I don’t think I realized how magical of a day I was having until the final downhill stretch to the finish. In those last few minutes, I practically floated down through the village, smiling wide and blowing kisses to spectators as I celebrated the day behind me. But it was magical, from start to finish: from the cannon send-off into chilly Lac Tremblant to the sound of spectators yelling “Allez! Allez!” and “Bravo!” as you biked down the streets of the village St. Jovite or ran back into town. Suffering for ten hours is not supposed to be fun – but looking back at last weekend, I think it might have been one of my favorite days on record. The morning of the race, I woke up early and had convinced my dad to drive me down the steep mile-or-so walk from our condo to transition. We happened to pick up two other racers, both Canadian, and I later found out that my dad—true to his new Sherpa namesake—ended up shuttling down a few other athletes as well. After dealing with bag drops and bike racking the day before, everything the morning of almost seemed too anticlimactic; it felt just like another race. I guess that is the point of racing in prep, but I wondered if the “first Ironman feelings” would ever descend.
Those nerves never actually showed up that morning—it was mostly business as usual, aside from a nice surprise when my dad came back down to witness the swim start and caught me before my quick warm-up and practice swim. The jets flew over, helicopters hovered and the Canadian national anthem was played. They really rolled out the red carpet at Tremblant!
We watched the pros start, the waves ahead of us and soon enough we were corralled into ankle-deep water with all of the women under 35. The cannon shot and a few running leaps and dolphin dives later, it was down to business. Very early on I found feet – the clear water of Lac Tremblant and my speedy BlueSeventy Helix made doing so a piece of cake – and two other girls and I were making a beeline for the first buoy. It was right around the first buoy when we ran up against the wave ahead of us, men over 55, I believe. Our little pack disintegrated and I would spend much of the rest of the swim dodging folks from the earlier waves. It was manageable but far from clean water. My watch was beeping every 5 minutes, the buoys were numbered, from the get-go I knew that as long as I maintained my current clip, I could easily get under an hour… my swim math even had me thinking along the lines of 57 or 58. This water was FAST!
However, the space issues took a turn for the worse when we hit the far-end of the swim course. As we turned to make the two hard right turns before coming back on the rectangular course, it felt like a freeway traffic jam. The new swim start initiative took the historical chaos of the mass start and moved it a mile out in the lake to wreak havoc at the first turn-around, nearly a mile away from the greatest density of first responders, lifeguards and EMT. By this point, our wave’s gray caps mixed in with the colors in front of us—I think there were four or five waves swim cap colors in play. I did my best to swim around folks but there just aren't a ton of options when you’re getting kicked in the throat by someone four waves earlier in the middle of a breaststroke kick.
On the return trip, I never really found clear water, even swimming on the inside of the buoy line. With about 200-300 yards to go, the chaos of the turn-around resumed as the backlog of users slowing down to exit the swim start backed up and there were few places to swim through the crowd. The last five minutes dragged on forever as I swam around floating bodies. I could not have been happier to touch ground and run up the exit; I beeped my watch – 1:01! – and was all smiles as I ran up the shoot, happy to beat my optimistic goal of 1:05. I took advantage of the wetsuit strippers (merci to the ladies in the colorful tutus!) and heard a “Go Mag!!” from my parents as I ran into the changing tent. I knew I had come into the tent with 2-3 other girls so I booked it and was in and out in a flash.
I took advantage of the long transition (my Garmin read .5 miles!) and had a sneaking suspicion that I was in top five by pretty early on in the bike. In fact, I ended up swapping back and forth for second overall with another girl for much of the course, who would eventually place third overall. On that note, the overall race winner and first in my age group would end up leading the entire thing from start to finish; she was so far ahead that I never even noticed her on the bike or run course (she blended in with the pros!).
The bike was beautiful and the perfect course for me and my Quintana Roo: always rolling, very few flats and a few gusty portions before a killer climb in the last 10 miles that absolutely trashed my quads on both loops. The first loop was crowded as folks were blowing up the hills while I was trying to stay legal, avoid the inevitable draft packs and still stay close to my goal watts. The entire first loop felt incredibly maintainable; I was just riding along, eating when I was supposed to, drinking when I was supposed to, and having a grand ole day of it. I think the hilly Duplessis back portion broke up the race a bit as it broke down various riders. By the time I was on loop two, the course had gone a bit quiet and there was very little passing or getting passed. It was just a lot of head down, push the pedals, don’t let the dude ahead of you in the Pink Rudy helmet get a significant gap on you.
To be honest, I was having an awesome day, it felt a little bit like this (don't hate me....):
So much so that I started questioning when I was going to get my inevitable flat tire or cramps or some other mishap since, what’s the saying?, ‘expect at least three things to go wrong on race day”? Aside from the significant headwinds on 117 and a mini-puke-and-ride in the back half of lap two, it was smooth sailing. On lap two, when I knew I was locking it in, I waved to all of the crowds cheering us on in the village of St. Jovite and might have let out a “WAHOOO!” or two on some of the steep descents (hello, 46mph…) The only part I truly struggled with were the quad-crushing hills along Duplessis, where I busted a lung trying to get up some of the sharper pitches and was nearly leveled to the point of getting off and walking it was so steep. But I made it and stormed back into town to get out and running.
When I started the run, my legs felt great! But my back was acting up, something completely foreign to me and possibly related to a recent bike re-fit. For the first three miles I had visions of crossing the finish line hunched over forward like Quasimodo or some of the final finishers. I troubleshooted, slammed some Advil and by mile 4 was running fine. The first half of the marathon was a joy run. Sure, there were the normal stomach issues (still managed a 8:40 mile with the porta potty stop!) and the hills were tough to tackle but I never felt negative and knew that barring something insane, that I would be happy with how the entire day went. A good portion of the run is remote and wooded and the dirt path felt a lot like my normal morning runs around Town Lake in Austin. I was honestly having a blast and felt great – thanking all of the aid station volunteers with a garbled “Merci!” as I dumped water and perform all over my face.
At some point coming back into the village between lap one and two, my dad ran up to me and told me that I was in “second, 20 ahead of third”. I had done the math and knew there were likely not going to be more than two spots heading to Kona and I WANTED it, especially after racing the first seven or eight hours thinking I was sitting in first in my age group, never having seen #1 given her gap on me.
And then they wind you back into the city, up a soul-crushing climb and then down past the finish chute to head back out onto lap two. During this back half, I frantically wracked my brain trying to figure out whether I really was in 2nd and who was coming up behind me. As we started to head back out for lap two, I saw my dad again and shouted at him “SECOND AGE GROUP OR SECOND OVERALL???” When he responded, 'age group', I nearly melted. I gave him a “what are you talking about – oh my god – where are you getting this info -- are you for real?” gesture and then headed out on loop two like a crazy person. Two of my next three miles were sub-8 as I ran possessed and was turning around every few seconds trying to find the mystery girl “twenty” back, cursing my dad for whatever updates I thought he had wrong. The run course got crowded as first loopers came on and by this time it was hopeless trying to get a sense of where I stood. I would later find out that my dad meant twenty MINUTES, not seconds, and so crushed my dreams of thinking I successfully fended off a challenger on the back-half of the marathon. :)
The last three miles had a few brutal uphills… while my legs and spirit went in the opposite direction, downhill. Thankfully the end was so close that I could keep pushing to the finish but my quads were trashed and beginning to seize, more from the excessive pounding of all of the downhills on this course than anything. Again you run up into the village and pass the special needs section and then get to choose whether to head out on another loop or down to the finish. I couldn’t be happier to head left and let gravity do the work as I flew down to the finish. I heard my parents scream at the top of the chute and I let out a celebratory “OH MY GOD!” in response as I continued to dance and kiss my way down the chute.
From my watch I knew my overall time but seeing the incorrect time that was 25 minutes slower (due to the pro start and waves) and realizing I still would have been happy with this time made me realize just how awesome of a day I had out there. Looking back I wish I had savored the final seconds a little longer but I leapt through the finish, all smiles. And my next thoughts were “let’s do this crazy thing again!”
And that’s what I’ll be doing! The very next day I confirmed 100% for certain that there were two spots for the ladies 25-29 and that I would get the chance to repeat 140.6 just a short 54 days later in Kona. From here, my flights are booked, my condo is reserved and training has resumed like normal. Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into? I think I’m hooked…