I think, deep down, I always knew that some day I’d want to do an Ironman. Even after swearing off marathons, I couldn’t help but have this itch in the back of my mind that I could not scratch, even with a half Ironman and other races. Unable to shake the feeling that I needed to take my shot at this pinnacle of race distances, I signed up for Ironman Mt. Tremblant. I picked IMMT in large part because of my lifelong obsession with Canada, particularly the French-speaking part and because I had heard nothing but wonderful things about every aspect of the race, including the beautiful venue where it is hosted.
Training for IMMT is really it’s own separate big post, so I’m going to stick to the race weekend itself. The way Ironman races are typically set up (I think), you pick up all your materials on Friday, rack your bike and drop off your race bags on Saturday, and race Sunday. We drove up from Boston on Thursday night to Burlington, VT to break up the drive, then up to MT on Friday morning. On the way, we stopped at a grocery store on Rt. 117 that was at least a quarter filled with Ironman racers (notable for their IM paraphernalia, visors, and compression socks. We picked up what I’d need for dinner Saturday night and breakfast Sunday morning before headed to MT itself.
Mont Tremblant is a ski resort that also does summer activities like a roller luge and apparently lots of hiking. The village is a collection of shops and restaurants all done up to look like a classic European ski village. It even has not one, but two gondolas you can take for some spectacular views!
Of course, while waiting in line for registration, I took the chance to take a selfie in the village with my Heartbreak Hill Running Company t-shirt.
Registration itself was a well-oiled machine as the very friendly volunteers, which would be a theme for the weekend, shuttled you from station to station, one of which was a weighing station where they took your pre-race weight (more on that later) before finally getting to the part where you got your much-vaunted Ironman backpack containing your race bags.
The one major hiccup I had during registration was entirely self-inflicted, and entirely in my own brain. As we walked through the village, it was impossible not to notice the many athletes wearing their previous Ironman gear, looking tremendously fit, and wheeling around their superbikes with carbon race wheels. In a moment of panic, I felt extremely overwhelmed, underprepared, and intimidated, more so than I ever have for any other race. But, I shared my feelings with Rebecca, she said all the right things, and the moment passed.
Taking a friend’s advice, after finishing up with registration and checking into our condo (Les Manoirs, which I’d highly recommend), I headed down to Lac Tremblant to get in a pre-race swim and see what the water conditions were like. Getting into the water and taking an easy swim helped me relax and feel a little bit more in the groove leading up to the race. The water was a pretty perfect temperature for a full-sleeve wetsuit and was fairly clear, though you couldn’t see the bottom once you were away from shore, which was just fine by me.
I had some intentions of doing a course pre-ride on Saturday, but wound up spending the better part of the morning and early afternoon getting my race bags ready, which included making a batch of Skratch Labs rice cakes, before taking my bike down to transition. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, Ironman races differ from a normal triathlon in that you aren’t allowed to have anything with your bike in transition, including your helmet, so you pack up one bag with everything you need for your bike leg, one with the same for the run, and two bags with anything you will want halfway through the bike and run i.e. your “special needs bags.” It’s kind of a pain to get all the bags to check-in, but it’s also helpful to know that you are packing everything in one place and know it’s all accounted for. Of course, this also led to pre-race mistake #1, packing my tri shorts in my bike because, you know, it was what I was going to wear on the bike. Thankfully, I had my jammerz that I wore for my pre-race swim, which would do the trick for the swim leg in a pinch.
Don’t put the shorts in the bag! Put the helmet in the bag!
Pre-race dinner Saturday night was my go-to meal of couscous, cherry tomatoes, and chicken sausage. In bed around 9:45 p.m. after watching some Olympic track.
4 a.m. should never exist, but it does on Ironman race day. I dragged myself out of bed, started the coffeemaker, and made myself a toasted bagel with toasted everything bagel with peanut butter and honey. Not much later, Rebecca also got up so she could come down with me to transition and grab my bike pump from me when I was done topping off my tires. I’d been warned not to rely on someone else having a pump to borrow, which turned out to be excellent advice as my pump wound up being the one passed around. Of course, I couldn’t go without pre-race mistake #2, not realizing my helmet should have gone in my bike bag. This meant that I was one few morons wandering around transition with my helmet on, but was able to drop it off in my bike bag before heading to the water.
First, if you’re doing this race in the future, you should know that it is a LONG walk from transition to the water, so plan ahead. And, despite the many excellent logistical details for the race, one of the few shortcomings also caused me the greatest stress of the day, namely the lack of port-a-potties. There were far too few set up at the swim area, which meant I couldn’t really enjoy neat touches like the fighter jet flyover, because I was too worried about having a chance to “go” before racing. When I finally was able to quickly get into my wetsuit and head to the water, I passed my good friend, Alett, who gave me a quick pre-race pep talk, telling me not to think about anything else besides the swim while I was in the water. I had quite the anxious few moments as my wave was literally getting ready to start and I was still behind the barrier with no way to get through the crowds to get into it. I wound up hopping the fence in my wetsuit, which I’ve never done before and hope to never have to do again. Despite the rushing and confusion, I made it into the pack a few moments before my wave started.
The start of any swim leg is chaotic, but this one felt especially so. I tried to find some feet to follow and draft off of while fending off the many elbows surrounding me and people crawling up my legs. I actually felt very smooth in the water, just trying to keep up a steady rhythm that felt comfortable without over-exerting and getting caught up in the churning. Now, here’s where I make my really, really dumb admission for race mistake #3: I thought the swim course was two laps. Yes, I had looked at the course map, and, yes, I knew that there were 13 buoys out before a turn to a straight stretch before a right turn back to shore, but for some reason I thought the map showed a run across the beach before starting lap 2. But, around buoy 7 it occurred to me that, maybe, the swim was actually one loop, which I’d prefer in any event. I checked my Garmin and confirmed that had to be the case. Sigh.
Around the first turn, the water started to get really choppy as we swam parallel to the shore. I was glad that I had practiced breathing to one side so I could switch up where I was breathing based on the waves, and not force myself to breathe into a swell. I was not much a fan of up and down movement with the waves brought on by the impending storm, but just kept on swimming…until I ran into a boat. A moored boat. You find yourself asking, what was a boat doing on the course? But then I’d be forced to admit it really was fairly off the course, I just happened to be swimming fairly off the course. I managed to shake off the head-to-hull contact and finish off the swim feeling fairly strong, if not a bit off kilter from the waves.
I hit the carpet on the beach and started to make the long journey to T1. I saw Rebecca and Alett along the way, informing them of my boat mishap, trying to keep the whole experience light and fun. Be forewarned, it is a long way to the change tent, so pace yourself!
Official Swim Time: 1:29:28
The moment I got dressed for the bike in the change tent was basically the last time my kit was dry, as it soon began to rain, and did not stop…like, ever. In some ways, this wasn’t such a bad thing, if it was going to rain at all, because otherwise I have a feeling it would have been very sticky and humid when it stopped. It was just easier to accept I had a good number of hours ahead of me in the saddle in the rain and make peace with it.
The bike course sets out from the village for a roughly 45 mile total out and back.
Everything to the left of the green dot is the initial out and back of each of the two laps you complete. As you can see from the elevation map below, this section contains some long flats with some good descents/ascents in the mix.
There is only one segment of this portion of the course that I would in any way consider technical, and that comes soon after you start on a long-ish downhill on a portion of the road that is marked as single-file only. That said, it’s not a technical descent, it just felt nerve wracking to me because I didn’t want to go fast down it and had the stress of people coming up behind me and passing when they shouldn’t have. Otherwise, the road surface is superb, you’re riding on a highway after all, and there’s plenty of great scenery, assuming that you can see it through the rain. I was able to stay in aero for a good portion of this stretch, which helped keep my MPH up, and felt completely comfortable just trying to keep up a steady rhythm on the pedals on the flats and spin up the hills.
As you can see, the rain was fairly intense, and this picture doesn’t capture any particularly heavy moment. To be honest though, it wasn’t all that bad riding through the rain other than on the descents, which became that much scarier on wet roads, at least for someone like me. I’m not sure if it had any affect on specators that might otherwise be on the course, but you do a short out and back stretch through a town and the roads were lined with people, which was a nice distraction.
Of course, you can’t do IMMT without hearing about the fabled Chemin Duplessis, which was the focus of every pre-race discussion about proper gearing for the race. This leg of the race is what I call the “back half” of the course, even though it, of course, didn’t account for half the lap, it just felt that way. Here’s the elevation.
So, as you can see, no joke. I did my best to heed every piece of advice I’d gotten about hill climbing on this part and spin up the inclines in the saddle, rather than red lining my heart rate and trashing my quads by standing. For the most part, I was pretty successful in this and actually felt reasonably comfortable ascending, even as my average MPH slipped down and down. The more nerve-racking aspect of this section of the course actually came after the turn-around on the steep descents in the rain. I am not the most confident descender on the best of days in the best of conditions, so I was particularly nervous on these downhills in the pouring rain. On the steepest section, there was a race official (I later learned it was the Race Director himself) on the side of the road urging riders to slow down. He pointed at me and said “that’s the speed I want everyone going!” Of course, I was basically gripping my brakes at the time, just trying to stay under control. Further down the road, I saw why he was out there, as 3 riders were being treated after an apparent bad crash. Though they ended up in the ICU, word is they were all recovering. I also had to contend with a crash right in front of me as a woman tried to make it to the side of the road to an aid station, but wasn’t able to unclip from her pedals and fell over in front of me, causing me to have to swerve quickly and avoid not just other riders in my direction, but those coming at me as well.
After stopping to reload my fuel at the halfway point with my Special Needs bag, I carried on for loop 2.
Fast forward to around mile 100 where my knees, the subject of a great deal of pre-race stress, really started to protest, to the point where I could barely turn my pedals over without pain. Of course it didn’t help, mentally, knowing that the hardest part of the course still lay before me. At this point I started to repeat the mantra that would carry me through the rest of the bike leg and its sharp hills, to wit, “THERE IS NO PAIN, RIDE UP THE FUCKING HILL!” Granted, it was a bit on the self-flagellating side, but it was exactly what I needed. I abandoned spinning up the hills, literally trying to minimize the number of times I had to spin the crank, and actually ended up passing people strongly, despite the pain. I even got some nice comments from fellow riders.
Finally, after completing the “back half” again, I rolled into transition, knowing that a marathon lay before me.
Official Bike Time: 6:43:54
At last, the run leg was upon me! I headed into the transition tent, excited about the prospect of changing into some dry clothes. Originally, I had planned on changing into running shorts from my tri shorts, but decided that: 1. I was just going to get new shorts wet again, and 2. the risk of chafing, given the rain, was less with the tri shorts than running shorts with a liner. I saw Rebecca as I made my way in to change and warned her that my knees were killing me, which might result in a very slow run, so she shouldn’t be worried if she saw a slow pace while tracking me. I also saw her leaving the tent, apparently in a really good mood before running a marathon after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles biking.
Again showing the kind of triathlete I am, i.e. not a very prepared one, I had very little idea of what to expect from the run course in terms of elevation. I knew there were no significant climbs to speak of and that, generally, the harder hills came as you finished each of the two laps.
And so, blithely ignorant, I set off at what I hoped was an easy pace that would keep my heart rate low and, contrary to most every other race I’ve done, I succeeded, at least for the first half of the race. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that my knees didn’t hurt at all while running, apparently the running motion is different enough from pedaling to make the difference.
The run course itself is mostly a two lane route, one coming, one going that starts through the town, then turns onto a rail trail before a turn-around, then back and on to a couple detours, including one along a gorgeous lake on a crushed gravel path, before heading back through the town and into the village where you either take a right fork back for your second lap, or a left to the finish.
Second lap lake path.
The nice thing about the two lane set-up is that, at least for a large part of the run, and depending on the time of day, you’ve almost always got someone around you, either running in your direction or the opposite way, which helps when the mind starts to wander.
Somewhere around mile 10 or so, I became convinced that I was going to finish the race well within the cut-off time. I know I should have been convinced long before this, but I really didn’t want to get ahead of myself or take anything for granted. Of course, as you can see from the chart below, this is where the wheels began to come off.
By the time I back to the village, I knew the second lap was going to be a struggle as I could barely bring myself to take in any of the fuel I had in my Special Needs bag, including the Sour Patch Kids treat I had put in the bag as a pick-me-up. I did my best to ignore the hoopla of the village as wicked fast people were coming in for their finishes, took the right fork, and headed back out onto the course, seeing Rebecca again shortly after starting the second lap.
I’m really not sure what’s going on in the above picture, other than I think I’m starting to hurt but also trying to not show it to the cameraman.
I started walking soon after starting lap 2, and that would be my main method of forward progress for the remainder of the race. It wasn’t so much the fact that I was tired or hurting, which I was, but not terribly, but that my stomach was in full-on revolt with lots of fun cramping and vomiting. I wasn’t able to take in any fuel other than some water periodically, and even that I’d lose soon thereafter (sorry for the bodily functions, but you’re reading an Ironman race report). I would try to run for as long as a stretch as I could, sometimes half a kilometer, sometimes as much as 2 kilometers, but mostly I just tried to make relentless forward progress. If nothing else, the walking gave me some time to interact with other racers and all of the wonderful volunteers on the course. The pace chart below gives a fair idea of how I yo-yoed in pace.
Despite my best efforts, I was unable to avoid doing That Thing that I do with my hands in every single race picture of me.
As I neared 2 kilometers to go in the race, the sky was dark and the temperatures were dropping, though still comfortable. It wasn’t much of an acceleration, but I did my best to make myself run, however slow, for the rest of the course. I’ve never finished a marathon running, at least anything beyond the last 10 yards of the race, and really wanted to be able to do so for the Ironman.
Approaching the village, I was hit by the volume of music playing and screaming fans, not to mention the streaming lights. It was a party, and it helped propel me on.
I have never experienced a finish like Mt. Tremblant, including Boston. The finish chute you run through for about 100 yards or so is fairly narrow and is lined with fans 4-5 deep, all urging you onward. Despite the pandemonium, I spied my friend Alett, a nice little surprise. At last, I approached the line and heard a slight variation of his famous words from Mike Reilly informing me that I was, in fact, an Ironman.
Official Run Time: 5:03:27
Official Ironman Time: 13:42:19
After crossing the line, I was greeted by a volunteer who would essentially be my escort through the finishing zone. He put his arms around my shoulder and guided me from station to station, first getting my finisher’s medal and then to get some water, etc. We chatted in French about Boston and hockey before he handed me off to Rebecca with a smile. At this point I was in pretty rough shape, feeling quite nauseous with awful stomach cramping. I couldn’t decide if I needed a medic or not, knowing it was probably pretty normal to feel terrible after 140.6 miles, so Rebecca took charge and decided I should at least get checked out, but not before surprise gifting me with the official finisher’s jacket!
The first cut of the med staff sat me down and asked some questions before taking an instant read of my blood sugar, which was low. I tried taking in some chocolate milk, but was barely able to take a few sips. They decided to bring me inside to the larger medical area, if for no other reason than to get out of all the commotion of the finish area, which I think they believed would help. They loaded me into a golf cart, which took me inside, where I was put into a wheelchair and taken to intake. The med staff weighed me, determining I’d lost 8 pounds over the course of the race, which apparently is not unusual. They had me lay down on a reclining cot and sip some hot chicken broth for a while until I eventually started to feel better.
Eventually, I felt well enough to leave and meet back up with Rebecca, who let me hang out on some steps in the village while she got us some take out pizza.
We picked up my bags and bike and, thankfully, were able to take the shuttle bus back up to the condo, where Rebecca had a variety of beers that she’d previously bought waiting for me! We debated going back down to the line but, when I reminded her that our friend had said we absolutely had to go see the midnight finish, we got off our butts and made our way back down. I couldn’t help myself and got some poutine in the village, managing roughly four gravy, cheesy bites before having my fill. The midnight finish itself was everything it’s cracked up to be. It was tremendously inspiring to see those athletes giving everything they had to be official Ironmen and I am very happy we went to see it. It’s not to be missed.
While I thought I’d sleep forever the next day, I barely made it past 6 a.m. Despite feeling fairly good, at least my muscles, after the race, my knees were absolutely awful and I could barely manage stairs. Once I got walking I was OK, but standing up was the worst. We went and had a great breakfast before going to the expo for swag. When we got there, I was sorely disappointed to find that the one thing I really wanted, the race mug, was all sold out, which I should have known would be the case. However, Rebecca came to the rescue, spotting a mug containing stickers on a random table, grabbing it, dumping the stickers, and triumphantly presenting it to me.
As you can kind of see, I also managed to get the last men’s bike jersey in my size at the expo along with a running cap Rebecca also found. All in all it wound up being a great haul. Afterwards, we took the gondola up the ski mountain and took in the beautiful views.
And of course took an ussie.
Plus, I managed to find my favorite, or at least most nostalgic, Canadian beer, Alexander Keith’s IPA!
At 4000+ words and a month after the race itself, it’s probably time to bring this post to a conclusion. In conclusion, Ironman Mt. Tremblant was an absolutely incredible, fulfilling, challenging, humbling experience that I would highly recommend to anyone looking to take on the Ironman distance. One more huge thank you to Rebecca for everything she did both during training and the race (and after).
I think I can safely say that I am done with the Ironman distance…unless I change my mind.