Thursday, August 22, 2013

Race Report Ironman Mont-Tremblant August 18, 2013

Here I am on the other side of Ironman again. What an amazing journey it has been this year and what an incredible race experience this was.

Dan and I flew to Montreal on the Wednesday before the race. We rented a car and made the one and a half hour trip up to Mont-Tremblant. There are three parts to Mont-Tremblant: one is the old village, one is a townsite that they call the downtown area (also sometimes called St. Jovite) and the other is the resort village where we stayed. We had a very nice condo in one of the quieter spots in the bustling resort village. Mont-Tremblant is in the Laurentian mountains and it is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen. 

On the Thursday before the race, I checked in and got my goody bag and wristband. Then we went to the race expo. We hit the Ironman store first. I wanted to buy a lot of stuff but a) I can't just spend all of my money in the Ironman store and b) I was worried about the race and didn't want to buy a lot of stuff just in case.... I really liked the IMMT cycling jerseys, though, and I bought one so I didn't miss my chance. In the afternoon, we drove the bike course. It was hilly but I didn't feel too overwhelmed except for the short and very cruel little part out to Lac Superior, which had several very steep climbs. Dan said encouraging things to me about the course that day but after the race he told me that he had been thinking, "O.M.G. This is brutal." I'm glad I didn't know that!

On Friday, I went for a short ride just to check my bike. I just did about 10K on the first part of the run course. In the afternoon, I went for a swim. The lake was very choppy so it was a tough swim but I could not believe how beautiful the water was - perfectly clear, no taste, no smell, sandy bottom, no weeds! I didn't want to get out of the water. That evening was the athletes' banquet. The food was very good and the program was impressive. It was a bit too long but the entertainment was very good and really conveyed the local culture. There was an amazing drumming group, some ice sculptors who carved sculptures before our eyes, and a gospel choir, along with the usual videos about Ironman races that always make me cry. After the banquet, we rode the gondola back up the hill to our hotel. At 9:00, we watched a spectacular fireworks show, which was part of the Ironman weekend. 

Saturday. The day before the race. My anxiety level was through the roof. I wanted to lay low and rest as much as possible. I packed my gear bags and delivered my bike and gear to transition. At 5:00, we walked down to St. Bernard Chapel for the athletes' blessing. I was hoping for some solace, I guess. A lot of it was in French so I didn't understand it but it made me cry anyway. It was very nice. We ate supper in our condo and then I took a bath and we hung around listening to classical music while I took deep breaths. 

I had the expected crappy, night-before-the-race sleep but was sleeping when the alarm went off at 4:45. I got up, showered, put on my race clothes, and then sat down and burst into tears. I told Dan that I didn't want to do it. He consoled me and then we left for the race. The race day weather was lovely. Sunny and about 26 degrees by afternoon. I stopped by transition to pump up my tires and put my nutrition on my bike. Then we joined the long line of athletes and supporters who were making the 10 minute walk to the swim start. The beach is divided by a narrow strip of land that goes out into the lake so the swim starts on one side of it and comes out on the other side. So we had to walk down to the far side to start. I waited in the 20 minute potty line-up but while there, I saw some triathletes I knew - some from Edmonton and a couple from California that I had met at a race in Seattle.

While I was putting on my wetsuit, a couple of Canadian Forces fighter jets flew over and then they came back for another pass. Everyone cheered. It was really cool and special. When I was ready, I hugged Dan and said goodbye. Then I hugged him again. And again. And maybe even again and then made my way to the beach. They let us get in for a warm up swim, which was great! It felt so good to get in! I swam out a ways and then came back and then did it again because it felt so good. The water was perfect and the swim calmed me down. I stood in the water and waited for the start.

The Swim
This race featured a wave start. I was in the last wave - #9 - so I waited and watched while the others went off. For each wave, they sent up two flares that looked like white fireworks and then fired the gun. There were a few hundred women in my wave. The beach is narrow so it was crowded at the start but thinned out quickly once we got going. I felt great starting out. Calm and strong. The water was just so beautiful. It's a one loop swim - 1800m out, 200m across, 1800m back. I found some feet to follow and picked off the buoys, one by one. As we got further out, I passed a few people from earlier waves. That felt good. The water got a little choppier as we got farther from shore but it was fairly easy to get into the timing of the waves. Eventually I figured I should be seeing the red turn buoy but all I could see were yellow ones. Then I saw a lot of boats straight ahead and I thought, "They are right in the way!" Of course, then I realized that they were watching us from just beyond the turn buoy! I made the first turn and then the second and headed back toward the beach. The sun was in our eyes on the way back but it was at just the right angle that it didn't completely blind us. I was able to sight pretty easily all the way. At 500m out, I could hear the announcer and then I could see the bottom and then I was there at the beach. I felt good and very happy. My swim time was 1:42:22. This is 1:58 slower than in Coeur d'Alene last year. I thought I might be a couple minutes faster than last year but this difference isn't huge and it didn't concern me. It might have been because the same draft wasn't there this year with the wave starts.

Once out of the water, I went to the wetsuit strippers and then started the run toward transition. It's somewhat long but not terrible - about 400 metres and it's pretty flat and completely carpeted! The gear bags and change rooms were inside the huge tent that had been used for the banquet on Friday. I grabbed my bag, got my bike gear on with the help of one of those amazing transition volunteers, and then ran for my bike, which was another 200m away. Time was 9:23, which I was happy with. That's 3 minutes faster than in CdA, which has a much more compact transition set-up.

The Bike
The bike ride was the reason for most of my pre-race anxiety. Generally, I feel like my fitness is about the same as last year, except for the bike. I don't know why the bike would be weaker now but it is and so I was very worried about this ride. I worried for the whole ride whether I'd make the cut-off. I suspect that everyone who was tracking me online that day was also worried about that! The course is two loops with four sections and a total ascent of 6250 feet. The first section is about 10K on Montee Ryan. It has some flat sections but also three good climbs. Then you ride a 48K out and back stretch on highway 117. This section of highway has some long climbs at about 5-7% but also some good downhills and some flat stretches, too. After 117, you go to downtown Mont-Tremblant and ride down Rue de St. Jovite, which is the main street. Then you rejoin Montee Ryan to head back toward the resort village. Once back at the village, you head east for 9K toward Lac Superior. This stretch of road has about 7 or 8 very steep climbs. According to my Garmin, they ranged from 14-21%. Each of them is only about 100-200m long but they are tough! Standing is a must. A couple of guys riding near me fell over on these hills because they couldn't get going fast enough to stay upright. The nice thing is that coming back is faster, although there are a couple of these uphills on the way back, too.

About 10K into the ride, I thought that perhaps I hadn't put my seat at the right height when I put my bike together. It felt low and I was working against it on the climbs. Then I realized that my seat was actually slowly sinking and by the top of the first big climb on 117, it had sunk as far as it could go. I had made the fateful and, as it happens, very unfortunate decision not to bring my tools so I'd have room in my bento box for nutrition. I mean, seriously, I have ridden 8000 kms on my bike with that tool kit in my bento box and have never used it so I took the chance. I will never do that again! I didn't know what I was going to do to fix the situation. I knew I couldn't do the whole ride like that. At the first aid station, I asked everyone there if they had tools. Nobody did. Then I asked a volunteer who was unloading a truck at the end of the station. He barely spoke English but he knew the word for tool!! He got his tools off of his bike and I pointed to the problem and he set out to fix it. It took us a few minutes to figure it all out and get it right but thanks be to god, he got it! I kissed him on the cheek and said, "Merci beaucoup, merci beaucoup, merci beaucoup." He saved my race. 

So I just rode my bike. Up hills, down hills, through town, back to the resort, up to Lac Superior and then I did it again. The aid station volunteers were awesome. The people in town were cheering and screaming and dancing and doing the wave. When I got back to the resort the second time and had only the Lac Superior section left to do, I saw Dan. I said, "I don't think I can make it." He said, "Yes you can! Go! Go!" So I went. As I went out, one of the course marshalls said, "Remember me. I'll be on the other side of the road when you come back." When I got back, she said, "You came back!" and I said, "And you're here!" We laughed and she cheered me on. At the last aid station, the 20 volunteers stood side by side, 10 on one side and 10 on the other and formed a tight little tunnel for me to ride through, waving their arms and cheering as I passed. It was so energizing! Sometimes it's lonely at the back of the pack, especially when the wave start gives some people a 15-20 minute head start, but there is also something incredible about being one of the last ones out there. There is nothing like the support you get from the volunteers and spectators when you are still out there. It's overwhelming. Truly overwhelming. And a lot of people never get to know what that's like.

Anyway, I made the bike cut-off with 11 minutes to spare. Loads of time. Why was I so stressed? Ride time was 8:27. 

At the bike dismount line, three volunteers descended upon me, helped me off my bike, and then whisked my bike back to its spot on the rack. I walked the 150m to the transition tent. A volunteer was standing there holding my bag and I went into the change area. Another volunteer dumped out my stuff, lined up my socks and running shoes, went through everything in the bag, asking me if I needed this, needed that, and then packed up all my bike gear. The volunteers are so, so amazing. All day I marveled at that. As I left the transition tent, I saw Dan again. I said, "I don't want to run. This is stupid. I can't run fast enough for this." He said, "Yes you can!" He was always there when I needed to see him, offering me encouragement. So off I went. T2 time was 3:56. Totally impressive.

The Run
Alright, Sarah. Seriously. You have 6 and a half hours to do this run. You better make this happen. My run time in CdA was 6:20 so it was within the realm of possibility. 

The 2-loop run course is very nice and takes advantage of the area very well. The first 5K are on the road from the resort village to the old village. That section is hilly. At the 5K mark, the course joins a trail, a decommissioned railway bed that is now a linear park. The surface is firmly packed sandy gravel so the footing is as easy as it is on the pavement but it's a little nicer on the body to run on it. After 11K on the trail, you rejoin the road in the old village and go back 5K to the resort.

I started out walking but then I couldn't stand how slow it was so I started to run. I knew I had to run most of this if I intended to make it. I felt pretty good. Happy. My body was holding up. My legs were moving. I drank Coke and ate pretzels. I had a couple chocolate chip cookies and two cups of chicken broth. I had a lot of company on the first loop. As I finished my first loop, I ran through the resort village with a lot of people who were finishing their race. Just before the 21K mark, the course forks - left to finish, right for a second loop. The crowds were screaming and congratulating all of us, even me, as we ran down the sidewalk toward the finish. Then I got to the fork and I pointed to the right with both hands and I said, "I'm going that way" and everyone standing there just screamed and cheered for me and said, "You go girl! You've got this!" It was so fantastic! 

My second loop was good. It was dark. There were lots of people sitting beside the road still cheering and encouraging the last of us. I loved the run down the trail on the second loop. It was lit along the way but it was dark and cool and peaceful and I just got into a rhythm and plugged away. At the aid stations, 20 volunteers would surround me, asking me if I needed anything. They clapped and cheered and helped and didn't seem any less enthusiastic than they had 3 hours earlier. I calculated my progress constantly, thinking, "If I can just run this fast, I can make it. I will be there at such and such a time..." Over and over and over. I became more and more sure that I would make it. Back on the road with 4K to go, one woman said to me, "You amaze me, girl. YOU amaze me. You." A man said, "You're gonna make it with loads of time to spare. You are awesome." At the 40K aid station, two volunteers met me with water but I asked if they had Coke. They said, "We're gonna run with you to the Coke table and get it for you" and they did. At the 41K mark, I ran a bit faster. I knew the good part was coming. I walked up the last little hill and turned onto the sidewalk through the resort. The crowds were there. They screamed. Everyone, everyone held out their hands to high five me. I touched every one of them that I could as I ran past. I could hear the music. I could hear Mike Reilly. I was 500m away. I was elated, grinning from ear to ear. I took the left fork this time! I saw Dan and grabbed his hand. I ran under that arch (with a run time of 6:16) and jumped up and down and high fived Mike Reilly and soaked up that most amazing feeling in the world. That feeling makes 16 hours and 39 minutes of wondering and hoping and pressing on all worth it. There is NOTHING in the world like that feeling. 

The finish line volunteers swarmed me. They patted my back and smiled and congratulated me. Then one of them came with me into the finishers' tent and gave me water, my t-shirt, my hat, my medal, and helped me get some food and find a place to sit. It was over. Ironman #2 done. Such an important commemoration of all that this year has been. 

Ironman Mont-Tremblant was awesome. This event was world class yet it honored the local area so perfectly. This race was such an incredible way to visit Quebec. The people were amazing. They really love this race and they were very, very good to the athletes. I feel so lucky to have been part of it.

I woke up on Monday morning and smiled at the realization that there is life after an Ironman. We left Mont-Tremblant that morning, had lunch on a patio in St. Jovite, and drove to Montreal to spend some time sightseeing there before flying home on Wednesday. All in all, this was an excellent trip. I seem to have forgotten the pre-race anxiety....

Monday, August 5, 2013

Training for Ironman Mont-Tremblant

Last summer, when I signed up for my second Ironman, Ironman Mont-Tremblant, it hardly seemed like the time would ever come. Now, amazingly, it is just 13 days away.

In the last two weeks, I did my longest workouts. My longest run was 21K, which I did in Lake Stevens, Washington, while I was there to visit my brother who lives there. My longest ride, 176 km in the pouring rain, was last Saturday, and yesterday I did my longest swim - 4000 m in Hubbles Lake. Although these were the longest distances for each discipline, I have been doing pretty long workouts all month.

This year has been entirely different in almost every way from last year when I trained for Ironman Coeur d'Alene. I have to say, I won't be sorry to kick 2013 in the butt when it's on its way out. It has been a very challenging year in some big ways and I am, at this point, completely depleted, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Perhaps I shouldn't have taken on an Ironman this year but when I signed up, I didn't really know what was ahead. In the thick of it all, I decided that I still wanted to carry on with my training because I saw Ironman as something I could do for me, something I could use to channel my energy into something productive.

Anyway, here I am, 13 days from race day. I have been trying to evaluate my readiness. This year, I had a PB in a 10K running race in April and in a 15K running race on July 1. I survived Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, which was a challenging race in difficult conditions! My swim times out at the lake have been good - even slightly faster than last year. But, there has been a lot of variation in how my workouts have felt, particularly on the bike. Some have been great, others really, really awful. The bad workouts mess with my mind and make me wonder if I have what it takes this year.

I have to work some sport psychology on myself! By the time I get on the plane to Quebec, I will have swum 150,000 metres, ridden my bike about 4000 km, and run over 600K. I did all of this training in the last 8 months, starting just six weeks after having very major surgery last fall. So that's not too shabby. I also must say that I have some amazing friends who have put in a lot of these miles with me and I feel very lucky to know them. My taper started today. I am going to stick to it perfectly! This morning, I went for a short run and then had a long massage. Now for a lot of rest, a bit of wine, and a lot of positive self talk! There are moments of excitement that sneak in now. I want to grab hold of those and make this race awesome.