Weeks leading up to my first Ironman was filled with a combination of excitement mixed with nerves and fear. Training leading up to race day didn’t go as planned. I had to rev up my training like I was cramming for a big exam, just praying it would all come together on race day. In the last week of training, the excitement faded and I became extremely nervous that I wasn’t prepared enough to finish.
On the Thursday before the race, I left with my wife, Julie, our girls Emilia and Michela, and my mother-in-law, Susanna. We decided to travel about halfway to the race (approx. 4 hours) and the remaining distance on Friday morning in order to make it to race check-in on time. We rented a townhouse about 10km south of the Mont Tremblant ski resort. We purposely choose this location because it was directly on the bike course; a great spot where the family could watch the race.
We dropped my bike off at the house and proceeded to the race venue. It was my first time in Mont Tremblant and the scenery and town was gorgeous. I was excited to race in such an amazing location. Prior to this race, I had only completed in two other small triathlons. The scale of this event was like nothing I’ve been to before. The venue was quite large yet well organized. There was a live band on an outdoor stage, a huge Ironman expo and many triathlon vendors. Dinner was provided for all the athletes on Friday, and a mandatory meeting following the meal. Up until this point, I was continually making mental notes of all the things I still needed to prep when I got back to the condo: planning my drop bags, getting my bike ready, and other race gear set up. I tried to enjoy the dinner and entertainment, but the upcoming open water swim and very long bike ride occupied my mind.
Saturday was a stressful day. With less than 24 hrs before the race, I was worried something was going to go wrong before I even started. I’m sure my family wasn’t enjoying me being around me at this point and couldn’t wait for me to start the race. I dropped my bike off at my designated bike rack and made sure my specialty drop bags were in the proper place. The Mont Tremblant Ironman volunteers were exceptional. The few questions I had were quickly answered and my race prep at this point was almost done. I decided to walk around and just enjoy the moment. It was the first time I felt I could somewhat relax all week.
Sunday: Race Day
As the age group athletes started their race, I worked my way out of the water and stood with the other athletes who would be swimming at roughly the same speed/time as me. I spoke with fellow athletes to calm my nerves and looked for Julie in the crowd. I found her near the start line. It was great to see her smile before I started the swim; at that point I knew everything was going to be okay. Ideally, every few seconds 5-6 racers were supposed to start the swim. However, there were so many athletes that it was taking longer than expected to get into the water. By the time it was my turn the race coordinators basically said “Ok everyone, just get in the water!”. This meant that athletes were piling in all at once and we were packed in a little tighter than I would have liked.
Since I didn’t do any open water swims this year and I didn’t’ warm up, the start of my swim sucked. I can’t accurately express how bad it was. I was panicking very early into the swim, I swam on my back for a section and my googles started taking in water. It was not going well at all. I called a volunteer over so I could hold onto a kayak to fix my googles. I knew the swim would get better I just had to push on. At 500 meters, I was starting to get some sort of rhythm, but it was at the 1 – 1.5 km mark when I finally started swimming with a proper stroke and speed. It was at this point that I started passing athletes that had previously passed me. I felt comfortable and know in the future, a warm up swim will definitely be needed.
As I exited the water the volunteers helped pull off my wetsuit (THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS!) I made my way to the transition. This is when I had a huge surprise; Julie had stuck around to watch me safely make it out of the water and onto the next portion of the race. Julie had put up with a lot over the last few months, so this was her race as much as it was mine. I’m glad she’s in my corner and it gave me a huge boost before heading out onto the bike, which would be the hardest and longest portion of the race.
With my wetsuit off and my bike shoes on, I was ready to take on the 180km bike ride through Mont Tremblant’s forests and low lying mountains. The bike course is two 90km loops with the hardest part being a 10 km section within the last 20 km of the loop. This would be my longest bike ride ever. It wasn’t going to be easy, especially because it was on such a challenging course. I knew that if I broke it down into sections, it would make the ride a little easier. So my goal was to concentrate on just getting to the next aid station. The aid stations were roughly 15-21 km apart, which would take me about 30-45 minutes to ride. My first lap went well and I was only 15 minutes behind my pace goal. I felt strong in the 1st 30km of the 2nd lap, but then the heat and my fatigue slowed me down to a much slower pace. There were a lot of huge rolling hills that slowed my momentum for the next 30km. I recovered and finished strong near the end. Six hours and 45 minutes for my 1st 180km bike ride. Not bad, and only 45 minutes behind my goal pace. I felt really good at this point until I went to dismount my bike, where I almost fell over. It took a few steps to recover before I could start moving at a jogging pace. I was relieved that I only had the running portion remaining of the race.
As I approached the transition tent, I unexpectedly saw Julie again and it gave me a much needed boost before heading out on the run. Her support was great throughout the race! She definitely kept me motivated. The run portion of the race was a full marathon (42.2km). It’s split between a closed road section and a paved bike path through a wooded area. I knew that the first few kilometers were going to be at a slower pace and the plan was to pick up my pace and finish strong. This is not what happened. I enjoyed the first half of the marathon, but my stomach pain was getting worse as time went on. I tried my best to power through the stomach issues, but ingesting mainly a liquid diet during the race had created really bad stomach cramps. I knew I had a lot of time remaining and I made the decision to walk the rest of the race. This is not how I wanted to finish my 1st Ironman, but I was still happy to have a successful completion. I finished in 14 hours and 47 minutes, a couple hours past my race goal.
Overall I would say that I loved the entire event and can’t wait to race at Mont Tremblant again. The venue was amazing, the volunteers were great and the support from the city and fans helped to create an enjoyable athlete experience.
In a short period of time (March 2018 – Aug 2019) I went from not knowing how to swim properly (I couldn’t go longer than 25m (1 length of the pool) and never biked more than 20km on a mountain bike, to now finishing an Ironman. I had plenty of support from family and friends and can’t thank them enough for helping me get to that Ironman finish line. 2020 is going to be another big year of training and racing.
I look forward to seeing everyone in the pools, lakes, roads or trails!