One recent improvement to my pre-race routine includes being able to eat real food and not throw up race morning. As well as only having a slightly more subdued version of pre-race nerves. Still the same every-increasing pressure and expectations from within but no longer am I shaking in my boots for 48 hours prior to each start. This has been an enjoyable development over the last six months, however I was worried I would be right back at square one with my first race in the pro field. I was obviously very excited to finally race at the top level, but was also filled with a lot of uncertainty leading up to the start. How would the race unfold, can I keep up with these people, is anyone going to talk to me, did I prepare enough, is my equipment going to work, what sort of legs will I have on the marathon? Despite these thoughts, I was relatively calm race morning and was able to get a decent night of sleep, woke up without any difficulty and got about 1000 calories down as I warmed up and got ready for the effort.
With about five minutes until race start the pro wave was called down to the edge of the water. This was already different, gone was the 3000 person self seeded cue and in was an orderly line of 25 athletes. Although brief, I felt good after my swim warm up and was ready for the initial surge of pace. The (very loud) cannon went off and the next 30 seconds were a frantic combination of high knee jumping through the water, hoping I got the timing right on my dive and then a few hard cycles of real swimming before assessing the situation. In hindsight, I guess this should not have surprised me but it was one of the more orderly swim starts I have participated in. As we sorted ourselves out I could see that two or three athletes had swim away very quickly but I was within sight of the front of the main pack. About halfway through the first leg, the group started to thin out and I ended up swimming at the front of it through the halfway point with a decent pack in tow. Through 1.2 miles, I felt controlled effort wise and my breathing was becoming more and more relaxed as we continued to swim. The main issue was my swim cap, around the second turn it started to slip off so I made the decision to stop for a stroke and pull it back down. Still not sure whether I should have just let it go, but I always have littering on my mind and hopefully it was not too disruptive to those following. As we headed back towards shore my coach and fellow racer, Andrew Yoder came by looking like he wanted to push the pace, so I happily found his feet and did my best to get the draft without running into him every stroke. I can only speculate, but I think he would give me a 5/10 for that. Always learning. As we approached the shore I was feeling good but ready to be done swimming. I switched to a six beat kick from the last buoy into shore in the hopes of getting some blood flowing. This proved less than useful and I was definitely hanging on for a moment or two during the run to T1. By the end of the carpeted jog towards the changing tent I had regained my wits and was focused on being efficient and getting everything right through transition. My wetsuit came off easily, socks went on without any creases, gels and salt pills all made it into my pockets and I even remembered to put my helmet on. Progress. I finished the swim in a time of 50:30, which put me 5th in the pro field out of the water and 10th overall.
I had been looking forward to getting back out on the bike every since I stopped mid race three weeks earlier. I was happy with how my body handled the swing in training load, so the plan was largely the same power and nutrition wise. The only change is that the on course nutrition is BASE instead of Gatorade, which I have not practiced with, so, in an attempt to learn from New Zealand, I was carrying an additional 500 calories on my person. To start the bike spit I had my front water reservoir about 50% full (mainly so it did not spill in the rack), my down tube bottle with 1580 calories (15 scoops carbo pro, 1 scratch), 6 gels and a film canister of salt pills. Right in the 2300 - 2400 calorie range where I have been aiming recently. Early on in the bike split I constantly reminded myself to stick to my own plan. 260 watts did not feel like much for the first hour and it was difficult to watch three athletes come by me. However, it was not difficult to talk myself out of chasing, I knew I wanted to run a successful marathon and nothing changed about my fitness in the past three weeks, so control it was. Other than those who passed me in the first few miles out of town I was largely able to bike my own race. The Mont Tremblant course is essentially two loops of two out and backs, the first one mainly on highway over constantly rolling terrain and the second shorter section made up of repeated short but steep hills. On the highway section I focused on maintaining consistent power and good aerodynamic posture. The aid stations seemed to be spaced perfectly for my needs as I was getting through an entire front reservoir between each station. Throughout the course the volunteers were attentive and engaged, making life easy for us athletes. On the hillier, second section of the loop I knew it was going to be hard to control power so I did my best to at least keep the effort within reason while also using the steeper parts as a good chance to stretch the legs and back. As was my experience three years ago, this hillier section was a great change of pace and I left feeling better than on the way in. The second loop on the bike was very similar to the first, although as everyone's pace settled a bit I passed one fading athlete and was pleasantly surprised with how things were opening up behind me. I worked through a few small waves of feelings from various parts of the body, but in general things felt great on the bike and I really enjoyed the effort. Through half way I was about 263 watts and my goal way 260 watts so I knew it was all about controlling the pressure and getting all of my nutrition down and processed for the rest of my time on the bike. I was very pleased with how my 1500 calorie bottle worked out, I never had any stomach issues and was able to space it evenly over the first 4.5 hours, keeping the concentration correct in my stomach with copious amounts of water. I ate all six gels at about 45 minute intervals and consumed about 10 of my salt pills on the bike split. Recently, I have been trying to consume just water for the last portion of the bike split, my thought is that it will clear things out and avoid the concentrated sugar gut that can often form. I finished the second lap feeling in control and ready to run, things were going well aerobically and I was really enjoying racing. I finished the bike in 4:51:02 which was 8th in the pro field and 9th overall. I normalized 261 watts and consumed all of the 2380 calories I brought with me. Two down, one to go.
Legs worked today, and it was about time. Out of the tent I felt really strong, I had to constantly slow myself down. I was seeing paces on my wrist I had no business running and kept controlling whenever possible. Within the first half mile my stomach had decided it was okay with running and from there on out I had zero digestive issues. Which is awesome. Having been passed by one runner about two miles in I spent the majority of the run in 8th place. I was definitely surprised with how the race had shaped up till this point and had not expected to find myself in the money, but I did and there was no time to act surprised, I was in a race. Through the first 7 miles I had kept the pace just under 7:00/mile which was slightly faster than expected but the body was feeling good and I was yet to feel any loss of control or signs of a bonk. The first thoughts of, oh boy you better control this, were at about mile 10. I have found the limit enough times in both training and racing to know some very early signs of when things are going to go off the rails. I was not going to allow that to happen here, so I dialed back the pace to low 7:00’s from mile 10 - 20. I focused on consuming as much as possible at every aid station as well as not taking anything out of my legs on the hills. One of the unique challenges on the Mont Tremblant run course is the drastic change in feel and emotion on various points of the course. As you run through and then leave town, you are surrounded by people on all sides, sitting, biking and even riding the bus. There is energy everywhere, which can make you push too hard or get you out of a rut during a bad moment. The middle portion of the course is on a bike path, which has no people, just lots of athletes trying to race their own Ironman. There is also a change in terrain, out of town the roads are open and rolling, on the path it is flat with full shade but no wind. The first lap reminded me of all these small nuances and I felt like I was able to control my effort at key times much more effectively on the second lap. Nutrition wise, this was by far the most successful I have ever been at eating on an IM run. I never had any issues of feeling full or any other GI distress. I ate 4 of the 6 gels I brought, had at least another 4 salt pills, water at both ends of every aid station and was even able to add in coke or redbull depending on what was handed in my direction. It felt like I was actually racing and making decisions for probably the first time in an IM run. More of that please. The last 8 miles were hard. Legs were screaming big time on every stride by the last 30 minutes. The biggest things missing from my last three attempts at the IM distance was this feeling. It hurt very good. I enjoyed every moment of it, I knew I had gotten the effort right, probably couldn't have really gone any harder and as long as I kept my head down and kept working I would make it to the line. The crowds of the last two miles were a welcomed boost, everything hurt, even muscles that have nothing to do with running, but I had allowed myself to do some math and I knew I was close to an 8 something Ironman. There was nothing left in the tank for the hills so even at the end I controlled up the inclines with the hope of maintaining some semblance of form over the line. I crossed the line with about three seconds to spare to 9 hours and I was done. I enjoyed the whole 8:59:57, but it felt so good to stop. In the end I finished in 7th place in the M Pro field and 10th overall. I had no idea where my fitness and race execution was going to get me at the end of the day so 7th place was a great surprise and a nice bonus to the weekend. What I am most pleased with is how I was able to stick to a plan and have it go almost exactly as intended. I know, more often that not this will not be the case, so I can appreciate the days when it all goes to plan. Days like last Sunday are the reason I do this sport.
The rest of my year will be IM Chattanooga on September 29th, followed by Indian Wells 70.3 on December 8th. Back to work.