(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.)
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.
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.
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 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.
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…)
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.