At the finish line, Mike Reilly the voice of Ironman was at the mic : “Vincent Fortin, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN !”
Growing up, I watched Ironman Hawaii on TV and I remember thinking that those girls and guys were such complete athletes; they swim, bike and run all in the same day !! As I grew older, I started to realize the distances they were doing and how enormous and impossible an Ironman seems to be. When I started doing triathlons, I looked up and admired Ironman finisher. As I got more and more involved in the sport, I started thinking that maybe I could complete one of these Ironman. In August of 2015, I signed up for Ironman Mont-Tremblant, I was registered for a race that, even 2 years ago, I thought was for super humans only.
The weather forecast for race day was far from ideal. Heavy rain and chances of thunderstorms were mentioned at the race meeting the day before. They presented us with 3 scenarios if they had to cancel or shorten the swim. And let’s face it, on your first Ironman, after training for so long and putting all that hard work in the pool, the last thing you want is to have the swim canceled and do 2/3 of an ironman. But luckily enough, on race morning the weather was OK, no fog on the lake so we were going to swim ! After a quick warm-up in the unusually warm Lac Tremblant, I watched the pro start and I lined up with my start wave. The first 1.4km of the swim went fairly smooth, for sure like in any triathlon start you exchange elbows and kicks, but for 400+ grow man hitting the water all at once it was OK. I quickly settled into a comfortable pace and swam my way on the inside of the yellow buoy. When I got to the first turn buoy, I got my first taste of what mother nature had in store for us on that day. We were getting hit and bounce around by big waves in a lake that is usually smooth as glass. I knew , at that moment, that instead of racing the clock I would be racing against the elements. On the long way back to shore, the wave was hitting us straight on, and on every breath, I could see the sky getting darker. But still, after 3.8km, I exited the water on schedule in 1h08min, got my wetsuit peeled off by the volunteers and I was quickly back on my feet and running toward transition #1.
The bike is always the best part for me and I really like riding in Mont-Tremblant. When I started the bike it was still warm and dry… Well, I was still wet from the swim but the road was dry. I felt good and was happy to be on the bike. But 30km into the bike, the weather changed. The wind picked up even more and it started to rain… hard. I kept my focus on my average power, eating and drinking. In Mont-Tremblant, the bike course is two 90km loop, and by the end of the first loop, the heavy rain turned into buckets of water falling out of the sky. Every downhill section became a dangerous challenge. Besides the fact that it was very slippery and creeks were literally coming down the road, the rain was so heavy that I could barely keep my eyes open above 40km/h. That is where I started thinking : it’s my first Ironman, and my number one goal is to finish. So better be safe (meaning slower !) and finish, then crash and DNF.
At the end of the first loop, even if I was biking extra careful at every turn and downhill, I was right on my average power target. The rain was starting to get to me, but I kept myself entertained by singing “yellow submarine” and eating the special treats I had in my back pockets ! As I crossed “the river” separating Montée Ryan from Highway 117, my power meter stopped working. Meaning I had to pace me effort for the last 80km purely on feeling versus relying on a tangible wattage measurement. During an endurance event, especially when it’s windy or if the road is hilly, relying on actual wattage is the best way to pace yourself throughout the bike course. It was now really windy and Mont-Tremblant is not flat !! Going up highway 117 for the second time went fairly well, but after the turn around, I really started to get cold. My bike computer was showing 18C and it was still raining hard with a strong head wind, I was really having a hard time keeping warm. In order to avoid hypothermia I was now going super easy on the downhills and pushing hard on the uphills, that way I was minimizing the wind chill factor going down and generating body heat going up. I stock with this strategy for the last 50km. And while this was a good thermoregulation plan, it also meant that I was spending extra energy by not taking advantage of the free speed in down hills, this was not good for the upcoming marathon.
When I finally got back to transition, I had spent just under 5h40min on the bike. I was so relieved because I was not too much behind my target time considering the weather, but most of all because I had survived 5h on of very sketchy riding. And, all though I could barely feel my toes, I was not in a state of hypothermia. In the changing tent, I dried off my feet with a towel, changed my socks, took some food and exited the tent to start the marathon.
The run course is composed of two 21.1km loops with aid stations offering drinks and food at about every 2km. Heading into this race, I knew my weakness was the run. I was lacking running volume to be comfortable on a marathon. I started the run at an easy and comfortable pace, right after the first aid station I saw my wife, daughter and some of my training partners cheering me from the side of the road. This felt super good, it was the first familiar faces I have seen since the swim exit almost 6 hours earlier ! I made sure to high five everyone and had a little chat with Dominique as she ran beside me for about 100m. For the remaining of the first loop, I was on pace and on target with my nutrition plan. The end of the first loop meant that I was passing by my wife, daughter and training partners again. It gave me extra the motivation to start the second loop.
At the 23rd KM, something was not right. Everything I drank or eat was just “piling up” in my stomach, I was not digesting anything. I was faced with two choices : continue to run and see how far longer I could run without processing any fuel, or walk and try to get my stomach going again. Again, since my first goal was to finish, a walked about 500m ; my heart rate dropped and my stomach was feeling better. I was able to drink some water and start running again. I continue to run and walk at every other aid station, this allowed me to eat and drink better. Around the 26th KM, I was mentally tired; the 5 hours of biking in heavy rain had taken a toll on my moral. To keep my mind occupied, I started putting names on every KM to go. So I ran kilometer 26 for my wife, 27 for my daughter, 28 for Eric (on of my training partner) and that went on until km 39, where I could finally taste the finish line. I had mixed emotions during the last stretch; I was happy to be so close to the finish line, but mostly I was really fed up of being dripping wet. Yes, the rain had continued most of the run too, I just wanted to be done with that race. After more than 11 hours of fighting the weather, I was mentally and physically exhausted. Coming into the village, I pushed hard for the final sprint. Coming down the finish chute, I heard what I signed up for; Mike Reilly calling my name “Vincent Fortin, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN !”
It took me a couple of days to really appreciate what I had accomplished. And I still have mixed feeling about that day. I know for a fact that I could have done a better time in decent weather. And also because I did not get to really enjoy the race. Dealing with the elements (wave, wind, rain, low temperature, etc.) occupied my thoughts throughout the entire day leaving me mentally drained. Still, I am very proud to have finished this event in probably the toughest condition ever seen at Ironman Mont-Tremblant. Someday, I’ll be back to race the clock on that course !
Training for an Ironman is a lot more difficult than the actual race day is. Juggling the schedule between training, work and family is not an easy task. Since registering for Ironman Mont-Tremblant a year ago, I have logged 229km of swimming, rode my bike 7249km and ran 1596 km. A huge thank you to my wife and daughter who were comprehensive and patient enough to let me train for this.