.  Bob was a full 5 minutes ahead after an incredible 43 minute 10 km run.

What a great day….great weather, great competition and the RMC boys showed well, finishing 2, 3 and 4 in a competitive age group.  Looking forward to a rematch in 2010!  Buds, while you sleep, I will be training…ha ha!!  Have a good one and thanks for the memories.

Here are the "Boys of 76" results from the 2009 Penticton Peach Classic:

Racer Total Time
Age Group Rank
Swim Swim
T1 Bike Bike
T2 Run Run
Overall Position
Bob 2:34:40
31:54 114 1:32 1:16:53 67 :36 43:46 40 60/249
John 2:39:03
24:22 22 1:54 1:19:06 86 :52 52:50 125 79/249
Don 2:39:16
29:15 64 1:31 1:15:39 57 1:21 51:32 116 81/249