The second year of the IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant (IMMT) was made the North American Championships and consisted of 2 Loops of the IMMT 70.3 bike course and 2 Loops of the 70.3 run course with the swim at the same venue (Lac Tremblant). Mont-Tremblant has quickly gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful IM venues with some of the most dedicated volunteers. If you are looking for a great race on a challenging course in a great setting I highly recommend this race for you!
The following is a race report that I have written for myself and for anyone interested in pursuing an IRONMAN race, especially first-timers. Hopefully you can learn from my experience.
The IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant (IMMT) is a WTC sanctioned full distance or IRONMAN distance triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile (3.8km) swim, a 112 mile (180km) bike and a 26.2 mile (42km) marathon run. It has all the WTC IRONMAN brand idiosyncrasies namely no gear in transition, lots of gear bags, penalty boxes and volunteers who help you with almost all your stuff!
Time & Location:
The race takes place Sunday morning and finishes in the heart of the Tremblant Resort. The race course covers the area of Lac Tremblant, The Montee Ryan road, Highway 117 and Mont-Tremblant with a large portion of the run on the scenic Petit Train du Nord trail. There is ONE TRANSITION AREA and it is centrally located making this race very family/spectator friendly. There is ample lodging at great rates at the many hotels in the area (a huge Ski Resort) including our lodging of choice the most excellent Auberge Le Lupin Bed & Breakfast.
My (first) IRONMAN Race:
This was my first ever full distance IRONMAN triathlon! You will recall if you have read other posts here that I set myself the lofty goal of completing all of the triathlon distances up to full distance within one year. As a ChiRunning Instructor who is fortunate enough to teach many triathletes the benefits of ChiRunning I wanted to experience first hand exactly what it is like to participate in a triathlon. In hindsight this was probably not the best way to decide to take on an IRONMAN but this was the goal I set and I committed to achieving it.
As for IMMT I was very impressed to see the hard work that went into making this event a success. The local town has gone all out to support this event including repaving many of the roads for the bike leg. Unfortunately, (this is my biggest complaint about this race) there was no athlete meeting (or maybe there was a brief one while most people were still in line to get in the tent) or any meeting for first timers and this proved very difficult in the chaos of my first IRONMAN. NYC Triathlon does an optional walk-thru of the transition area for newbies and this is so valuble. For the money I do not see why the WTC could not duplicate this. Not having this was very frustrating for a newbie in terms of gear organization and planning and made it difficult for me to plan ahead. Thankfully, because the transition area is centrally located and easily accessible this was the perfect event for family and friends to watch (my 25 weeks pregnant wife and her Mom and Aunt from Japan were easily able to navigate the viewing plan and provided tremendous support!
SWIM (2.4 Mile)
The swim venue was the same as last years race. This may be my new favorite swimming venue! Maybe I'm just used to swimming in NYC rivers but the clean, pristine nature of this lake was incredible! Located just beside the ski resort the lake (Lac Tremblant) was 65 Degrees Fahrenheit on race morning. Much to my disappointment the start was changed to a rolling start as per IMLP just a few weeks before. I am sure that for many people this was a relief but for me it was a bummer. As a former rugby player I enjoy mixing it up in open water swims with other swimmers!
I wore my awesome De Soto T1 First Wave wet suit which is a two piece construction and makes me feel like a super hero!
Sighting was a breeze and the super clear fresh water was beautiful when the sun rose above the trees and hit the water. There was an opportunity for a warm up swim but I refrained in order to help my family navigate the start chaos. For me this was not a problem as my plan was always to simply finish the race and so I used the first 20 minutes of the race as a warm up (I had done ten minutes of ChiRunning body losseners and some tai chi). The support crew in the water was awesome and super helpful although the water was not too choppy until we got out into the center of the lake. The current if there was one was minimal for someone used to swimiing in the Hudson River. Towards the end of the swim I noticed as is often the case many people stood up very early (which is allowed) instead of swimming in. I always like to swim in until I am pracitcally laying on the bottom so I don't get stuck in the muck. If you have ever done a NYC Triathlon then you do this to avoid the nasty balck mayo in the Hudson rvier bottom...yummmy PCB's. Lac Tremblant not only doesn't suffer from this problem but this area of Cananda contains the most pristine fresh waters in the whole country!!
I had no problem with the run in from the swim even though it was fairly long it was carpeted (nice touch) although somehow in the confusion I missed the celebrated PEELERS!!? I spaced and ran right by them!!
How did I miss the PEELERS!?
I chalk this up to the lack of an athletes meeting....Boo! Again as in IM Poconos 70.3 I noticed most people were changing into dry clothes at the transition. I had worn my tri suit under my wet suit and opted to just towel dry off. A very small point here: the fact that I was wearing arm sleeves meant that my race number was not visible and so the helpers had to ask me for my number as opposed to seeing me coming and having my bag ready. I was a little disheartened to see my bike was one of a few left in the transition area. This was an indicator how slow my swim was but I had used the first 20 mins as a warm-up and did not push the swim in order to reserve energy for the bike leg. IRONMAN races do not allow you to put all your crap on the ground next to your bike (it stays in a bag in the transition tent) so getting your bike is very straightforward.
Bike (112 Miles)
MY DISCLAIMER: I will just begin by repeating my disclaimer that the bike is by far my worst leg. I am actually only very recently even comfortable on the bike. Initially, I was terrified riding the bike, especially training in NYC where the roads are a nightmare and car drivers are mostly either lunatics or idiots. I have very little experience racing on bikes and handling a road bike or TT Bike. In order to counteract this fear and lack of experience I tried to stack the odds in my favor by taking two crucial steps. The first was acquiring a bike I love to ride and one I feel a deep connection with-in this case my Lysnkey Titanium bike which is hand made in my birth place Chattanooga, TN! I love to ride this bike and being on it gives me mountains of confidence. The second thing I did was try to find a great bike fit and system for becoming a better cyclist. I found this in the ZENDURANCE CYCLING system which was developed by Shane Eversfield. I honestly don't know how I could have accomplished half of what I have done in my brief bike riding time without ZENDURANCE (you can read my product review here). It has completely changed my experience on two wheels. While ZENDURANCE is actually meant for all levels and kinds of cyclists it was essential to me (as a beginner) in making me comfortable on the bike and teaching me some crucial sills.
The bike course consisted of two loops of the 70.3 course so the good news is that I knew after one loop that I would know how much I could do on the second loop. Now I had used Tribike Transport to ship my bike up to the race. With a very pregnant wife and two in-laws who spoke no English I didn't want to be lugging my bike around. This was great in that Tribike set up the bike for me and even brought my gear bag. the problem was I FORGOT MY PEDALS!!! DOH! Tribike takes off your pedals before loading the bike on the truck and like a true dumbass I did not put them directly into my gear bag (because I had already zip tied the zippers closed) this was a critical error because in the confusion of packing the next few days I laid my pedals aside and forgot them!!! One of the two dark clouds that hovered over me in the weeks before the race were my disastrous race at IRONMAN Poconos 70.3 (nutrition issues-more on this later) and the experience of one of my mentors who actually forgot his bike shoes at IRONMAN NYC the year before where I was volunteering! He wound up doing the whole bike leg in his running shoes!! I was so fixated on making sure that I packed my bike shoes that I totally flaked out and left my pedals at home!!! If you are taking notes remember that an IRONMAN race demands a lot of prep and a lot planning. Probably more than you are even able to imagine until you have to do it! Checklists are your friend. If you're like me and send your bike and some gear ahead of you make sure you keep track of what you have left to bring!
Flash forward to the day before the race and I had to spring for new Look pedals. Luckily they fit my cleats so I did not have to change out the cleats but unknown to me they were Keo MAX pedals and a little different than what I was used to (I use cheap Nashbar Look knock-off pedals). This would come back to haunt me in a major way on the second loop of the bike leg.
For the first leg I was very comfortable and stayed at 75%-85% of my functional threshold power. The course was very scenic and I had no problems until approaching the last set of hills that included a 12% grade up Mont Tremblant. I was able to take my focus to my COM as I learned in Zendurance and I completed the first leg. I was optimistic that I could shave some time off for the second leg.
I was wrong.
The second leg was going well although I had begun to experience pain in both of my feet. I had hoped to add some cycling socks to my ride for the IRONMAN race but with the chaos of the weeks prior I didn't have a chance to try some and didn't want to try anything new for the race. This meant that I was riding my cycling shoes barefoot which I have always done. However, with the new pedals I began to feel numbness in my toes and a crushing feeling on the balls of my feet. I was able to get them to relax a little using body sensing.
However, when I got out on to Hwy 117 for the second bike loop I was met with a massive headwind. This is not really something I had been able to train for. I was able to do a good deal of hill training but my long training rides, even the longest ones, were relatively sheltered from wind. This wind was coming from head on with sudden shifts to the side. It was ever-present and never let up. Big gusts were coming in and ripping my aero helmet to the side jerking my head around. The wind was so strong in places that my bike was blown into the passing lane or off the median! I tried to make myself as aero as possible but with some extra weight to carry (I have lost 65lbs. since I started exercising but still have more to go) I could only do so much. The strangest thing was I kept telling myself if I could just make the turn around I would have a huge tailwind on the way back. Somehow, this was not the case and the wind on the way back was even stronger and an even more punishing HEADWIND!! How? It was really scary. I was blown out of my lane and into a traffic barrel but some how managed to stay on the bike. When we got off the hwy 117 I was so glad to be away from that wind. I think the headwind caused me to exert a lot more pressure on the pedals than I had intended too. This meant the pain on the ball of my feet from the pedals was now excruciating. I had to stop twice just to stand there and try to wiggle my toes. Heading up the mountain for the second time I as able to stay in the saddle but at 108 miles I had to do everything I could just to put my focus in my COM and work my way up the 12% climb. I was very discouraged by this point and what I thought would be a faster loop had now degraded into the possibility I would not even make the cut-off for the bike.
When I was on top of the mountain the officals told me I had exactly 8 minutes left to get back to the transition (6 miles away) or my day would be over. At this point I had been trying to still reserve someting for the run but I decided that I would give it everything I could and try to make it. I made it back to the transition area with a minute to spare-clocking 45mph decents and destorying my legs n the process. Even though I was the last bike in that day I was happy I would at least have a chance to complete the run. The only problem was I could not even stand up!
Coming in to T2 I was greeted by a horde of eager volunteers who took my bike and urged me along to the timing chip to confirm my time. Unfortunatley, I forgot to grab my Garmin computer off of my bike so I had to run over to the bike and get it and then go back to transiton. This is the main reason my T2 ran so long. I changed into some DeSoto Compressor socks. My calves were cramping badly and my feet and toes were so painful I could barely stand. There were several volunteers gathereed around me curious to know if I was actually going to attempt a marathon in this condition. I assured them that I was actually looking forward to the run and would be just fine. As I hobbled to the start of the run this is what I thought to myself:
The reason I started this crazy/stupid/insane adventure was because every year I have the privledge and honor of standing in front of Triathletes at Trimania and telling them that they can use ChiRunning to run, as we like to say "without the use of their legs". They can use their legs on the bike and use up eveything they have and then go for the run and with ChiRunning relax and enjoy the run with minimal muscular effort from their legs. At that point we show them how they can do that. So that is exactly what I did coming out of T2. As I was starting the run I simply started from the begining of the class and in my mind I envisioned Vince and I teaching a ChiRunning class from the begining. It turns out this would be instrumental in having one of the best runs of my life!
RUN (26.2 miles)
The run course includes portions of a converted railway path that has been made into a gravel trail called the Petit Train du Nord. It is very scenic and relatively flat. I knew if I could make it to the trail head I would be able to recover control of my legs. Initially, I began walk/running out of T2 using a mix of ChiWalking and ChiRunning. I could not feel my legs or feet at all and experienced the noodle legs phenomenon that was familiar to my because of other Triathlons and from my BRICK workouts. In fact I was feeling better and better as the time passed and eventually able to recover some feeling in my feet. Because this was a loop course I was running with mostly second lap folk and trying to make up some lost time. Steadily I began to feel better and better and as my form improved I realized that I could not only finish the race but maybe enjoy it!
One of the surreal experiences of doing a two loop course is that on the first loop you have to pass right by the finish line. If your day runs long like mine this is quite traumatic as many people were cheering me thinking I had finished when in fact I had another lap to go!? On the last little bit you actually have to run down the finishers shoot and at the last minute they send you to the right and back out into the darkness for another 13.1 miles! This was the darkest time for me. I began to doubt that I could make it back in time. I was proud of myself for completing the longest bike ride of my life but still shaken up by my experience with the wind! I was feeling so great at this point and running so comfortably and yet it looked like I had run out of time. I looked in the crowd for my wife's face. I knew that if I saw her I would have to tell her that I would not make the cut off. So many hours, an entire day of effort, so far to come to fail to finish on time. Luckily I did not see my family though. I think if I would have told them this I would have not been able to finish. Then about two miles into the second lap I met some runners coming the other way who were headed to the finish. One of them looked at me and said "I was exactly where you are right now last year and I finished and became an IRONMAN-You can totally do this!" When I heard that it was all the motivation I needed. I leaned forward and enjoyed one of the best runs of my life. I knew from the beginning that I would be running at night. I knew that even if my day went the best it could possibly go for me at this point in my training I would be running in darkness. I have never ran a marathon in the dark before. I have never risked hitting the wall on some lonely path in the darkness with nothing but doubts and shadow. Luckily at Mont-Tremblant I didn't have to be alone! There were so many volunteers who stayed out to cheer and stayed at the aid stations to volunteer. So many other people said "you can this!" and cheered me on it made it effortless. In fact I would not hit the wall until a few feet before the finish line. By then I knew I would be okay but more importantly I learned what is possible and what we are able to accomplish when we push past our doubts.
Overall (140.6 Miles)
One of the people I look up to the most who is a veteran triahtlete told me once that racing your first full distance IRONMAN (I paraphrase) is like running to an appointment to meet someone that you don't know who you will have never met until you get there. You don't know how you will react to the meeting and you have no idea what the outcome will be. If you have ever run a marathon or participated in a long distance endurance event this might ring true. For me it summarizes the essence of the experience.
I now understand that trying to do all the triathlon distances in a year was a colossally stupid idea. Triathlon is not about being a good swimmer. It has little to do with being a great biker and even less to do with being a good runner. These things help but they are not triathlon and they don't make a good triathlete. I learned how hard it can be at the Oly distance, never mind a Half IRONMAN or IRONMAN distance. A full distance race (should) take years of preparation and takes the kind of sacrifice most people can not make or are unwilling to make. From the beginning I told myself I would try this to be a better teacher and at the end if it was not for me I would sell my gear and go back to running in peace. I have cursed through many triathlon events and even shouted out loud who would do this!? Why would anyone want to do this to themselves? Who would endure this much pain? For what? I fully expected to not like the full distance race and as awful as I was at my first one it would be easy to walk away. Yet somehow I felt a profound sense of peace and gratitude in the experience of my first IRONMAN. I really appreciated the distance in a way that I did not feel about the shorter events. Maybe this means that I have found my distance...God help me.
My goals were simple for this race:
- Have a clean race (no drafting penalties, no littering, etc.)
- Finish the race before midnight
- Enjoy the experience
I feel that I accomplished these simple goals! Here is what I would like to improve on the most going forward:
- Continue to Lose more weight
- Continue to improve my bike skills including power and muscular endurance
- Learn some improved pacing skills for all legs especially swim and bike!
If you have enojyed this report or if you would like to comment or send me your thoughts please do not hesitate to contact me through the contact section. Comments are disabled on this blog because I get a lot of spam from people trying to sell me watches! Thanks-David