Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Race Report- Ironman Mont-Tremblant

Whoa!  So, there went eight months.  And seven races.

When I started racing as a pro this year, there were a lot of things I wanted to do.  Buy recovery boots. (Fail)  Stop eating cherry sours so often. (Fail) Keep my apartment clean and become a master of time management. (Fail) Blog regularly. (Double fail).  But, we move on. 

Backing up a bit-- I raced my first pro race, the San Juan 70.3 in March.  Then I did five more 70.3s over the next four months - New Orleans, Chattanooga, Victoria, Coeur d'Alene, Budapest.  It was an exhausting whirlwind of travel, learning new lessons, making lots of mistakes, but generally exceeding my own expectations for the season.  Blogging just never happened.  But Ironman Mont Tremblant was just too much of an experience not to share, so I'm wiping the slate clean and starting anew. Maybe I'll go back and review those six 70.3s later, or at least drop some pictures.

It was after race #5, the Coeur d'Alene 70.3, and during one of the only good weeks of training I've had in the past eight months  (racing has gone decently, training not so much),  that I came up with the brilliant idea to throw an Ironman in the mix.  Ironman was never part of the whatever plan I had, the focus for this year was always going to be the 70.3 distance.  I don't really even like the Ironman distance, and I'm not entirely sure what motivated the impulse other than the feeling that as a pro, I should do one Ironman for the year.   But, once the seed was planted, I scanned through the list of pro races and settled on Ironman Mont-Tremblant, six weeks later.  And for good measure, I added on Budapest 70.3 right in the middle of that 6-week time frame because a family race-cation to Hungary was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
This is not Mont-Tremblant, this is Budapest, which was stunning

I wouldn't change anything because the experiences were amazing, but those six weeks of panic training were really not good  Turns out time-zone hopping and trying to train on the road isn't so optimal for building fitness, and I forgot to take this into account when I decided to do Mont-Tremblant. After getting back from Coeur d'Alene, I flitted all around the world, rarely home for much more than a day or two.  I headed to Ohio for my sister's wedding shower, then quickly to Boulder for a coaching conference, then straight to Budapest for an unbelievable (but tiring) week but a pretty average race.  Lots of workouts were missed, some due to circumstances I couldn't control, some due to circumstances I could control but didn't, some due to sheer exhaustion.  My bike always came with me but didn't always make my flights, unnecessarily adding to the stress.

By the time I got back from Budapest, I had about 10 days to really prepare for this Ironman before heading to Canada.  I did the best I could with that short timeline, but all the travel combined with the extreme dose of panic training meant that I arrived in Mont-Tremblant feeling pretty shelled, exhausted, unable to sleep, and very, very unsure of myself and my limited preparation.  Confidence has never been my strength, but I think I reached a low even for me before this race.
Beautiful Mont-Tremblant
After we got settled in Canada, I rested as much as I could and just tried to soak up the atmosphere.  No town loves triathlon the way Mont-Tremblant does, and the energy was palpable.  I was lucky to have my mother along as Super Sherpa and she tolerated my grumpiness, indulged my pre-race meal requirements (well, pizza's not that hard to go along with), and tried to stay as calm as she possibly could be expected to be about the sub-optimal coffee situation we were facing (did you know there's not currently a Starbucks in the Mont-Tremblant pedestrian village?  Did you also know that caffeine addiction is very much a hereditary condition??)  Gradually,  the fog lifted,  my mood improving bit by bit every day and my body starting to feel a little more normal with every hour.  By Saturday, I actually felt something like a full-fledged human being and ironically, the night before the race I had the best night of sleep I'd had in quite some time.

Pre-race pro picture. They treat the pros so well in Mont-Tremblant
We stayed at the Residence Inn right by the finish line and a mere five minute walk from transition (great call),  which meant for the very first time in my life, I arrived at transition before it had even opened.  With bike freakouts addressed quickly, and game-time costume decisions made after learning that for the pros, wetsuits would not be allowed (age groupers were allowed to wear them), I had plenty of time to chat, head back to the hotel for a real bathroom, make the long walk to the swim start, and warm up a bit before getting a serious case of the feels and tears-welling-up thing when a fighter jet did a fly over right after the Canadian national anthem started.
Definitely get a kick out of personalized bike spots
SWIM (1:05:51, 6th Pro)

My game plan for the swim was simple-- don't swim alone.  This is one big difference I've found between the pro and amateur race- the swim starts much faster and, with a smaller number of racers (only 10 female pros in this race) staying with a pack is pretty critical. 

The horn fired, we ran into the water, I promptly slipped, belly flopped and then just started swimming while the women around me executed graceful dolphin dives and pulled ahead (great start).

The first few minutes were frantic and I could tell by the sound of my own gasping that I was swimming WAY too hard for an Ironman, but I desperately wanted to stick with the pack so I carried on, hoping the pace would settle.  And when it finally did, I found myself right with 3 other women.  From then on, all I focused on was following feet, but as the new kid, trying not piss anyone off by following too closely and actually hitting those feet too many times.  And, one other thing I've learned about racing pro this year?  Sometimes if you accidentally hit the feet of the person in front of you, they'll flip over and start backstroking, making you take the lead and do all the work (didn't happen here, thankfully). 

For the next hour and 5 minutes (oof), Amber expertly led our little train through Lac Tremblant (thanks Amber!).   Jessica hung right on Amber's feet, and I followed Jessica, swimming at a pace that felt manageable but required concentration.  Any little lapse in focus and suddenly those feet started pulling away and I had to put in a little surge to catch back up.   The male age groupers, wearing wetsuits when we were not and starting only 3 minutes behind, started passing us early, which was a new experience for me, but by and large, they were respectful and didn't swim over or interfere with our little train, which was very much appreciated.

The water was really choppy, especially at the far end of the lake, and without wetsuits, I knew the swim would be slow, so I didn't even bother looking at the clock as we exited.  Turned out it was really slow-- a 1:05+, my worst Ironman swim ever despite feeling like I'd swum quite well.   I'm actually glad I didn't know my time, because I got on the bike feeling pretty proud of myself for a well-executed first leg that put me in a decent position.

Bike (5:13:21- 3rd Pro)
T-1 was long  and speedy, much, much faster paced than any transition I'd ever done as an amateur, but I didn't want to throw away all the work I'd done to stick with a pack in the swim by letting them leave me behind in transition (been there, done that) so I ran hard, transitioned fast, and was off on the bike right with Jessica, Amber, and Caroline.  

Of those three, I was really quite happy to be starting the bike at the same time as Amber.  We both raced the Chattanooga 70.3 earlier this year and had gone back and forth all day on the bike before she promptly dropped me like a bad habit in the first 200 meters of the run.  Given that, I felt like our cycling abilities matched well, and she's a very seasoned and experienced Ironman racer, so I figured that if I could stay near her on the bike like I'd done in Chattanooga, I'd be doing well.

But then, maybe one mile in, Amber flew by me like a freight train.  I tried to pick up the pace a bit to go with her but she was seriously hauling,  I couldn't do it, and she quickly disappeared up the road as I grew quickly discouraged.  Age group guys started passing regularly, more so than I remembered in other races.   (Thankfully, there were officials on motos everywhere keeping the racing clean and the men were generally very respectful of not interfering with womens' race, a pleasant surprise).  I was pretty sure that despite my power readings being right in line with what I'd planned, I was totally sucking.   I started freaking out that something on my bike was rubbing despite no actual evidence to support this theory.   That freakout lasted for about an hour.

And then, it started raining-- several hours earlier than we'd anticipated (forecasts called for a 100% chance of storms, starting at 11:00 AM or so).  In a way, the rain was a blessing-- it took my mind off of my perceived suckiness and put it more on trying to stay upright and ride safely.  As the rain became more torrential and the winds picked up, I oddly felt better and better on the bike.  At turn-arounds, I deduced that I was in 5th, and maybe not sucking all that bad after all.  It was hard to see my Garmin with the rain pelting down, but it seemed that I wasn't losing much time on the girls ahead (except Mary Beth Ellis, she was in a class of her own) and actually seemed to be chipping away at 3rd and 4th.  I felt strong on the climbs, nutrition was settling well, power and speed were on point, and all was OK in the world.

The last 12 miles is an out-and-back on Chemin Duplessis-- the punchiest and toughest part of the course.  As we turned on to the road, I looked ahead a bit and was surprised to see both Amber and Amanda Stevens right ahead, riding in 3rd in 4th.  I passed both of them and pushed the next few climbs-- ill-advised maybe, but I thought coming off the bike in 3rd would be pretty cool so I went with it.   I kept pressing that section, feeling actually quite good, until the very last hill when I made a rookie mistake in shifting and dropped my chain in the middle of the climb.  I hopped off, swearing under my breath, and then decided that trying to re-start on that hill in the rain wasn't going to work, so I walked  up that hill like a total pro, fully expecting Amanda and Amber to pass me right back in the most embarrassing of situations and being pleasantly surprised when they didn't.  (And, to my athletes who have resisted my suggestion to walk up the new 18% hill at Ironman Wisconsin because it'd be "way too embarrassing"--- I walked up a hill in an Ironman while in 3rd freaking place and survived the shame-- you can too!)

I rolled into transition in 3rd place, really, really pleased with a strong bike in challenging conditions and getting a little kick out of Mike Reilly announcing me in.

Run (3:41:39, 7th Pro)
The run was absolutely the leg of the race that I was the most uncertain about-- my running this year has been sub-par to say the least, both in racing and in training, and I knew coming in I just did not have the preparation to have a strong marathon.  But, I was intent on running as smart as I could and not making any stupid mistakes.

Starting in third, I got myself a bike escort and, nerve-wrackingly, a motorcycle with a camera filming me for the entire first 5K of the run.  This was both incredibly awesome and incredibly not awesome.   Last year, Ironman had live commentary going on all day for this race-- I recall watching the coverage while riding on the trainer.  They didn't have that this year, the filming was for an after-the-fact production, but I didn't know that, and in my mind I was imagining myself as the subject of discussion on the live coverage.  I imagined Lisa Bentley saying things like, "we're not sure who this is, but she doesn't look so good."   I didn't feel horrible running, I actually felt OK, but I wasn't running fast at all, at least not by pro standards, and I knew this.  I even apologized to my lead biker at one point when it seemed like he was having trouble going slow enough to stay upright:  "I'm sorry, I'm just not a very fast runner!"  For that first 5K, I felt like a total imposter, a shuffler who biked herself towards the front of the race, but didn't belong there.  (Yeah, still working on that confidence thing).

Heading out with a camera in the face, soon to be joined by another
After 5K, we got to an out-and-back on a bike path, and I started to settle the mind a bit, responding to cheers and telling myself to enjoy the moment instead of feeling intimidated by it.  At about mile 5, Amber ran by me as I fully expected she would, and as the cameraman turned his attention to her, I breathed a sigh of relief and got friendly with my new 4th place bike escort.

But then, a couple miles later, there was Amber in sight again, and I passed back into 3rd place.  Amber was in a terrible bike crash just a few weeks prior -- I knew she wasn't at her best and I think it's pretty amazing that she raced at all.  However, regardless of circumstances, I felt like I was actually competing in the race, and that gave me a little boost.  I trucked on forward, still not feeling very fast, but executing my plan quite well, weathering the highs and lows, and feeling cautiously optimistic that this was shaping up to be a good day.   The volunteers and other racers were incredibly supportive and having a lead biker netted me a lot of cheers, each and every one of which I appreciated, even if not always capable of responding with much more than a half-wave or smile.

Coming through town at the end of the first loop, I was stoked and shocked to still be in 3rd place, but still not expecting it to last.  I knew Amanda Stevens was right behind me and gaining, and while I felt OK and nothing was wrong, my pace was slipping a bit, so I started in on the Nectar of the Gods (Pepsi)  with a Red Bull every now and then. C'mon caffeine, keep me in this race.

Led through town by the 3rd Place bike

Amanda passed at mile 14 (oh, hi again 4th place biker), but then she slowed, appearing in pain, and I passed her back in the next mile (like Amber, Amanda is twice the runner I am, but she came into the race fresh off a broken foot....that's the thing with pro races, it seems like most everyone out there is dealing with something -- coming off injury, illness, racing tired or racing undertrained.. .it's just the nature of the beast). So in third I remained, somewhat shocked that with a very average run, I'd stayed in this position this long.

Then, things just went downhill.  Nothing went wrong, per se-- I just lost it. My legs hurt but I wasn't cramping, overheating, cold, or injured.  I didn't make any mistakes and kept the calories coming in.  I just got slow.  My heart rate dropped, my pace slowed, my cadence fell.  I puzzled over this after the race (why did I get so slow when I executed so well??)  but the answer is simple-  I just lacked run fitness.  I didn't have the durability to run a fast marathon, I hadn't trained well, there'd been too many skipped runs, no long runs, lagging paces.   I got what I trained for.

Jessica passed just after mile 20, and then Amber passed at mile 24.  I had no response.

The last 6 miles were ugly-- head down, just shuffling slower and slower forward.  I didn't walk a step, I may have been faster if I had!  I was just in slow motion, like a wind-up toy that just wound down.   My now-5th place bike escort was phenomenal, clearly recognizing that I was struggling and doing everything in his power to get me to that finish line.  Seriously, every person should have their own personal cheerleader for the last 2 miles of an Ironman!  He got the volunteers cheering for me, he himself urged me forward every 15 seconds, "hang with me Amanda, you've got this, just keep following my wheel, you're doing great."  He took me all the way to that last downhill turn with one last, "finish strong, enjoy it, you did it!" I waved a weak thank you as we parted, and then let myself fall down that final hill, crossing the line in 5th in a time of 10:06, happy, but so very, very tired.  

Finish-  10:06:50, 5th Pro

I was happy that night and the next day.  To finish 5th in the professional field at an Ironman was not something I would have envisioned at all this year, especially not for an Ironman that I hadn't really trained for.  Standing on that stage the next morning with some legends was pretty awesome.

But, in the days that followed, disappointment seeped in, too.  I feel like this sounds spoiled so it's hard to admit, but I found a million ways to minimize the result (small field, etc. etc) and felt worse and worse about it as time passed.  Mostly, I was very disappointed with my run, which I didn't feel was at all representative of my ability.  I was actually a little embarrassed-  a 3:41 is not a pro-like marathon and won't cut it at this level-- I know this. 

The disappointment was a rooted a bit in anger-- at myself and how I'd trained this summer.  Truth is, I just didn't prepare anywhere near as well as I could for this race, and hadn't really been training well since the spring.  I've made lots of effort to set myself up to go "all-in" with this triathlon venture, but in my day-to-day choices, I haven't gone "all-in" at all.  My execution of my training this summer was just not good-  skipped workouts, shortened workouts, backed-off workouts- these were all the norm.  Nor did I nail all the "extras" -- nutrition, sleep, recovery.  I made a lot of excuses for these shortfallings.  I said I was burnt out, tired from so much racing, a little depressed.  I blamed the weather, I blamed external stresses in my life and really, I cut myself way too much slack instead of just getting the work done.  In the end, it was  that lack of preparation and attention to detail that really showed up in the last 10K of the run, as I slipped from a position firmly on the podium into 5th.

The up-side:  this was kind of a kick in the butt that I've needed for a while.  After seven days of laying around, sleeping a lot, and moping a little,  I had almost an epiphany, finally accepting full responsibility for the outcome and setting in motion a game plan for the next part of my season.   I'm excited to finally have a nice big chunk of time to just train and get fit again and see what I can do if I do if I start acting like the professional I want to be.

Of course, I need to thank all those who who have helped me get through this first phase of Pro racing.  I'm so happy to be sponsored by Coeur Sports this year-- I truly believe not only in this company's products, but their entire vision and approach.  I'm honored to be a part of the team. has supported me for years and I can't thank them enough.  Liz Waterstraat with Multisport Mastery has coached me from the very beginning and really deserves some sort of special award for still putting up with all my nonsense.  Thanks to my friends at Endure It! for getting the bike race-ready, Achieve Ortho for keeping me healthy, and Base Performance for introducing me to an electrolyte product that actually works for me.  And last but not least, thank you to my family, who have been been so incredibly supportive in every way, every step along this way.

And up next (I think)...I'm going to Miami!

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