I was heading to Ironman Mont-Tremblant 70.3 with the objective of breaking my personal best time on the half-Ironman distance. When the weather turned Mont-Tremblant into a convection oven, my plan was in the trash. I didn’t do my best time that Sunday but I raced my best half-Ironman so far.
This year, my off-season training went very well. Since I managed to stay injury free, I was able to build up good running volume. I alternated between running outside for the long run and on the treadmill for interval work. On top of that, I did quite a bit of snowshoe running ; I do believe it really helped my running form and strength. Montreal winter being what it is, bike training was done indoor from November to April. But the big difference for me this year is that I finally got a power meter, so training was a lot more precise and effective. On the swim side, most of the winter was spent working on my position in the water and trying to keep up with faster swimmers that are not even half my age. I even incorporated specific strength training, big thanks to Antoine at O’Gym who helped me reconcile with the “going at the gym” thing !!
While none-triathlete folks spent the national holiday attending outdoor shows and drinking beers ! I spent it packing up, dropping my dog at the sitter and driving up with my family to Mont-Tremblant. After checking-in at the hotel and unloading the car, we went down to meet friends at the ironman village. Everybody was talking about the weather forecast : “Weather man said 32C for race day, have you heard ? yeah it will be hot out there…”
Until then, I had a detailed race plan to execute. With all the training and the analysed data, I knew I could do 4h45min… But not in 30C + heat. When the weather turns very hot, the run speeds drop because you have to manage your body temperature and nutrition with a lot more attention. On top of just running slower because your body does not perform as well in high heat, you have to grab extra ice and water at every aid station and that slows you down even more.
On race day, when I got out of the hotel at 6AM, it was already hot. I headed down to body marking and then into transition to setup my gear. I then meet up with my bike mechanic who was also acting as my personal sherpa and we proceeded on the long walk to the swim start. The only positive side of the heatwave is that the water temperature was just shy of 18C. It was going to be a nice swim. As usual, I lined up on the inside of the first row, pretending that I am a fast swimmer. The gun went off and we hit the water. I swam hard to the first buoy to avoid the chaos has much as possible and then set into my race pace. I started catching up to the slowest swimmers of the previous waves way before the first turn buoy. I was swimming strong and passing swimmers left and right without slowing down too much. When I could finally see the bottom of the lake, I knew I only had about 400M to go. I started kicking harder and visualizing the long barefoot run into the first transition (T1). I was out of the water right on target in 31min10sec.
On the run to T1, I high fived my wife, daughter and a couple of friends who were cheering their lungs out for me ! It wasn’t my fastest transition from swim to bike because the transition area is so big with so many bikes, even if I did practice entering and exiting the day before I had a hard time finding my bike. Once I finally got on the bike, the plan was simple : go medium-easy for the first 15km and then settle into my race.The first 30km went by pretty fast, I was passing loads of peoples. So much in fact that I started to wonder if I wasn’t pushing too hard. After the turn around on highway 117, the weather started to play a role in the race. I could really start to feel the heat and a noticeable head wind was blowing on the way back to St-Jovite. But, I kept the pace and was still passing people. At the 2nd turnaround in St-Jovite, the crowd was cheering loud and it gave me extra motivation for the final section. I only had the rollings hills of montée Ryan followed by the up and down of Duplessis left to pedal. When I got to Duplessis, it was really really hot. I grabbed a water bottle from the aid station and poured it over my head and back to cool me down as I started to climb the 200M in elevation over 10km. On the way down, I was lucky enough to have very little traffic so I pushed hard on the final downhill and stopped the clock with a bike spit of 2h34min. I was still on target with my race plan, but I knew it was about to change.
It was almost noon when I came in the transition area for the last time. The sun was at it’s highest, it was beyond hot and not a single shadow to hide in. As I racked my bike and put on my running shoes, Lionel Sanders was finishing, winning with a big margin I should say. I thought to myself that this half-marathon will be a difficult one. I took an extra 20sec to put on some sunscreen and went for it. The first hills of this course are pretty steep when stepping of the bike, I took them with an easy pace thinking I would make up time on the way down to the old village. But unfortunately, it was just too hot for me to push anything close to a fast pace, I tried several time to speed up with every trick I have but the “alarm lights” came on every time. The heat was dictating my pace, all I could do is pack my suit with ice and pour water over me at every aid stations. This strategy kept me cool enough to manage to get to the finish line in a slow but steady pace. I finally stopped the clock with a run split of 1h44min, my second slowest half-marathon time ever.
I learned a few important things during and after this race. First, all the hard work I have put into my swimming is starting to pay off. Second, I really have to speed up my transition, I’m losing way too much time there. Third and most important, my nutrition and hydration strategies are spot on. Darcy from Infinit Nutrition Canada helped me customize my personal formula that I drank on the bike and run, never did I lose energy or felt dehydrated. It may not seems like much but after seeing so many people feeling ill on the course and at the finish line, I think it’s a pretty big deal to have you hydration/nutrition dialed in when the going gets tough in an endurance event.
Although the total time of 4h57min does not reflect the effort that was deployed during this race, the ranking does not lie ; 20th out of 362 finisher (403 registered) in my age group is pretty good for a guy with a full time job and a family.
In the next two months, I will be focusing on training to get back to Mont-Tremblant for the full Ironman distance at the end of August, and the Montreal ITU triathlon world cup.