It was a long and difficult journey to finally do my first full Ironman. Scott and I started our Ironman quest almost two years ago. We both signed up for the 2015 Mont Tremblant Ironman and trained all winter and spring. At the end of June while participating in the 2015 Mont Tremblant 70.3 I had to stop after a mile of running due to a severe stress fracture in my hip (femoral neck). I was out for a long time which was devastating for me. I also came down with pneumonia and gave that to Scott as well. So neither of us were able to do the Ironman last August. We both recovered and my body did heal. I started the run/walk protocol in late January of 2016. I also began working with one of the best Ironman coaches who helped me arrive at the starting line healthy. And this was an amazing challenge. She was patient and worked with me closely giving me very smart training each week. Thank you so much Lisa! I couldn’t have done it without you!
Around midnight! Exciting to watch the last finishers!
After a very hot Mont Tremblant 70.3 in late June 2016, I was prepared for another warm race day on August 21! I made sure I got outside enough during the hotter days to better acclimate. I was running and cycling well in the heat during training. I was ready for whatever mother nature sent my way. But I wasn’t expecting to be cold and wet for such a long time. The weather for race day was treacherous. I couldn’t believe it! When we first learned of the rain on Sunday, we thought it might work to our advantage living in Vermont and dealing with a lot of crappy weather in northern New England. I used to love cold, rainy bike races twenty years ago when racing on the New England circuit. I thrived on those long rainy bike races during the early spring season! That wasn’t the case when we had monsoon rains and high winds during the 112 bike ride. It was cold and rough. I was miserable on the bike for over 6 hours! Apparently I can’t handle the cold like I did when I was much younger! Luckily I ended up having a good run after a very challenging swim and bike. My run saved the day and I ended up salvaging my whole race! Scott did extremely well handling the weather on the bike and had a stellar first Ironman. I’m so proud of him!
Being a numbers person and Financial Analyst I will get right to the results and race statistics:
With only 40 Kona slots (for the Age-Group Ironman World Championship in Hawaii) this year, there were only two up for grabs in my age group (F45-49). While it was a little disappointing to have missed by two places, it might have been a blessing in disguise. I’m not sure if I would have been mentally prepared to do this all over again in 7 weeks! But my close 4th place left me hungry for a Kona slot in 2017. I honestly thought I had about a 40% chance this year of getting one, but I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself for my first full Ironman. Mont Tremblant had a highly competitive field of women in my age group this year! I would have gotten 3rd in the F40-44 age group! I do feel that with more work on my swim and more time pushing out the high wattages on the Computrainer, next year could be a possibility for me!
Scott and I drove up to Mont Tremblant on the Thursday before the Ironman. This time the drive was uneventful except for heavy traffic around Montreal. But it wasn’t as bad as June! Once again we stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton at the top of the Mont Tremblant ski village. We enjoy staying here since there is a good sized kitchen and separate bedroom. And the staff is always friendly and helpful. And it’s one of the quieter spots. Noise was never really a problem which is key for us. It was so nice to arrive a day earlier than originally planned. On Friday we had time to go wetsuit shopping at the Expo, pick up our race packet, swim and then relax later in the afternoon. We even took a nap before the athlete dinner and briefing.
Friday swim at the Exit Beach with some of Lisa’s other athletes
Saturday was a busy day with a group bike ride and then a group swim. During the 8am bike ride with Lisa and her other athletes, I discovered my bike wasn’t shifting properly due to a bent derailleur hanger. It was a bit stressful while Scott tried to fix it. We had someone else look at it after the ride. It wasn’t possible to get a replacement but I was told it would be OK during the race. For the most part it was fine until the big hills at the end of the 56 mile loop. More on that later. Our Saturday late morning swim went well. I had purchased a new fancy wetsuit because I was worried about some tearing in my older one. Long story but I ended up wearing something new on race day! The new wetsuit felt great swimming with Lisa, Scott, Kelly, Page and Carolyn. I even thought I felt faster in this new wetsuit. Lisa said I was doing great since I was keeping up with her on the way back toward the shore. After the swim and long walk back to the hotel, we ate a big lunch and got our bike and transition bags ready to drop off. The evening was more relaxing. Our main task was making our water bottles filled with Tailwind and sorting out our bike nutrition. We actually got a decent amount of sleep that night. 5 hours is a lot for us before a race!
We were well fed the days leading up to the Ironman. Carin of Sweet Pea made us another “magic” vegan lasagna and amazing vegan pastries. Mariah made us the most awesome fried vegan donuts. Thanks so much ladies!!!
After a disappointing swim at the Mont Tremblant 70.3 due to anxiety issues in the beginning, I prepared well for the full Ironman swim. Lisa had me doing more intervals in the open water and specific training in the pool as well. I had a new plan for the Ironman swim and felt ready! While my time of an hour and 26 minutes is a very slow swim, I am very proud of my swim that day. My goal was around a 1:15 to a 1:18 which was very reasonable. However, this Ironman swim turned out to be very wavy, choppy with big swells at the far end of the course. It was the craziest and toughest open water swim I have ever experienced. The female pro winner of this year and last year said it was rougher than any ocean water swim she’s ever done, so I felt better hearing that. Many people were reporting times of 5-10 minutes slower. While it wasn’t raining yet in the morning, we were very concerned when we felt the wind walking down to the start beach. I knew it would be a choppy swim with the wind but couldn’t believe the swells at the far end of the course. I kept thinking to myself, “how is this even possible in a lake”??!! But that’s what happens when a storm is rolling into the area!
This time I started on the far left side a few rows down to stay out of trouble. It was great to meet up with Jenn while lining up. We both went to the left side. And this plan worked well for me. I had no anxiety attacks like I did in June. I also did a better warm-up before the race with a few quick bursts. The big thing for me was not starting out too fast. I’m a slow starter and usually don’t feel good in a swim until about 10-15 minutes into the swim. For the first part of the swim I was almost enjoying it. I had more clear water to swim and felt more comfortable. I was constantly sighting and finding paths to swim even if there were still a lot of women around me. We had close to 300 women in our wave but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Starting off on the outside made a difference for me.
After about 15-20 minutes the waves were getting progressively choppier and bigger. I expected there to be a lot of chop but not that much! I kept plugging away and focusing on the task at hand. I was starting to pass the slower women in the 35-39 age group and a few men in the 50-55 group. I even caught up to more women in my age group once I was warmed up. Once I got close to the last buoy before turning right, the swells became huge and ridiculous. I was moving up and then back down as if I was on some amusement park ride. I was worried I might get “seasick” or nauseous out there but luckily that never happened. Swimming across was difficult with many bodies, congestion and the big waves but I finally made it to the last turnaround. I was still passing people which was sometimes a nuisance but I just kept moving forward the best I could.
When I rounded that last turnaround buoy I couldn’t believe how far out I was from the line of buoys heading back. The wind and waves were pushing masses of us swimmers way out from the line back to shore. I felt a bit of panic at one moment when the closet buoy looked very far way. I swam in a diagonal direction picking up the pace and finally got closer to the line of buoys. I then stayed close to the buoys on the way back. This presented me with more people to swim around but I did find clear water many times on the way back. I was still passing a lot of swimmers in other age groups which was getting tiresome with all the waves and chop. At this point I was taking things one buoy at a time. This was a good strategy. As I was getting closer to the shore I could see the blue arch and hear the cheering. This was exciting and I felt relieved to be close. I eventually made it to the shore.
The one alarming thing was that I felt my right calf muscle cramp up a few seconds before I stood up. I thought I felt the sensations that happen before a cramp on the way back a couple times. But luckily it happened at the very end. And then I was fine running to the wetsuit strippers. Crisis averted! I didn’t know my swim time as I couldn’t see it on my Garmin even though it was recorded. If I had known I had swum 10-11 minutes slower than planned, I would have been stressed on the bike. Ignorance was bliss! I ran on the red carpet to the transition tent very happy I had finished a very tough swim. I saw Lisa and Dave and gave them a smile and “thumbs up”.
The 112 miles on the bike were the toughest and most miserable part of the day for me. I am proud of myself for staying strong mentally and keeping safe on a very treacherous day. Heavy rain, wind and dangerous road conditions made this one of the toughest bike races I’ve ever done. And I have much experience racing in the rain from 20 years ago. Another challenge for me was that I never felt comfortable on the bike due to a sore neck (partly from the wavy swim) that seemed worse being cold on the bike. While training rides were also uncomfortable, this was by far the worst of any ride this summer. Between the cold, nagging discomfort and not feeling safe, I never felt like I rode well or fast enough. It was as if I was running on 3-4 cylinders compared to 5. It was like I just didn’t have any energy or passion on the bike that day. I’d like to think it was from the brutal elements. My goal time was between 5 hours and 50 minutes to 6 hours if it was windy. I was a little disappointed in taking a little over 6 hours and nine minutes to complete the bike course. But it was a super challenging day on so many levels. I am so grateful I did finish safely!
The rain didn’t start until about a few miles on Route 117. At first I thought this might be to my advantage and just took it as it came. There was a good tailwind heading out on Route 117 which has some fast sections and down hills. After the turnaround, the ride back on Route 117 was difficult as the rain and wind got stronger. The headwind was ferocious! Heading back on Monte Ryan the roads were getting dangerous with deep puddles and many riders taking the descents too fast. While the course didn’t feel overly crowded on this race, there were times of congestion with many riders of varying levels of bike handling skills. This sometimes made me nervous and conservative with my own descents. I’m a good bike handler in the rain, but I didn’t have a lot of faith in some of the other riders. This was stressful. And I was growing colder!
Luckily the end of the first loop finishes with a 6 mile rolling climb up Chemin Duplessis. I knew I would warm up on the steeper sections of the long climb and this was the case. Unfortunately I discovered that my shifting issues were back. I couldn’t shift into the second and third easiest gears up the hills without a lot of skipping. Luckily I could get into my granny gear which was fine for 8% grades. As long as I shifted smoothly and easily, I was OK. I had to be careful and mindful to get safely in and out of my granny gear. I was so happy when I finally came to the turnaround to the start the crazy fast roller coaster ride back down Duplessis. Sadly there was a very bad crash that I passed on the way down the long hill. The race director was out in the middle of the road trying to get riders to slow down. I was very rattled seeing someone in a neck brace as the result of the crash. I tried not to loose focus and continued with my own race. I truly hope the crash victims are OK. My thoughts go out to them!
It was a bit daunting to think I still had to ride the 56 mile treacherous loop again! I picked up two more of my water bottles at the Special Needs station in the beginning of Monte Ryan. I was doing pretty well with my nutrition plan. But it didn’t help the fact that I was once again very cold. The big rolling hills on Monte Ryan were making me even colder and I was worried about how I would get through the second loop feeling this cold. I was breaking on the down hills due to the big puddles but also because it wasn’t quite as cold when I went downhill slower. No wonder I had such a slow bike split!! (just under 3 hours the first loop)
Luckily I started to warm up on Route 117. I even settled back into my aero position and kept moving forward. Surprisingly my neck pain subsided a little and I focused on trying to pick up the pace a bit. It seemed like there were less riders on the second loop which was helpful. Overall Route 117 was rather uneventful aside from the weather conditions which were still rainy and windy. After the turnaround, the headwinds were still brutal and felt much harder with tired legs. After about 4 hours I caught up to Kelly who luckily was wearing a jacket. Being from Florida, she had a very tough day in the cold but stayed super strong! I’m so glad she finished!
The way back on Monte Ryan was once again cold and dangerous with more puddles on the roads. Again I was careful on the descents especially the last one which was very sketchy (single file only) with at least 5 inch puddles and slop. Again I was happy to get to the base of the Chemin Duplessis hill climb. As I was heading up, I heard Scott call my name on his way back down. I couldn’t believe how far ahead of me he was!! But I was also happy for him. I knew he’d be doing well in this weather. He is an awesome rider in the rain. The hills felt much harder this time around and my legs were very fatigued! I was wondering how I would run a marathon after this! The turnaround seemed to take longer! Once I was heading back downhill, I was so happy to be almost done. But I knew I had to be careful on this very dangerous section of the course. I new that if I stayed out of trouble, I would be running soon! Once at the bottom, I turned right towards the transition area. I was thrilled to give my bike to a volunteer. I saw that my bike was under 6 hours and 10 minutes. I was OK with this slower than planned time. I was actually worried it might be more like 6 hours and 20 minutes from being too cold on the second loop. I took off my bike shoes and ran on the soaking wet carpet into the transition tent. My lower back was screaming and I wondered again how I would run a marathon feeling like that!
I got into the transition tent and saw my friend Jenn who was pulled from the course. They thought she was going to get hypothermia as her face was turning blue. I was stunned and a little confused in the changing tent. I felt so sad for her. But I’m glad she was OK. I somehow put on dry socks, running shoes, visor and my belt. I ducked into a port-o-potty which took an extra minute but was so worth it as I felt so much better. And then I was off to do my favorite sport!!
Running is what I do best. My first Ironman marathon is one that I am very proud of after a very tough swim and bike. I had no idea how it would go as I was heading out on the first mile. I was happy that my back and legs were doing OK after previous doubts. I was actually surprised at how well I felt after such an ordeal on the bike. It was drizzling and raining lightly and I was feeling comfortable. Not cold and not too warm. As I ran by the lake with the boats to my right side, I felt so happy to be on the run. This is my favorite part of the course and I tried to savor it before things got too hard.
My goal was to run between a 3:30 and a 3:40 marathon which Lisa felt was realistic for my first Ironman. So I was thrilled to have run a 3:37:09. Surprisingly my run was faster than 6 of the 10 pro women who participated. And my run was among the top ten fastest runs of the female Age-Groupers. I just wish I could get my swim and bike to be stronger! That will come in time!
I was feeling pretty good on the first few miles into the village of Mont Tremblant. However I was also cautious about keeping my pace conservative. My plan was to run slower the first few miles but this was harder to do as my legs kept turning over smoothly and easily. When I got to the paved bike path, it was very crowded and difficult to constantly pass people. I was running around and in between people. I felt like a broken record saying “excuse me”, “coming through”, “on your left” hundreds of times.…..But I did my best to be polite, supportive and kept moving at a good pace. I slowed down for water at the aid stations but kept on moving forward and efficiently. I did run with one nice younger woman in pink who was setting a good smart pace. On the way back after the turnaround I took a turn to lead and set the pace. But eventually I did loose her and never saw her again. Before the turnaround, I did finally see Scott again on the run and he was looking strong. He was a few kilometers ahead of me and I knew I would catch him eventually. I looked forward to that!
The course has a pretty out-and-back section on a gravel path along Lac Mercier. I was still feeling decent at this point (around mile 9). An older woman caught me, passed me and then seemed to settle down. I was staying close behind her. I thought she was in my age-group so I hung back a little. She was setting a nice pace and it was helpful climbing the hills back out of the village. As we headed back downhill by Lac Tremblant I was still feeling good and eventually passed her on that short steep hill by the swim start. Later I learned she was over 50! Nice job Judy! In about a kilometer I was running through the ski village on the cobblestones with cheering crowds lined on both sides which was fun. I was feeling tired and my legs fatigued but knew I could handle another 13 mile loop even if it did feel like a daunting task. I am a marathon runner and have done this before!
On the small steep hill near the swim start beach, Dave was yelling out to me that I was running into 5th place and that my run was the second fastest in my age group. I told him I thought I was slowing down but he said it was OK and to just keep going. This news gave me a bit of a boost. I still ran conservatively up the gradual climb to the village. I was still going at a good pace of around 8-8:30 minutes per mile. On the bike path I had some of my fastest splits at around 7:47 minutes per mile. The bike path was still crowded and I was still constantly trying to run around or through people running side by side. And this stretch really felt tedious this time around. But I kept focused and my legs kept doing their job even with the fatigue growing in quads. I finally caught Scott on mile 19 and he looked very good and strong. He was sticking to his plan and running very well. His 4:24:55 marathon was well paced and he finished strong that day!
After I passed Scott it seemed to take longer to reach the turnaround on the bike path. I caught up to another woman to see if she was in my age group but she was 41 and I just stayed behind her for a few minutes on the way back as her pace was good. But then my legs wanted to move a bit more quickly so I passed her. I did pass one woman in my age group on the way back along the bike path. My pace was much quicker so I wasn’t worried about her trying to stick with me. The out-back-gravel section by Lac Mercier was uneventful and I noticed I was still doing OK even with all the fatigue. I couldn’t wait to be done but was realizing I only had about 3+ more miles to go. At this point I was taking things one mile at a time which is what I do on the last 5-6 miles of a marathon. The climb out of town was slow and tedious. Before I turned left onto the bike path with the pretty views of ski trails, I took my first cup of Pepsi. With 2 miles to go I really didn’t want another gel. I’m still not sure if the Pepsi helped but it didn’t hurt or bother my stomach. I then took another Pepsi at the next aid station at the bottom of the hills leading out of the village. After this I passed Susan C who ended up as the 5th place women in my age group. I was running a good bit faster so I didn’t worry about her. I knew I had this!
My run up the short steep hill by the swim start was very slow and hard! I almost walked because it might have been faster! But since I never had to walk, I didn’t want to start on the last mile or so! I knew if I found this hill very difficult, so would any other runners behind me. Running up to the ski village was super tough! But at this point I was so close and the discomfort was overridden with excitement of the finish line. It was such a great feeling running on the final stretch on the cobblestones through the ski village. The crowds were amazing and all cheering. I loved hearing my name! (our names were on our bibs) I felt like a super star running to the finish! I heard Mike Reilly call my name vaguely. I ran through the finish and was caught by a couple volunteers. I left everything out there and had nothing more to give! It was a wonderful and very emotional feeling. Lisa and Dave were right there too which was so awesome. I love them! Receiving my medal was also very special as I have dreamed of that moment for the last two years! I was very happy to learn I was 4th in my age group out of almost 100 woman after a very challenging day. I would get onto the podium this time and was thrilled! It was OK that I didn’t get a second place for the Kona spot. Next year!
Scott finished about a half hour after me. I sat at one of the tables eating food and talking to other athletes. Lisa was so kind to bring me a plate of food. It was so great that there were some vegan salad options (cous cous, pasta, quinoa, fruit, chips). I was so happy to see Scott after he finished. He looked so fresh. I kept joking that he looked as fresh as a daisy! He’s a champ!
Afterward we took some time that evening to lug our bikes and gear bags back up to the hotel. After a much needed shower we headed back out to meet Dave and Lisa for a beer. We hadn’t enjoyed a beer since the Mont Tremblant 70.3 in June so we were really looking forward to this! The big basket of fries tasted amazing as well. I believe our bodies were craving fat and salt after such an ordeal.
After celebrating with a beers and fries we headed down to the finish line to cheer for the last finishers before midnight. This was so much fun and very emotional seeing these amazing people finish a crazy long day! Some people were out there for almost 17 hours! I can’t imagine being out there that long even if the weather had been nice! My hat goes off to the last finishers! Huge Congratulations!!!
Monday afternoon was our time to relax and do a few touristy things in Mont Tremblant. We rode the gondola up to the top of the ski Mountain which was beautiful and so enjoyable. It was a cooler day and very chilly at the summit. So we headed into the lodge, purchased a couple beers and chips. We found a warm, sunny, quiet spot by the windows and savored the beautiful views. We talked about our next Ironman. We also talked about how amazing it felt to finally become an Ironman! One of the biggest accomplishments for both of us! I still couldn’t believe we finally did it!
That evening we treated ourselves to a lovely dinner at Coco Pazzo, a fancy Italian restaurant right in the ski village and a minute walk from our hotel. Scott jokingly called it “Coco Expensive”, but it was the only place in the village with a clearly marked vegan dinner option. And it was a delicious pasta dinner with fresh vegetables and the best tasting sauce. With warm soup and a tasty glass of red wine, we were very happy sitting outside waiting for the main entre.
While it was sad to leave Mont Tremblant the next day, we did enjoy lattes in the morning and then smoothies at Fluide, the juice bar right in the ski village. After two hours of packing, we checked out and headed to the village of Mont Tremblant to walk around and check out an art gallery. We found a great place that had awesome vegan burgers and good local beer!
Overall, words cannot describe how awesome it was for us to become an Ironman! It truly is an amazing accomplishment. I will always treasure the memories of our first Ironman experience. While the swim and bike were true tests of our will, the whole race gave me more confidence as as athlete and overall as a person. There is no greater lesson than doing your first full Ironman and the training that it takes to get to the starting line. It’s a life-changing journey! And this was one Ironman people will be telling their kids and grandchildren in years to come!
I want to send out a huge thanks to the amazing volunteers, the tireless Ironman staff, and the lovely people of Mont Tremblant. I can’t imagine how other Ironman events could top what they do in Quebec! What a truly spectacular event! Thank you to everyone who made the day possible!
We are signed up for the Lake Placid Ironman in July of 2017. We both can’t wait to begin another Ironman journey. We are also singed up for the Ironman 70.3 in Puerto Rico which will take place in March 2017. For the next two months, we will enjoy some downtime, trail running, mountain biking, gravel grinding and of course much swimming with our beloved masters group!
Thanks for stopping by!