Well, David, Jason, Brooke and I went down to do Ironman Mont Tremblant this past weekend and it was an unforgettable experience. Wow what a great race. There are so many things to write about but I'll try to keep it as brief as possible.
First, Mont Tremblant is the perfect location for an Ironman. It's small, not very congested, and both the ski village and the surrounding area are gorgeous. The locals and area businesses welcomed the event with open arms and went out of their way to help the athletes and make us feel at home. As for the race itself, it was first rate. The course was beautiful and quite challenging. Little details like the food, the amazing loot bags, and the media and town participation were a notch above my Kentucky experience from last year. Not to diss Kentucky, it was a wonderful race, but the organizers here just seemed to have that extra eye for detail that made this race extra special.
The 3.86km swim was awesome for several reasons. It had the feel of a world championship event. The pro triathletes were signaled to start by a military cannon that shot out a ring of smoke just like the one in Hawaii. The cannon was synchronized with a CF18 fighter jet flyby. Our start, which came ten minutes later, was prompted by another jet flyby. It was a beach start with 2200 people all running for the water at the same time which was quite the sight.
The energy at the swim start was awesome with a media helicopter hovering overhead and U2's It's a Beautiful Dayblaring over the sound system. Brooke was so overwhelmed by nerves that she cried a little. I was quite worried that she was going to have a panic attack in the water and her day would end there and then. As the start drew near I went to the front while she went to the back of the crowd. Soon after that I saw her chatting with the people around her and was a little reassured. When the cannon went off I took the biggest beating I had ever taken in a triathlon swim. I was getting whacked on every part of my body and, at one point, had to stop when the swimmers in front of me came to a crushing halt. It's a scary feeling being in deep water and being so crowded on all sides that you can't even get elbow room. Soon the whole crowd got going again and the swimmer in front of me pushed off by giving me a really good kick in the chest. After a kilometer things spread out a bit and I spent the rest of my swim worried that if Brooke's race was going anything like mine she might either DNF or drown.
I was out in 1:03, a bit slower than my sub hour goal but not bad. After a pee break and transition I was out on my bike feeling good, though still worried about Brooke.
The city of Mont Tremblant spent a lot of money repaving its roads specifically for Ironman which made the ride an enjoyable experience. The course consisted of two out and backs, the first mostly straight and rolling, the second hard and hilly with lots of steep climbs and twists in the road. You do two loops of these two out and backs and pass through Tremblant village five times where you feel like you're in the Tour de France because the roads are closed and thousands of spectators are cheering their heads off from behind the roadside barriers. It's deafening and pumps you up like nothing else. The first 60k went rather quickly. At the first turnaround I saw Jason close behind me (He was less than 5 minutes behind me out of the swim, amazing considering that I used to put more than that into him at 1.5km swims last year) and later Brooke (Sigh of relief; she hadn't drowned. She actually swam a 1:31 3.8k, a really good pace). My Garmin said I was averaging about 36.5km/h and I was dreaming of a five hour bike ride. Then the puking started. I had been stuffing myself with food and my stomach decided to seize up 60k into the 180k ride. Porta Potties are great. The toilet gives you the ability to relieve yourself while the urinal at the side doubles as a handy puke basin. Anyways, after a short stop I was on my way again, though not as fast as before. The rest of the ride was a balancing act between eating just enough to keep going and not enough to cause the stomach to tie into knots completely. To make a long story short, I had one more Porta Potty break on the bike where I again made use of both the toilet and the urinal simultaneously, and saw Brooke one more time. She looked happy and was riding strong somewhere in the middle of the field which made me feel better. I ended up with an average of a little over 33km/h which wasn't bad considering the difficulty of the course and my stomach woes, but I knew that stomach problems do not generally sort themselves out on the run, so I was worried about the marathon. Brooke averaged about 27km/h which included a short bathroom stop. Impressive considering the distance, topography and lack of a draft.
Another transition and Porta Pottie session and I was off and running the 42k, and doing okay under the circumstances. The gut hurt but the pain was manageable and I was able to maintain a little over a five minute per kilometer pace while walking transitions. The marathon is two loops and more than half of the course is on the famous Petit Trail du Nord which has a soft surface of fine crushed gravel. It passes through the village where you once again get a rock star reception from the thousands of fans and many kids all of whom want to high five you.
On the marathon Jason blew by me on the first loop and is the only athlete who did it with my blessing. Usually I hate getting passed, but Jason is more of a teammate than a competitor. I've watched him progress from a middle of the pack bike rider to an elite level triathlete and there is no one else I would rather pass off the torch to as I take a break from racing next season. Jason figured out his nutrition and pacing like a pro and trained himself into a fine tuned machine. He is one of the few guys I know who got his first Ironman right and blasted in with a 10:23 time and a very impressive 3:40 marathon. Wow! I'm not certain, but I think that that's the fastest ironman time by any BCCer, ever.
I was also glad to see David out on the course looking strong. He was having the same stomach issues that plagued me, but was still on pace to beak his race time from Kentucky by a significant margin. Unfortunately, due to a back injury suffered earlier this year he was way short of running mileage. Halfway through the run his legs seized up and he limped into the finish, amazingly, just a few minutes short of a PR.
As for me I ran okay until my knees started to rebel in the last 10k and forced me to stop and stretch at least once a kilometer in order to be able to keep going. This issue slowed me down to seven minute per kilometer pace in the last part of the run.
I finished with a time of 10:40 which was a minute slower than last year's race at Kentucky that was similarly difficult due that time to hydration issues. At the finish line, which is located right in the main part of town, I felt elated to hear the famous Mike Riley, the voice of Ironman, call out, "Patryk Biegalski... YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!" then I almost collapsed and was taken to the medical tent where BCCer and awesome triathlete James Honeyman brought me my finisher's hat and t-shirt. Thanks James and all the other volunteers who made the event the most enjoyable (despite the pain) race experience of my life. Hope you signed up for next year. It's a first class event.
However, this one was not about me as much as it was about Brooke, and so after a stay in the medical tent I went back to the run course to catch her going out on her second loop of the marathon. Then the sky opened up and it started to pour. In Kentucky this would have been a welcome relief from the heat, but in Mont Tremblant the temperature was perfect for a race... a dry race. It was getting late afternoon, the temperature was starting to drop quickly and I was worried about Brooke having to get through 21k while soaking wet.
Brooke had finished the bike with stomach issues of her own and, as a result, recorded possibly the longest transitions of the race, a whopping 41 minutes for her two transitions combined! That puts the pros to shame with their piddly combined six minutes of transition time. Yeah Brooke!
When i found her, Brooke was moving well, and on pace for her target of finishing in around fifteen hours but was going to have to walk the second half of the marathon because her IT bands had started to hurt. She had alternated between running and walking on the first loop, but then her legs had had enough and she had to resort to completely walking the second loop. No problem, five hours and ten minutes left before the midnight cutoff and Brooke could stroll and still get in over an hour before the course closed. I gave her my thermal blanket to keep warm and sent her off on her way.
I got some food, talked to some friends, and then went to the finish line to get video of Mike Riley announcing Brooke's name. This was Brooke's only request, the Mike Riley announcement video, the highlight of her race.
Ten came and no Brooke. Then eleven came and went and I was in a panic. I started walking down the course thinking that she must have been pulled off for some medical reason. She should have been in long ago. I found Brooke limping along about a kilometer and a half from the finish at eleven ten, soaking wet and shivering like a leaf in the breeze. Her legs had progressively deteriorated and had gotten so bad she could barely bend her knees or move her hips. She was wincing in pain with every step but still telling concerned volunteers that she was going to go on and finish.
It took Brooke 30 minutes to walk that 1.5k, a 20 minute per kilometer pace, and she had been doing that pace for ten k. Damn. I thought about how brutally hard this day had been for me. The punishing swim that almost had me in a panic would have been way harder for Brooke who was still quite afraid of open water triathlon swims as recently as two years ago. A super hilly bike ride with no draft or coffee breaks like the BCC rides have, and no aero bars to conserve watts. The marathon with no run training and IT bands that feel like knives stabbing your knees when they tighten up. Her race was ten times harder than anything I endured that day and it awed me that she was still going. Come hell or high water I was gonna get this video.
I left Brooke with about 300 meters to walk and hightailed it to the finish line. Mike Riley was in fine form pumping up the crowd, but there was a problem. I had noticed before that sometimes when Mike was whipping the spectators into a frenzy the "You are an Ironman" announcement was being made by a local DJ who had been hired to help with the announcing. I was frantic. No offense to the local guy but Brooke had to hear the words from Mike Riley, the man who invented the phrase. Frantically I elbowed my way through the crowd which was at least four deep in the finishing chute. I waited for Mike to pass by, reached out, tugged his sleeve. He looked at me like I was insane. I pointed down the chute and told him the situation. He nodded.
At 11:40pm on Sunday, Brooke Larson came to the Ironman finish line. Here's the video I promised to get for her:
Yep, I'm married to one tough chick. That made my day... maybe my year.
Well, what else can I say. That's Ironman. It's a race that tests your physical and mental strength to the max. If it was easy it wouldn't be special. I'm not great at it because I literally don't have the stomach for it, but I loved it nonetheless. I'm taking a break from triathlon next year because other interests are calling and I've noticed my work ethic and commitment waning over the past two years, but I will definitely be riding my bike with the BCC as usual. I'll also be cheering for Jason as he continues to hoist the BCC and the vegan banner in future races. Congrats to everyone who raced, but most especially to Brooke who went through hell and emerged with her ever present smile at the end. Congratulations Ironwoman, you light up my life :)
Pics of the town and the condo we rented. Enjoy.