Finishing the Mont Tremblant 70.3 (half Ironman) triathlon at the end of June was a huge accomplishment on an unseasonably hot summer day in Quebec. But most importantly it was crucial for me to cross the finish line this year after a big fat, heartbreaking DNF last year due to my stress fracture disaster. As mentioned in previous blog posts, I unknowingly had a femoral neck stress fracture going into the race. The breaking point must have been when I attempted the run last year and had to stop after a mile of severe pain. It was physically painful but more so mentally as my full Ironman dreams were crushed that summer. Crossing the finish line this year was a celebration and confidence builder in my Ironman journey.
This year race day was very hot! By the time I was well into the run, it might have been in the mid to high 80sF with plenty of humidity. For us folks who live in the Northeast, this is super hot for racing! Regardless of the exact temperatures, the run felt like a furnace. Even the bike was hot and a bit uncomfortable especially at the end. While this was a super tough race day, I am very happy with my performance even if there were areas needing improvement. My awesome coach Lisa keeps reminding me of how I was out of commission for almost 8 months and doing the walk/run protocol into late January/early February. I might have been a bit undertrained but I was healthy and ready to race! Due to the heat, Scott had some stomach issues and got very sick after 2 miles of running. While he is very disappointed in his run, I consider him a hero for finishing and being so tough on a very difficult day.
While my internal goal was to place in the top 3 of my age group, I was less than a minute from 4th place. Lisa was still thrilled with my 6th place finish of 141 women in my division. And considering I’m still coming back from a severe stress fracture, I am happy with my results. Although being so close to the podium had me a little disappointed the night after the race. Had my swim or bike been a few minutes faster I would have gotten third place. The first and second females were former pros according to Lisa and have been racing triathlons for many many many years. Triathlon is still new for me and I have a lot to learn. It’s quite a journey! But hey! I did have the fastest run in my division (and faster than a few pro women) so that was comforting!
View from the Tram – We loved riding this!
Mont Tremblant Ski Village
Mont Tremblant is a beautiful four season resort with triathlons in the summer and skiing in the winter. The center for all the Ironman action takes place in the ski village at the base of Mont Tremblant ski area. Lac Tremblant is at the base of the resort and creates some of the most beautiful scenery. We love this area north of Montreal. It is considered one of the nicest Ironman destinations. We stayed at the Homewood Suites by the Hilton at the top of the village which we highly recommend. We also stayed there last year and enjoyed the big suite and lovely hospitality. The locals are really wonderful and love the Ironman races.
Mont Tremblant and Lac Tremblant
We left Vermont on Friday morning and got up to Mont Tremblant in the late afternoon. Due to the Quebec holiday and construction we did sit in traffic for over an hour and a half once out of Montreal. It was the worst traffic we’ve seen in years! Hopefully we have better luck this August for the full Ironman up there. This year there were many more racers and athlete check in took a long time and the lines were long. Last year, we blew right through. Get there early! Saturday was busy but a fun day. My coach Lisa was representing Subaru and was one of the spokes people so I got to see her a few times that weekend which was great. Her and Dave were there to give us pointers for the Saturday swim. We also had a good chat that afternoon about the race. She reminded me of what a gift it was to be there this year healthy and able to race. She also reminded me to celebrate, smile and have fun out there on race day. It really is a gift to be able to do this kind of endurance event. We are truly lucky!
The swim was almost a disaster in the beginning. Lisa told me to go out fast the first 400 yards which is what a good triathlete swimmer should do! However, I learned that I still have trouble in pack swimming especially in the beginning. I lined up in the middle front row which was my first mistake. Last year I had a pretty good swim experience (slower but steady) where I started on the inside and gradually built up speed. I’m not an aggressive swimmer and I had trouble with 141 women this year swimming all around me with no clear path to go. It was total chaos and I had anxiety issues. I couldn’t find a straight line to swim so eventually after 5 minutes or so I just took a sharp turn right and swam on the inside of the buoys like last year (this is legal but you have to swim on the outside of the last buoy). I still felt terrible for a while and had trouble breathing and getting into a rhythm. I even had thoughts of quitting triathlons due to the swim. And there were moments I felt like I didn’t know how to swim anymore. It was very unsettling. But I told myself I would get through this and I just kept swimming. There were a few times I would look ahead and see the endless buoys and wonder how I would make it to the turn. I eventually settled down and made it to the first turn.
It was a sunny day this year as opposed to the cloudy start last year. This was challenging as the sun was in our eyes and it made it hard to see other swimmers and the buoys. At one point I was close to a kayak on the outside and knew I had to swim closer to the course. I was still swimming with other swimmers but a bit too far outside. I was encouraged when I started catching the slower swimmers in the next age group. But it was also tough when the fast swimmers from the age group behind us went by me. I never did feel like I was enjoying the swim like previous triathlon swims but I kept working hard and making my way. Once I turned the last corner, I was heading back to the shore. This leg went much faster and it seemed I was at the finish sooner than I anticipated. It was still tough with so many bodies all around me and I was still constantly swimming around people or having people bump and push me. I was worried my swim was going to take well over 40 minutes but when I got out I was shocked to see a bit over 37 minutes! That is not a fast time but considering my rough start, I was very happy with that time. I was two seconds faster than last year. So I do have a lot to work on in regards to my triathlon swim.
Scott has gotten very fast in his swim over the last year but he also had anxiety issues like myself in the crazy beginning. He said he did the breast stroke for the first two buoys before he settled down. He still had a fast swim but was close to 4 minutes off his time last year. We both have some work to do on getting through the chaotic swim start of a triathlon.
The bike went well for me in spite of being over 9 minutes slower than last year. Many factors contributed to this significant variance (I’m a financial analyst and love this kind of analysis). Firstly last year was cool and the winds were calm. This year it was hot and quite warm when I started my ride. The sun was out in full force. And the head winds coming back on Rt 117 were fierce this year. Everyone’s bike time was slower this year. Because it was going to be a very hot day, I also rode more conservatively than last year. I also slowed to take water at all aid stations; sometimes just taking a few sips and pouring it down my back to cool off. I’m also coming back from a big injury and I am still not quite at 100% of my potential fitness compared to last year. Again, Scott and I had almost identical bike times last year and this year with just a few seconds apart from each other. He is faster on the flats and down hills and I make up the time on the big climbs at the end.
Like last year the course was very crowded but that is to be expected with one of the most popular Ironman 70.3 events. I didn’t get stuck in as many packs as last year but it was still a bit stressful at times making sure not to get a penalty for drafting. I was constantly passing people on the bike and making sure I was getting by within the 23 second time limit. I was also getting passed by some very fast guys in the 40-44 age group. I didn’t ride with many women this year compared to last year. There were a couple where we took turns passing but I did finally leave behind one woman for good on the run. I was wondering where the females in my age group were. It was hard to tell without the ages being marked on the calves like some triathlons.
I was smart about nutrition and taking in lots of fluids. Your nutrition will always show up on the run so I must have done a good job with my shot blocks and sports drink and taking water at the aid stations. I mentally noted many times I was still feeling OK throughout the ride even while it was getting warmer. I even did well up the hot hilly section at the end. These long hills are similar to our hills here in Vermont so it felt like a regular training ride. I was conservative in the heat but felt I was riding at a good pace. This part of the course was crowded as well. Once I turned around and went back down the hills, I rode very carefully and stayed out of trouble on the descents. Many triathletes do not have strong bike handling skills. So I stayed out of my aero bars and played it safe to avoid collisions. Sadly there was a very bad crash going down that hill later on which involved several riders. I heard it looked very bad. I wasn’t able to find out if everyone was OK. My thoughts go out to these athletes. It is a very scary and sobering reality of triathlon, especially with so many riders out there having varying degrees of skills. Once I got down the hill, the transition area was about a mile away and I was thrilled to be almost done and in one piece! I was a bit disappointed in my slower time but I knew I did my best to be safe, healthy and ready to run in the heat.
The run is always where I shine in a triathlon! Even with a competitive cycling background, my true talent is running. Last year I didn’t make it two miles before I had to stop with a stress fracture. This year it was so amazing to run past that place of agony and continue on without any pain. I made a note to myself to feel gratitude about my comeback this year. It was a special feeling being out there that afternoon! Our health is our wealth and being healthy this year was such an amazing gift! This 70.3 will always be special for me with such a strong run a year after a devastating injury.
The plan was to start out conservatively at maybe 8 minutes per mile and see how I felt. While I always run much faster in cool temperatures, I was running well in the heat compared to most out there that day which was a pleasant surprise. Maybe I am pretty good in the heat! But I always respect the heat and ran the first couple miles at a comfortable 7:55 pace. There were also some small rollers in the beginning to slow the pace down a little bit. Going through the quaint town of Tremblant, it was so great to see so many people out to support us with cheering and even water hoses. The crowds were so enthusiastic and I loved hearing my name called out (our names were on our bibs). The aid stations were abundant on the course with plenty of water and ice. I was even putting ice down my jog bra and down the back of my shirt. I would pour water down my back at almost every aid station and run through every hose. This is key in order to get through a hot running race.
A good chunk of the run is on a newly paved bike/rec path which is really awesome. It was hot with not as much shade as I had expected but I could get into a good rhythm running between aid stations. I was feeling very hot and the sun was oppressive but it was all manageable for me out there. I felt I was in good control of myself and pacing well. I was surprised at how many people I was constantly passing. Strong, lean, muscular men were being left behind. This was a good confidence booster for me. I was finally realizing I that was getting my running fitness back.
I saw Scott on the way out while we were on the bike/rec path and caught up to him on they way back. He was having a tough time running and walking. He said he was OK so I continued onwards. I knew he could always walk the last 5-6 miles if worse came to worse. He’s tough! I was still surprised I was doing so well averaging between paces of 7:30 to 7:43. I was getting pretty hot with 4 miles to go so I just took it one mile at a time. At one point I looked up and saw the ski area and thought how beautiful this course was. I was also impressed by the beauty when running along Lake Mercier. It’s truly a gorgeous run!
As I made my way through town I was so happy to run through more hoses to cool off briefly. It was a gradual uphill which felt very hard. I did manage to catch up to a woman in the 35-39 age group. We ran together until the last half mile before the village. We exchanged a few kind words and I introduced myself. It was nice to run with Lisa and have a bit of support the last few miles. It was the most interaction with anyone I had during the whole race. Before running through the village she took off to catch someone in her age group. I was thrilled to finally get to the village but knew the last hill up the cobblestones was going to be challenging. But I did pretty good and even passed a couple runners. It was hot and hard but I was elated to be almost done. It was such a thrill on the final stretch with the cheering crowds. I was gaining on a woman and decided to sprint to the finish and overtake her at the very end. I didn’t know if she was in my age group or not and didn’t want any regrets. So I ran like a mad woman to the finish. It felt great to cross that finish line! And having Lisa there at the finish was icing on the cake! Thanks so much Lisa!
Post race beer, vegan burger and fries at Fat Mardi’s
Post-race shopping in the village
Overall I highly recommend coming to Mont Tremblant to do a sprint, 5150, 70.3 or a full Ironman. The course will be crowded and there is always the danger element on the bike course, but it’s special place to experience. Just be careful and stay out of trouble on the bike course! The race organizers in Mont Tremblant are amazing and the volunteers are the best ever. This is probably one of the most well-run 70.3s in the Ironman circuit. And the people in the town love the racers and the events. You feel truly welcomed in Mont Tremblant. Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers and the people who made this happen.
While I still have more training and work to do on my swimming, I am excited to come back in August for the full Ironman Mont Tremblant! Stay tuned!