I’m an Ironman 70.3er.
Last year, I joined Team in Training to train for my first triathlon. I had a blast and knew that I wanted to continue to the next level. And of course, I wanted to continue with Team in Training – my friend Ariel who I run for is still in treatment and until her cancer, and all cancer is 100% curable, I will not stop.
It was with great excitement that I signed up for my third season (I did the NYC Marathon / Philly season after that first NYC Tri). I committed myself to competing in the Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant triathlon on June 23, 2013. That’s 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of biking and 13.1 miles of running through the mountains of a French-Canadian ski-resort.
Official training began in January. For nearly six months, 30+ teammates and myself trained tirelessly, six days a week. Each week contained at least one coached swim, run and long bike ride and a solo brick, long run and swim. It was tough but fun, and my workouts grew in time and distance with (somewhat) ease.
Before I knew it, June 19th was upon us and I was in a cruising along the highway in Quebec along with Emily and teammates Jonathan and Julie. We arrived Friday in the late afternoon and quickly checked into the race and grabbed our bikes from the bike transport provided by TNT.
The race was centered around the Mont-Tremblant village – I’d heard the whole experience was beautiful and I knew immediately that this would not disappoint. The village was quaint and welcoming, though one couldn’t stop noticing how hilly everything was. Why did we pick a race in the mountains!?
Julie and I (and our teammate Mike) were both staying in the Westin, a three-minute walk from the Team in Training hotel and the expo. We checked in, dropped off our gear and found an awesome gift from my TNT crew back in NYC – thanks guys!
We then hit the expo, where I bought some awesome Mont-Tremblant 70.3 gear. Typically, I won’t buy race-gear till after a race, but I was nervous that sizes could sell out and knew the shop closed soon after the race ended. A billion Canadian dollars later, I bought myself an awesome t-shirt and cycling kit – though true to my superstitions, not to be worn till post race! (watch out future Mont-Tremblanters – there is Canadian tax, province tax and a resort tax.)
We headed to dinner where we carbed-up like crazy and went to bed nice and early.
I woke up around 7am and had a light breakfast, grabbed my swim gear and headed down to the hotel lobby to meet Julie and Mike. Our team had a scheduled 8am swim to check out Lac Tremblant. A couple of teammates had come up to Mont Tremblant a few weeks prior and told us that the water was freezing, so we headed to the race’s swim exit with trepidation.
It was raining and the sky was grey, so we were wet long before getting into the water. We zipped up our wet suits and headed toward the dreaded freezing lake – only to discover it wasn’t freezing! It was cold, but I’ll take mid-60s temperatures over mid-50s like we expected, any day! We entered the water and headed toward a buoy, a good 250 yards out. I stopped at the buoy and enjoyed a gorgeous view before turning around and heading back to the beach.
I loved the lake instantly. The water, though cold, was manageable with a wetsuit and two swim caps. And it was clear! Unlike the waters around NYC, I could see the bottom of the lake and swimmers around me. The water was calm and I felt extremely comfortable. I have always hated open water swimming, but I knew this lake was going to be my chance to get over it.
After the short swim, I went back to my hotel to grab my bike. The team was scheduled to do a short ride a few hours later, but Julie and I were anxious to get the ride done and get our bikes into transition. We headed out and noticed quickly – there were a lot of hills around our hotel! Rain was still pouring down, so Julie and I decided to play it safe and cut our ride short. We brought our bikes to transition, only to find we were two of the first. We wrapped out seats and handlebars and said goodbye to our friends on two wheels.
The rest of the day was lazy – hanging around the hotel, the athlete briefing, beginning to prep my transition bag and eating. In the evening, we had our team inspiration dinner. Team in Training hosts such a dinner before each event – where we talk about the season, celebrate our training and fundraising milestones and are reminded of why we train – to aid in the battle against cancer. This season, I was lucky enough to meet honored teammate Dani (photo below), a survivor and honored teammate who was to compete in the race as well. She shared her story and it was tough not to tear up – I’m so grateful to know her and am so proud that the training and fundraising I do helps keep people like her alive. She is amazing. And I took that thought back with me to the hotel where I had to finish packing.
I finished laying out all my race gear and packed my bag. Man, it was a lot of stuff! And then Emily surprised me with her race-day outfit. Awesome!
I set my alarm for 4:30am and went to sleep, surprisingly calm.
I ate a small breakfast consisting of peanut butter on white bread and a banana, threw on my tri-gear, grabbed my transition bag and headed to the team hotel for a quick team photo.
We left the hotel to head toward transition where we got our body markings and set up our transition areas. Before long, my teammates and I were heading toward the start beach.
I was anxious, but surprisingly not too nervous. I was scheduled for an 8am start and it was still only 6:30am. A few teammates and I hung around the entrance to the swim area and took advantage of the time to wait on the long bathroom line. The race officially began at 7am. The excitement was almost tangible – the only thing thicker might have been the humidity (we’ll get to that later). Teammates with earlier starts began peeling off to line up. I was fortunate enough to have a few friends and teammates starting in my wave, so after throwing on our wetsuits, we headed to the beach and hung out as a group.
That’s where I had my first success of the day – I learned to pee in my wetsuit! I still can’t pee in the water, but let me tell you, peeing in your wetsuit is as fantastic as everyone says. Sure, to a non-triathlete this might all seem gross, but seriously, the warmth and laughter that came with the situation was a great way to break any tension I was feeling.
It was 7:50 before I knew it and it was time for my wave to get ready to line up. We got into the water to the side of the start to get ourselves race-ready - they say it’s good to give yourself a little time to adjust to the water temperature to help avoid the shock of water temperature and sudden effort. At 7:56, we lined up. I looked at my friends and we all wished each other luck. And at 8:00, the the gun went off.
I was nervous for the swim leading up to the race. While very comfortable in the pool, I’ve never found my comfort zone in open water and find that without lane lines, I tend to meander off course a little. Thankfully, I had a few triathlons behind me and the prior day’s test-swim. I felt confident as I ran into the water – my goal was to stay confident and relaxed and site regularly.
And I did exactly that. I kept a nice, steady stroke speed and just focused on getting from one buoy to the next as opposed to the whole 1.2 mile distance. I managed to stay on course due to frequent sighting and the amazing race support in the water – the buoys were large and there were kayaks lining the entire course. I kept my own pace, drafting off others occasionally and pausing for a brief moment every 200 yards or so for peace of mind.
I quickly found myself at the turnaround feeling positive. And while the swim certainly didn’t feel short, I found myself sighting the swim finish area quickly. The water began to shallow out, but I avoided the temptation to stand – the practice swim the day before revealed that I would still have a 100+ yards to go, so I played it smart. I stood only when my hands touched the bottom of the lake during a stroke. I immediately began running toward the beach and was welcomed in by Emily, who secured what might have been the best spot by the swim finish. Such a welcome sight!
SWIM TIME – 40:22, right on target.
As I exited the water, I began stripping my wetsuit off immediately. There was a beautiful carpet leading out of the water toward the road which I’d follow to transition and I began to run forward, only to be greeted by wetsuit strippers! I’d never experienced them before, but I’d been tipped off and knew what to do. I laid down on the floor and a pair of volunteers ripped the neoprene off my body with one solid yank. Amazing.
I’d received another tip from one of my coaches that morning – take off my caps and goggles and hold them in my hand as I took off my second wetsuit sleeve (pre-strippers). This would get them lodged in the sleeve so that I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying them separately as I ran to the transition area. Brilliant and worked perfectly – a lifesaver considering I had to then run nearly half a mile to transition. Luckily, a good portion of that long, barefoot run was on a nice carpet.
I got to my bike, hung up my wetsuit, threw on my socks, shoes and helmet and took off.
Discussion of the bike course had been frequent all season. One look at the elevation chart would make any person in their right mind say, “WHY did I choose a race in the mountains!?” The race was only a year old, so researching others’ experiences on the course was a bit difficult. Most race reports were from pros and elites who all shared the same basic thought – the course was challenging but not the toughest thing ever. Of course, I’m no pro.
Luckily, I didn’t have time to worry. I left transition, crossed the mounting line and was off! The first ten miles was a series of rolling hills and flats – nothing bad. I made sure to take a sip of Nuun water every ten minutes or so. The sky was still grey, but it was super humid and getting hotter. I was taking it relatively easy, knowing there were big hills to come. (Maybe a little too easy, in retrospect, but more on that later.)
Mile 10 had a solid downhill and was enjoying it thoroughly when it hit me – I was going to have to ride up it on the way back! I recalled looking at elevation charts and guessed this was the mile 32 hill. I enjoyed the slope while I could and found myself on a long flat along Route 117 North. The ride was relatively calm. I passed some people and some passed me. I ended up neck and neck with teammate Mike and we kept switching leader positions, much like we did on many of our training rides. However, on the ride back along 117, he overtook me and took off. I let it slide, though I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so tired and he seemed so energized. Normally, we ride around the same level. Alas, I let him go and focused on me – there was still another 30 miles to go!
Then I got there – mile 32. That giant hill unfolded before me and I looked at my watch. A little early for a Bonk Breaker, my cycling calories of choice, but didn’t want to risk the uphill nearing empty. I chowed down and hit the hill. It was tough, though not any tough than the hills I dealt with on my training rides. Oddly, it felt tougher than it should have and I was grateful for the aid station at the top. I stopped to use the bathroom, then quickly continued on my way. I knew I had a relatively simple ride back to town and the Mont Tremblant Village.
The spectators were great and the French accented “Go go go’s” were deafening. I made it to the outer part of the village where a large spectator bridge was set up – and Emily was at the base! She got a few photos and cheered like a nut, and I couldn’t have felt more energized. Perfect, considering I was about to start the second out-and-back, the area with the toughest hills which the course map said averaged a 12% grade on the way out.
My energy level was low, but I just assumed it was calories so I began eating my second bonk bar as I headed up toward mile 46. The hills were tough, but as I’d read, they were rollers. Lots of quick, steep climbs followed by flats or slight downhills. I stood for a few climbs and took advantage of the rests in between. I found my teammate, John, on the hills and we rode together for a bit, certainly helping me stay focused. I passed him as we neared the top of the climb, though he caught me on the way down.
And the way down was AWESOME. Getting to the top of the course was well-worth the downhills. The descent was rolling, but fast. I took advantage to give my legs some rest for the upcoming run and still managed to hit 40mph without trying! A small uphill snuck its way into the overall descent, but for the most part, the final 5 or 6 miles were fantastic. I cruised into the transition area, glad to be done. One more leg – but man, was I feeling tired.
BIKE TIME – 3:41:39. I should have been done about 30 minutes faster, despite the hills. I knew I had given the ride my best, but began realizing today’s best wasn’t my usual – something was wrong.
Bike in was very close to my transition area, so I didn’t have time to think about why I was feeling so tired. I racked my bike and swapped shoes. I made a quick call to wear a headband instead of a visor as it was still really grey out and headed to run out which was on the opposite side of transition. My legs felt heavy, but hey, that’s why they call a bike-to-run workout a BRick. Emily caught a few glamour shots of me in transition and then I was off.
Running is my sport, so I expected this to be easy. I was feeling more tired than anticipated, but hey, I was already going for a solid 4.5 hours. The first 2.5 miles included a few solid uphills – those didn’t help. I managed to keep a decent pace, but could easily tell that my energy levels were not up to par. Most BRicks during training didn’t involve running hills, but I generally had significantly more oomph.
I took a Honey Stinger gel at around mile 1 and waited for the energy to kick in. I felt a little burst, but not what I needed, so I began to think. And it hit me. – I was dehydrated. I’d been drinking Nuun throughout the bike and run and supplemented it with SaltSticks, but certainly not enough. I knew I had to adjust.
The middle eight miles were flat and ran along the Parc Linéaire, a dirt path along a decommissioned railway. While it should be easier, you do expend a little extra energy on dirt since you don’t get the same bounce in your step. But hey, better than hills. I did my best to rehydrate and continue running without stopping, but by the 10k mark, I needed a breather. Once you dehydrate, you can balance yourself out a bit, but you don’t get back that full swagger. I didn’t let it get to me – I knew I’d keep pushing and run as much as I could. And because the path was an out and back, I got to see a lot of my teammates several times. I can’t express how much I love them and they motivate me – and was happy to give them so motivational love along the way too.
The final miles were back on the streets, back through the town where the run began. I was struggling, but pushed myself forward. I drank lots of water and sucked the juice from a few orange slices. At the final aid station, I took advantage of what I think of as the Ironman nuclear option – I drank flat-Coke from an aid station. I knew there would be a few hills to climb before the finisher’s chute.
As I crested the hills, Coach Megan was there yelling her head off. She asked if I was okay – I’m sure she was well-aware that I was behind where I should have been. Damn (lack of) hydration. She gave me a few inspirational words that really helped get me through the next bit till the finisher’s chute.
And just like that, I was on my home to the finish. Fences appeared around me and I found myself on a beautiful downhill as I entered the village. I felt DEAD. The Coke was wearing off and I was crashing, but I knew I just had a couple hundred meters to go. And there was Emily, right by our hotel (what a tease, I just wanted to lie down!), screaming like a maniac! Just what I needed.
I busted down the chute with my eyes on the finish line. I raised my arms in triumph and crossed with a smile on face – hey, I needed a good profile pic, right?
RUN TIME – 2:15:37 || FINISH TIME – 6:50:3
I received my medal and Ironman 70.3 finisher hat (the best finisher gift ever) and went to find Emily. She was already there – she had run on the sidelines with me and we took a victory photo. We found a bunch of my teammates and after lots of hugs and food, we grabbed my stuff from transition, checked my bike to have it transported back home, and went back to the hotel (where I had some congratulatory beer, scotch and cookies waiting for me – thanks Ali and Carolyn!).
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY.
When I was heading down that finisher chute, all I could think about was how I was never doing that again, no less a full Ironman. But even then, I knew I was lying. Within hours, I was already thinking about my next race.
I loved the distance and feel confident that with the right training, an Ironman is attainable. It won’t be easy, but I know it’s a dream that can be reality. A few takeaways:
The swim was the swim I needed. I am finally over the hump in terms of anxiety and open water swimming. I know that not every swim will be as pleasant, but the fear is gone. Now to work on breathing to my other side so I meander less…
I need to continue to practice cycling long. I need to continue building strength and endurance and learn to read my body’s signals when I ride as well as I can when I run. And I need to get more comfortable riding for longer periods of time in aero.
And the biggest takeaway – I need to work on my nutrition. I feel really good about my calorie intake, but need to understand my electrolyte output and intake better. And with that comes various options of nutrition. I have to spend some time looking at more alternatives for the bike and see what works. Any advice / thoughts are appreciated!
As for the race – the course was amazing. It was challenging, as expected, but definitely doable with solid training. The route was fun and scenic and the support along the way was amazing. I’ve never seen a marathon so well-put together, no less a triathlon. And a marathon involves WAY less. In fact, the entire town was amazing. They truly rallied behind the race and made all the athletes feel genuinely welcome. If you are considering this race, I would say do it!
Thank all of you for your support as I took on 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of cycling, and 13.1 miles of running. It was hot and humid and tough as hell, but it’s nothing compared to the battle faced everyday by cancer patients everywhere.
Together, you and I raised $4,000 through this race for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and my Ironteam teammates and I raised over a combined $150,000! We have made an impact – this drug, funded by LLS, is proof.
If you’d like to make a donation, it’s not too late – I’m continuing my efforts through the NYC Marathon season. Just visit www.bensTNTpage.org. Thanks!