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Ironman Mont Tremblant Race Report: The Experience

(NOTE: the Ironman Mont Tremblant race report will be in two parts. The first part will cover my experience at Mont Tremblant, while the second part will cover practical and specific details about the course and venue that those of you doing the race next year may find helpful. Click here for the course overview–swim, bike and run.)

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Team U-Crazy rocks Mont Tremblant! From left: My father-in-law John, my mother-in-law Jeanne (who made the awesome signs!), sister-in-law Tracy, brother Johnny, nephew Jake, husband John, and ham-it-up me!

If you wait for the perfect conditions to race hard, it might never happen. You have to take what the day gives you, make smart decisions, and push through the various challenges that make an Ironman the difficult – yet rewarding – experience that it is.

I’ll cut the suspense for you: I did not experience the perfect set of circumstances on August 19, 2012, as I embarked on my third Ironman in Mont Tremblant, Canada. But, I’ve learned far more than I would have if everything had gone to plan.

The day started off as it usually does: alarm clock went off to the sounds of the Rocky theme, breakfast ingested consisting of the normal ingredients, donning of the race kit, smoothing of the body glide and chamois cream, marking of the body, preparing of the water bottles in transition, squeezing into the wetsuit. Check, check and check.

Team U-Crazy in the throng of spectators before the swim start. How awesome is my cheering crew?

The beach start for the swim offered such a small space for so many people. I positioned myself to the far left of the buoy line (swim was clockwise, with buoys to the right), about 2-3 rows back, hoping to keep myself out of the fray.

Good luck with that.

At 7:00 a.m., the race began. About 2,500 athletes pushed their way into the absurd mosh pit that is the beginning of a mass Ironman swim start.

The first few moments of the swim start at Ironman Mont Tremblant. Picture from the IM Mont Tremblant Facebook page.

I was right in there, throwing elbows and asses with the best of them, deep into the mix. Within three strokes of the start, the swimmer next to me elbowed me in the face and my goggles flipped up. Thankfully, I had put the strap under my cap, so I didn’t lose them. I just flipped them back down, stuck my head back in the water and tried not to panic.

Luckily, the panic never came despite the fact that the start was C.R.A.Z.Y. (worse than either of my previous two Lake Placid starts).

When I raised my head, all I could see was flying water, a swell of neoprene elbows, and swim caps. It was an astonishing swarm – like thousands of angry birds attacking the water.

I chanted in rhythm with my strokes, “This is my space… This is my space…” When someone bumped me, I bumped them back. If somebody grabbed my foot, I gave them a warning shot with a swift kick.

This is my space…

Early on – maybe only 600 yards into the swim – the swarm jammed up, and I swam right into the back of another swimmer, who was just bobbing in the water. I looked up – and there was a few rows of swimmers, all stopped and bobbing the water. There was no turn buoy or anything to explain the hold up.

I looked at the guy next to me, “What’s going on?”

He said, “I don’t know, but let’s go.” He started plowing through people, and I got right on his feet. And on we went, plowing through the bodies.

Despite starting to the far left of the buoys, within 1000 yards, I was right up against the buoy line.

How the heck did I get here?

No matter, on I went, plowing through the bodies.

As I ran by the Team U-Crazy tent, I exclaimed, “1:13 baby!!!”

As I made the turn to head back to shore (Mont Tremblant is a one-loop swim), I was finally able to find pockets of open water. I lengthened my stroke, and hoped that I would make the time goal (1:15:00). The swim seemed to go on FOREVAHH, so as I came to the shoreline and took off my wetsuit, I prepared myself for disappointing news–but that’s not what I saw.

The clock read: “1:13:xx.”

“Yes!” I exclaimed, audibly enough that it encouraged the spectators around me to cheer me on.

I exited the water with a 13-minute IM swim PR, and the day was starting out better than planned. My nerves were gone, and I was in execution mode.

It seemed like it would be a perfect day.

The run from the swim exit to the transition tent is looooooonnnnnggggg. During the race meeting, they said 800 meters. Thankfully, the entire way was carpeted with brand new, red carpet.

Super-staaahhhs!

Despite the long jaunt, I had a speedy transition, and I was out on the bike. And, that’s when the perfect day ended.

Within 15 minutes of riding, I felt my gut tighten up. Cramps, particularly in the upper part of my abdominal area. While I don’t know exactly what caused my gut to seize so early on, I have a feeling that my nerves prior to the race may be the culprit.

Okay, no big deal. Just relax. 

I hoped that if I rode easy for a bit, I would relax and my gut would too.

While I was concerned about being able to digest calories with the cramping, I began feeding based on my race strategy: 200-220 calories an hour, consumed in 15 minute intervals.

After two hours on the bike, the cramping had intensified, as if someone was wringing out my intentines. More problematically, my belly was starting to bloat.

Houston, we have a back up. 

It seemed obvious that I wasn’t properly processing the calories.

I had to start making smart decisions: to feed or not to feed. That was the question. Whether ’tis smarter to fuel the body in preparation for the marathon, or to take arms against more gels, and by consuming no more, end these cramps. (And, my dad thought my literature degree wouldn’t ever come in handy…)

Team U-Crazy Headquarters – yeah baby!!

I gambled that a marathon without proper fueling would be better than trying to continue with cramps. So, I skipped feedings–about half of them–and the cramps eventually subsided. I was relieved. Albeit, undernourished, but relieved.

An aerial shot of a portion of the bike course, as riders head to or from Chemin Duplessis.

Despite the turmoil of my innards, the bike was an incredible experience. I felt STRONG, and I knew I was on my way to smash my previous time.

The course is beautiful and challenging (more details on this in my next post). There are no long climbs, but the course constantly rolls. Several of the hills are quite steep, which allowed me to hit a new all-time max speed of 42.2 miles per hour.

Downhills really are fun – and by the end of the second loop, a complete and total relief.

The spectators are enthusiastic, cheering in French along the way.

Allez! Allez!

“Bravo! Bravo!”

This, along with other strings of French words that I did not understand, but that sounded encouraging.

I loved the sound of these words! When I saw my family as I was heading out on the second loop, I tried out my newly learned French, “Allez! Allez! Allez!”

Honey Badger doesn’t care! She’s going to F* the prom queen!

They cheered back: “Honey badger doesn’t care! Honey badger is a bad ass!”

If you don’t get the reference to the “nastyass honey badger,” then you absolutely positively must watch this video NOW, which Jeff (@crittermedic on Twitter) shared with me before the race to get me pumped up. It was a HUGE hit with Team U-Crazy.

The second loop of the bike was made particularly challenging by increasing winds. I remember heading out on the second loop thinking, Well, at least when I turn around I’ll be with the wind. 

Yeah, not so much.

I turned around, and I was riding into even stronger winds. But, that’s Ironman. There are no perfect conditions – that’s what makes it a challenge worth doing. That’s how you find out who you really are.

After 6 hours and 35 minutes – a 37-minute IM bike PR – I was off the bike and headed into T2. My goal for the bike was 6:30–so close!

A quick change in T2, despite being directed out the wrong exit by a volunteer, and it was time to run ’em down.

Heading out on the run, gettin’ some love from John.

As I started on the marathon, I felt awesome. Some may wonder how we can run after sitting on the bike for so many hours. The truth of it is this: It is an absolute RELIEF to be standing upright and running.

I started the run right in-line with my HR targets – with the added bonus of my average pace being about 6 seconds/mile quicker than I  had hoped. Thank you, 70-degree, cloudy/rainy day!

Immediately, I zeroed in on the people in front of me, and methodically ran them down. I knew I was doing well in overall placement because most of the people I passed were men. By the records on IM athlete tracker, I passed 491 people on the run, 379 males and 112 females (17 of which were in my AG).

But, hey, who’s counting?

Usually, I wait until the half-marathon mark to start drinking cola, but my stomach was protesting anything solid. So, by mile 3, I was drinking crack-a-cola at every other aid station, praying that the cramps wouldn’t intensify. They didn’t.

However, this was too little calories, too late in the game. As I came around for the second loop, I could feel the wheels coming off the bus. I tried to ignore it, but the calorie deficit was taking its toll.

John yelled to me to dig deep, and push through. And, while the pace may not show it, I dug very deeply in that second half.

People around me were walking. I avoided them for fear that it was contagious.

My watch beeped to tell me I was falling off my target HR, and with it, my dream goal pace. I ignored it.

The rain poured down. I imagined it had a magical energy juice in it.

The signs marking each kilometer seemed ridiculously far apart (isn’t a kilometer shorter than a mile?!). I fought harder to reach them.

My legs and hips screamed for mercy, as each step, especially the downhill ones, became more painful. I screamed back at them.

I remember at one point thinking to myself, Okay, do your best. And, then I snapped, “No!”, remembering this advice from my coach Vince:

Not my best! Better than that.  Must.  Get.  Prom. Queen. 

When I look at my garmin file, I can see the brief moments where I tried to rally in the final 10km, willing my legs to return to their previously zippy pace from the first half. But, alas! I couldn’t sustain these surges. My muscles were almost completely out of fuel.

Every time my brain wanted to wallow in the misery, I forcibly re-focused it.

I thought about my form.

I visualized going sub-12 hours.

I told myself I was stronger than the pain.

And, yes, I envisioned myself as the badass honey badger. He doesn’t give a sh*t about pain, and neither do I.

And, then I saw the sign: 41km.

Oh, glorious glory! 1.2km to go – less than a mile. 

I looked at my watch and realized that unless I collapsed, I was going to make it under 12 hours – I just wasn’t sure by how much. Complicated math at the end of an Ironman is a no-go. And, by “complicated,” I mean basic addition and subtraction.

As I approached the final 100 yards, I saw a woman just ahead. Her age marking had rubbed off her calf. I flashed back to Quassy, where I missed the top 10 in my AG by a mere 17 seconds. I had no idea if I was anywhere near the top 10, but I wasn’t going to chance it.

I summoned the last nugget of energy I had, and blew by her. I hate doing that in the finishing chute. But, what if she was in my age group? I couldn’t chance it.

I crossed the finish line in 11 hours, 53 minutes and 14 seconds, with a whopping 58-minute PR off my total time from last year. I was 20th in my AG. Each year, I manage to jump up 20 slots, from 60th in 2010, to 40th in 2011, and now 20th. If I jump 20 slots next year, we’ll be singing “Aloha!” instead of “Allez!”

While I didn’t quite make my time goal (11:40:00), I realize that time was based on the perfect day, under perfect conditions. I didn’t get to race under those circumstances, but I did race hard. And, I found out who I am – I’m a badass honey badger.

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My 2012 season has been dedicated to raising money for Gilda’s Club of South Jersey, in honor of my mother who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer on June 12, 2012. It’s not too late to help me reach my goal. To donate, click here.

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  1. Kandis

    Great report!!! Soooooo very helpful and encouraging. This makes Mt. Tremblant sound doable!!!

    1. Maria Simone

      It is 100% doable!! And you will do it! Enjoy the journey 🙂

  2. Laura Drake Cole

    OMG – I have read a few of your posts for IMMT- You are an amazing storyteller!! AHH. MAZE. ING!!! I laughed! I cried! You sound so super cool ! The videos were such a great addition…thank you for letting me know what to expect!!

    1. Maria Simone

      Hi, Laura! Thanks for reading and for the kind words. I love writing – and it makes me even happier when my readers like it :). I’m guessing you are doing IMMT this year? You will love it! Great great great race! If you have questions, feel free to contact me!

  3. Beth

    Don’t even know you but loved loved loved your race report!! Fantastic and congratulations! I am doing Mont Tremblant this year (2014) and it is my first IM so I really found your info valuable. Hope you make it to Kona, Honey Badger!!

    1. Maria Simone

      Hi, Beth! Thanks for reading the report and for the kind words. I’m glad the report is useful for you. It’s a great race, and the town really supports it – which makes it fun. The first IM is THE BEST! Enjoy the experience – it’s really extraordinary. Enjoy the training, and celebrate your hard work on race day. HONEY BADGER! hahahaha!

  4. Derek

    CONGRATS on another Ironman!!! love that pic of you running with John in the background with the camera in hand

    You may not have had the perfect set of circumstances but you had a GREAT race! excellent work all year – you have impoved performance a ton and will no doubt continue that trend

    D

  5. julian

    Im doing this as my first IM should I be concerned about the swim?
    I hate crowds I tend to hold back in Half IMs then hit it on the bike and run
    whats your advice here
    where was the best starting point on the beach
    great race report

    1. Maria Simone

      Hi, Julian – thanks for visiting & commenting. Don’t be concerned about the swim. Just do what you do. If you dislike the crowds, then wait a few minutes before starting. My friend Charlotte (who commented earlier) and her husband waiting a few minutes and she said they didn’t have much trouble at all heading out. As they headed back into the beach, they started to run into some of the slower swimmers, but you can easily navigate your way around them.

      As far as best starting point – I’m not sure. It seems to pretty much be the same as the beach is full of people. Your best bet may be to wait, unless you want to start in the front and charge out. Not sure how strong of a swimmer you are. If you are a fast swimmer, then I’d say charge it. If not, wait.

      1. julian

        yeah I dont like crowds
        My swim is fine I think
        I do 1:45/100 yds and probably can sustain that
        But when sorrounded I sort of panic and my HR goes up
        I bneed to figure out a way to work on this
        Im typically about anywher from 5th to 7 th in my AG if I could rein in my head on the swim it would be nice.
        For my first IM though I dont think Ill race it …I need to get through it
        Looking over some plans to see which one suits me
        and beginning to consider some weight training in the offseason along with some slow-aerobic running…see what happens.
        Thanks for your advice
        Great race report

  6. Nicole

    AMAZING! You did great! And you handled the nutrition situation well I think! Your recap of the race was very inspiring! I can’t wait to see you drop another 20 places in your AG!

    1. Maria Simone

      Thanks, Nicole! It was a great day 🙂

  7. Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race

    F’N Honey Badger for sure. You are such a badass.

    And seriously can we all just stop thinking that when we are heading into the headwind that when we turn around we will get a tailwind because that never happens.

    I am so happy that you raced to an 11:53 and not just for you but because I am selfish so that you gave me a goal time to hunt down at Arizona in November…..haha!

    Spidey Twin – thanks for the write up. You are a Honey Badger and Crazy but all in an awesome way and a friend who ain’t a honey badger on team crazy ain’t no friend of mine.

    Aloha! Aloha! Aloha!

    1. Maria Simone

      You are so right about the headwind. It blows from every direction all the time. That is all. We just need to get used to it.

      Glad to be the rabbit for your IMAZ performance – but I hope you beat me!! You aren’t a female in my AG, so it’s allowed – hahahah!

      HONEY BADGER!!!

  8. Sandy

    You are awesome! Loved reading about your race. I finished LP this year and took some of your race advice from an email you sent me a year ago! Thanks so much Maria!

    1. Maria Simone

      Sandy – I remember you!! I’m so glad to hear you got to that Olympic Oval this year. We were there volunteering – I wish I knew your number. I would have cheered like a maniac for you. How did you love that finish line? Glad the advice was helpful.

      1. Sandy

        Maria- I remembered that you were going to be there volunteering! That will be me next year. I’m sad that I won’t be there for 2013, but I am going to try to get in to IMFL. I LOVED the oval and hearing Mike Reilly say my name. I have some things to work on, but you give me hope with your times dropping so much! You are so inspiring! I did the Quassy race the past two years and had no idea you were there. Thanks again! Now I just need to figure out how to get that throw up feeling to go away on the run…..

        1. Maria Simone

          Sandy – I’m doing the race next year. Let’s meet!!

  9. Robin Blackburn

    You are one total BADASS!!! Loved your account of every minute. f’ing awesome!!!! Still so happy for you!!!!

    1. Maria Simone

      I learned how to be a badass from you, sister!

  10. katie

    WOW! What an amazing day – filled with triumph! Those are some sexy swim & bike PRs, my friend! can’t wait to watch you drop another 20 places….congratulations!

    1. Maria Simone

      Thanks, Katie! I’m looking forward to meeting you in the “real” next year 🙂 Hope to find those 20 places at IMLP!

  11. Kim

    YOU GO GIRL! So proud of you and happy for you! You are such an inspiration to all of us. Your determination and dedication bring tears to my eyes. All that you have been through this year, but yet you still beat personal records! AMAZING and ENCOURAGING! Keep bringing it sister! 🙂

    1. Maria Simone

      Thanks, Kim! See you this week 🙂

  12. John

    You did it! So very proud of you for fighting through the moments of defining charactor and proving you are a true competitor. I never had a doubt. Honey Badger does not give a shit! I love that edge you sustain and still stay on the side excepting that level of intolerance and tolerating it. Its been a tough year for you and all of the family. Your mother and father are looking down on you and are so very proud of you. Big smiles and butterflies all around.! Very BIG things to happen for you in 2013! Go get your dream!!!!! I love u

    1. Maria Simone

      I love you, too. Bungquoi!

  13. felog

    *grunt*

    <3

    1. Maria Simone

      Freshie pants!

  14. Beth

    Wow, congrats on the HUGE PR!! Its incredible how you held it together to stay strong the whole time despite the cramping and nutrition issues.

    1. Maria Simone

      Thanks, Beth! Stay focused on the task 🙂 It was the only option!

  15. Vlad

    Amazing and inspiring!!!
    Will do my first Ironman next year.

    1. Maria Simone

      Awesome, Vlad!! Which one?!

      1. Vlad

        Probably Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Haven’t purchased yet.

        1. Maria Simone

          Pull the trigger, Vlad 😉

          1. Crazyseattle

            went through again. How great to read it with new eyes as an Ironman. Looking forward for your IMLP!

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