Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Mont Tremblant Ironman Review

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

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. and didn’t sleep well. My wife Julie accompanied me to the airport parking lot where a shuttle took us to the race. We arrived just before 5am and I double-checked my bike was in order and my tires were pumped. I headed to get my race number and age marked up on my arm. A quick stop at Starbucks in the village to keep Julie awake and we were off to the beach. The nerves I had before started to intensify the closer we got to the beach. The swim took place at Mont Tremblant Lake, and is structured as an out and back loop (13 buoys out, 4 across and 13 back). However, looking out at the water, you couldn’t see past the first 4-5 buoys due to the fog. How far was I swimming? Lol! The number of athletes competing was overwhelming. I was too nervous to get in a warmup because I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. Instead I treaded water a little bit and watched the pros start.

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! 

Monday, October 22, 2018

2018 Guelph Lake I Review

With less then 24 hrs before my 1st sprint triathlon my nerves began to kick in. My sister and dad arrived at my house the night before. My sister Stacey would be joining me in the race, while Julie, our girls and my dad would be cheering us on from the sidelines.

We decided to arrive at the race early to get settled and prep ourselves before the start. As we parked our cars, we realized we weren’t the only competitors with the same idea.  This wasn’t like the ultramarathons I’ve been used to running over the last 10 years.  This race would have more competitors than any other ultra-race I’d competed in. We brought our bikes and gear to the transition area and went to check-in. Guelph Lake Triathlon was well organized. As a first timer, it was easy to navigate: Look up your race number on a board, pick up your race bib and swag, get your arms and legs marked up with age and race number and then head back to the transition area to do some final prep work and warm up.

Stacey and I were on opposite ends of the transition area, so it took a bit of time to find each other before heading down to the water. The transition area was on top of a hill, over looking the water, which had the swim course marked with buoys. Walking down the hill we could see swimmers warming up by completing the actual whole swim course (750m). As a non-swimmer, I was quite amazed that these racers were going that far in the water before the race. With our wetsuits, swim cap and goggles on, we had a little time to have a swim warmup ourselves.

I was in the 2nd wave of swimmers and Stacey was in the 4th wave. This helps to spread out the competitors. Once my wave began, I took in some water at 25-50 meters and couldn’t really regain composure. Then halfway through the swim, my goggles fogged up. So I stopped mid swim, took them off to wipe them clean and then put them back on. Not an easy task for me and something I definitely need to practice, just in case it happens again. I swam the majority of the swim on my back, which I was not proud of. But I did make it out of the water and up the hill to transition. Out of the water, I had a strong feeling of relief, I survived the swim. Off to the next discipline!

At my bike, I noticed I was the last to make it out of the transition area out of the guys that were using the same bike rack. I quickly got out of my wetsuit and put my bike shoes on. Once on the bike (outside of the transition area) I knew things would only start to go better as the race went on. It would be a 20km bike ride, on an out and back course. The 1st 5km of road was extremely bumpy, but overall an easy bike ride. I felt confident on the bike and passed a lot of riders. I went hard, but kept a little left in the tank for the run.

After making it through the 2nd transition quickly, I started to get into a rhythm. Running is by far my best discipline in a triathlon. I picked a quick steady pace and just ran. It was a 5km run, so I knew it would be fast. There were a few small hills, but nothing that wasn’t runnable. Checking my GPS watch halfway through the run, I could see that I was going to have a fast run and I just needed to enjoy the rest of the race.  The last 100 meters of the run was all downhill, which makes for a nice easy finish. 1:36:19 for my 1st sprint triathlon. Not bad, but lots of room for improvement.

Overall the 2018 Guelph Lake Sprint Triathlon was a lot of fun. It was well organized, the weather was amazing and volunteers were great. I can’t wait to compete there again next year! 
I want to Thank my wife, Julie and my girls, Emilia and Michela for helping me train for my 1st sprint triathlon. You made training enjoyable!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Let The Training Begin!

I heard a line in a movie recently that stuck with me, “If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are now”.  This leads into my swimming ability - I definitely feel comfortable riding a bike and running has always been a big part of my life. However, until recently I was only a leisure swimmer, and not a good one (to put this in perspective, 25 meters was a challenge). That didn’t discourage me though, if there was ever a time in my life to learn how to swim properly, it was now.

I needed a plan to transition from an endurance runner to an endurance triathlete. With some research on the web, devouring triathlon books, and talking with a few triathletes, my goal for 2018 was to complete a sprint triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) in the early summer and then an Olympic distance triathlon (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run) in late summer.

I was very fortunate to be given a hand-me-down road bike from my good buddy Alan. It was more than I needed to get going. I started off biking in my basement with a bike trainer. I had a perfect set up, with the bike in front of a TV. It kept me occupied while I put in the hours. Training started off slow. The first few weeks I didn’t bike longer then 45 minutes working my way up a little further then the first race distance.

At this time, I continued my running 5 to 10 Kilometers a couple of times a week. Early on in training, no matter how fast or hard my run was, it was by far the most enjoyable workout. Biking was harder, I had to acclimatize to sitting in 1 position for an extended period of time and……… swimming sucked!

I started my pool swimming in March, 15 weeks before the race. The first swim was 125m long, with a break after every 25m. The rest breaks didn’t last seconds, they lasted minutes. I didn’t even track time, because I knew this was going to be a struggle. I was so tired by the end, I got out of the pool and left. That was all I did for my first swim. The second swim didn’t look pretty, but I made it 500m. It took a long time! I knew something needed to change in order to get better at swimming. I obviously didn’t grow up taking swimming lessons and needed to fill in the knowledge and technique gaps. I began researching proper swim techniques and watching youtube videos. That’s when I realized that proper swimming technique included exhaling into the water. It was a game changer. Exhaling into the water felt awkward at first, but the more laps I put in, the easier it got.

For the 12 weeks leading up to the sprint triathlon in June, I followed a training program I found online.

I’m sorry these blog posts aren’t in real time yet. I started posting late and am trying to catch up before my next race. I want to give a race review for the sprint triathlon that I completed, so stay tuned! Once I catch up, I will try blogging at least once a week.

*In case you’re wondering, the quote from the beginning of the blog is from Master Shifu…..Kung Fu Panda 3 (I watched it with my girls!)

Friday, August 24, 2018

From ultra running, to ultra triathlons!

It’s been awhile since I’ve last blogged, more then 5 years to be exact. A lot has changed since then. Julie (my wife) and I had beautiful twin girls, my career had changed to a fulltime firefighter and we moved to a new city.  At times, it seemed like every day presented a new challenge. The endless hugs, snuggles and giggles made it worth it. We were not prepared, and are still adjusting to the endless amount of energy these girls have. They are constantly moving, exploring and imagining. Who knows, they may take after their old man and complete in endurance sports.

The end of 2017 was a turning point. Just before they turned 3 they started sleeping through most of the night, and Julie and I were able to start getting regular amounts of sleep ourselves. This allowed me to refocus on training. At the time, I was already running 5-10 Km 1-2 x/week. In October 2017 I started some interval training to increase my lactic threshold. Again, nothing crazy only a couple of short hard runs and a couple of short easy runs a week. My goal was to start longer runs in December to prepare for a few 100mile races I had in mind for 2018.

I went to sign up for Cruel Jewel 100mile race in December and the race was sold out. I was disappointed at the time, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. A few days later a replay of the 2017 Ironman World Championship was on TV and I watched the whole broadcast (an edited version of the entire race). An Ironman consists of 3.8 Km swim, 180 Km bike ride and a 42 Km run. As a kid I watched the World Ironman Championship on TV a few times and always imagined competing in this race. I was hooked! It was also then that I remember reading a book a few years back on Rich Roll, called Finding Ultra. Rich was a guy who went from being an out of shape 40-year-old to completing a race called Ultraman. A 3-day multisport race consisting of Day 1: 10km swim and a 145km Bike ride, Day 2: 276km Bike ride, Day 3: 84km run.

In a matter of a week, I went from hoping to run two different 100mile races, to focusing on triathlons for 2018. The goal now was to train and compete in shorter races and work my way up to longer distances, so that eventually I can complete both the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, along with Ultraman World Championship, which also takes place in Hawaii. Two very extremely hard races to get into, as well as complete, but there’s nothing like a good challenge!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Big Race

I know this race report is long overdue, but I have taken my time to reflect on my thoughts and experiences during this amazing adventure. So here you go!:
The closer the race got, the more nervous I became. I know I trained hard and was prepared, but this was not going to be easy!
The 2013 Badwater Ultramarathon started on Monday July 15th. I flew into Las Vegas on the Friday before the race to organize race supplies and meet up with my entire crew. Slowly they all arrived: My brother Jody from Edmonton, Alberta, my sister Stacey from Wasaga Beach, Ontario, my good running friend Tom, from Toronto, Ontario,  Katyna from Mexico and Gerardo from Argentina. Luckily for Joaquin, he lives in Las Vegas, so he didn’t have to travel too far.

The Saturday before the race we all met up at the Royal Resort Hotel, just off the strip, to talk about race strategy and to plan logistics for race day. Everyone was in good spirits and extremely helpful in organizing food, race strategies, travel and pacing for the upcoming two days of the race.

Sunday came quick and the drive to the pre-race meeting in Furnace Creek, didn’t seem to take too long. As we stepped out of the SUV, I remembered what it felt like to be in Death Valley the year before. The heat was intense and the winds were strong. For the first-time crew members, this must have been the moment when they realised what they just signed up for! This year the race director, Chris Kostman, decided to have one race meeting with the entire group of runners and crews, outside on the grass of the Furnace Creek Inn. Chris and his race organizers went over vital information to ensure all the runners and crews were safe on the course. Fortunately for me, I was able to sit in the shade, but because of the lack of shade in the area, my crew had to deal with standing/sitting in the hot desert sun for an hour.

After the meeting we decided to head to the Corkscrew Saloon for dinner and then head back to the Long Street Inn (a 45 minute drive from the start line). Along the way we were able to stop a few times to take group pictures of the crew and of the beautiful scenery. When we arrived at the hotel my crew organized all the food, drinks and medical supplies, while I rested. From here on out it was nothing but thinking about the race.

Since this race takes place on an open highway, there are 3 start times to split the runners and crews up so that it’s less congested along the route and everyone stays safe. I was fortunate to be in the 2nd group of runners starting at 8am, which meant I had a little more time to sleep. I arrived at the Badwater Basin (288ft below sea level), just after 5:30am. This gave me enough time to check-in, get weighed, make any last final adjustments and take some group photos. Stepping up to the start line I was very nervous and you can see it on my face in the pictures that were taken. At that time I thought about all the training I did over the past 5 years to get to this point. I knew I was prepared for this race. Now all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other for 217 km, in temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius and traverse 2 mountain ranges and finish at the Mt Whitney Portal at 8371ft above sea level.

The race began and everyone took off, I wasn’t nervous anymore; I was excited! I had been dreaming about running this race for 5 years, and now it was a reality. The start of any race is hard, because the adrenaline is pumping and you can go out too fast. I needed to make sure I ran at my own race pace and not someone else’s. For the first 28km my crew can help me out by handing me food/drinks on the side of the road, but I’m not allowed a pacer. I enjoy running by myself and this gave me an opportunity to take it all in: the scenery, the heat and the long journey it took to make it to this point. The first 28km are long, winding, rolling hills, nothing compared to the three mountains that I will need to climb later on in the race. By the time I made it to the first checkpoint I was already getting dehydrated, but still felt great.

I took a 10 minute break there to sit in the shade and have something to eat. The next section of the race, from Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells was going to be difficult. It was the middle to the day, I was told the air temperature was 53 degrees Celsius and the road temperature was about 75 degrees Celsius. At this point in the race I was able to have a pacer with me. So Gerardo, Joaquin, Stacey and Tom all took a turn running with me and enjoying their experience at an amazing place. For most of this section I was able to keep my run/walk interval that I trained with, but I was taking a break every hour or two, which slowed my overall pace down. By the time I reached the sand dunes, just outside of Stovepipe, I was doing more walking then running because I was just too hot. Finally I reached the second checkpoint, which is when I decided to take a break in the medical room which was air conditioned. I needed my body to cool down. As I sat down the medical staff wanted me to weigh in. I had lost 7lbs in 70 Km (11hrs and 15 min). After cooling down for about 45 minutes and gaining most of the weight back, I decided I was time to keep moving forward.

This next section consisted of going 27km all uphill (5000ft elevation gain), followed by a steep downhill for 15km (3300ft elevation loss). Now that the sun was down, hiking up this mountain at night wasn’t going to be so bad; at least that’s what I thought. The wind was relentless. For the next 7.5 hours I was hiking uphill, with the wind so hot and strong that it felt like I was walking with a blow dryer in my face…turned on high.  I was going at a good pace, but I paid for it. Everything I ate/drank at the last checkpoint to gain weight came back up, and I mean everything. The good thing though was I started to feel much better. My brother Jody hiked most of this section with me. Followed by Stacey and Tom running the downhill with me (at too fast of a pace). By the time I reached the bottom, Panamint Lake Bed, the sun was starting to come up and I felt a lot better then I did a few hours past… well at least mentally!

My sister Stacey started the next climb with me up to Father Crowley’s Point . This section was 25km long with a 2500 elevation gain. It was early morning, and the scenery was incredible. You could look back at part of the course and see exactly where you were a couple hours back. I enjoyed walking this part of the course in 2012 with Gerardo Re at night, but it was even better while the sun was up this year. I struggled to get to Darwin’s point, but with the help of Katyna, Gerardo and Joaquin I was able to make it there with plenty of time to complete the remaining 45 miles. As I was going down the mountain after Darwin, Joaquin and I had an amazing spectacle. About 200 ft above our heads a fighter jet flew by and as it approached us the pilot turned the jet on its side and then took off in a different direction. Within seconds a second fighter jet pulled off the same manoeuvre.  It was something right out of a movie and pretty cool to see.

With 35 miles left, I was down to a walk. I don’t know if it was the running down the mountains, the elevation, the heat, or the distance I had covered, but I could no longer run. There were a few times at night I tired to run, but didn’t get very far and resorted back to a walking pace. I felt at the time, it was best not to push myself.  With about 10 hours left, I knew that I had to continually keep walking, without stopping to a break, for fear that I wouldn’t make it to the finish. The sun was down, the traffic was gone, it was just me and my crew on this one long road to Lone Pine, until we heard a few coyotes. Jody, Tom and Stacey tirelessly walked with me throughout the night; keeping me awake and moving forward.

I wanted to give myself five hours from Lone Pine to make it to the Mount Whitney Portal (finish), 17 km away. And that’s exactly what happened at 3am. I arrived and took that final turn to start my climb up what would be the toughest finish of any race. I started at a good hike. Each crew member took turns hiking with me up the final mountain. As the sun rose, so did everyone’s excitement because we knew I was within reach of the finish line. The higher we climbed the more pictures my crew took and the better the scenery became. But at the same time, the mountain became steeper and harder with each passing step (at least that’s the way it felt going on 47 hours of moving forward). I was still concerned abut not making it to the finish in time; it was all I could think about.   At this point I had only slept for about 10-20 minutes here and there, in the past 50 hours. I was practically moving on whatever reserves I had left.

With an hour to go, I had just over a mile left and that’s when I was confident that I would complete this truly amazing race. Most of my crew walked the remaining mile with me. We shared smiles, laughter and thoughts on what we would all do first after getting off Mt Whitney. As I arrived near the finish line, Katyna passed me a Canadian flag for the final push. As I crossed the finish line I had a tear in my eye. It was a journey that I will always remember and couldn’t have been more grateful for the people I shared it with. At that point I think I was too exhausted to even take it all in.

Chris Kostman presented me with a finisher’s T-shirt, a medal and of course the ultimate Badwater Ultramarathon Belt Buckle. With hugs all around and a few pictures with my crew, it was time to get off this mountain and finally take a shower and get some rest. 

I was so honoured for being chosen to take part in this amazing race, and now I’m a finisher. While my time was far from my goal, I was still able to complete this dream of finishing the toughest footrace in the world. I couldn’t have completed this race without my crew, who put in a lot of time and effort planning and getting organized as well as getting minimal sleep during the course of the race. I can’t thank them enough for going out of their way to help me complete my goal. 

I also want to thank my wife for supporting me in my crazy dreams. There were many mornings where I wasn’t home, because I was out training or racing.  You're who I want in my corner when things don’t go smoothly; to point out the beauty in even what seems like the worst days. Julie, I am forever thankful for your love and encouragement, and your gentle reminder that I have the power to change how any story will end.

Prior to the race, I would like to thank Stacey, Tom and my favourite American, Alan Murphy, for training with me whenever they had the chance.

Lastly, I would like to thank everyone who sent emails, facebook posts and well wishes along the way. It is an amazing feeling to look back on this blog and relive the excitement and love from family and friends. I look forward to my next journey and sharing my running experiences with you.

Happy Running!