In the closing kilometers of Ironman Mont-Tremblant, I made a promise to myself: to be proud of what I’d done that day. Even in such a vacant, delirium-drenched state I know myself well. Despite the celebration-worthy victories that emerge from such a feat, my Type-A personality would soon take over and start analyzing the “should haves” and “what ifs.”
I headed to Quebec armed with impeccable fitness and my favorite travel partner, MFMG. Even with 2 connections and over 14 hours of travel all flights were on time and all bags arrived in Ottawa. Spending vacation time on Ironman travel doesn’t top Matt’s wish-list, but rocking out to “Hair Nation” on Sirius and procuring him a tasty Canandian IPA made for a happy arrival in Mont-Tremblant.
We rented a little Airbnb condo tucked behind the village, a mere couple hundred meters from the finish line; perfect for schlepping gear and my tired body to/from the race venue! Unlike many other Ironman events I’ve experienced, the pre-race energy was more buoyant and jovial rather than agitated. The jubilation was infectious and helped keep the nerves in check as race morning neared.
Lac Tremblant is a pristine pool nestled into the hillside adjacent to town. The water was cool, clear and tasted great (trust me, this is important when one’s face will be submerged in it for an hour or so.) The unique, one-huge-ass-loop course appealed to me. No running on the beach over a timing mat and I could mentally wave “so-long” to each buoy as I glided past. Swim starts still get me riled up, so I did my best to stay relaxed and start at a brisk but sustainable pace. Coach Flanny’s key message was to stay engaged on the swim. Though the huge-ass-loop provided opportunity to find a rhythm, it could also lead to mental fatigue and a faltering stroke without much variety to hold one’s attention.
The 1-hour mark was a solid target for me, and I think it’s realistic for me to hang with that group. I’m pleased with my effort and steady pace, but on the return my swimming was akin to my ability to stitch a straight hemline (Note: I haven’t touched a sewing machine since high school Home Ec.) I did my best to hop onto the feet of the AG males who’d pass and just focused on staying long and relaxed in my stroke. No sense in getting frustrated now…there’s a long day ahead. I exited in 1:02 and had some girls right ahead to chase. Not a bad start!
If there’s one part of the race that got me giddy with anticipation, it was the bike. The course provided rolling terrain with a couple long, gradual rises and some beautiful views of the surrounding forests. Each lap ended with an out-and-back near town laden with pitchy climbs. Granny gears have nothing on these babies- I might as well have been on a stairmaster, out of the saddle, pumping legs and upper body just to turn the cranks. Having ridden this section before the race, I knew what lied ahead and it was a bit intimidating even for this little mountain goat.
During our pre-race chat, Coach Flanny and I of course talked numbers, pacing and race strategy. It was abundantly clear that I wanted to push the bike. I’d gained some much-needed confidence from Calgary and some of the training sessions that followed. A big part of me wanted to take some chances on the bike and put my body to the test. We were realistic about how many matches I could burn and how hot I could burn them, with Flanny instructing me not to do anything “stupid.” Haha! (Even the most disciplined athletes need reminding of this.) But one thing was clear to both of us: the bike was going to be an exploration of my limits and seeing what my body could truly handle. The gamble with this approach is the potential to zap your legs and energy too much before the run; but I was willing to lay it on the table.
Staying true to plan, I rode aggressively, leap-frogging with several other pro ladies around me. To my delight, I felt strongest and made up the most time on the punchy climbs at the end of each lap. The only thing that did not go to plan was the misfortune of dropping a half-full bottle of CLIF Hydration mix on the first lap. Though not ideal, I did my best to make up for that lost nutrition at aid stations and with my back-up nutrition in Special Needs. Part of Ironman racing is keeping your cool and improvising when the day throws the unexpected your way. I did this with relative ease; to be honest the saddest part was losing one of my favorite Blue water bottles (they’ve since remedied this calamity.)
Matt later told me that seeing the look on my face (above) as I started the bike was all he needed for the day to be a success. “I’d never seen that expression on you before. You were out for the hunt! That just made my entire day.” What a compliment! He knew that no matter how the day unfolded that I was all-in…just as we’d agreed I would be.
I have this mantra in my head when I get off the bike: “Just 3 miles.” I’ve found that the first 3 miles out of T2 feel like some of the hardest. My body hollers at me, “running is WRONG!” for the first bit, then gradually I settle into my pace. At Mont-Tremblant the first few miles greet you with hills, then the terrain levels out into a pretty flat greenbelt-like path. I found my groove early and felt awesome. I know, feeling “awesome” after close to 7 hours of racing sounds preposterous, but I really did have a spring in my stride.
Going with the all-in strategy, and knowing I’d pushed the pace on the bike, I grappled with how to best utilize this energy. Do I unleash it early while I’m feeling good? Or do I conserve and play the patience game, knowing that the Ironman wrecking ball can whollop me at any given moment? I chose to take the chance.
My energy continued to build as I cruised past a few other ladies. Around 15k into the run I had worked my way up to 7th and had my sights set on hunting down 6th. Then it happened; the aforementioned wrecking ball came swinging right at me, hitting me square in the bowels. Matt has little pieces of life-wisdom that he’s imparted on me over the years, and one of his sayings sprang to mind: “never pass up the opportunity to poop.”
I failed to heed his words, and I pushed on until it became clear I’d have to make a potty stop. At first I thought I’d just take care of business and keep the momentum onward- that awesomeness was still going strong! But as soon as I stepped back onto the course it felt like every ounce of energy I’d carried into the first portion of the run was spontaneously absent. My springy, strong pace had morphed into the quintessential Ironman shuffle in a matter of a couple kilometers.
I'm not sure whose idea it was to put a soul-crushing hill at the Special Needs section of the run, but this was the black hole of the race for me. I barely recall grabbing a gel from the volunteer, and had a somewhat distant awareness that things were going awry very quickly. The paramedic tent was located at the top of this hill and I heard them shout, “Are you okay??? Can we get you something??” They must have wondered who gave Gollum running shoes and sent him out on course. Somewhere inside, my dietitian brain was screaming at me to take sugar and electrolytes
ASAP. I walked the next aid station and downed several cups of Gatorade and a cup of cola.
The next couple kilometers were a complete blur, with my legs feeling like soggy noodles and my brain drifting from awareness of the energized crowd to a shadowy, far-off corner of my mind where quitting seemed like the only option. I saw Matt as I headed out of town and I called out to him, “I feel terrible! I don’t know what went wrong and I don’t know what to do.” The helpless look on his face resonated with me and he said, “Just do what you can. That’s all you can do.”
I honestly don’t know what kept me going. The potty stop cost me a couple more places, and another potty stop down the road cost me a few more. I could still take in nutrition, and the Gatorade was tolerated well, along with a few solid options like pretzels (gimme the salt!) and some chews. There was a little walking, but mostly a shuffling, snail pace that is sometimes even more defeating. As I plugged away through aid stations, taking in whatever I could grab, a little spark gradually began to build inside of me. It took until about 30k before my legs started to feel like they had come back to life and my body responded to the fuel I’d been so diligently consuming over the previous hour.
Just as quickly as the destruction of my run began, it subsided. Frankly, I was astonished to be seeing sub-8:00 pace as I neared the final kilometers to the finish. Anyone who has experienced this deep of a bonk can attest to how immensely difficult it is to rebound from it. But I did it. And I never fully gave in.
Reflecting on the day, I am still trying to figure out what exactly went wrong. It’s difficult to accept that sometimes in Ironman “shit happens” (pun intended) so I’m analyzing the heck out of it. Some factors I’ve identified: time zones and monthly cycle likely affected regularity; inadequate fueling in the first 10k of the run, coupled with my brisk pace; dropped bottle on the bike- questionable contributor.
It’s natural for me to focus on how many ways this race fell short of my expectations. Refer back to the first paragraph of my Type-A brain overriding the small victories. While texting a friend the next day, I said I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to capitalize on my vast fitness the way I’d intended to do. Then it occurred to me…perhaps it was because of my fitness that I was able to pull through and finish strong, all things considered.
So I am keeping that promise I made to myself as I finished Ironman Mont-Tremblant. I am proud that I took chances. I am proud that I am willing to struggle in order to grow. And I am proud that I never gave up.
Thank you to these rad people for supporting me along the way: Blue Competition Cycles, Garneau, CLIF Bar, Blueseventy, ISM, Tri Town Boise, Pioneer, Torhans Aero, K-Edge, Black Dragon Racing, Oakley, Vittoria Tires