I am an Ironman!
First, this is a long-ass race report. But in my defense, this was a long-ass race.
As many of you know, I committed to the 2014 Ironman Mont-Tremblant last August 16th and immediately posted it to Facebook so that I’d be socially accountable. Many said that committing to swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles, then running a marathon – all under 17 hours, is reason enough to have ME committed. Prior to signing up, I’d done a half-Ironman and run 4 marathons. This race would be a big jump, but I had a year to train. And after that year of training, race weekend was finally here.
Getting to the start wasn’t easy. Training officially began in January with my Team In Training Ironteam crew. I’d trained with them and our head coach Jay Borok last season for the 70.3 and was excited to do it again, this time for the full 140.6. The season was long and fun, though nor everything went according to plan. A few work pitches, an illness, and a job change certainly cost me a few training sessions. In the beginning of June, I tweaked my bike seat and ended up with knee pain that cost me a few weeks of riding during our peak building period. And of course, that knee pain led me to favoring my other foot, which led to a fractured metatarsal.
But why would I let a diagnosis like a “subchondral fracture of the second metatarsal head,” just eight days before Ironman, stop me? (okay, so I got clearance from my podiatrist, though he warned it would HURT!)
Emily and I flew to Montreal on Thursday evening and met my father at the airport for the drive to Mont-Tremblant. Nerves began to kick in, but I was excited. We checked into the Westin, the same hotel we stayed at last season for the 70.3, then headed out to carb-load.
Friday morning, I woke up early to meet a couple of teammates for a 20 minute swim in Lac Tremblant. The water temperature was 68 degrees – perfect for a wetsuit swim! After washing up, I headed to athlete check-in. Shit got real. I received my bib, numbers, swim cap and my sweet, new Ironman backpack. After picking up my bike from TriBike Transport, I spent the rest of the day taking photos, eating, watching Veronica Mars on DVD, and having panic attacks.
Saturday morning, I met Coach JP and teammates for a quick ride to make sure our bikes were ready to roll. It was raining and about the same temperature forecasted for race day – perfect to help figure out my race day clothing plan. We checked our bikes into transition and headed back to our hotels to pack our transition bags.
Ironman has SO MANY BAGS! Rather than bringing a single bag to transition and having a single set up, the race provided individual gear bags for morning/start, swim-2-bike, bike-2-run, and bags for special needs run and special needs bike. I’d never had special needs on a race before, but this distance allows you to pack bags for the halfway points of the run and bike so you can change gear and restock nutrition. And after a heartfelt lunch with my family (Mom and Phil joined us in the Great White North as of Friday evening!) and the entire Team In Training Ironteam from around the country, I officially checked in my transition bags and rested up.
I set my first alarm for 4:07am, but to say it worked would be a lie – I barely slept! I ate my standard pre-workout PB&J and headed out for a team photo, to get body-marked, and to check my special needs bags. Then I headed back to my hotel room to grab Emily and my wetsuit.
The walk to the start was longer than I remembered and we got there way to close to my 6:42 start time. I found a few teammates and together, we scrambled to get on wetsuits and head to the start. I said goodbye to Emily and after pushing through a packed crowd of spectators, made it to the corral as my wave (M 18-34) was moving onto the beach. No pre-race dip in the water for us. I tried to sync my Garmin 910xt, but there was no time. The gun went off.
THE SWIM – 1:22:43
The swim start was rushed, but I guess it worked out because I had no time to panic. Everyone ran into the water quickly, though I was toward the back as I was hoping my Garmin might sync. I gave up, figuring it would connect while I was swimming. Alas, it never did, but no worries – the course is well marked and I’m generally pretty consistent with my swim pacing.
Lac Tremblant is beautiful and calm – last year’s swim there was the first time I felt comfortable in open water and the feeling never left. I felt great. Sure, swimmers from other waves behind me got a little physical, but I just kept calm and stayed focused. At the halfway turnaround, the water got a little choppy and I hear a few people got sick, but it didn’t affect me at all. I just kept moving. And on the return portion of the swim, I’m pretty sure I caught a boats wake which helped me draft and save a little energy.
I predicted a 1:20 swim and was pretty close to it. If I didn’t have to stop to adjust goggles that got knocked, stop when I caught up to a line of slower swimmers, and didn’t stop to attempt to pee in the water near swim exit (I failed) – I’d have nailed it. Ultimately, the swim was long, boring, and almost perfect.
T1 – 00:18:16
I never have good transition times, but knew my Ironman ones would be awful. T1 is about 300 meters from the water and I didn’t want to risk running barefoot on my broken foot. I walked the distance, finally took my pee-break, then headed into the transition tent. Rather than having your gear by your bike, transition bags were lined up on the way to a giant changing room. I grabbed mine and was immediately directed into a big room with all the other male athletes to change. While you generally keep the same gear on for an entire triathlon, Ironman lets you change between sports due to the distance and I opted to take advantage.
After drying off a bit, I switched out my tri-shorts for bike shorts (I did leave on my tri-top). I lathered on chamois cream, doused myself in sunblock, added some arm sleeves, threw on my socks, cycling shoes, headband, helmet, gloves and sunglasses and was on my way.
I scarfed down a Bonk Breaker as I grabbed my bike and walked toward the mount line. And was off.
THE BIKE – 7:42:11
I was nervous heading out for the ride. Sure, I’d done a 100-miler in training with lots of climbing, but I’d missed out on weeks of building endurance and strength on the bike due to injury. And even my taper period had me only riding on my trainer in case my foot bothered me. The course consisted of two-loops of a hilly course with close to 3000 feet of climbing per loop.
Having done a loop last year, I knew to start out slow. The beginning isn’t tough, but does consist of some rollers and I wanted to keep my heart rate low. I discovered that while my Garmin said it was finally connected to all the satellites, the distance feed was still not working. I tried to tweak while riding, but gave up. Luckily, I have a separate cadence monitor on my handlebars and it has an odometer – I took note of the reading at 10k and was able to gauge my ride from there. So much for distance alerts along the way.
After getting out of the Tremblant village, a ride down Montée Ryan takes you onto 117, a beautifully paved highway for about 14 miles before a turnaround. I knew there were a few decent hills and some rollers, but generally, this area isn’t too bad. Normally. The winds were strong, and blowing straight at us. It took a lot of extra energy to move and I certainly missed the strength I missed out on from injury-induced lost training time. At least at the turnaround, the headwind became a tailwind. Spent some quality time in aero and let the wind push down the hills. There was one solid climb at mile 32, but took advantage of the bathroom at the peak to catch my breath and lower my heart rate back down.
After a short ride continuing along the highway, we rode into Saint Jovite where the roads were packed with spectators and volunteers. The area is flat and eventually leads back to Montée Ryan / Tremblant. And it was there, around mile 44 or so, that I saw Emily and my family. As you see by Emily’s signs, they weren’t hard to miss! Seeing loved ones on the road has always been a huge motivation for me and exactly what I needed as I approached Chemin Duplessis. That’s French for “big fucking mountain.”
I spent 5 miles trying to climb a mountain with an average 12% grade (and max of 15%). Thankfully, I’d experienced these hills before and knew that they were broken up with short flats and downhills. I took it easy and enjoyed the ride as best I could, knowing that what goes up must come down. And man, the down was awesome. Hitting 40mph or so without pedaling. I quickly found myself at the halfway point in around 3 hours and 36 minutes. Not bad, considering the winds and a pair of pee-breaks.
This is when I hit special needs. Some people don’t stop, but I decided to take my sweet-ass time. I reloaded all my water bottles (more on specific nutrition later), restocked my nutrition, rubbed on some more chamois cream, ate a Bonk Breaker, and took another bathroom break. The extra time is a small price for the extra comfort on such a long day.
I headed out for loop 2. The winds were still rough, but at least I knew what I was up against. I chatted up a few other athletes and just hammered away at the miles. After spotting my support crew again near the century mark, I began my mountain ascent at the 102 mile mark. Who the hell puts a mountain at the end of a ride like this!? Obviously, the hills were a lot tougher on this go-round. But with the end of the ride so close, it was easy to keep my mind on the prize. Because at the end of the day, a race of this distance is all about will-power. Sadly, I didn’t get to enjoy the downhills as much this time around because it freaking started raining! I was pretty soaked by the end of the ride but luckily, I was about to change.
Overall, the bike was great. I definitely wasn’t as strong as I could have been, given my late-season injuries and of course, all my bathroom stops along the way didn’t help (I think 4 + special needs!). However, I knew I had the endurance and while I didn’t break the seven hours I’d have liked, I’m really happy with how the ride went and how I felt after.
T2 – 00:16:21
Another slow one since I didn’t want to run until the actual run. I took my time changing into running shorts, race singlet, and visor. I then filled up my water bottles – I’d have loved to fill them up prior, but the stupid FuelBelt bottles have a tendency to leak when not upright.
I tied up my Brooks Adrenalines and was heading out when I realized I hadn’t put Arnica on my foot. Arnica’s known to help relieve pain and swelling and it would be key to helping manage pain from the fractured foot through my run. I took my shoes back off, rubbed on the gel, and headed out yet again. Oh, and I restarted my Garmin! FINALLY, a fully-functioning watch! There was no way I could do the run without knowing my pace.
THE RUN 5:34:07
I headed out of the transition tent and immediately saw Emily and my family. After a few photos and a quick chat, I went on my way. In true Ben fashion, I wasn’t really sure where transition ended and the run started, so I just hit start on my Garmin at a random point and away I went.
The run course consisted of two half-marathon loops. The first few miles were hilly, and I’d already committed myself to walking them in hopes of keeping my heart rate low and conserving energy. And it would be a great way to try and not destroy my fractured foot too quickly.
I stuck to my plan and from an energy perspective, I felt great. My foot hurt a little, but was able to run pretty well (when I DID run). However, I think I did the typical overcompensating-on-the-good-leg thing, because by the 5k mark, my right Achilles tendon was acting up. Alas, this was race day and I knew it was something I’d just have to deal with.
I continued to run/walk, with the running sections being pretty solid. It began to rain, which I actually enjoyed. I was heating up a little on the run and the rain felt great! Luckily, it only last a couple of miles so my shoes didn’t get too squishy. At each aid station, I grabbed some water and ate a little something – banana and orange slices, a few Honey Stinger Chews. I’d brought my own nutrition, but with the walking, it was definitely convenient and a lot more fun to just grab stuff on the go.
Most of miles 3–10 were on a flat, tree-lined roadway. However, a short area of dirt caused some problem, as some sand got into my sock. I felt the irritation and stopped to try and get it out twice to no avail. So around mile 10 or 11, I stopped at a medical station to get some Vaseline for the area to avoid a blister. The medic was awesome and one-upped that with some second skin.
I made it back to town and up through the hills leading to Tremblant village where I stopped at special needs to refill my water bottles. I saw Emily just before the half-marathon mark, and then my father who ran a little with me as I passed our hotel in the village. I’ve been asking him to exercise for years – this little moment made me so happy!
I kept running and made my way down the finisher chute. Except I wasn’t finished! Those cruel bastards put up a sign – finishers to the left and second loop to the right. The worst. Well, I already had come to grips with the upcoming second loop, so it didn’t mess my mind up too badly.
The first loop, including my bathroom breaks, special needs, and walking, timed out to 2:33:05. Not too bad. When I DID run, I was hitting about a 9:15-9:30 pace. However, I knew this second loop was going to be way tougher. My energy level was still great, but my foot and ankle were starting to really hurt.
I began running less and walking more. I knew the pain would only get worse, so I just did my best to run as much as possible until it stopped me. I’d let the pain subside, then repeat the cycle. I kept an eye on my watch and knew that if I walked the entire second loop, I’d just maybe make the 17-hour cutoff. I wasn’t worried about my final time, given the foot, but I still wanted to do my best. So I just continued on. I ran into a few of my teammates and friends along the way, but let them go ahead. I didn’t want to force myself into worse injury.
I continued to watch my watch and do math in my head. I realized that with my current pace, including walking, I could break 16 hours. So of course, I set a goal – 15 and a half. It’d be a struggle, but hey, Ironman is about pushing yourself. And worst case, I could always slow down if the pain got too bad.
As I left the wooded path and headed back toward town for the final 5k, I realized that I was doing well on time. And with only the little more than 3 miles left, I committed to running as much as possible. I walked the hills and ran the flats and downhills as best I could. I grabbed a little flat Coke from the aid stations to give me a little extra zip. And as I came up on 15 hours, I reached the 25.2 mile mark. One. Mile. To go.
The finisher chute may be the coolest experience ever. Crowds going crazy. The climax of all those months/years of training just ahead. And in Tremblant, it’s all downhill.
Then the words blasted across the night, slightly drowned by the cheering of thousands: “Benjamin Waldman – you are an Ironman!” FINAL TIME – 15:13:38
I’ve never smiled so much, so deliriously. I received a finisher hat and t-shirt, then a volunteer directed me to get my medal. I shuffled through the finish area where someone handed me the greatest drink of my life – chocolate milk. I love chocolate milk in life, no less for recovery. There were lots of people and food, but I needed to get back to my room and ice my foot. The fracture was killing me, so I got a plate of pasta and wandered back up toward the Westin.
In the room, I found that Emily had already taken care of picking up all my transition and special needs stuff and had rinsed out all my gear. Amazing. I did some stretching, ate a little snack, showered, and passed out!
I woke early to hit the expo again – this time for finisher gear. Ironman expos are expensive!
By 10am, we were on our way to the airport. And I was on my way to the greatest few binge-eating days of my life.
BREAKFAST: Peanut butter & jelly, water
BIKE: Drank Skratch continuously throughout, supplemented with a SaltStick every 30 minutes. Alternated every half-hour between eating a Honey Stinger Waffle (vanilla) or a Bonk Breaker Bite (peanut butter chocolate chip). Averaged just above 300 calories/hour.
RUN: winged this one since I walked so much. Grabbed orange and/or banana slices from about every other aid station. Consumed about 90 calories of Honey Stinger Chews every 40 minutes. I drank a little flat Coke at miles 20 and 23 for an energy kick. And continued taking SaltSticks every 30 minutes throughout.
Well, I did it. It was awesome. In retrospect, I’m super grateful that I took on the challenge and didn’t let a fractured foot stop me. The race is long and hard, but compared to the time, effort, and anxiety leading up to the day, the race was a breeze. I had a great time out there, even with the pain on the run. And the run – I know I was averaging a slow pace with all the walking, but I really felt like it was easier than running a marathon alone. Maybe it’s because I was just so excited to be on the last leg? Is it because I was run/walking and maybe I should walk aid stations for all my future marathons?
I’d have loved to race faster, but given the injuries, I’m extremely proud of my time. And at the end of the day, if you aren’t qualifying for Kona, no one cares. All that matters is that you finish. And that was never a question.
And I’m glad that I did this race with Team in Training – people yelled from their bikes and the sidelines and stopped me on the run to thank me for supporting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Survivors. Friends and families of survivors. And to each one, I expressed that I was grateful and honored to be able to do my part for them and their loved ones. And t’s those loved ones, especially my very own dad, Fixler, and Briel that kept me going at the toughest of moments.
I thought this would be a one-and-done experience and that’d I’d stick to 70.3s in the future. But with every passing moment, I get more excited about the thought of doing another in the future. Will you be joining me?