After a few days of recovery, and before I forget, here are a few notes on the Tremblant 70.3 Ironman.
The short version (given there’s lots of details below) is that the course was fantastic and the race was really well organized.
This part was easy and the day prior to the race. There were scheduled times for registration and all we needed was the QR code from our online payment. With that, they handed over a wristband, timing chip, all sorts of stickers with my bib number, swim cap, t-shirt, and a morning gear bag for transferring clothing from the swim start to the run finish.
Next up was dropping my bike off at the transition. There were two stickers for the bike, both of which had my bib number on them and matched the number on my wristband. Staff at the transition entrance used these to make sure the bike belonged to me, before letting me in. Then I tracked down my transition spot, which was at the bike start end of the transition zone.
They also had a mandatory athlete’s briefing in the afternoon. As a first timer, this was really helpful. They talked through the overall course, showed some specific turn arounds and tricky spots, and then reminded us of the important rules. There were also repeated (and welcome) warnings that race day was going to be exceedingly hot (at least for recently hibernating Canadians) and that everyone needed to take precautions.
That was it for the Saturday events, other than finding some food and trying to get a good night’s sleep. Sunday (race day) started early, so that I could get the rest of my transition spot set up by 6:30. As with the bike, they checked wristbands before letting anyone in. I took about 10 minutes to get everything organized and visualize how I’d move through the zone.
Although the novelty might wear off after a few more races, standing on a beach with 2,000 other people along with a strong mix of excitement and anxiety is quite the experience. People were in and out of the lake to get in a warmup swim before the start and then the national anthem played just before 7. The pro men started right at 7, followed by the pro women at 7:05, and then the rest of us started at 7:10. We were all self organized into corrals of different expected finish times and I aimed for the back end of the 34-37 minute corral.
Rather than one big mass start, there was a gate system at the start of the swim that let six swimmers through every 10 seconds. This kept a steady stream of swimmers going through the start without a giant crowd. The only downside was that it took a while to clear the beach. The pro men had already started their bike rides before I’d even left the beach! I crossed the start line at 7:32.
Not much to say about the swim. The water was a nice, cool temperature and there were only a few spots around the half-way point where there was any significant contact with other swimmers. This was mostly because at that point we were swimming directly into the sun and seeing the buoys was really challenging. We all just kept swimming forward, assuming that anyone in front of us was headed in roughly the right direction and it all worked out.
I saw at least three people getting hauled out of the water by the safety teams that were paddling around in canoes and kayaks. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to need to quit the race so early, but safety is so much more important than pushing through and risking serious injury.
One challenge I had with the Milton sprint triathlon was significant dizziness at the end of the swim and, consequently, a challenge getting through T1 on the bike. So, this time I slowed down near the end of the swim and tried to more carefully move from vertical to horizontal while getting out of the water. This seemed to help; although I still felt a bit light-headed, it wasn’t nearly as bad as last time.
33 minutes for the swim was faster than I’d planned, though I felt good throughout. So, I wasn’t worried.
The swim ended with a 200m run into the transition zone. During this, I was able to wiggle out of the top half of my wetsuit, in preparation for the rest of the transition. Once I was at my transition spot, I pulled off the wetsuit and quickly consumed one caffeinated gel. Then helmet on (they’re really strict about not touching your bike without a helmet on), bike shoes on, and grabbed the bike to run out to the bike mount line.
The bike course was gorgeous. Lots of hills through Canadian Shield and forests on (mostly) smooth asphalt. There was a really steep downhill around km 16 that got me up to about 79 km/h and, since this was part of a loop, I also had to climb back up this hill on the way back. I’d been worried about this when looking at the map. But, in the end, it wasn’t so bad. I knew it was coming and just had to power through. The part that surprised me was the undulating hills in the last third. Despite the great scenery, these were really hard!
My coach had advised I keep my heart rate around 155 throughout the bike course. Other than a few of the climbs, I was able to stick to this. It was actually really helpful to have a specific target to keep trying to hit. Three hours on the bike can get rather tedious without something to focus on and there’s always a worry about pushing too hard on the bike and blowing up on the run.
There were four aid stations on the bike course. Given the heat warning, at each one I grabbed a 750mL bottle of water. 2/3rds of the water I sprayed onto my head for cooling, the rest I drank. They had kids at the end of each aid station with hockey nets and sticks. You threw the empty bottle towards the net and they stick handled them in for disposal.
2 hours and 56 minutes on the bike was a few minutes faster than I’d anticipated. So, also happy with this. By the end of the 90km, my legs felt reasonably fresh, but I was glad to get off the bike. Things were starting to get pretty uncomfortable. This might partly have been because it was actually my first ever ride with aero bars. I wouldn’t recommend waiting until a race to try these out, though that was how it worked out for me. Overall, I’d say the aero bars were more comfortable than I’d expected, I just wasn’t used to them.
T2 was straightforward. I racked my bike, took off my helmet, and switched to running shoes and a hat. One more caffeinated gel and off I went.
My plan was to maintain a 5:30 minutes/km pace for the run with an emphasis on keeping it slow after the bike transition (it is really tempting to start running fast off the bike). This was sustainable for about the first half. By the second half, though, the heat really started catching up with me and I had to slow down to around 6 minutes/km. I was super sensitive about pushing too hard in the heat and, consequently, jeopardizing actually finishing the race. So, I wasn’t upset about slowing down. I did see at least two people off to the side of the course being attended by medics with apparent heat stroke, which were good reminders to pace carefully.
I’d committed to myself before the race that I would walk through each of the 12 aid stations. At each one, one water went onto my head, another I drank, and then I grabbed a couple of cups of ice. I had a small ziplock bag that I put ice in to hold, while the other ice went down the front of the Triathlon suit. Like me, many of the runners were making lots of jiggling noises as the ice that had fallen down into our shorts bounced around. Absolutely necessary though, given the heat and humidity.
For nutrition on the run, I had two gels: one at about the 10km mark and the other around 15 km.
The run course was also gorgeous. We ran through a decommissioned rail road track converted to a multi-use recreational path through the heart of the Laurentians that included waterfalls and forested areas. Although not as shaded as I’d hoped, the course was great. There were also a few spots with sprinklers or fire hydrants spraying water. These were helpful for cooling down. I was particularly amused by the local resident that was lounging in a lawn chair with a beer in one hand and hose in the other. A bit of eye contact and thumbs up was all you needed to have him hose you down on the way by: so refreshing!
Kilometres 14 to 17 were pretty tough. I was far enough along to be pretty tired, but not yet quite far enough to know that it was almost over. Knowing my family was at the end, ready to cheer me on really helped here.
The last km of the run was an extra experience. You run right down the hill through the middle of the Tremblant village with spectators cheering you on from either side. Despite all the hard work up to this point, you really feel pretty energized for this part, especially when you finally see the finish line up ahead.
2 hours and 3 minutes for the run was just a few minutes slower than I’d anticipated. I was totally happy with this time, given everything that preceded it and the heat.
The finish line funnels you into a big tent with picnic benches. There were plenty of cold drinks available, along with a plate filled with pasta and french fries. I grabbed a couple of waters and then made my way out of the tent to see my family. I was pretty focused on that point with seeing them and then getting into the lake to cool down.
My main goal had been to finish the race. That was accomplished. My second goal was to be in the top half of finishers. I managed to be in the top 1/3 for my age group and top 1/2 overall. So, I was very happy with my overall results.
I felt that I executed the race well. No issues with hydration or nutrition, along with an intentionally conservative level of effort to maximize my chances of finishing the race worked out well.
Two minor lessons learned: more sunscreen, I burned the back of my shoulders pretty thoroughly; and some more lubrication under the zipper of the Triathlon suit, I still have a pretty good friction burn in the middle of my chest.