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Thursday, August 29, 2013

IM Mont Tremblant race report-standing on the edge of everything I've never been before

After Placid, there wasn’t much rest for the wicked.  I was back to work within a couple of days, both in terms of triathlon and the physical therapist duties.  I had no idea what to expect training-wise with the short three week turnaround between Ironmans.  Jesse stepped in at that point and set up my schedule for me.  I originally balked a bit when I saw the middle week-a moderate number of hours, a couple of longer rides, and a fair amount of intensity.  It was a weird balance of recovery, trying not to get out of shape from tapers and recovery, and resting for the next race.  I wasn’t so sure of myself, but I was sure of those guiding me (some of the best in the business), so I shut up, put my head down, and did my work  It at least included some workouts I hadn’t seen before that were actually sort of fun, in the way that athletes find things fun.  What worked out favorably for me was the fact that Dave and I were on a semi-real person vacation (as real as you can get when trainers and wetsuits are brought along)with my parents in Cape Cod for a few days, meaning that I could get in my longer sessions earlier in the week and then focus a little bit more on recovery and glorious sleep than I’m normally able to on a daily basis.  When I made it through the week, I was feeling halfway decent-my numbers weren’t as good as they usually are in my last “sharpening” week before an IM, but they were reasonable for a build week, and I was feeling about 90%-not great, but not terrible.  Before I knew it, I was packing (or really just getting the still packed bags and moving them towards the door), dropping the bike off at Towpath for a sweet wheel rental, and preparing to head out to Ironman #2 in three weeks-game on!

Vacation day 1.  Living the high life.  4.5 hours, baby.

Vacation day 2.  Started with a 50min "swim" in this crap (the only swim when I didn't get attacked by jellyfish, probably because it was too rough for them to see me), then proceeded to a ride, then proceeded to a run where I had to run faster than I probably have in the past six months, and finally likely ended with using Jesse's name in vain.  Until I remembered I'd asked for it.  Darn it!
Ok, I have to admit that swimming in this almost was nice, minus the fact that I kept thinking my wake was actually Jaws swimming up to me.

Dave made a friend at the ocean that morning.  Bill.

Nothing to do with anything triathlon-related, but this jerk was just laying in our backyard when we got home, eating everything.  Then she just stood there and looked at me.  Go back to the park and be destructive there, Ms. Deer.
 I was also admittedly nervous for this race.  Normally, my goal is just to execute my plan and race to my fullest potential.  Tremblant was weird-I was there with a purpose, sort of a pass/fail proposition, no real continuum, and I knew I wasn’t going in 100%.  I was making the mistake of looking at prerace predictions and start lists and points scales and rankings; I was hardly the main story but I also wasn’t completely off the radar anymore.  I wasn’t entirely sure where my head was at, to be perfectly honest.  The nerves were kicking in to a greater degree, but more of the dread nerves than the excitement nerves.  A couple of days before the race, I cut myself off from almost everything.  Going in, I knew where I stood and what I needed to do.  I briefly chatted with Jesse after the pro meeting just to get an idea of what to do and what to expect, with the main theme being avoiding stupidity on the bike, never questioning my ability to run off the bike (including downshifting the power if I felt like it), easing into the run, and settling in on the crushed gravel path.  The last half of the run, I was told, could get ugly, but just hold on.  He assured me that I didn’t need to do anything crazy, but given the strong international field that was assembled, given this was the North American Championships, I still knew that I needed to be on top of whatever game I had in my in order to earn myself a trip to Hawaii.  Every woman out there could move, and many of us were coming in with the same goal.  I couldn’t take anything for granted, and I knew it.  
Signs you're a jerk: you do this when your husband has you do his IM registration, and then you delight in his dismay over how many likes it gets on facebook.

Speedy wheels!  Complete with classy electrical tape holding my excess amount of flat repair crap in place.  Oh well, I've basically become the master of cramming two tire levers, two tubes, three CO2 cartridges, and an inflator stealthy into a Cobb.  Then I peed on it all the next day.  Boom!

Personalized bike station-it's like celebrity status!

And my equipement velo even got its own seat.
I went to bed race eve still trying to ward off just a bit of a scratchy throat, runny nose, burning head, and burning/itching eyes, and then proceeded to spend half the night struggling to fall asleep and then waking up sweating profusely.  Perfect.  Luckily, I felt halfway decent race morning (other than the fact that it was 3am), and I pushed any thoughts out of my head other than process-oriented ones.  Dave and I got to transition extra early (for us), and I had plenty of time to take care of all of the pre-race business.  I was at the water early enough to execute my new swimming strategy-the 10-15min warmup, complete with pickups.  I know that it takes me a good 1000y or so to get going during every swim workout I do, so why it’s taken me until now to realize that half-heartedly stroking around for a few minutes because I don’t particularly like swimming and don’t want to do more of it than necessary on race day wasn’t cutting it, I’m not sure.  But, a good warm up in Placid had allowed me to actually make a group, so I’d give it a shot again.  In looking at the pro list, I knew there were a bunch of women on there that I might be able to hang with if I really got off to a good start, and I was thinking it’d be preferable not to swim the entire 2.4 miles alone.  Soon enough, we were pulled out of the water for the national anthem, some Canadian jets, and fireworks to accompany the men’s pro start-Mont Tremblant really went all out!

The race was a beach start, which I think I’ve only ever done in Florida before, which ended up being interesting with surf.  The water in Tremblant was obviously a different story.  I figured that having a little bit of a run at the start of the swim might help me (ha), although I never really know when to transfer from running to swimming.  We were set off, and I sort of copied what everyone else did.  The lake was crystal clear, so I just fought to keep my head in bubbles.  When the scrum cleared a bit, I found myself in a fairly sizable group.  I could see Sarah Piampiano and Kim near me, so I knew I was in a good spot-and that was how the rest of the swim went.  I think we had about 6-8 women in there; I wasn’t exactly sure.  Positions changed a bit here and there, sometimes I felt like I was really fighting to say on feet where others I felt comfortable.  Some of the age group males passed us, but I was able to keep contact with the women.  The last few buoys seemed to take forever to get to, but finally I was out of the water.  I initially read my watch as 1:12-ugh!-until I looked again and realized that it actually said 1:02.  Score!  Another minute off the swim PR (draft-aided, but good enough for me)!  I felt like my Placid performance was somewhat validated, at least, especially given that my pool swim times have been stagnant for a few months now.
Striking my signature pose, the watch stop, post-swim.  I was probably wondering if I'd accidentally hit stop ten minutes early while still swimming when I saw the time.

There's just a lot about that one that sort of disturbs me.  I didn't even know that my face made such a creepy, pale, emotionless expression.  And what am I doing with my hands?  Who runs like that?
Kim and I ran through the changing tent together, where our bags were sitting on labeled chairs for us-royal treatment!  I proceeded to have an incredibly remedial mounting experience (just when I thought I’d nailed it..), but settled in soon enough.  I can’t say enough about the amazing road condition on this course.  The fresh, smooth pavement meant that even an aero weenie like me was able to stay down on descents and around curves.  Part of that was just because I knew I was going to need every last ounce of speed I could get out of the watts I was able to manage (the goal was about 5-10 watts lower than Placid, where I’d really gone for it on the bike and put everything I had into that ride).  I eased into the ride, and then pushed it a little bit once we got out onto the main out and back highway on the ride.  The pace was honest but comfortable-my power was sitting a bit low, but I was ok with that during the ride, the numbers would fall where they fell.  When I felt good, I’d move ahead for a bit; when I started to fade, Kim would move ahead of me again and encourage me along (I owe her my freaking life for getting through that ride, I don't know if I could have done it if I'd had to think for myself).  I hit my low point somewhere in the 30-35 mile range (I think) and fell back a bit to collect myself.  The plus side of 2 Ironmans in 3 weeks was a total lack of caffeine in my life for the better part of a month, though, meaning that once I started on the caffeinated gels, I started to feel much better.  After getting through the steeper hills in the last section of the first loop, I could see Kim again, and just willed myself to keep her in my sights.  We were moving up in the field nicely, and I still felt under control.  I probably gave Jesse one of my typical noncommittal shrugs when he asked how I was doing, and set out onto the second loop, feeling a little revived.
I sort of secretly hope that they'll make it so pros can't leave their shoes in their pedals either, so I won't feel like a loser for not being able to do it.  At least I've figured out how to push the bike one-handed by the seat. That's progress.

Even though I've been racing with the Rudy project helmet all season, I still can't get over how gloriously straight it is on my head.

Once back on the highway, I just concentrated on continuing to tick off the miles and get in my nutrition.  One thing that I’d noticed in my training between the races was that I had a tendency to dehydrate and bonk a little more easily, so I was careful to stay on top of what I could.  My stomach was actually feeling better than it ever had that far into an IM bike leg, so I focused on that positive-not a hint of nausea (at that point, at least).  Kim and I had a group of age group males ahead of us for a while-they were all riding pretty legally, but just at legal distance, meaning that I’d have to push past all of them in order to get ahead.  We had an official with us for a good portion of the ride, so I wasn’t willing to even chance anything (even though I did get a thumbs up when they passed at one point).  For a while, I was fine with settling in, but around mile 80-85 I began to see my power drop and I began to worry that I was losing valuable ground.  I’d had a few miles of relative rest by that point, so I put my head down, pushed past the group, and put in a few hard miles.  Most of them would end up passing me back on the last hilly out and back anyways, but I was grateful to have ~10-15 miles of clear road.  I passed Jesse again around mile 100; he assured me I was in a good position, so I didn’t kill the last portion and took care of some final business (hydration, nutrition, water dump over the head, and, um, well, the other stuff that goes on).  I actually felt better over the last portion of the bike ride than normal for an IM.  I ended up coming in with solid numbers, overall in line with a good training ride and about 10 watts lower than what I’d ridden when I’d plastered myself on the bike in Placid, so I was satisfied enough with it.  Now, onto the final question-would I be able to run?
I have no recollection of biking past anything that looked all nice like this.  I just wanted to admire my flat back here, though.  Look at me!  Look at my (Towpath's) disc wheel!  Look at me being in aero!

Another hideous facial expression.  I'm guessing this is one of the points where I was thinking about how biking with dry contacts sucks, and how I needed to call for a Lasix consultation when I got home, because I was actually thinking about that quite a bit on this ride.  I still haven't called, though.  I hate making appointments via phone.  It's so hard to think of when I won't be training or working on the spot. 

 It’s funny in an Ironman-sometimes, competitors will say things to each other that have more of an impact than what they might realize at the time.  In Placid, it was Dede’s “go win yourself an Ironman”, in Tremblant, it was Bree Wee telling me to “go run them down” during the last couple miles of the bike.  I transitioned and started out the run exit feeling, well, I didn’t know.  I hadn’t doubted that I could run while biking, but I wasn’t sure how fast it was going to be.  I was in eighth off the bike; I was in a good position points-wise but some insurance would be good.  I knew that I at least needed to hold my spot.  Jesse just told me to settle in and let the legs come around.  And the legs came around, maybe a little too quickly, in retrospect.  Within the first couple of miles, I was rolling at sub-7 pace and feeling good.  Of the Ironmans I’ve done so far, this run course became my favorite-a few rolling hills in the beginning, similar to some of the terrain that I train on, followed by several miles of an out and back on a cinder trail (which brought me back to the old PHS track).  The crushed gravel was a lifesaver on my unsure legs.  I made it to mile 7 or 8 before everything started to catch up with me.  My stomach and legs weren’t entirely sure how they were feeling anymore, and I was starting to slow down a bit.  I did some damage control at that point, readjusting my pace goal, taking in coke and salt as needed, taking my time at aide stations.  Kim was off absolutely destroying the run, and so I focused on just holding my place (no margin is ever comfortable in a race).  Once off the trail, I started to really hurt around miles 11-12 or so.  The doubt started to set in-could I make it through this?  I kept reminding myself that I’d asked for it, begged for it, and had no one to blame but myself for what was going on.  I was definitely hurting by the halfway point, though.  Jesse just told me to “give it another hour and a half”, and told me that I was moving good and that no one was coming up from behind me.  
Smile away, nerd, because it's about to SUCK

Huh?  There were boats?

Still looking confused, just in the other direction.  Huh?  How many kilometers?
I allowed myself to ease up a little bit for the next couple of miles, telling myself that I’d probably feel better once I got through the hills and pavement and back onto the path again.  Luckily, I was right, and I had a few miles of sort of revival from about 15-19 or so.  I managed to pass Haley for seventh somewhere in there, so I knew I really had to keep going.  After that point, the simple survival countdown began.  Sub-7s became sub-7:10s, and gradually morphed into sub-7:20s.  Support from QT2 teammates (especially Jacqui, who somehow always manages to smile no matter what’s going on in her own race) at that time became crucial, as I was deep in the pain cave.  I passed Mary and just did what seemed right-a pat on the back and a grunted out “thank you” (still amazed she was able to make out my late marathon jumble speak).  Around mile 21, I caught up to Erika Csomor for sixth, and for what would become the points that sealed the deal.  I’ve never actually made a pass that late into an IM marathon, and I was feeling beyond rough by that point, so I wasn’t positive of my abilities to keep the position.  That was when I just put my head down and went with mind over matter.  My lower back, for some odd reason, was screaming with every step.  The course and aide stations were crowded, and I was getting too tired to maneuver, almost running into people at times, as bad as it sounds.  I didn’t care what I looked like or what I was even putting into or onto myself at aide stations, all I cared about was getting to that line.  Miles 22 and 23 came quickly enough, but after that it was a complete fight.  My legs were absolute bricks, and were questioning every signal coming down from my brain telling them to move.  I was too busy working for the position and the line to even notice I had a good run time going.  I wanted to smile at the awesome crowds lining the final miles, yelling encouragement in a fun blend of English and French, but I couldn’t find the energy.  
There it is!  There I am bringing sexy back with a great version of my run pain face! When the heck did we run past water?  Why do I not remember water at all?
Finally, mercifully, I made it to the final mile, and just fought my through the final minutes.  When I got to the final split between the second lap and the finish, I managed to muster one small smile and wave (high 5s were also beyond my energy level) as I ran towards the line, realizing that I’d done enough, finally.  As soon as I crossed, Jesse intercepted me with a hug/hold up for my body that I’d just squeezed everything out of, as my legs were just done, telling me that I’d done it and reminding me I’d asked for it all at the same time as I think the first words out of my mouth were something along the lines of “that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life!”.  If you want raw emotion and pure honesty, just come to an Ironman finish line.  The day that I become an emotionless pro robot across the line is the day that it all stops being worth it, after all.  I’d pushed that run to a level beyond what I had in my previous Ironmans this year, and I knew it.  I saw Kim being led through the finish area just ahead of me and called out to her, knowing that I had her to thank for keeping me going throughout that entire day.  We hugged and cried and chatted excitedly until she was led off to drug testing, at which point I just slumped into a chair and started on my next task-trying not to barf and pass out.  I thanked myself for throwing a couple of Pepto tablets into my back jersey pocket earlier in the day, and nibbled on those while sipping water for a bit, just in a happy daze for a bit.  
Hey, is this picture from last weekend, or is it the same one that's taken at every single freaking race I've ever done?
Luckily, Kyle got some finish video of it and Kim managed to select one frame in which I looked halfway happy and wasn't stopping my watch.  Thanks guys!

I know this one has been everywhere, so I'm going to resist the urge to say something self-deprecating and sarcastic here, because it's actually one of those good Ironman human emotion shots (even though my legs were no longer working).

Finally, in the cloud of dizziness, the emotion hit me-Kona.  I was alone at a table at that point, and I found myself holding the towel I’d been handed at the finish line to my face and shaking with some sort of dry crying as I let it set over me.  A volunteer came over with concern and asked me if I was ok-I’m fine, this is good, I’m going to Hawaii, it’s my first time, it’s just setting in, I assured her.  She smiled for me and congratulated me, we talked for a bit. I may not have been in triathlons for that long; it’s not like I’ve been trying for years and haven’t got in; it’s not like this was even in the plans for this year, it just kind of materialized.  I had told myself before the race that I wouldn’t be disappointed if it didn’t happen, at least I would have tried, I need to respect the island, after all-should I really get in the first time I genuinely tried?  But still, I feel as if this has been in the making for a long time.  Day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year, with the exception of a couple of months of injury when even cross training hurt back in 2006, I've been training and racing consistently since 1996.  I was always just not good enough at running to make it to the big meets by myself.  Don’t get me wrong-I would have chosen running at a state meet with my teammates as a team or relay member over going individually any day-but on my own, I'd fall short.  In college, placing at conference meets or making it to regionals was far beyond anything I could have dreamed of doing.  Maybe it’s selfish, maybe I could be doing more with myself in other fields that would benefit society to a greater (any) degree, but I’ve had this sense that this was something I wanted to do.  I didn’t head into the season thinking that the time seemed right-it just started to come to me, to seem right after each hard training day or each race, as I started to have some results beyond even my craziest dreams.  There’s a place for patience and there’s a place for bullheaded stubbornness in chasing after what you want in life, and maybe I’ll live to regret these past few weeks, but I'll come back to this race and this report and remember my why.  Racing and training and this sport are as much a part of my identity as my mop of brown hair, my love of chocolate, and my affinity for animals, so to have this opportunity...well, it means a lot, to say the least.  Sometimes, I think we just need to stop worrying about when we're going to be ready for certain life events, and just take a shot that we might be, for better or worse.

This is Irina and me.  I met Irina after the race, she volunteered this year and is registered for next year!  Go Irina!  We'll be rooting for you!

  The next day, when Dave (who finished with his own PR and his first sub-10, as well as a sub-60min swim, even though I've had to hear him ponder incessantly about how it could be possible that I ONLY biked a minute slower than him) and I went to rolldowns, I watched other athletes snatch up their slots, laughing and crying and exclaiming, and I it.  So, in early October, provided all goes according to plan I'll be heading off to Hawaii and taking my first shot at toeing the line with the fastest women in the world, the ones I watched last fall on the couch in our den surrounded by friends and petting our dogs.  It's certainly exciting and frightening all at the same time, and I've got a bunch of work to do in the meantime, as I know I have an opportunity that many people will only dream of, so it's my responsibility to prepare myself to make the most of it.  When it comes down to it, I only qualified ahead of 3 women.  I definitely fall into the "grateful just to be there" category, but at the same time I'm not going just to have a party for myself.  I at least know that I can race well in the heat if I prepare to do so, off with the fan, on with extra clothes, and back to work!

Pro women's podium.  The awards ceremony came complete with a couple of numbers from a disco band-ha!

Kim and I, taking our normal post-IM "we finished one spot apart and got identical trophies" picture.  Yay!

Schwabenbauers and Hansens!  I'm fairly certain that Kyle traveled as far as the rest of us did on race day with the awesome camera shots and encouragement!

 Once again, thank you to everyone that continues to follow and support me!  You guys all have a way of making an ordinary girl who happens to love to train and race feel like a total rock star.  I continued to be inspired and touched by the people who take the time to reach out to me in any way, shape, or form.  Thanks you to the support system of my family and friends, who allow me to do this and believe in me.  Thanks to all of our sponsors including Quintana Roo (definitely a part of the fact that I'm hanging with the husband's bike splits, much to his chagrin), Normatec, Rudy Project, Powerbar, and Fuelbelt.  And, of course, thanks to Mary and Jesse and all of QT2 for getting me here and squeezing more out of me than I would have thought possible!


  1. You are a rock star! But what makes it even more impressive is the fact that you have a life outside of triathlon. As you are putting your name more and more out there, it may come a time when you'll have to join the other pros in some Boulder or Hawaii residence all year long, but until then, continue to be proud of your accomplishments because you earned them with every single drop of sweat you put into your every day challenges. Thank you for sharing the picture that David took of us. It's a wonderful reminder of a day that changed the rest of our lives. I can't wait to join the Ironman family and thank you again for your kind words! (I beat you to the race report, ha!)

  2. I am so impressed that you have done all this, trained as long and hard as you have, all while working part time as a PT. I am a PTA at a hospital and I can't even imagine how you do it! Congratulations on your wonderful accomplishment and I look forward to watching you at Kona. I hope you have fun and enjoy what you've worked so hard for!!!

  3. Thanks for the report! I remember the cinder track and your gritty toughness in the early days. Great job!

  4. Having come off of Placid, that was incredible!! Way to grit down and get the job done.

    Also, on a more personal note, I very much appreciate your (and other pro athlete's) love for the sport of the event as opposed to the celebrity or status. Keep it up! Plus, it's great to find that there are pros that still have a couple sport skills (ie. flying mount) to finesse. We're all human and there's always something more to learn, especially when you decide just one sport isn't enough. Why not three?!

    Here's to Kona!! Congratulations!! You've well earned it. I'll be watching for ya.

  5. Thank you everyone! I appreciate the comments!!

  6. Congratulations! I have been rooting for you since you beat my husband (and every other male) in an Olympic race in Rochester! Thank you for such an honest race report, it was nice to read what is going on inside the mind of an endurance athlete, when you all making it look so easy! I hope you tear it up in Hawaii. I will be cheering for you from my couch!