It has been 11 days since crossing the finish line at Ironman Mont Tremblant. After getting back into the usual swing of things at home I finally have time to sit down and give a full report of the weekend’s festivities.
Let’s cut right to the chase. The entire weekend was incredible. From the moment we arrived in Mont Tremblant the atmosphere was simply electric and the voltage only continued to rise right up to race day. Literally every building, hotel, and store in the town/area of Mont Tremblant were covered in Ironman posters.
I traveled to Canada with Steve Ziegler, my partner in crime for all of these crazy events. We have done 5 marathons together and 1 Ironman along with a host of shorter events in the last 5 years. Kyle Schulke, another friend of ours, would also be joining us to compete in the race this year.
Steve and I arrived on Thursday afternoon so we had two full days before racing on Sunday. Friday is mandatory packet pickup and check-in to the race and then Saturday is the mandatory bike and gear check-in. So that meant Friday was a quick bike ride to make sure all of the equipment was working properly and then a nice swim in the lake to check out the water and cool off. Saturday just a nice easy run and some foam rolling and stretching to stay nice and loose for race day. These two days went by so fast that race was upon us before we knew what happened.
I can only speak for myself about the evening before a race since each athlete is unique in their emotions before an event. You will often hear athletes talk about how they can’t sleep, have lots of anxiety, nervousness, or even downright fear. These emotions don’t exist to me and I tend to sleep like a rock. Sadly for Steve I tend to snore like a grizzly bear so I guess that at least explains his lack of sleep!
Snoring aside, I quietly I reflect upon the years of training and racing experience leading up to today allowing myself to sail calmly into the night knowing that I am ready for tomorrow…
Despite being an Ironman the race morning transition preparation is the same as always and has been rehearsed many times at many races. Inflate the tires, make sure you have your goggles, cap, and wetsuit, then get in line for the port-a-potty early at the swim start!
Once the essentials are done and you’re ready to go there is always a tense, nervous atmosphere on the starting line. This is where the excitement begins, at least for me. Fighter jets flew over the starting line prior to and then again at the end of the singing of O Canada. The countdown to the age group start continued…
Goggles and cap are now on, everyone is standing on the waters edge with the water lightly brushing against their toes just waiting. As the announcer counts down my excitement continues to build. Finally the final seconds tick away and the cannon explodes beside us and fireworks soar overhead. At that moment, there is utter silence in my head, as soon as a race begins I enter the zone. Even in the utter chaos of the swim start, there is only complete focus that can not be interrupted by anyone.
Kicking, pushing, elbows, hands, you name it, the swim is a full contact sport and this start was no exception. In fact this was probably the largest and roughest start I have experienced in all of my triathlons thus far. It wasn’t until a quarter of a mile into to swim that things started to settle down and I could get into a solid rhythm. The upside is that the sheer volume of swimmers, including those with a high level of ability, allowed for a primary focus on swimming with very little on sighting since there was always someone around you to tell if you were on course or not.
2.4 miles sounds like a long way to go, and it is, but the hour and four minutes it took to complete was over in the blink of an eye and it was already time to get out and run to the bikes located about half a mile away. The path leading from swim to transition was deafening. The railings along the way were lined with people the entire way and they were screaming their heads off for us as we headed for the open road.
With fresh legs hitting the bike it’s hard not to overdo right right out of the gate. After coming out of the water the first priority though is nutrition which helps keep things under control. My stomach was a bit upset from taking in a bit more lake water than I would have liked due to the rough swim start but there is no choice but to start pounding the Ironman Perform (Gatorade-like drink) and energy gels. As expected it settled down after about 10-15 miles though and then it was time to start putting the hammer down. The first loop of the two loop bike course was over quickly, even the really big hills the final 15 miles of the course posed no problem to the legs.
When we hit the highway on the second loop about 60 miles into the race though the winds had finally picked up. Swirling at a solid 15-20mph for the duration of the 30 mile highway section we expected a tailwind at the turn-around but to no avail we found ourselves in what was possibly an even stronger headwind on the return back to town. By mile 70 fighting the winds had caused my back to start acting up with its usual pain and the quads were really starting to suffer and felt like they may seize up. Getting back into town was a relief and allowed for some frequent turning to loosen the back up some as well as get out of the winds for a bit before heading into largest hills on the course the final 15 miles. This was where all of the trips to Sourland Mountain paid off as the legs powered through the uphills even though the quads felt shot 20 miles prior. The body remembered exactly what it needed to do to finish out the bike course and get to it’s favorite part of the race; the run.
Coming off the bike in a triathlon is always like coming home. I was born, bred, and raised as a runner and it has been in my blood for generations. Despite the quads being near shot by the end of the bike, they came back to life instantly as soon as my feet hit the ground and started running towards the beginning of the two loop marathon course.
Auto-pilot; that is the best way to describe the beginning of the run as the body automatically settles into the pace it has run for thousands of miles. Cruise control however can have its drawbacks as the mind begins to wander at this point in the race and you start to have thoughts of “what the heck was I thinking!? I still have to run 26.2 miles to finish this thing!”
If the Ironman was easy; everyone would do it. By mile 6 a blister began to form on the ball of the left foot; the spot right where you push off with each step. As the blister started to hit the peak of its pain the hamstrings finally started to seize up at about mile 10 upon arriving back at the rolling hills for the 3 mile stretch near the start and end of the run course. However even a mile or two from the finish line the crowd is so loud you can hear them already and it brings some life back into each step and the pain starts to lose its edge.
Try as I might to not get lapped by the men’s leader he caught me at about mile 12 and I was able to run with him for a minute or so and even give him a word of encouragement. At this same time I got to see both Steve and Kyle beginning their marathon heading in the other direction. For just a moment all of the pain vanished and the joys of racing took over.
After heading through the village and getting a huge boost from the crowd around the finish line it was time to head back out onto the run course. By this point the suffer fest was fully underway as athletes from all ages and abilities flooded the course in both directions; some running, others walking, but all moving forward towards the finish line.
The second trip through the rolling hills helped to finish off the legs. Everything was destroyed by mile 20, the quads and hamstrings were seizing, that blister was getting pretty darn huge, and even the left shoulder and right elbow had twinges of pain from holding their positions for so long. Finally my body started to crack, it was all I could do to walk through the aid stations and the uphills while using gravity on the downhills to get in a solid run pace. Eventually though, all thoughts about pain ceased and were replaced by only one; the thought of finish line.
With 1.2 miles to go I slipped on some gravel entering an aid station causing the right hamstring to spasm preventing me from even walking for 10-15 seconds while I used some active release techniques to fix it up real quick. The volunteers asked if I wanted to visit the medical tent when they saw it happen; my reply “the finish line is less than 10 minutes away there is no way I’m stopping now!” At which point they all cheered me on as I started running again.
Closing in on the finish line the music grows louder, the cheering comes into focus, and the announcements of the “voice” of the Ironman clearer. Like butterflies to the scent of a fresh flower I am drawn towards the sights and sounds of the line. “Almost there, almost there” the thoughts race through my head to the point where I’m saying them aloud, quietly at first and before I know it so loud that the crowd can hear it. As more spectators realize another athlete is finishing their cheers explode so loud you can’t hear your own thoughts anymore and all your pain vanishes. I hear my parents voices somehow cut through the noise and I give them a powerful fist in the air to say “I’m here, I did it.” while approaching the line.
I trained for 36 weeks leading up to race day; two workouts a day every day.
- 160 Miles of Swimming
- 4000 Miles of Cycling
- 940 Miles of Running
- 72 Hours of Strength & Conditioning
- 576 hours 43 minutes and 3 seconds of total time spent training.
The result: A 10:18:55 personal best at Ironman Mont Tremblant. All of the blood, sweat, pain, tears, and time spent training was worth it.
Time stands still when you cross the finish line of an Ironman. In the video replay it was only a few seconds, yet in my head it felt like I was in a slow motion replay. I could try to describe the emotions here, but I don’t think there is any way I could do justice to those feelings so I won’t even attempt it. Let’s just say it was incredible experience and I can’t wait until the next time I get to experience it.
Thank you to all of my friends and family for supporting me in these adventures. Congrats to Steve and Kyle for finishing their 2nd Ironman alongside of me. A special thanks to my parents. My mom for her cooking since without it I would not have made it through training’s extreme calorie burns and my dad for teaching me all he knew about running growing up. You all mean the world to me!