It is with much anticipation I arrived into Mont Tremblant, Quebec this weekend to race at the 70.3. My “A” race this year is the inaugural Ironman Mont Tremblant – my first ever. As such, the opportunity to preview the course in a race scenario by doing the 70.3 exactly 8 weeks out from the Ironman was something I could not turn down. Even if the Ironman (WTC-owned) races aren’t the cheapest in the world to enter.
Arriving into the village on Friday, we (me and the three kids I had in tow) were greeted with a world-class race set-up. Everything was already in place – the transition zone was huge, a stage area was constructed, with the finish chute clearly in front and a path leading to it from higher in the village. Signage was everywhere and parking lots with shuttles were already running.
We wandered into the expo area first, with vendors doing brisk business already (albeit it wasn’t “crowded” – especially the official Ironman store… with all the IM-branded merchandise – generic or 70.3 MTB-related.
I needed to pick up a new pair of tri shorts, as the day prior I had done a quick shakedown swim in the lake on which my Aunt and Uncle live about an hour from Mont Tremblant, and upon emerging from the water I discovered to my horror that the pool swims I had done had destroyed my tri shorts by eating them away… they were virtually transparent in patches… and unusable. So, despite some trepidation about wearing new shorts in a race scenario – I really had no choice (this will come up again in this race report — queue the suspenseful music).
I found a pair of Sugoi shorts quickly enough, and at a reasonable price… so shopping was done!
We made our way to registration…. Only I was allowed in, so the boys waited outside as I went through the 12 step program. Finding my race number (#622), filling in the release forms, a weigh in (in case I need medical attention on the course they’ll know my starting weight), picking up my bib number and stickers, picking up my swag kit, picking up my race t-shirt, and finally picking up and activating my timing chip. (OK, for those that counted it’s only 7 steps!).
After grabbing all my gear, we headed back to our rented condo and settled in for the evening.
Saturday was spent, generally relaxing. Having the day with limited things to worry about gave me the mental space to slowly, meticulously and with good attention prep all my race gear… going through it a couple of times to ensure I did not forget anything:
- Clothes: shorts (NEW!), tri top, socks, sunglasses
- Swim gear: goggles, wetsuit, swim cap
- Bike gear: bicycle, repair kit, two bottles I’m willing to throw away during the race, charged Garmin computer, check wheels and tires, pump tires, helmet
- Run Gear: shoes, visor
- Miscellaneous stuff: nutrition – Clif gels and NUUN tabs (mostly taped to the bike), Bodyglide lube, Advil (yes, I know it’s not a great idea to take Advil during a race!), Timex watch (fully charged) and heartrate strap.
I made my lists and checked them twice. Mixed up my drinks and put them in the fridge. Changed and tweaked a few small parts on my bike. Did everything I needed to get things ready.
We spent some time by the pool and a few last-minute errands I couldn’t complete the day prior (picking up some tubes as I had used my spare fixing a flat on Friday morning when I went out for a ride). And later in the afternoon I dropped my bike off in the transition area for the night. Bringing your bike on the morning of the race was not allowed.
Once all our errands were done, we had a nice relaxing dinner (pasta with sausages) back at the condo and settled in for an early night. Morning would come all too soon given the race schedule!
The alarm went off at 4:30, jolting me from my sleep. I rubbed my eyes, yawned and shook the boys from their sleep. As we were sharing the condo with a couple other triathletes from Guelph who were NOT competing this weekend, I warned them to keep super quiet as we ate a quick breakfast, made a pot of coffee and headed out the door with gear in tow.
They each had a small backpack with supplies for the day – water bottles, sandwiches, apples and snacks – along with their bathing suits.
We arrived down at the race site by 5:15 – dropped the car at one of the parking lots and walked down to the transition area. The boys settled into the picnic tables nearby the massage tents just outside transition as I proceeded into the area to set up my gear with my bike. I laid out, just so, all my gear. Running shoes with visor laying on top. Cycling shoes with socks and sunglasses laying on top. Race belt with my bib number attached hanging from my aero bars. Helmet laying upside down with chin strap open ready to be donned. I pumped my tires for a final time…
And, as I was prepping my gear, I heard someone say “Hi, Mark”… and looked up to see a friend of mine – Bill Johnson – from all the years we competed against one another in the Subaru Duathlon series. It was great to say hi, and to see him at a race – even if it was one where it was unexpected. We wished each other well in the race (with me expecting only to see him again after I’d crossed the finish line – and fond hm showered and fed waiting…)
After a quick look to make sure I had bottles in cages on the bike, my wetsuit, goggles and swim cap in my hands I headed back to meet the boys who were waiting patiently for me to be done.
Now, I should mention that I am NOT an irresponsible father who was prepared to leave three 10/11 year olds on their own for the duration of a 70.3 race. My mum, aunt and uncle were coming up on Sunday morning to watch the race and to watch the boys. They were supposed to be arriving around 6:00… but knowing traffic was likely to be bad we had prepped a plan b and c….
As time ticked on, it became clear we needed to move to plan b. So the boys and I began the long trek from transition down to the swim start area. Thankfully, I had already hit the porta-potty a couple of times (I seem to have a nervous bladder when it comes to race day!) – so knew I did not need to worry about standing in long lines anywhere nervously wondering if I would get to the front before I had to get to the start line!
As I was pulling on my wetsuit at the beach, the snowbirds (Canada’s aerobatics jetfighter team) made a few passes overhead in celebration of the race and the cannon went off for the Elite men and women racers. I was in wave 4, starting 15 minutes later than the Pros. Still no one had arrived, so I gave my uncle a quick call and we arranged the final details of Plan C – should they not arrive before I had to get into the water. As it turns out, it was a good idea… because Plan C it was!
The Swim (1900m)
I said goodbye to the boys… told them to wait where I’d left them for everyone else to arrive and made my way down to the water’s edge and into the water. There was no chance for a warm-up swim… but I did get in and get wet – noting just how comfortable the water temperature was! Nothing near as cold as the water in Lake Mead at the Leadman race… This was going to be a nice swim!
Within minutes, the countdown was on and we were off! As per usual, the swim start was a bit of a melee. Lots of hands and feet being thrown around everywhere… slower swimmers having chosen to start too far to the front, faster swimmers starting too far back. Within a minute or two I had worked through my normal “panic attack” at the beginning of a race, and had settled into a nice rhythm with my strokes and my breathing. Some space opened up between me and the other swimmers (I’m not particularly fast!) and I had nice clean water in which to swim.
The course was a nice one loop “U” shape… A long leg out, a short end-leg, and a final turn back towards the beach for the long leg back to the swim finish. I didn’t push the pace, knowing this wasn’t a race I wanted to :win” but rather just wanted to go through the motions to get a nice preview of what the full race would be like in August. By the second turn, some swimmers were coming up from the next wave back (having gained 5 minutes on me already!).
As I approached the swim finish, my hands grazed the bottom of the lake, I stood up, pulled my goggles up onto my forehead and looked at what appeared to be a long, rocky walk to the beach. Unfortunately, I soon discovered I had only arrived at a sandbar, so had to replace my goggles and swim another 100m or so to the “real beach”. As I emerged from the water, I looked down at my watch to see I was coming out in a time of ~41:40… a respectable time for me…
As with all great races, upon arriving up off the beach an army of wetsuit “peelers” was waiting for me and my fellow athletes to strip our suits off of us in one sharp pull… way better than trying to so alone and wet while standing next to our bikes. So with wetsuit hanging over one arm and my goggles and cap in the other hand I ran the (seemingly endless) 400m or so from the beach to the transition zone – seeing all of my family on the way and getting nice mental boost from their encouraging shouts!
The Bike (90kms)
Upon arriving at the bike rack I saw I was, not surprisingly, not quite last – but still way back in the bunch of 35-39 year olds who I was racked near. One of the guys very near me had unfortunately suffered a flat in transition (tire must have blown as it heated up!) – so I managed to “pass him” while standing still.
In a controlled and deliberate but quick process, I donned my race belt, socks, cycling shoes and helmet before downing a gel and grabbing my bike off the rack. I ran out to the mount line, and began the long ride.
As I pulled away rom the mount line I went through my game plan… I needed to remember the lessons I had taken from the Leadman race and settle down into a reasonable rhythm quickly. No going out too fast and fading before the end of the ride. I looked down at my Garmin and saw my heart rate was too high — in the high 170s…. I needed it at least 10bpm lower… so I back off a bit on the pedals, steadied my breathing into a good rhythm and willed myself to relax. Within a minute or so I had achieved the desired outcome…
As I continued to pull up to and pass people early in the bike I was extremely conscious of the need to continually monitor my heart rate. As I climbed hills I allowed myself some leeway — letting my heart rate drift into the low 170s… but ensuring that I gained that effort back on the descents by soft-peddling in the 11-tooth ring on the cassette rather than pushing harder.
As I am not a fast swimmer, I do get a mental boost early in the ride by being able, typically, to pass a bunch of riders who are better swimmers but weaker riders than me. This is certainly nice! The temptation is to push even harder – and pass more people, faster. But with my game plan firmly set I kept control of my pace.
I also timed the consumption of my nutrition – ensuring I peeled a gel off my top tube every 20 minutes whether I felt like it or not – to ensure I was consistently and regularly consuming energy. Again, this worked wonders for me as the race progresses, ensuring I never felt like I was running out of energy, and ensuring I finished the ride feeling “strong”.
Lessons hard learned in Vegas!
The course itself was beautiful. At least 70% of it was newly paved (and smooth as silk!) and the majority of it was completely closed to traffic. There were very few “tight spots” — as most of the corners were actually roundabouts — making even those areas faster and wider than most courses. I wasn’t spending a lot of time looking at the scenery – but what I did see was impressive.
About 30 kms into the ride I came up behind Bill — my friend from Hamilton — and surprisingly passed him as I continued racing my race. We exchanged a few words — and his slower than anticipated pace turned out to be because his stomach was unsettled for one of those random, inexplicable reasons. I figured he would soon get his pace back and quickly catch and re-pass me before the race was over.
And, albeit I was worried going into the race that the hills would be “killer” – it was way easier than I anticipated and nothing near as hard a the course at the Leadman. There was very little that was actually flat — I was either climbing or descending. But they were long and, generally, shallow rollers rather than steep and short. So settling into a rhythm with cadence and gear changes was possible. I even thought to myself that my Cervelo P3C might be a better bike for the course than the S5. Still haven’t quite decided.
The last section of the bike course was the hardest. Some shorter, steeper hills on the way up towards Lac Superieur. But those steep sections were interspersed with enough flat or downhill sections to ensure you never really had to kill yourself on any given hill to feel completely demoralized. And the best part… this climb up meant a nice, fast descent into the transition area… resting legs and lungs a bit in the minutes leading up to the run.
In the end, I felt strong on the bike. Pushing when I needed to. Holding back overall so that I didn’t burn too much energy before getting to the run. My goal had been to average 30km/hr – and in fact I achieved a 33.2km/hr average – completing the 90kms in 2:42:41 (total elapsed race time 3:30).
The Run (21.1kms)
My game plan going into the race had been to race the swim and bike, and back off on the run to save my legs for another day. But upon arrival into transition at 3:30 in the race, I realized quickly that I could crack 5:30 for the entire race if I was able to hold a reasonable half-marathon pace through the run.
Game plan changed.
So, after a quick pit stop on leaving transition (I had to pee from about the moment I got ONTO the bike, but figured it would “go away” as it normally does). I had another mood boosting encounter with my entire family — as they cheered me out of the transition and onto the run course.
I settled into a comfortable, slow and controlled pace. Checking to ensure I wasn’t going out too fast — as I was sure I was going to have to suffer if I was going to try to crack 5:30. I let people pass me, and I continued to pass a few people myself – unable to suppress the urge as they did or I did to check their leg to see whether we were in the same age group. But despite that knowledge, I continually reminded myself I was competing against the clock, not against them — and I needed to race MY race, not theirs.
Soon enough I was settled in. My heart rate had climbed a bit from the bike, but not too unreasonably… it was in the low 170s and high 160s. The course rolled up and down and we ran around the lake and down into the old village of Mont Tremblant. The spectators and volunteers at the aid stations every 2 km or so were fantastic. Cheering all the competitors on as we ran by. I thanked everyone I could — as these races couldn’t function without their generous support.
After about 6 kms, the course turned onto the old railbed… a nice soft crushed gravel course saving th knees and feet from the regular pounding of cement and asphalt. A nice change from the usual urban courses… The trail was also somewhat shaded, which was nice as the heat had begun to sap my energy. (I wilt in the heat!)
At the first turnaround (around the 9.5km mark) I knew I was still running strong and still had the chance if I could hold my pace to break 5:30. So I continued to push.
A few kilometers later, I saw Bill coming up towards the turnaround still — far enough behind me that I was likely safe from him passing me before the end of the race. But he looked comfortable and settled into this own race. Which was nice to see.
“Patrick from Pennsylvania” soon joined me for about the next 7kms… we chatted and ran together pleasantly until my legs started to seize up and my pace off just enough for him to be comfortable in pulling away. I wished him well for the remainder of his race, and went back to my mental math on pacing, time and distance remaining.
As the course finally turned back towards the finishing area, and with about 5 kms to go and a few hills to climb I knew I had to dig deep to get through the climbs on legs that had truly begun to hurt. So began the recitation (sometime aloud) of my mantras…
“Pain is temporary, Quitting is forever”
“Because I can, and others can’t”
Repeated. Repeated. Repeated especially every time I took a step uphill.
When at last I reached the final kilometer and turned downhill towards the finishing chute I picked up the pace. And then again. I knew I was going to crack the 5:30 mark, and it gave me the mental boost to ignore the pain in my legs and really run it across the line. As I crossed the line I glanced down at my watch to see I had crossed in a time of 5:27 – the official count on seconds would be whatever it was once I checked the results online.
I was elated. And exhausted. And hot. And thirsty. A volunteer retrieved the timing chip from around my ankle… and I hobbled off towards the food line.
It was only at the finish that I did not see my family cheering me on. I knew they were likely close by, but it was crowded. So – deciding that we would inevitably find each other through random wanderings, I decided to do so with a plate full of food and drink. I slowly made my way into the food tent and gobbled down watermelon, oranges, cookies and pretzels… downed a couple small bottles of water and grabbed a Sprite for good measure.
And with my plate of food in hand started to truly look for everyone else. Soon enough I found them settled in under the shade of one of the building — off to the side of the finishing chute — away from the crowds. I got a few hugs, and some congratulations on my race… And After finishing my food and stretching just a bit I told them to stay put as I went to gather up all my gear from the transition zone.
I took my time to get my stuff pulled together. Folding all the wet stuff away from the dry… making sure I didn’t leave anything behind. Bill showed up not long after and we discussed the race — talking about the course, his stomach issues, whether it had met or exceeded expectations, etc. In the end, I’d say we completely agreed the course was superb, the conditions were perfect and that running a full Ironman here would be a great — though epic – experience.
Once I had all my gear together, I re-met my family and slowly and gingerly we made our way away from the course – with the boys and I heading back to the condo so they could go swimming and I could settle myself into the tub for a nice epson salts soak!
So — a few hours later (yes, I fell asleep in the tub!) – I stiffly emerged from the bath with every intention of eating a house. The boys had built up an appetite as well… so we drove down the hill to a local gastro pub and had ourselves a nice dinner … before driving back up the hill and truly settling in for a nice, well-deserved night’s sleep.
So what else can I say about the race. Well… I did say the shorts would come up again… So, I should mention that my *ss does look like a received a single swat across both cheeks from a cane. In fact I was not spanked! It was the sharp edge of the chamois in the shorts (the “padding”) that decided to rub me raw throughout the entire run. Not comfortable during the run. Especially not comfortable as I settled into the hot tub full of salty water.
I should also mention that I learned a few important things for my Ironman here in Mont Tremblant in 8 weeks. First… my pacing on the bike was great. I may need to back it off just slightly in order to maintain my pace through a full 180kms… but if I can exhibit the same control over my pace in 8 weeks time, I should be golden.
Similarly, my nutrition plan worked. I felt like I had plenty of energy throughout the ride and leading into the run. My muscles were tired, but not “spent”. And at no time during or after the race did I feel that completely wasted, depleted feeling that accompanies a “bonk”. This is part pacing and a lot of planned, regular intake of energy.
And finally, perhaps also most importantly, I gained the confidence in knowing the course. The bike was easier than anticipated — though still challenging. And the run, while not a cakewalk, was also flatter than I had thought it would be. I know that doing two loops of each of those won’t be easy by ANY stretch of the imagination. But I also know what to expect, and where. An won’t be surprised by anything that the course has to throw at me. And mentally, that’s a huge advantage for me over those that might go into the event blind.
Sorry about the novel. But there was a lot to relate. Now… I head to bed in preparation for what will be one of the most painful backpacking experiences of my life. Considering stairs are my enemy… I can only imagine the pain I am about to endure walking up and down mountains in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks … Perhaps the rain that’s forecast to fall all week will keep a damper on the kids enthusiasm to run and down hills. Or we’ll cut the trip short by a day. Either way I’ll likely be happy.