June 26, 2014

Lâche pas la patate - Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant race report

Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant
June 22, 2014
Goal: finish upright, in closer to 7 hrs than 8
Actual: upright... check. 7:57:27


Well, here it was. I'd done my prep, checked off my list -- it was time to execute. Whatever was going to happen now was going to happen. That said, I didn't want to leave anything to chance that I had a shot at controlling. Saturday morning saw me out on the bike for an easy 25 min just to stretch my legs and make sure all was a-ok mechanically and with my tweaked cleat installation. I felt good, if a little antsy, after a week off. Once I was confident all was in working order, I completed my bike check-in. I'm glad I got this done early, as later in the afternoon there was a huge line up.

My next stop was at the Ironman tent to get a souvenir shirt and towel, and cowbells for the girls. Last-minute items lined the checkout queue... magnets, jewelry, bags, bottles, car emblems... you name it. I joked with the fellow behind me that one could go really crazy in here. He admitted to buying up almost the whole store the year before, for his first 70.3. I had firmly resolved to limit myself to one souvenir. But a commemorative event towel with your name (and those of the other 3000-ish participants) on it?? Come on, I had to. And the cowbells were for the girls so they don't count, I reasoned. The Ironman operation is a well-oiled machine, and the line for the cash went incredibly fast. I was also lucky to just beat the afternoon rush.

Gathering for the athletes meeting

Having never been on the Tremblant swim course and wanting to test the waters (so to speak), I went for a late afternoon swim. Did an easy 900 m, and felt great. The water was a little choppy, but nothing that wasn't easily resolved by switching breathing sides and finding a rhythm that matched the movement of the water. Back to the hotel room for a fantastic dinner of spaghetti and salad, prepared by my aunt. Packed up my transition stuff, laid out my morning clothes, figured out my morning plan, and went to bed.

Heading to transition

I had an unexpectedly good sleep (the night before, not so much) and woke up alert when my alarm rang at 5:00. Jumped into my clothes, made some instant apple and cinnamon oatmeal, and headed down the hall to the breakfast buffet. Had a 1/2 plain bagel with cream cheese, cup of tea, and small orange juice to round out breakfast. Took my gear to transition, then went back to the hotel to PRP, lube up, and grab my swim gear. I specifically picked the hotel for its proximity to the swim course, which made things less hectic.


Goal: 55:00
Actual: 49:02

T1: 6:40

I arrived at the swim start with lots of time to get into my wetsuit and do a calm, relaxed warmup. The water was 63 degrees, and felt perfect... though I saw some people shivering. As long as I'm in a wetsuit, I find the cooler water invigorating -- I prefer it to the too-hot pool water I raced in earlier this month. The wave corrals were very orderly, and as we moved up toward the start I had ample room to choose my preferred starting spot on the beach: on the right side, midway back. I had a few moments to wait in calm, ready anticipation -- then with a blast of a flare, we were into the water. I'm sure people were cheering, as we had for other waves. But I was solely focused on a deliberate entry, and a steady, clear start to what would be a very long day.

Most laid-back swim start ever

The swim turned out to be my favourite leg of the day. The wide beach gave us lots of room at the start, and the course was beautifully marked. Athletes could stay to either side of the "straight line" buoy markers, and only had to stay outside the turn markers at the midway point. This was the most relaxed, enjoyable race swim I've had. Found some feet about halfway up the away leg, but lost them when things got more "active" near the turn marker. On the return segment, the crowd was thicker as faster athletes from later waves caught up.

There was a good crowd of cheering spectators at the swim exit. Since my wetsuit was comfortable to run in and easy to get out of by myself, I bypassed the wetsuit strippers. This was a good choice... I saw a number of pretty dirty shoulders and tri kits on the bike, on those who looked like they'd laid down someplace less than ideal to get stripped. I had an energizing run to transition, getting high fives from my family as we ran like rock stars on a soft red carpet to T1.

Excuse me, pardon me, coming through!


Goal: between 3.5 and 4 hrs
Actual: 3:56:38

T2: 6:35

Transition was smooth and deliberate as I got into my cycling gear and out onto the bike course. As it turned out, my wetsuit wasn't the only thing that came off easily. My body marking had disappeared, as had most of my sunscreen. See my next blog post, "the Aftermath."


There were a lot of fast, strong riders out there. I had to remind myself to bike my own race to match my fitness and training. One of my goals for the bike was to be disciplined enough in my pacing that I could run the whole 1/2 marathon afterward. Then there was my other goal...

I've always been a bit of a nervous descender. More so after a mountain bike crash that left me badly concussed and ultimately led me to leave the sport years ago. A couple of weeks before the race, I had come on a day trip to ride the course. On it is a hill where, the athlete guide enthuses, "you will reach speeds of 80 km/h!" Maybe -- if I have a heart attack, and my dead body continues to pick up speed. On practice day, I rode this hill in the safety lane with transport trucks hurtling by my left shoulder. Terror doesn't adequately describe the feeling. "Now I have to change my bike shorts" would be closer. The experience left me anxious to the point of feeling slightly dizzy descending highway hills at speed -- IN MY CAR. Yeah, I know... it wasn't looking good.

My goal was to make it to the bottom of that hill on race day without panicking or feeling out of control. When I arrived at this point in the course, with the whole road open for our use and seeing so many capable athletes descending in a calm, relaxed -- and really fast -- way, I just did it. I sailed down the hill with the brakes just brushing the tracks intermittently so I knew they were there if I needed them. For the remainder of the course, I took all the free speed I could get. Did lots of passing on the downhills, though I got re-passed on the climbs. If I tackle another climb-heavy race in the future, I'll be getting a different cassette... at many points I was grinding in my smallest gear while others were spinning. I also freely admit I didn't have enough hill training under my belt.

Your mind has ample opportunity to wander over the span of almost 8 hrs of racing. About 40 k into the 90 k bike, I realized I really had to pee. At the athletes meeting, we were told anyone "relieving themselves in nature" would receive a yellow card. As the urge struck in the middle of the open highway with nary a port a potty in sight, I started to contemplate the idea of peeing on my bike -- something I had insisted would never happen. The next thoughts were "I wonder if pee is bad for carbon fiber."  "I wonder if it would do bad things to my bottom bracket." "Normally people at least rinse off with water... all I have is Nuun. Would that be better than pee?" I looked down at my brand new white shoes. Oh, no way. I can't pee in my shoes. If I just peed on the saddle (which is a split nose), would it just go straight through the chamois and miss my shoes? But then it would get into the saddle stitching... ew!! As bike after bike passed me, my thoughts jumped to "Wait -- when do they close the bike course?! Is it possible I won't even make the cutoff?!!" I spent some time doing frantic, sloppy math in my brain, and realized that, short of getting off and walking my bike the rest of the way, it wasn't going to be an issue. Bonus -- by the time I was done figuring that out, I didn't have to pee anymore.

Soon after, I was in St. Jovite. I was also out of Nuun drink in my BTA bottle. Normally I stop and refill it with the bottle from my seat tube, but I didn't want to stop until the final aid station on Chemin Duplessis. I had decided I would use the port a potty there even though the urge had passed.... better safe than sorry. Partway up Montee Ryan, I started to get concerned about dehydration. So I just pulled the bottle off my seat tube and swigged from it on the go. Happily, this didn't cause me to fall down.  Simple skill, I know... but one I had never practiced since all I use normally is the BTA. I had gone right by the rest of the aid stations. My plan had been self-sufficiency, so the aid stations would simply be a backup plan. On the bike this was driven by safety -- having seen videos of pros whipping through grabbing bottles at warp speed, and also having heard horror stories of less agile age grouper mishaps, I didn't want to have to either stop/slow awkwardly or risk disaster.

Duplessis brought the real climbs, as well as some really fun descents. These were short and merciful, though by this time there were several people walking their bikes up the steeper hills. The last descent provided a great chance to rest the legs, and the short stretch to the t-zone let me spin them out a bit in preparation for the run.


Goal: around 2:30
Actual: 2:58:32

In transition, I applied more body glide between my toes and on my heels to mitigate any foot issues on the run. I should have also added some under the upper arms -- which wasn't an issue till about the 18 k mark, where there was, coincidentally, a sign saying "chafe now, brag later." I decided to don my compression calf sleeves, which was a good call. I needed all the support (literally and figuratively) I could get. I had picked up a $2 single-use towel moistened with essential oil and smelling salts... I gave my arms, legs, and neck a few swipes, as well as under my nose in the hopes the oils and salts would energize me. What the heck, couldn't hurt. I left T2 feeling good, and was greeted with more family high-fives.

Leaving T2 and spotting my girls

Out on the run course, it was smiles and thumbs-up for the camera, spurred on by a crowd of encouraging spectators. I spotted the 1 km sign. I kept running, for what felt like a small eternity. An entire season of Game of Thrones was surely filmed in this time. Yeah, feeling ok! Then I saw the next sign.

2 km.

Oh God.

"Not far now!" said a fellow to my right. "Only 19 more," I agreed, still pretty chipper. At 3 k, I dumped out my flasks -- emptying the nasty sports drink that had sat out in the sun in transition all morning. It was dead weight I didn't want to carry. By the 5 k mark, the initial excitement had worn off. "Ok, so only 3 more of these to go," I thought, doing some kind of punch-drunk math. I took water at almost every aid station, as well as ice which I poured down my suit, into my hat, and held in my palms. At some stations I only took water, at others I grabbed a piece of banana or orange as well. Those looked much more appealing at this juncture than the chews I'd brought.

I decided to walk the 8 km aid station, so I could get some chocolate waffle, orange slice, and water into me without choking, as well as grabbing the requisite cup of ice at the end of the line. That was the last time I walked on the course. That might be puzzling, if you look at my very slow run split. To say I ran would technically be correct, though I'm using the term "run" very loosely. Let me illustrate.

How I wanted to look:

How I actually looked:
I didn't so much run as lurch along in a steady rhythm. I felt like if I abandoned that rhythm, I was done. Even during my brief walk through the 8 k aid station, I could feel my hamstrings starting to tighten. So on I lurched. For roughly 12 k. I passed the folks who were walking, but I was not making good time. "Lâche pas!" was the rallying cry from the many, many volunteers who manned the aid stations and the intersections. I was getting passed pretty regularly. The thought "what if I come last" crossed my mind (though this would not be the case in the end). At one point I passed a fellow who was doubled over at a park bench. "OK?" I managed. "Yeah," he said. A few minutes later I was met on the path by a medic. "Are you alright? You look ok... are you ok?" I nodded, and told him about the man up the path, who had appeared to be cramping up. The medic thanked me and headed in that direction. I heard a woman a short distance behind relay the same information.

From 17 k to the end was a lonely stretch. I saw cars of people leaving, bikes on the roof, thumbs up out the window with yells of "You got this! Almost there!" The company of the bike course was gone. In this last stretch, there were no runners coming the opposite direction to break up the monotony. The signs, in reality spaced a kilometer apart, seemed to stretch further and further between. By kilometer 19, I was truly in hell and fighting back tears and snot with every encouraging word the straggling spectators offered up. In what I thought was a somewhat cruel addition to the course, the route meandered up a circular driveway, past the front door what I'm sure was a cool, relaxing hotel, and continued around and out the other side. A short climb followed, and then the final descent through the village. At this point, I made a valiant effort to pick my feet up. For the inevitable finish line photos, as well as the more practical reason of not wanting to trip and fall on my face on the downhill stretch. All I saw on that final 100 m was the empty paving stones between the black fences.

Painful final stretch toward the finish

I raised my arms and crossed the finish line, beyond spent and exhausted on more levels than I have yet experienced (except maybe in childbirth). I caught a glimpse of a figure prone on what I thought was a massage table -- awesome, I need some of that! Turned out it was a woman strapped to a gurney, bags of ice packed around her neck. I also saw a fellow in a wheelchair -- who hadn't been in one when he started the race -- waiting for a massage therapist. I finished. I had been hoping for a faster time... but I finished. Upright. With just enough in me to hug my kids tight, limp over to the massage room, and pick up a fantastic free poutine. At this juncture, I can't imagine ever doing this again. But I've learned that never is an awfully long time.

Worth it


  1. You are a fantastic writer - funny, engaging, and entertaining! Thanks for sharing, Kirsten!

  2. Awesome recap! Congrats on your race :) Love the finish photo with your girls :) Julie

  3. I came across your blog on a link on the OTC forums. I am *considering* signing up for the Tremblant half iron next June so am reading all I can about it. I'm a little terrified but also excited by the challenge. One of my big fears is the temperature of the water, but I am encouraged that you enjoyed it with a wetsuit! Congrats on your finishing!

    1. Thanks, Andrea! I highly recommend it if you're looking to take on the challenge of a 70.3. The Tremblant swim course is my very favourite! So clear and clean... if you have any questions, just let me know! :)