The swim. My archnemesis. My biggest fear. My reason to dislike triathlons (though I really quite enjoy them otherwise). Last year, I had the best swim of my life despite my injury, coming out in 50:06. This year, given the fact that I swam Challenge Quassy (Olympic) in 36:09 I was heading into the swim with some slight confidence and hope that I’d get close to 40:00. While not quite brimming with confidence, at least I was not cowering in fear at swim start. On the contrary, starting with my XC crew in Wave 2, gave me a positive mental boost pre-race.
In fact, I looked rather focused, albeit a bit rotund and with some male cameltoe, right before we got into the water.
Unfortunately, however, starting in such esteemed company and with Meredith Kessler giving us each a high five and a hearty “Good luck” right before the race made me a bit too excited. Normally when the starting gun goes off, I take my time and walk into the water. This ensures that my heart rate stays low and manageable, and that I’m able to find my rhythm and stroke easily. This time, as soon as the starting gun went off, and as soon as we gave the female pros a 10 meter head start (out of respect), I led my XC crew into the water.
This meant that as soon as I dove into the water, my heart rate was already accelerated and I started the swim at a higher effort than I normally do. What this translated to was a few moments of high anxiety and panic, which caused me to stop swimming a few times between the 1st and 4th buoys. No matter what I did while swimming (focusing on my stroke, focusing on my breathing, thinking happy thoughts, peeing), I could not lower my heart rate and calm myself down.
Luckily, a paddleboarder saw me in trouble and paced me along the first 5/6 buoys (the course is set up almost like a trapezoid with 9 buoys along each major leg). This helped me tremendously, as I felt safer and calmer when I saw him. I also saw scuba divers go into the water right before my wave began, which also gave me reassurance that I’m perfectly safe in the water. Which, of course, I know I am. After all, this is my fourth half-iron distance event, and I’ve already completed an Ironman. Clearly, this fear is not being driven from logic, but rather irrationality and I still cannot figure out why.
After I was able to calm down, I managed to swim continuously through the course, although I did feel like I was going much slower than Quassy. It turned out that I was, as I came out of the water well back from my goal time in 47:44. Admittedly, I was a bit down on myself when I saw the time on my watch, even though it was a 2:22 swim PR and a FAR cry from the 1:09:37 I swam in Rev3 Maine almost 2 years ago. Still, I was hoping for better. Swim Time: 47:44. Last year’s swim time: 50:06.
Knowing that I had some time to make up, I tried to run the 500 meters into transition as quickly as possible. This year, I was lucky enough to be in the first row, right by Swim In/Run Out, so I was able to get to my bike quickly. Unfortunately all of my gear was still stowed in my gear bags, since we were asked to have a clean transition area. This meant that all of our gear had to stay in our bags throughout the race. Normally, I lay out all of my gear similarly to the picture below, but this year we were told to keep our gear inside our gear bags.
It turns out that this rule was not entirely enforced, since I saw other triathletes’ equipment strewn all over the place upon entering transition. Figuring that it would be OK if I didn’t nicely repackage my swim gear, I left them laying next to my space in the rack, put my headband, helmet, sunglasses, and cycling shoes on. Grabbing Rexie, I clomped clomped my way through the transition area and past bike mount. T1 Time: 5:13. Last year’s T1 time: 5:22.
Once exiting Bike Out, the course briefly goes on Chemin de Voyageurs, turns right on Chemin Duplessis (the easy part), around a traffic circle and onto Montee Ryan for approximately 6 miles. Montee Ryan is where the hills begin, although Chemin Duplessis is slightly uphill.
After Montee Ryan the course goes north on 117 for about 15 miles before the turnaround at the km 143 marker (this is the road marker, not the course marker). After this turn around, the course heads back on 117, this time going south, until Ville de Mont-Tremblant (the actual village of Mont Tremblant, not to be confused with the ski village where the race begins and ends) for another turn around point. The ride through the Village of Mont Tremblant is actually pretty short – only about 3/4 of a mile to a mile long.
Once through the village, the course goes back onto Montee Ryan and then bears right, back onto Chemin Duplessis. This section is another short out and back (about 5.5 miles out), but it is definitely the most challenging part of the course, gaining approximately 535 feet with a loss of only 192 feet. It’s essentially a series of stair stepper hills, with some of the steepest section of the hills reaching 8% grade (for those who ride in NYC, it’s a similar grade to the hill from Ross Dock to River Road in Palisades Park). Fortunately, most of these hills are short and you’re able to see the crest of the hill from the bottom. For example, the 8% grade is only a little less than a 1/4 of a mile long.
While this section is short, it is very easy and tempting to over ride these hills. The key, as Jesse Thomas explained to me at breakfast the day before the race, is to crest the hill and maintain your power/effort through the crest. Don’t start to back down, or worse, coast through the top of the hill. This allows you to gain momentum as the hill flattens out or goes into a decline. Given that the out portion of Chemin Duplessis has very few declines, any momentum gained when cresting a hill becomes crucial while preparing to climb the next one. Shifting is also key, as is having the right gearing. I rode my standard 50/34 chainrings, paired with an 11-28 cassette. In retrospect, I probably should have used a larger chainring in the front, as I could have ridden hard on the down hill and flat (read: not uphill) sections of the course. Lesson learned for next year.
Once reaching the final turnaround on Chemin Duplessis, it’s a fairly easy ride back to transition. While there are some great downhills to ride and to regain some time, there are still a couple of key climbs. As in the Out portion of Chemin Duplessis, it’s very important to maintain momentum on these uphills and also to not over ride them since there’s no other time to recover before the run begins.
For me, I did not know what I was capable of riding on race day, but for the second triathlon in a row, my power meter was not registering on my 920XT. To this day, I’m not sure why as it registers every other time (including the day prior on an easy ride). There must be something within the software in Multisport mode within the 920. For Austria, I may try to ride with my Edge just so I have my power data.
Without my power and cadence data, I did not have any other metric (mph does not really make sense as a metric, since it’s too terrain dependent) to ride with so I rode by effort. This meant that I basically put my head down and rode as hard as I could. When I didn’t think I could maintain the effort, I rode harder. When I thought I was riding too hard, I kept it up. To be honest, I told myself not to worry about the run, and just ride the hell out of the course and figure out what happens later. This plan ended up working to my advantage, as I was seeing some pretty decent splits (for me) at each 5 mile interval (my 920 is set to auto lap every 5 miles).
Based on these splits, it’s easy to tell that I need to work on hills. I’m able to ride fairly decently on the flatter portions, and I have no fear on downhills particularly on a road as beautiful and clean as Mont Tremblant, but I slow to a crawl once I get to a hill. Something I definitely will work on over the next 10 weeks.
In addition to a non-existing power meter, I also was trying a slightly new nutrition plan. Instead of using Generation UCAN, I decided to go on a more traditional route. Since I changed my diet in April, UCAN has not worked as well for me. I’ve come to need more calories during my training sessions, and since I knew I would put in more effort during the race, I was worried about bonking in the middle of the bike ride. So, after discussing the plan with my nutritionist, I decided on the following for the bike:
- 2x water bottles with 1x scoop of Carbo Pro and Hydra C5 each. Total calories: 400. Total carbs: 100g
- 2x PowerBar Performance Energy Bars. Total calories: 360. Total carbs: 32g
- 1x Gatorade Endurance Bottle (taken from an aid station). Total calories: 80. Total carbs: 21g
I also had 6 salt pills with me, with the plan being to take 1-2 every hour. Unfortunately I lost the salt pill bag somewhere on 117 North, so I only ended up taking one salt pill. Luckily the weather cooperated and it was slightly overcast with a brief shower so I did not need any additional electrolytes. I only used one water bottle so my total calorie/carb count for the bike was 640/153 g.
So, my nutrition all set and my plan sort of in place, I rode. And I rode. I pushed through the uphills, and tried to go as fast as I can on the downhills. In fact, Rexie went so fast on the downhills that I had a fellow triathlete ride next to me and said, “Man, your bike really flies down the downhills!”
If only I went as fast on the uphills, sigh.
Anyway, this plan of mine actually worked and I had the ride of my life. In fact, one of my teammates who was racing with me, did not pass me on the bike until about mile 43 or so, and I had thought he would pass me much sooner. That’s actually when I knew I was having a really good bike leg, because he flies on the bike. He actually ended up riding a 2:20, finishing in 4:28. In other words, he finished 70.3 miles in the time it takes for most people to run a marathon.
But, regardless, we both had great races and part of the reason was that I actually raced this race. Instead of holding back and being afraid of bonking or being in pain, I went for it. I raced the way I used to race, before getting injured, and that was without fear. I’ve recently seen an Internet meme that said FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real, which is fairly accurate. In the past year or so, I’ve been afraid of pushing myself because I’ve been afraid of re-injuring myself or not being able to finish what I’ve started. I’ve not had that mentality in the past, and this is the first race in a long time when I’ve let go of that fear and embraced the pain. It worked. Bike Time: 2:57:53. Last year’s bike time: 3:46:49.
Getting off my bike, I quickly came to realize that my legs felt like jello. Luckily, I had a long run from Bike In to my bike rack, since I was right next to Run Out. This gave me some time to get some feeling back into my legs, though I did feel like I was running veeeeeeery slowly. Once I reached my bike rack, I removed my helmet and bike shoes, fixed my headband, grabbed my race belt and Garmin and ran out. T2 Time: 1:29. Last year’s T2 time: 3:02.
With Run Out being literally right next to my bike, I almost forgot to transition my Garmin. I ended up transitioning it slightly after I should have. At the time, I thought I needed to run a sub-2:00 half marathon to break 6 hours, because I thought I looked at my overall time when I ran out of transition, and it said 3:57. So, with that thought firmly implanted in my brain, I forced my legs to open up and move.
Except they didn’t. I couldn’t move my legs. And I had to poop. Badly.
For legitimately the first race in my life, I had to poop during a race. I tried to fight it off as much as I can, and I skipped the first set of port-a-potties, but by the time I got to the aid station on Chemin du Village I had no choice but to stop in a port-a-potty, drop my tri shorts, and poop. Hopefully in that order.
After pooping, I felt a lot better. It did take me a lot of time to actually get up, because my legs wouldn’t cooperate, but at least my stomach felt better. Since my first mile ended up being an 11:05 mile with the pooping, I knew I had to push harder to make up the lost time. Unfortunately my legs still wouldn’t cooperate, so my second mile was only a 9:29.
Luckily, the course became rather flat for about 6 miles, running on the Le P’tit Train du Nord trail. This year, they paved the trail, which made it much easier to run. I resolved that once I hit that trail, I didn’t care how much it hurt or how my legs felt, I would run each mile as hard as I can and just focus on counting down each kilometer marker and getting to the next aid station.
Once I got on the trail, I stuck to my plan and surprisingly my legs started to feel better. Running on the left side of the cones, I was able to open up my stride and get into a good running rhythm. I also started to see some of my faster XC teammates running back, and it was good to see them again. They gave me a slight boost as I ran towards the turnaround point, as did some of my fellow runners as we encouraged one another as we ran by/with each other.
As I ran, I focused on three things: my breathing, my form, and my time. I knew that I had to hit approx. 9:00/mile to make it sub-2:00, and with the 11:05 first mile, I figured I just had to run hard to make it, since there was no way I was going to figure out the math at that point in the race. I actually resolved not to look at my overall time again until I reached the Westin, back in the Tremblant ski village.
Overall, I succeeded with that plan until about mile 8 when I started to cramp badly. At that time, I had already taken my 2 Gus (one at mile 3ish and another right after mile 7) and was taking Gatorade and water at every aid station, so I became a bit concerned. It also started to get hot at that time, and since the rail trail has very little cover, I thought I was dehydrated. I ended up having to walk at a couple of points, since my running had slowed down to a crawl.
At the next aid station, I switched it up and added some flat Coke for sugar, and that helped for about a mile. I felt better going into mile 9, but mile 10 was painful. Since I had about 5K to go, I said “suck it up buttercup,” and pushed through the pain. I still ended up walking a little bit but I managed to run about .95 of mile 10. Once I ran out of the rail trail, and the small bike trail which was another out and back, I knew I just had to make it back to town.
Unfortunately the way back to town was uphill, but none of them were that bad. I actually thought that the last bad hill was the hill on Chemin de la Chapelle, which is the hill we climb up and down on our way to swim start. I figured that once I got over that, I’d be home free and can look forward to the down hill run into the Finish Line.
I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
It turns out that they changed the course. Where last year’s course ran by the Westin, into the Village, and down the hill to the Finish Line, this year’s course ran into the Village, turned left and went UP a rather steep hill, and did a lollipop around the top of the Village, before going straight back down into the Finish Line. This was a very unpleasant surprise, because I did not expect it. That’s what I get for not reading the Athlete Guide and reviewing the course before hand. #oops
With no other choice but to run, I pushed on and kept going as hard as I could. At this time, I stopped looking at my watch because there was no way I could run harder than I was and I figured I’d end up with whatever time I ended up.
Once I started heading down hill, my focus switched from keeping on running to not falling. The downhill is STEEP. And narrow. It is also filled with other tired triathletes trying to run as hard as they can, so it can be quite dangerous. Luckily nothing unfortunate happened and I was able to finish in one piece. Total Run Time: 1:50:04. Last year’s run time: 2:29:15.
Overall Time: 5:51:23
Last Year’s Time: 7:14:34
Quite a difference, huh?