Sunday, August 25, 2013

A weekend at Ironman Mt.Tremblant

What a weekend!! If I could, I'd go back in a heartbeat, right now! Beam me up, Scotty. Mt. Tremblant is truly beautiful, and during the week leading to the Ironman, it really looks and breathes like an amusement park for triathletes. Spandex, race t-shirts and sneakers are the regular attire. Everyone is fit and tanned and oozes health through their pores. There are ski lifts everywhere, shuttles for tired legs, patios, red carpets, stages, screens, water fountains and more sportswear stores than I could dream of. But let's rewind for a bit... TOUFOU and I have a long story to tell.
Toufou and I at Mt. Tremblant
We left Toronto on Friday night, right after I came home from work. Zin had prepared the car, the bikes, the snacks. I only had to put the clothes in a bag and go. On our way, we stopped for a quick dinner and washroom break, then 5h later we finally found our bed at Les Suites in the heart of downtown Ottawa. The next morning we went for breakfast at Cora's and for a quick stroll through the market to stock up on maple butter and apple turnovers. Then we started driving again, destination Mt. Tremblant. We managed to get lost a few times because our GPS was not always aware of our surroundings, and we also didn't know better when we aimed for downtown Mt. Tremblant as opposed to Station Mt. Tremblant, where all the Ironman action was actually happening. We knew we were close though as the streets were full of cyclists and runners putting their last workout on.

Eventually we found a parking lot on the outside of the Station (I'll call it village from now on), among the mayhem of cars, buses and bikes. Got changed into our jerseys, biking shoes and shorts then off we went onto our ride. Our plan was to do one 90k loop of the Ironman course and get acquainted with the landscape. I had read a review of the course that was saying that Mt. Tremblant is harder than Coeur D'Alene, but easier than Lake Placid, with a nasty hill of 17.2% somewhere in the middle. What I had not realized, was that the article was referring to the entire Ironman bike ride, which meant that the hill was at the end of the first loop (and the second!!). So for the first 30k, all I kept asking myself was... where are the hills? This isn't bad at all, beautiful highways, speedy descents, a few moderate climbs, but nothing that looked as nasty as a 17.2%. Here we are at the 34k mark where we turned around on the Hwy 117. We had a snack and a drink, and enough time for a photo-souvenir.
Neo and I riding the Highway
My name is 117. Hwy 117.
Scotty and Zin
On our way back on Hwy117, we hit some headwind and the climbs seemed just a tad more challenging, but overall we were having a great time. Such a great time, that I forgot to eat and drink from then on. Time went by fast, but once we made it back to the top of Montee Ryan, I was feeling deflated. It took me another 5km to remember to get some food and liquids in me. We were 15km from the end and I told Zin: I MUST EAT or I'm going to collapse right here right now. I ate a pack of Clif Blocks and downed half a bottle of Endura, then decided to go on. The parking lot was just one or two kms ahead, but I said no way we're stopping before we see it all.

And guess what? There it was, the famous hill. Sneaky sneaky, in the last 10k - the reviews were right after all. You MUST leave something in the legs to do this climb, TWICE. It definitely felt never-ending and unforgiving. I can't even imagine how people manage it after 6-7h on the saddle, but I suppose that I'll find out, sooner or later. ;-) The descent was magnificent, in its whole speedy goodness, especially with 3 unmarked police cars on my tail. I don't think I went over the 70km/h speed limit, it was a winding road after all, but I got a knot in my throat when I saw them passing me after 5 minutes of downhill bliss.

Back to the car, I swallowed an apple turnover whole and drank two full bottles of water. Legs seized up, I could barely move. It was my fastest 90k ride ever, I didn't feel like pushing much, but body said otherwise. You can do a 3h12 bike split, but you also must eat. Good reminder for my upcoming 70.3 race: I should not get caught in the frenzy of the race or the novelty of a circuit. In case of doubt, stop and think: am I doing everything right?? (*taking notes here*)

After my legs decided that the break was over, I changed back into "triathlon chic" clothes and hopped in a shuttle bus that took us straight into Mt. Tremblant village. There, as I said at the beginning of this post, we were in IronmanLand - even if you wanted to, you could not hide from triathletes, many of them already sporting their decal numbers on their arms and age on the calf. And of course, wearing their favorite race tshirt - the perfect conversation starter. I opted for the black Toronto Triathlon Festival tee; there is something elegant and bad ass about their cryptic symbol, which only people familiar with would recognize. Even though I was not part of the Ironman "family", at least I could talk triathlon. ;-)
The only thing missing on these slopes is snow
I wonder if this hill is part of the run course?
You know where triathletes live - look for the wetsuits hung out to dry
Everyone wants a photo by the Ironman sign
The gates to Transition
We walked around the village, took pictures, sneaked inside the "big tent", goofed for a bit on the big red Muskoka chair, then went to the volunteers' tent, wondering if it was time to check in for duty yet. We were told that we didn't have to be there a day in advance, all we needed to do was to follow the instructions in the email that we received from our team captain. Okeydokey, no problemo! We were both due to come back the next day at 7am to get our volunteer tshirt, wristband and lunch tickets. So, on this mental note, we left the Ironman expo and went to look for a place to eat.
Riri in a Muskoka Chair - how fitting!
Insert $$$ here
The red carpet
Time is up, literally.
Zin and the Gadget Man
We parked our tired bums on the sunny patio of Restaurant "La Forge", in front of a pint of Stella Artois. Zin had a beef cheek and goat cheese burger, while I settled on a duck confit salad. It was scrumptious! Around 9pm we decided to call it a night. We took the shuttle back to our car, then drove the 35km to our hotel, the Super 8 in Sainte Agathe des Monts, the closest hotel with rooms available, even 6 months in advance! It was not bad at all, we had a very comfy King bed and enough soap and shampoo for 2 days. In the Ironman spirit, we turned off the lights shortly after 10pm and went to sleep.

The alarm clock went off at 4am and we jumped out of bed, ready to go go go! In 30min tops we were on our way. The wrong way. The long way. The scenic way. With deer in the headlights and winding, narrow, potholey roads in the middle of the forest and around a lake, and another, and another... the GPS confusion had stricken again. We didn't pay enough attention, the direction seemed okay, but once on this path, we hoped it would take us back on the highway... and the further we were getting away from it, the less we wanted to come back to it. I am not going to say how fast we went, but I was sure hanging on for my dear life, praying that we don't collide with any animal and the car doesn't do a flying jump in the lake nearby.

Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, we found our way back onto the highway, then onto an airfield that got turned into a parking lot, where the shuttle buses were going to pick us up. Just in time I'd say, we arrived in the village with 30min to spare before the swim start. I went to the women's tent to check in with my team captain, got my volunteer tshirt, wristband and meal tickets, then headed towards the lake to spectate the swim start. On my way I caught up with Zin who was also ready to start his day as bike handler.
The delicate light of the sunrise
U2's "A Beautiful Day" was blasting in the air, helicopters were hovering above, dozens of boats all across the lake were trying to find the best viewing spot, and on a platform, 6 military officials were getting ready to load a real cannon for the official start. When the time came, jets flew by, the cannon BOOMED loud, and pro men, pro women and finally age groupers started the adventure of their lifetime. Out of 2300-and-something participants, 660 of them were there for their first Ironman.

We waited until the first age groupers were on their way, then went back to transition where our day as volunteers was about to start. My job was to help women as they were coming through the changing area. Basically, to be there to put on sunscreen, socks, shoes, gels in pockets, empty transition bags and pack them back up, strip wetsuits for those who still had them on (mostly pro women), chit-chat, encourage, console, assess whether someone needed medical assistance, etc.
Pro bags
The pro men and women already had their transition bags waiting for them, but for the rest of age groupers, they were given their bag when they were entering the tent. It started pretty slowly with pro women arriving at 2-3 minute intervals, but then a huge mass of athletes got in at once and it was complete mayhem for about 2h. At some point I wondered if we were going to have enough chairs for everyone to sit. The first pro woman, Mary Beth Ellis was dominating the field, but as usual in an Ironman, you never know what can happen, so we were curious to see who was going to come back first in T2. We also noticed the first AG girl, Darbi Roberts, coming through before all pro women got out of the water. We cheered for her loud and proud, she was killing it out there!! I also saw Jennie Hansen for whom I have a serious sweet spot. I was crossing my fingers that she'd have the best day as she needed a top placement to qualify for Kona.
Some bikes will stay
Once the athletes were leaving the tent, we had to take their bags and store them in a corner, until the next phase of our shift, when all athletes had passed through. Then this operation started.
The Bag Dance
We had to take each bag and line it up on the floor in the order of the numbers, 100 bags per line. With 40-50 people participating, it was all done in 30 minutes. You should have seen the whole thing, it was like a dance. Efficient, fast and truly impressive!

We had about 1h of downtime afterwards, enough time to grab a bite in the volunteers' tent, go to the washrooms and check out the Expo. I found myself a pair of 2XU Recovery Compression Tights at 30% off, which I had been eyeing for years, a tube of DZ Nuts Bliss chamois cream (I'm a convert!) and a bottle of electrolyte tablets. I bought Zin an Ironman cap as well, but I could not convince myself to buy any other Ironman branded apparel, not yet anyway. It just didn't feel right.
Bono doesn't swim
Back in the women's tent after lunch, and soon we heard that the pro men were just finishing their bike. I helped setting up the water/sunscreen station inside the tent, then watched them zooming through. These men were determined to battle it out since they weren't far apart.
Mary Beth Ellis was back in first again and she was looking so strong out there, I was having doubts that someone was going to catch her that day. Darbi was also holding onto her first AG spot and was giving some pros a lesson. As for Jennie, she passed so many women on the bike, my heart jumped with joy when I saw her coming in T2 in 8th place (down from 20-something).
For the rest of the day, until 5:45pm, it was a constant stream of athletes finishing their bike - or not, and a lot more people needing medical attention. The routine was almost the same, helping out as much as we could, only this time, most of women were taking their time. Some of them had been in accidents, and my heart goes out to a girl named Faith, who most likely had one or more bruised/broken ribs and who had pain breathing. After a long session with a chiropractor in T2, I was really hoping she'd be released to go on the run, and she was eventually, only to come back 30 minutes later to hand in her chip. She had awesome split times and she could have finished strong but alas the pain was too much for her to continue I suppose. I gave her my phone to call her hubby, then a hug to send her on her way. I hope she's OK now and she'll be back next year, healed and ready for redemption.

I also saw some of my Facebook peeps, Mary Eggers (who also happens to be Jennie's coach), who was doing her last Ironman in honor of a friend who passed away last year, killed by a drunk driver, and Wendy, my redhead neighbour extraordinaire - I connected with both in the past few months, but they are real sweethearts and amazing athletes. My ultimate goal that day was actually to finish my shift and look for them on the course, cheering from the sidelines, until they finished - because I knew they would, they are both so passionate about the sport and obviously fueled by good karma.

After 5:45pm, only a handful of unopened transition bags remained, but another big pile was asking for our attention. Same as in the morning, we had to line them up, but this time we also had to find their twin and attach them together. Like a well oiled machine, the volunteer team got the job done in the blink of an eye, then we all got released from our duties. I met with Zin in the volunteers' tent again, we ate more food then we went to put our phones in charge as they were both drained. Just like us, but it was shameful to even think of aching limbs and knees when 2000 athletes were battling with their will to keep putting a foot in front of the other.

I saw Jennie Hansen walking by with her hubby David, who also competed in the Ironman (and finished under 10h!), and asked her if she got her spot to Kona, to which she replied that she came in 6th and qualified!! I could no longer contain my excitement, so I asked her to take a picture with me. I knew I was standing beside a great champion. David was very kind and took the photo below. I was so freaking happy!!
Meeting Jennie Hansen
We walked for a bit along the streets, cheering on athletes and taking pictures. There was so much joy and pain in the air, you could see it in people's eyes as they were approaching the fork on the running path. To the left, you are an Ironman, to the right another half marathon. It must have been so hard to run with a smile. We cheered harder.
The crowd embrace
Fireman Rob
After a little while we returned to check on our phones and hubbs decided to take a break. As athletes were walking by eating fries, I said that's it, I've had it being good this weekend. I'm in Quebec, I'm having a Poutine, dammit! So I left Zin sitting on the bench and went to buy myself a box of grease mix, and no, I am not talking about the movie soundtrack: fries, cheese curds and gravy - YUM. Then I went to the finish line to watch Wendy become an Ironman for the second time. Twenty minutes later, there she was!! I figured she'd be a while until I could give her a hug, so I went back to sit with Zin and plan the rest of the evening.

One thing I knew, I was going to stay until midnight. Hubbs needed a nap, so he decided to go sleep in the car. I waited for Wendy to finish eating and get changed, then we went together to the finish line where the party was just getting started. Mike Reilly was on fire, and so were we. Athletes kept coming in, and with each new finisher, the crowd was getting louder.
You are an IRONMAN!!
I saw people collapsing, tripping, tumbling, but eventually getting up to finish the job started. They all became Ironman. The last finisher, Eve, came in with 5 minutes to spare, escorted by the "Angels". It was purely amazing. Words fail to describe the joy I felt for these complete strangers.

After the crowd scattered, I took the shuttle bus to the airfield where I found Zin sleeping like a baby. He didn't even notice the messages I had sent him. I woke him up, then we drove back to the hotel, without getting lost this time. We collapsed in our bed in seconds and set up the alarm clock for 7am. We were going to sleep in, yay!! The next morning we returned to the Mt. Tremblant village. I had one more mission. At 9:35am this happened. BAM!!

I guess we'll meet again, Mt. Tremblant. My journey has just begun. Please bear with me, I am training for the Ironman.


  1. What an amazing weekend! How could you not have caught the fever and signed up for the race next year!! Go kick some butt, girl! I know you'll be great!

    1. Thank you Sam :-) The challenge is going to be not to let the training kill me. Wish me luck, haha.

  2. Man, just reading that I'm half ready to sign up for an Iron Man (HA!). Amazing weekend. Good for you for volunteering, too, what a great way to get involved.

    1. Thank you Emma! Fever is a good word. I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more triathlon!! ;-)

  3. I did the race this year and loved all the volunteers, thanks so much for everything you did, especially the smiles and encouragement, kept us going!! You will love the race next year. I will probably be back in 2015 :)

    1. Awesome stuff! I will most likely be back too, but as a volunteer in 2015. Perfect spot for vacationing with the family and so much inspiration for all! Bravo!

  4. That is my wetsuit hanging to dry:p And if you look closely, you can see two Norwegian flags in the window to the left. Great report and good luck next year!

    1. No way, that is too cool. I keep on saying how small the triathlon world is. Now, what were the odds that you stop by my blog? Made me smile. Thank you :-)

    2. Thank the excellent social media folks and FB site of IMMT, they do great work.

  5. Hello Ririnette!!! Amzing report! it made me cry! I did the bike circuit on the Satruday and I was a volunteer at the race too! What an amazing week-end!! If you want to restore your faith in the humanrace, go see an Ironman! I am so impressed with the dedication, committment, will, mental force of all the athletes, from the first one to the last one!!!! I am registered for my first half Ironman next year in Tremblant :) Best of luck for your Ironman next year! I will be there to volunteer again for sure!!

    1. Woohooo! Where did you volunteer on Sunday? Same for me, it was the best day ever, of course I had to sign up! ;-)

  6. Thank you to you and your husband for volunteering!!! So excited to race with you next year! Good luck and enjoy every moment of the race and the journey you will take training.