Canada -- Country #7
September 7, 2014
Ironman 70.3 World Championships
Mont Tremblant, Canada
Racing in cold weather, rain or windy conditions was easier than never racing, never toeing the starting line. By Friday afternoon temps topped out at 87°F, the second hottest day of the year in Montreal. Race day morning welcomed me with a full body shiver when outdoor temps plunged to 41°F (3 °C). I froze in full sweats with a winter hat and gloves on walking to the transitions before the race. After checking on the bike and getting numbered, returned to the hotel room to get warm. As expected pre-race doubts surfaced, then turned into jitters. I raced though. I always raced. At this point, we all realized that to not compete would be meaningless. The pain of not starting, not competing and not completing any race would be more painful than never showing up.
I knew and desired the great feeling earned after competing in a race. The race results of time and place were the objective metrics but the subjective mental rushes were key for pain and pleasure. A strange partnership of accomplishment. First of never wanting to do a race again due to too much pain and time commitment. Followed by never wanting the celebration and excitement of the current race to end. Throw in the camaraderie enjoyment afterwards with fellow competitors, teammates, friends, and family. And mix in some tears of joy, smiles of satisfaction, and limps of fulfillments. Then buy more race merchandise to prove to everyone back home you did the race. Before leaving take an opportunity to enjoy the tourist stuff at any of the great race destinations. The morning’s hangover feeling erased from memory and filled only with the precious memories of the highly competitive racing fun and accomplishments. Pour me an open race registration to get the next party started. Concluded with the addiction of getting back on the virtual hamster wheel for the next five hour or more race to be mapped out and committed to for yet another starting line. Yet these experiences will be leap-frogged delayed gratifications of the best and greatest next race.
Flew into Chicago’s O’Hare from Twin Cities on Thursday morning and met Chris at the gate for our flight to Montreal. Shipped the bike a couple of weeks ahead of time to the hotel in the ski resort town of Mont Tremblant, the site of the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Montreal and Mont Tremblant are located in the Quebec Providence of Canada. The official language of the Providence is French though English signs and bi-lingual people dominate both cities we visited. Whenever we went out to eat the hostess and waitresses greeted us first in English. We watched as the workforce greeted others and almost always welcomed people by speaking French first. I started thinking the Canadian service industry workers were born with a sixth sense of knowing their customers’ native language by sight.
We spent the afternoon and the following morning in Montreal before driving north 1 ½ hours to Mont Tremblant. We also celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary while there. We spent a couple of days in Montreal on our honeymoon. That made this trip special for us. We hung out in “Old Montreal” for our initial 24 hours in Canada. On Friday I went for an easy run down by the St. Lawrence River followed by a short swim in the hotel pool. We went out for bunch and stuffed ourselves with crepes and more along the riverfront where we spent some time during our honeymoon in 1987. Neither one of us had been back to the area since. Temps were already in the mid 70’s with similar humidity.
In Mont Tremblant I stood under a hot sun and in repressive humidity with hundred other triathletes trying to beat the race check-in cut-off time of 5pm. Never before had I witnessed so many good looking fit people with well-defined muscles showing skin at a ski resort in my life. We stayed in a hotel right beside the landmark Clock Tower. Once in the Pedestrian Village everything we needed was within walking distance. Part of the run course went right below the room’s balcony where we heard competitors, the announcer, and tourist conversation with ease.
Ironman race officials hosted a dinner Friday evening for all athletes. At the pre-race welcome dinner the food was plentiful, good, and quickly served. Entertainment throughout evening included musical performers, a circus balancing act, and motivational speakers from people who overcame physical handicaps to speakers who were former top notch Canadian professional triathletes.
We ate under a big top tent that also served as the transition change area 36 hours later on race day. Chris joined me. We sat at a table of 10 people beside a husband and wife from Germany who competed in a combined 38 Ironman races. Both previously raced in Kona multiple times. Luckily for me the man was in the 50-54 age group. On the other side of Chris sat a man from Indianapolis competing in his first Ironman World Championship race. He thought the meal, entertainment, and excitement were fantastic. He was also calm and confident of his potential to do well on Sunday. The room overflowed with confident triathletes.
Triathletes built confidence from their ability to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. About 2,200 competitors gained energy from keen competition to get there. They earned the opportunity to show their skills, strength, and racing smarts to maximum their quickness over 70.3 miles of different disciplines of a single sport. All of there to earn another notch in our legacy of personal athletic accomplishments. The event wrapped up colorful and ear blasting fireworks shot off at the edge of the Mont Tremblant’s pedestrian village.
The road to Mont Tremblant took me through Racine, Wisconsin in late July. After a slow moving seven hour car ride from the Twin Cities through heavy road construction in Milwaukee, I arrived at 11pm to the hotel. I was exhausted and had not raced yet. Woke up Saturday with the shits. After all the time, effort, and thought that went into training for these five hour long races; I found my energy going down the toilet and interest to race continually waning days before the starting gun went off.
Workouts existed to prepared competitors for races. Each one a necessary evil for success. Races are the best opportunities to determine how well we compare to others in the sport. Sometime in the 21st century, I recognized something changed. Workouts became a necessity to feed my addiction and racing became the necessary evil to justify all the time spent training. Didn’t wake-up one race morning and realize this change, awareness came over time when racing. Though looking back, the red flags were there way before acceptance of the transformation. Training always served up a steady stream of benefits. The workouts produced the endorphins. The endorphins produced a feel good buzz for the day to fight off a family history of depression. The workouts burned calories which allowed me the ability to eat almost anything of desired afterwards, whether healthy or hedonistic. And training provided the justification for buying yet another state of the art piece of equipment for our chosen sport.
The anticipation of boredom of doing as little as possible to rest the day before a strenuous half or full Ironman distance triathlon of racing was always the most difficult aspect of long distance racing. Chris told me at Ironman Australia: “Never saw you work so hard to do nothing.” The day before a race is as close a Type A person ever wants to get to death without following through on the event.
To compound the 24 hours of nothingness before a 5-10 hour long race, after competing for three decades in over 25 long course races, I found myself on race mornings not wanting to do them anymore. Each morning started with, “Why was I there?” The anticipation of knowing self-induced pain would overtake my body at some point during the race. Getting ready for the competition on race morning felt more like a burden than a challenge to overcome as the anticipation of not knowing the outcome dulled my enthusiasm for the day’s main challenge. Would everything invested before the race be worth the earned payout afterwards?
Saturday morning we woke up to rain that lasted well into afternoon. Overnight a cold front came in. Transition opened at 6am and closed for at 7:15am. The race started at 8am to allow the sun to rise over the hills and heat up the valley. The race was big, cold, sunny, and challenging. The entire race weekend was filled with top tier competitors, contested across a mountainous countryside with wide open views, long accents, steep climbs, entertainment, and more. I was in the second to last wave with two hours before race time. From the hotel room, I heard the walking traffic of thousands as participants, spectators, and volunteers headed out to their race day destinations. I had to be patience, relax, stay warm and not go outside to freeze. Our hotel room was halfway between the transition area and the beach for the swim race starting area. Just before the professionals started the race, I finally left the hotel room and covered the half-mile walk/run to start my warm-up. The rain cleaned out the dust in the air and the sun lit up the countryside. The morning turned from chilly into a crisp, clear, and colorful landscape.
To amp up our adrenalin a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter jet, arranged by the race officials, flew in low over Lake Tremblant less than 15 minutes before race start. The sheer power of the jet, its overwhelming noise, the vibration across the water, and its reverberations across the Valley demanded respect. It humbled us to our limitations as human beings before we started. Yet we morphed from feeling inferior to a flying machine to excel in the race using our own inner power of being a physically strong competitor. We willed our bodies to push our own individual envelope during the race to show off our race capabilities as competitors in the Ironman 70.3 Triathlon World Championships. Think of it this way; while we were not nearly as strong as an uber jet fighter, the racers possessed as much swagger and confidence of a jet fighter pilot. Instead of a faster than sound flying pilot in uniform, we stood at the starting line in our antigravity wetsuits. Then we would ride off sitting atop our own ultralight carbon fiber or plane matching titanium bikes. And finish our pass in our own Mercury-winged fast racing shoes.
After enjoying a fantasy, northern nature, and the power of manmade armaments; I redirected my thoughts to the race and welcomed a strong internal desire to compete in this beautiful area of the world.
We swam in Lake Tremblant starting at its southern edge on a sandy beach. The glacier carved lake is long and narrow extending 7 miles north from the resort area and a half-mile wide at mid-point. The water offered superior clarity and great racing temps. Its temperature was low 60’s °F, comfortable with a wetsuit on and definitely warmer than the sand.
Because of the woods on the extended shoreline, we could not visually see the exit point from the swim start though we exited only 150 meters east of the beach start location. Only the first half of the swim course could be seen from the starting line before it disappeared behind the far end of peninsula. The limited view of the entire course was unusual for any triathlon but this set up added to the mystic of the race.
After standing on the cold sand in bare feet all I wanted to do was get in the water and start racing. We swam for 1.2 miles on an inverted letter U shaped course. First we headed north from the beach as we paralleled a skinny land bridge that stretched out into the water a kilometer. The land mass looked like a piece of broccoli, complete with a long, skinny spear and well rounded, elevated broccoli head at the far end of the protruding land. Eight buoys 100 meters apart marked the course as we swam out towards the far end of the peninsula. At the eighth buoy we turned right in a wide 180 degree arc around the northern end of the course. Once the turn was completed we saw a straight line of buoys marking our half-mile swim path back to the shore. The lake held some of the most crystal clear waters I ever swam in though churned up continually from the previous hour by over 2,000 swimmers who started in front of our wave. As the finish point neared I swam, looked around, dove, did butterfly, and stood up to run out of the shallow water on to dry land then ran barefooted on a soft carpet towards the T1 transitions area.
The swim to bike transition path was abnormally long and unusual. We ran almost 800 meters, a half mile, in black neoprene wetsuits through a narrow path best described as a maze. We ran up, over, and down through the middle of the Mont Tremblant Pedestrian Village. The transition included sharp turns with the streets and walks barricaded to minimize contact between competitors and spectators. Whatever chill competitors may have contracted during the swim dissipated from the warm sun and the artificial skin layer from the wetsuit.
In the change tent a woman asked to no one in particular whether to go with a long sleeve or short sleeve shirt for the bike. I thought go with the short sleeves of a tri top and not an added layer of long sleeves for warmth. With the sun now higher in the sky at 9:30, the sun helped keep us warm on the bike. Athletes at the championship races must aim to put everything on the line to go fast. Race at our top capabilities. Mont Tremblant was not a “train through” race, totally a pinnacle of a peak race where everyone competed with all they could muster. If anyone got chilled on the bike, then they were not biking strong enough to be worthy of being a competitor in a championship race. And no way did I want to overheat because of how I dressed. Hot and exhausted from over extending oneself in the race was acceptable, but not because of race kit choice.
Spectators provided awesome support as they lined up and cheered us on behind the barriers of the long transition path through Pedestrian Village and along the main roads of the bike and run courses. Their emotional support launched out to the main roads feeding desire to perform well. After the spectators thinned out the competition took over to motivate us on in the beautiful Canadian countryside.
For the first 18 miles on the bike we faced headwinds. The course was hilly. We ascended almost 2700 feet of climbing over 56 miles of biking but we ended up with a net gain of zero after returning to the same transition area. The first couple of miles were relatively easy climbing and descending, none more than 150 feet of elevation change. Then from mile 5 to mile 10 we gained almost 300 feet with some rollers tossed in to get the heart rate up on the climbs and some rest in on the downhills. These were mile long or more rolling hills that offered some spectacular open views of the Canadian mountains against a beautiful blue sky and some puffy white clouds for contrast. I didn’t stare out into the sky too long but at every race I let my mind wander and ensure I take in a view of the geographical area I’m racing in. I sincerely get emotional every time I do this at all races. I sang the words to the song, “And I think to myself what a wonderful world.” For someone like me, who grew up in a small town in Indiana, I sure was fortunate to race in some of the world’s most awesome settings for views, motivation, and personal experiences.
From Mile 10 to 18 we were in a tight range of rollers no more than 50 feet of climbing or descending then we did a 180 degree turn and covered the same rollers for eight miles with a big 300 foot descent followed by a couple of the same gentle climbs in reverse direction as we headed towards the town of Mont Tremblant. We rode by many of the same spectators from the Pedestrian Village who subsequently drove out to the turnoff junction for the ski resort.
The trees displayed more fall color on race morning than two days earlier. The sunshine on Sunday teamed up with the cold overnight temperatures to block out and destroy the green chlorophyll in the tree leaves allowed more of the yellow, orange, red, and purple to burst into mini show of colors. I also noticed some woolly caterpillars, a big sign of fall coming upon us with their black and rusty brown markings inched their way across the road all over the course. Most were able to allude the packs of bikers. Still, a few ended up as smashed roadkill that blended into the dark pavement. Survivors would become next year’s crop of tiger moths.
Unfortunately multiple draft packs formed during the bike leg from competitors in the younger age groups who started in the earlier waves. Due to the similar caliber of competitors and not enough steep elevation early nor a strong enough deterrent to penalize the competitors, the draft packs did not self-destruct until the final 13 miles of the bike course when we headed up the steep resort mountainside road.
I counted six big drafting packs, 30 or more riders in each group, on my ride out to the first turnaround. Being in the last male wave, and not as quick overall like some of the younger riders, few if any of the 55+ age-groupers rode in a pack. We seemed to be strung out from the rollers based on what I witnessed near the turnarounds.
We continued beyond the turnoff junction and rode directly into the downtown area of Mont Tremblant, population 2,000. As we raced people shopping took minutes away from their activities and cheered the competitors as we pedaled quickly through the flats of the city center with a short out and back path and included a 180 degree U turn on the main road. We backtracked the 10 kilometers to the ski resort where we left over almost two hours of riding earlier. We rode by the transition area and race central and that’s when all the competitors started climbing for real.
From Mile 43 to 49 we climbed some gnarly steep inclines, sometimes at an 8% grade, that snaked its way above the base ski area and towards the homes of the rich who had a second home up from the valley. At Mile 49 we peaked out and did a wickedly fast descent shooting almost directly into the transition area. The descents would be great for a downhill skier on snow but proved unnerving for some of the triathletes who rode with the balance of a snowboarder but only on a piece of rubber ½ inch in width instead of a fiberglass board 12 inches wide. I reached 40 mph on the downhills that included some damn near blind turns and brief rises all the time either passing slower riders or being passed by faster riders. Every aspect of the moment, except time, seemed to be moving quickly between the narrow passageway of trees and riders with no exit in sight. If snowboarders wiped out at this speed they would continue slide across some powder soft snow and slow down to a soft stop. If any of the racers wiped out, we would leave bare skin on asphalt and smack into the woods with a hard stop.
It would have been an unnerving ride due to speeds and limited sight lines without hundreds of cyclist to be concerned with, but with hundreds of age-groupers screaming down the mountainside road at break neck speeds, a shear fear experience. I became so focused on the moment that every unfilled space of road seemed like an acre lot to navigate down the road as quickly as possible. Fear and focus differentials heightened my awareness and responsiveness while handling a bicycle.
We biked to the dismount line and pushed our bikes into the high fenced-in parking lot of the transition. The run from entrance to the rack was short compared to the hike we experienced on the full swim to bike transition. But with almost 2,200 spaces for all the competitors and with the majority of the bikes already returned by quicker riders and younger racers who started earlier there were at least two acres and multiple rows to navigate to find my running gear.
The Mont Tremblant course bore some similarities to Ironman 70.3 Timberman. The vast forests with few houses. The long climbs. The natural beauty of the landscape. Climbing plus the fast and flat out of the middle section. Their proximity to ski resorts. The lake swim was similar to Timberman, clear cool water and the split exit points from the lake. Both provided the sense of pleasant remoteness.
The run consisted of two loops over a rolling terrain. Nothing too steep or too long. We left the transition and ran through a large crowd of spectators who continued to line the barricades in Pedestrian Village. We raced right under the porches of some of the hotels in the Resort area. Cheers came from people who stepped out of their rented hotel rooms and watched with a bird’s eye view as the race unfolded.
We ran three miles west, northwest into another small village at the turnaround point. Great crowd support from the residents there. Residents lined the streets to show support as we struggled to find our run legs. Others manned the aid stations to keep us hydrated and a chance to fuel our racing efforts. We backtracked along the same route to the short and steep portion of the course back in the Village.
Since the run course included two laps some of the earlier starters were veering off to cross the finish line and the rest of us continued on for a second lap. Everyone cheering made us feel better than we were feeling. As racers exited the area and started the second loop of the run the pain in our quads from running and biking took its toll. The emotional letdown of losing supporters and the sinking feeling of the reality there is another six miles to run, can be one of the most difficult aspect of double digit run courses. The drop of emotional support due to the thinning of the crowds amplified the pain in my quads. I hurt. I felt tired. I still had another 10K to finish.
On a pain scale of 1-10 how do you really know what a “10” is? Childbirth with or without pain blockers? A 10x400 meter at 70 second interval track workout? Running fast with a side ache stitch. A stress factor with its sharp pain and your mental thought the bone will break in two at any time? What then? Was it breathing so hard you thought you were suffocating? Or possibly running with cramped quadriceps feeling harder than a rock and hurt worse than all the pain you ever experienced in a lifetime bundled together in a single moment? Everyone’s pain point differs but I was hurting in this race on the run.
One upside though, the immediate person in front seemed to hurt more and moved slower than me. I set my single goal, with multiple competitors as an opportunity, to pass the racer right in front of me all the way to the finish. Catching only one person, though a different person multiple times seemed easier than running six more miles or passing a strung out line of runners as far as I could see ahead.
We gain and lost a total of 933 feet over the run course. All five of the Americans in the same age group who finished in front of me here beat me beat me at Nationals the previous month or in other top races over the past couple of years. Finished tired, hungry and fulfilled. Time for celebration with other competitors and Chris before waking up realizing that a full Ironman triathlete lingered on the early fall calendar in four weeks.
While I didn’t get drug tested there seems to be more tests performed at World’s. These should be mandatory for all podium spots and All-World competitors. I worked in an industrial plant location where unannounced drug testing got performed routinely. Illegal drug use was grounds for immediate dismissal. The day after one of my tests I thought to myself, how different really was it to work out to get the endorphins to get the day going than smoking medical marijuana? Both activities got people high to some extent. Both activities gave the people an early sense of accomplishment. Both masked any physical pain. Both groups got hungry afterwards. Both groups continued with a good buzz for the day after their morning workout. I don’t recommend use any illegal drugs, performance enhancing drugs, or inappropriate use of prescribed drugs. Only making an observation. Training, racing, relationships, and enjoyment in life are stronger, last longer, and provide fulfillment in ways only earned by making best choices.
Results: 893rd Overall. 14th in age group.