Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ironman Mont Tremblant

Note to readers:  This was originally written for my friends who were training for Ironman Florida which was scheduled to occur 2 months after my race, just to give them an idea of what to expect.  I did not post it to my Blog until 2 years later.

My training

I followed a slightly modified plan from what was on Training Peaks – same overall distribution of swim/bike/run per week, but on slightly different days to better fit my work schedule.  (For example, my plan had long runs on Thursdays and long bikes on Saturdays, rather than long bikes on Saturdays and long runs on Sunday…).  But – I did do all of the work – I did not skimp on workouts.  For the heaviest build period, I did the 18 mile run/90 (100) mile ride combo, then next week the 19 mile run/100 mile ride, then the next week the 20 mile run/112 mile ride.  I have to tell you, during the heaviest training period, I got to the point where I knew I could do this thing.  The time period felt surreal – but standing back watching myself, I was just amazed at 1) what I was able to accomplish physically, 2) how quickly I could recover.  The week of the 112 mile ride I knew I was ready.

Then…  taper.  So you think you WANT to taper – you think you’ll be glad to have a little bit more time on your hands.  I guess getting some of the time back was pretty cool – but taper was tough for me because I got to where I NEEDED those workouts like a drug.  During taper I was a bit jittery and anxious.  Jumpy and unfocused.  Too much energy and didn’t know what to do with it.  Also, mentally, it is tough to drop back so much on your workouts – because by the time race day came, I’m wondering – “can I still do this?”  I didn’t FEEL as ready as I had felt right after the 112.

Race anticipation

So watching the race approach was kind of like standing on the tracks watching an oncoming train.  I was terrified and couldn’t move out of the way.  Interestingly, I was MOST terrified during the first week of taper – as the race approached, I developed this sort of calm, detached mode  of “bring it on – what will be will be”. 

Race Weekend

I had originally planned on arriving in Mont-Tremblant on Friday (it is a minimum 7 hour drive from Cooperstown).  I changed my mind about 2 weeks before and decided to go up Thursday instead, and I was REALLY glad I did.  I just needed to be up there – besides of which, the check-in process was pretty lengthy.  All athletes had to be checked in by 4:00 on Friday (which would have been tight if I had driven up there that day

Mont-Tremblant was beautiful – the primary race events (check-in, banquet, race start) took place in the “pedestrian village” – a cobblestoned downtown area filled with restaurants and stores catering to skiers.  (The area is a ski resort).  There was a little gondola running nonstop that brought you from the bottom of the hill to the top, where there was more shopping and a gondola to ride to the top of the mountain (for a fee). 
Mont Tremblant pedestrian village

The finish line was set up already, as was a big stage.  You got a sense of just how big and exciting this was in that downtown area – you kind of felt like a rock star.

Driving into town was a bit intimidating.  There were what appeared to be hard core IM athletes everywhere – particularly practicing on the bike course with their spiffy tri kits and aero helmets.  Through town, I tried very hard to ignore this tall slender runner with a washboard stomach (I could tell because she had it bared), leaping through town like a gazelle, out for a practice run.  I hated her.   When she came leaping back down the hill I clenched my teeth and said “NOT intimidated” to myself. 

On Thursday night we met up with Angela Dumadag – our CTF coordinator, at a pizza place for dinner.  I got to meet Bob McConnell, one of our teammates, and a friend of his who was competing also.  Greg Mathe, another teammate, stopped by, as did Carolyn Renkin.  If you check out their times, you will see that both of them are rock starts, by the way.  Dinner was fun, although I think my husband (not a triathlete) was beginning to get a little antsy by the end because it was all triathlon talk.  Afterwards we walked through town to get “beaver tails” – these Canadian fried dough confections that you can get loaded with lots of different confections.  Most yum!  After that, Matthew and I left and went back to our hotel.  Got a good night’s sleep.

Day 2…Friday

Headed into town early to check in.   I showed up at 10:00 and got in a line that was vaguely reminiscent of being at Disney World – mostly in the number of times it wrapped around outside and inside of buildings before you actually GOT to check-in.  I think I was in line for an hour.

Be prepared – there are a lot of serious IM hard-asses there.  It is VERY EASY to feel like you don’t belong.  I was standing behind this guy who informed me that he was doing 3 IMs in the next 4 weeks, and that usually during race season he does 4 marathons a month.  So my brain says “clearly I’m not good enough” (when really it should have been saying “clearly this guy is a mutant”).    MESSAGE TO REMEMBER:  YOU TOTALLY BELONG AND YOU ARE TOTALLY GOOD ENOUGH.  You’ve done the work, and paid your dues to be here.  Don’t compare yourselves to any of the people who will be crippled before they are 40 because they are maniacs.  Just enjoy the ride.

So – check-in.  You have to, of course, fill out the waiver saying you won’t sue anyone if you die.  You give them emergency phone numbers, and then you get in line to be weighed.  I didn’t like that part because I don’t weigh myself.  Ever.

The rest of check-in is pretty standard race stuff – if you’ve raced before it will feel familiar.  You get your goodie bag (in this case it is stuffed in a nice Ironman backpack), your timing chip, etc…

The rest of day 2 we spent sight-seeing around town.  Took the gondola ride to the top of the mountain ($20 per person)…  did some shopping; did some eating.  The weather was cold and a bit drizzly – I was spending a bit of time worried that it might be bad for race day.  At the very least I was worried about the water temp for the swim.  Mid afternoon I brought Matthew back to the hotel and I came back to town for the athlete banquet.

The Banquet

So I’m assuming they have banquets at all IMs – check your race site.  At least at IMMT, there was a banquet on Friday night before the race – athletes got in for free, and it cost $30 for friends and family to get tickets.  Best to buy tickets ahead of time because they were sold out by that Friday.  There was food (not gourmet, but I’m not picky) and entertainment.  This was followed by a mandatory athlete briefing at 7:00.  IT IS CRITICAL TO GO TO THE BRIEFING – YOU WILL RECEIVE IMPORTANT RACE DAY INFORMATION THERE.

Day 3 – day before race

The first thing on my agenda for Day 3 was to get my bike checked in.  Not only my bike, but my run bag and bike bag had to be checked in on Saturday.  I learned this at the briefing on Friday night, which meant I had to figure out everything I’d need for transitions and have them packed when I went to drop off my bike.  Once I had my bike and my gear dropped off, there really wasn’t much more to do from a race perspective, except to be terrified.

After bike check-in we tried to do some sightseeing.  The weather was TRULY abysmal – it went from cold and drizzly to cold and pouring.  Still, there were some hard core IM’ers out checking out the bike course.  I decided I would wait until race day to get on my bike again – I did not want to chance getting wacked by a car or slipping in the rain.  I also decided I wanted nothing to do with getting in the water before race day.  The swim is NOT generally my favorite part – I am used to swimming in open water, so I really didn’t see much benefit in suiting up and paddling around just ‘cuz.  I figured it wasn’t going to change anything on race day.  Eventually we gave up on trying to sightsee and just holed up in our hotel with a Duraflame in the cute little fireplace in our hotel room, and waited for the rest of my family to arrive. My family showed up shortly before dinner – had a great pasta meal and went back to the hotel to try to get some sleep…

The night before

So – I went to be early the night before – tried to be in bed at 10.  More than any other race, I tossed and turned – I don’t think I fell asleep until 1.  This was tough because I had to be out the door at 4 – because I was staying at a hotel a ways away from the race, so I needed to get to the race by 4:30.  I did this primarily for financial reasons – it was less expensive – but there was definitely a drawback to not being right on site – both for the convenience of getting there that morning, but also because I would have liked to have gone back down to watch the finishers at midnight

Race Day

Alarm went off at 3:45.  I had all of my stuff including the coffeemaker in the bathroom so I wouldn’t wake up my husband and daughter.  I huddled in the bathroom drinking my coffee and putting on race day (RACE DAY!!!) clothes.  Almost forgot to put on my Garmin GPS – gulp!  Because the weekend had been so damn cold, I had made the relatively last minute decision to wear a bathing suit under my wetsuit, and make a full change into my tri-kit, rather than swimming in my tri-kit.  I didn’t like having to do this, but I knew it was important to be warm enough on the bike.  This also meant I was going to need to go to my bike bag and adjust things a little bit, by putting my tri kit into it so I’d have it to change into after the swim.  I also had to put my good pair of glasses in my bike bag –( I’m a glasses wearer, so that always involves logistics at races.  I wear a cheap pair to the race and keep my good pair at the bike….) 

In the bathroom I put on my bathing suit, put on sweats and a fleece, pulled all my bags together (you bring down your special needs bags and your “morning clothes” bag on the day of the race, so I had 3 bags plus a plastic bag with 2 bottles of water and my breakfast), and went to wake up my dad to bring me to the bus.  I got to the bus stop about 3 seconds before it came, and found myself on a bus that was pretty much mostly full of volunteers.  There were no racers on the bus.  Also, I was in Quebec and so pretty much everyone was speaking French.

People were just starting to show up at 4:30.  I got to talking to one of the volunteers – his name was Luke.  As soon as he found out I was competing he took great care of me.  When we got off the bus he insisted on carrying all of my gear for me until I got to where I had to check it in.  I was one of the first folks to get body-marked, and I headed off to do some last minute adjustments to my bike bag (deposit tri kit and glasses), and drop my “special needs” bags off.  This took me through to about 5:30 or so, at which point I figured I should eat my breakfast.  The place was starting to get packet with athletes – just milling around in sort of a useless way.  I found a relatively available picnic table and ate my bagel with chunky peanut butter and drank my bottle of OJ.  It was a bit tough to choke down the bagel – the butterflies in my stomach were making it hard to eat.  At that point I figured I’d head up to the swim start so at least I’d be where I needed to be. 

The swim start area saw athletes beginning to don wet suits.  Damn, this was getting REAL!  It was only 6:00 at this point, and I wasn’t starting until 7 (last wave in) so I really had nothing to do except to wait in the potty lines to pee before the race.  (This is generally a multi-step process – wait in line, pee, go to the back of the line and do it again… I did it 3 times before the Utica Boilermaker). 

Around 6:30 I decided I should get ready.  I pulled my wetsuit out of my morning clothes bag and saw to my dumbfounded horror that the bra that goes with my tri kit was sitting in the bottom of my morning clothes bag instead of in my bike bag with my tri kit where it belonged.  This was bad.  I could probably bike without it – but I definitely didn’t want to be running without it.  Damn.  Shit!  What to do?  I figured I had 2 choices – I could either just pull it on OVER my swim suit, (which would look REALLY dumb)  so I I at least had it with me (there was no way to get it into my bike bag at this point), or I could wait in the potty line AGAIN and put it on under my swimsuit – where it would at least be in the correct position to wear for the bike (if a little damp).  I opted for the potty line solution – which meant that I didn’t actually get myself out to the beach until 8 minutes before my wave started.  Cutting it pretty close – but at least it kept me from just waiting around being nervous. 

The Swim

I had been really worried about the water temperature – I had dropped a bunch of weight with training, with the result that I had started to get cold even in warmer pools.  The last water temp I’d heard was 65 – which seemed pretty cold to be swimming in for 90-100 minutes… even with a wet suit.

Before I knew it, they’d called the last wave, and there I was, waiting in the water with the rest of the green bathing caps, waiting for the gun to go off.  Boom – there it was, and off we went.

I was thrilled to discover that the temperature of the water wasn’t that bad.  I managed to avoid getting kicked or otherwise creamed during the mass start, and within a relatively short time had a bit of space to myself to start getting comfortable.  And get comfortable I did.  Once I was in the water, within a very short period of time, the terror of the unknown went away, and the comfort of the familiar took its place.  I was swimming.  I could do this.  And you know what?  It was even beautiful.  The lake was lovely, and the sun was just peeking over the clouds on the horizon.  I not only tolerated the swim – I actually managed to enjoy most of it.

There were 13 yellow buoys until the turnaround, 2 red ones at the end, and 13 orange ones coming back.  I counted the buoys while I swam and was amazed at how quickly they seemed to go by.  I was happy to see I was doing just fine – I managed to pass folks who started before me (as evidenced by the different color swim starts).  It didn’t seem like 93 minutes when I reached the end of the swim – although about 15 minutes before the end I did start to get a bit chilly.  I also realized to my dismay that I had forgotten (in the bra debacle) to use my Glide on my neck for my wetsuit, so I was starting to get some serious chafing going on.

Some folks started walking as early as they could get solid footing in the water; I kept swimming as long as I could, figuring I’d make better time that way.  With only about 18 inches of water below me, I finally stood up and peeled down my suit, waded to the beach and got my wetsuit yanked off of me from a waiting volunteer.  I threw it over my shoulder and started jogging along the concrete path to the transition tent…  along the way, my whole family was there in their CTF T-shirts to cheer me on.


T1 went faster than expected, given I had to strip off everything I was wearing and pull on new clothes.  There were volunteers (female) everywhere – 1 for each athlete.  It was amazing.

The Bike

 Started out strong on the bike.  Took me a couple of minutes into the race to remember that I had to abide by all of the drafting rules, etc… - so all of a sudden I became very aware of where I was in relation to other people.  I was expected the bike to be my best leg, and it was.  I was afraid the course would be really hilly – but in fact the hills by and large were less steep than what I had trained for – the road was also nicely paved too, and the course was beautiful.  I had heard from someone who had done the race before that there was a “big hill” around mile 50 and then again 56 miles later.  Looking at the elevation map, I assumed he meant the hill that was actually at mile 30 – a couple hundred foot climb.  When I conquered that with no problem, I was elated and figured I had this thing nailed.  In fact, though, after we came through town around mile 48, we did start to climb.  That’s where we hit a bunch of steep “steps” – 20% grades or so where I generally did a bit of standing, and then it levelled off.  Since I hadn’t practiced the bike route (and I’m still glad I didn’t, so don’t make me feel guilty about it…), I didn’t know quite how many of them there were.  I’m thinking about 6 steep climbs.  The whole time, all that was going through my head was “holy F@#K! – this is going to SUCK at mile 106!”.  The good news is, there was a great down, which got me to my halfway point where my husband Matthew was there in his CTF shirt yelling for me like a maniac.  I breezed through the special needs station without stopping, and went on for my second loop.  Nothing remarkable about loop 2 – was just dreading the hills at the end.  Have to mention this one great section through a more populated area where the street was lined with cheering spectators (more on loop 1 than 2, no surprise).  That part was really fun – folks were yelling in English and French.

Turns out the steep steps at the end were really no worse for me on round 2 than round 1 – got to the top and it was all downhill from there…  And then… the downpour started at mile 110, going straight downhill.  It was a stinging, raging downpour – (remember I wear glasses) that also meant I was NOT going to go all out down the hill and risk crashing.

The downpour lasted only enough to ruin the downhill and to drench me and all of the spectators, getting me good and wet for the run.  I finished the bike in 6:55 – which was a good 20-30 minutes than my best expectations.

The Run

I had told all of my friends, as I headed into this race, that my finish time would all depend on 1) when in the run I hit the wall, and 2) how hard I hit it.  The short answer to that is, mile 10, and hard.

The run started out great – I was thrilled to find I was running about 10 minute miles (a couple at 9:40 or so).  I religiously took my GU and salt early on, and kept running.  At about mile 6 it was time for another GU.  This time it just wasn’t happening.  Bad things were happening in my gut and there was no way it was going to accept a GU.  Or, really, anything except water at that point.  OK – so much for the nutrition plan I practiced.

A friend of mine had told me she walked through all of the water stops.  This was sounding like a good plan to me, so I started doing that early on.  The further I got into the run, the longer my water stop walk breaks got.  I’d start to walk when I saw a water stop up ahead, instead of when I hit it.  Somewhere around mile 10 – well, it just got harder and harder to start running again. 

At this point Coach Brendan’s e-mail voice started going through my head.  He had sent out an inspirational e-mail which said “as your race day continues, you will eventually hit the Line.  It’s at this point that your body begins to debate, very loudly, with the mind.  Unless you have a very clearly defined goal or compelling reason why you must continue, your body wins and your day will start… to get… very… long.  Success at this point is defined as not slowing down.  Keep this goal or motivation in mind and use it as a lifeline that will bring you to the finish.”

As I saw myself slowing down, I heard Coach Brendan’s e-mail saying over and over “success at this point is defined as NOT SLOWING DOWN”.   My mind was snarling at coach Brendan.

I would love to say that my mind won the battle and I conquered those voices that were telling me I just had to walk for a little bit longer, but that would be lying.  What I WAS able to do is to continue, for the next 16 miles, running – well, whenever I could.  I’d pick a point and run until I got there.  I’d say “Ok – I’m counting to 20 slowly and will run until I get to 20…”.  And then I’d walk.  And then I’d do it again.  And again.  (Did I mention that from mile 12 to 18 or so, every time I ran I’d get nauseous?  Oh yeah – well, that too. ) 

At some point it started to get dark.  This was, in a way, peaceful.  It was amazing how quickly the whole day had gone by.  It did not feel nearly as long as it was.

For nutrition – well, all I could choke down were some sips of chicken broth, some orange slices, and a couple of pretzels.  For 20 miles.  So much for my nutrition plan.

So this might sound horrible – but in fact I was still having a pretty great time.  I was seeing my teammates in various locations, meeting people along the way, the scenery was beautiful, and I was still moving – generally faster than 15 minute miles.  The only bad part was the little voice in my head that said “success at this point is defined as NOT SLOWING DOWN.” 

Oh well.

Mile 25…  had gone about 139 miles at this point, the last 20 with very very few calories.  There was a point here where I was starting to feel pretty sick.  Although I had been confident since mile 10 that I WOULD finish, I was now a little concerned that I might need a medical tent before I hit the finish line.  I kept walking fast, saving the last of my energy to try to run through the packed finish line area.

I hit the town, I hit the lights – I saw my daughter right on the edge of town yelling for me.  I grinned in a tired way and started to run.  I saw my parents screaming for me and I kept running.  Maybe 100 yards from the finish, I slowed to a walk again.  The crowd did not allow it – they yelled and screamed “keep going you’re almost there!”.  They carried me along – I picked it up and ran – and heard Mike Reilly say “Amy Van Kampen, from Cooperstown, NY.  You are an Ironman!”

I am an Ironman.  How freakin’ amazing is that?

So why is this amazing?

As my friend Maryann (who has done 4 IMs) reminded me several days before the race, she and I were the ones who got picked LAST for games in gym.  I was never an athlete growing up.  I battled with my weight.  I battled with substances. I’ve battled with demons.  For years I was a 2 pack a day smoker.  And then one day I quit smoking and started exercising.  And it has saved my life. And it has come to define me.

I am an Ironman.

Post Game Analysis -  Some thoughts about my run bonk

I’d be curious to get the coaches thoughts on my run slowdown, because of course I’ve been doing a lot of post game analysis.  I have a couple of thoughts on this.  After I sent this document out to a bunch of the IM Florida team, I started to worry – “Oh no – now they’re going to think they’re going to have a hard time on the run! “ – so I want to share these things.  First of all, remember that this was MY race report, completely dependent upon my fitness, my race day, my nutrition plan.  There were plenty of other athletes who had stronger runs – so clearly everyone has their own experience.  Why did I slow down?

1) Nutrition – read my nutrition section below.  I think that taking in solids on the bike lead to some GI distress on the run.  Not being able to take in enough on the run definitely contributed to the slow down.

2) Conflicting goals.  So this is I think I big one for me.  I had 2 different goals in my head.  My PRIMARY goal was to finish an ironman.  My secondary goal was to do it in under 15 hours as in “wouldn’t it be nice to do it under 15.” My stretch goal was 14 hours – which I figured I could hit if everything went completely right.  So – at mile 10 in the run, when my body started talking (loudly) and when the stomach distress was getting worse, in my head, Goal number 2 was replaced by Goal number 1.  That is, my primary goal of finishing the race pretty much replaced my “wouldn’t it be nice” goal of finishing it really strong.  So – as coach Brendan said, “Unless you have a very clearly defined goal or compelling reason why you must continue, your body wins…”.  At that point, my clearly defined goal became finishing the race – which I knew I could do – so my body “allowed” me to do more walking- because I still knew I’d be accomplishing my primary goal. 

Also, re: the run bonk, it essentially probably slowed me down by a total of 30-45 minutes – no more.  The best I probably realistically could have hoped to accomplish, had I kept running more consistently, was probably about a 5 to 5:15 marathon.  (It ended up being 5:42).  Which I guess in the great scheme of things, is not too terribly bad for my first IM.  To put it in perspective – my best marathon ever was a 4:18.  My worst marathon outside of an IM was 5:24.  So – this marathon after a 112 mile road race was 18 minutes slower than my worst marathon.  Not too shabby after all.  Also, my run was pretty much exactly in the middle of my age group (62 out of 120).  I think I’m fine with that too.

Some things that are different about an Ironman than shorter triathlons

Wetsuit Strippers – what an amazing freakin’ concept!  You come out of the water, pulling your wetsuit down to your waist, and you just have a crowd of volunteers ready to strip you.  You lie on your back with your legs in the air and they pull the damn thing right off of you.  You throw it over your shoulder and run to the tent.  (I have HEARD they have these at all long IMs – you might check to make sure).

Special Needs Bags – These are cool too – had no idea what these were until the briefing before the race, and then I had to figure out what I wanted to put in them.  So – in a full ironman, you not only have stuff for the swim and bike transition, but you get bags to put things in that you think you will need halfway through the bike, and halfway through the run.  So, on the bike, as you’re riding through special needs, a “spotter” will call out your number “303 coming!” – then a volunteer will grab YOUR bag and have it all ready for you if you want to grab something – extra nutrition, clothes, an inspiring note – whatever.  Same thing on the run – which was handy – because there was a brief but heavy downpour at about mile 11 – so I changed my socks when I hit mile 13.1.

Transition tents – So in a full IM, you don’t keep your transition gear at your bike – you put your RUN bag in one portion of the changing tent, and your BIKE bag in the other.  So when you run in from the swim, you grab your BIKE bag and go into a gender-specific changing area set up with chairs and again all of those willing volunteers.  They will help you get stuff out of your bag, spray sunscreen on you, help you off with your clothes – naked bodies everywhere!  You then stuff all of your swim stuff (wetsuit, goggles, bathing suit) into the now empty bike bag, to get handed to you at the end of the race.  Same thing happens between bike and run. 

Things I learned about nutrition

OK – so nutrition has been a big learning for me this year.  I’ve done 8 marathons.  For the first 5 marathons, I would SUBSTANTIALLY slow down around mile 18 – every single time.  I finally had a friend tell me that I wasn’t eating enough – that I should be eating AT LEAST 100 calories every 45 minutes to an hour.  So – I changed my strategy for marathon 6 and got better.  By marathon 7 - I learned about salt tablets – this is great.  Marathon 8 – I was religious – GU every 45 minutes, salt tabs every 45 minutes to an hour.  No wall at all – no slow down, no voices telling me I had to stop.  I had this nailed.  I was all prepared for the IM.


Turns out, for me, what works on JUST a long run didn’t work so well on an Ironman.  I started the run just great – ate my GU and salt, just like I practiced on my transition runs.  But… stomach didn’t feel great.  Things just churning around.  Mile 6 – time for the second GU.  Took 1 bite – and, well, that was it.  Couldn’t eat any more GU.  I didn’t actually get sick – but I knew if I finished the GU, I would.  So – for the next 20 miles – the only nutrition I was able to choke down was sips of chicken broth (which they had at virtually every stop), a couple of orange slices, and a couple of pretzels. 

So what would I have done differently?  Well, there was this  really key workout – you might be hitting it already, where you are supposed to do a long ride – 70 miles, followed by a 15 mile run.  I didn’t ever actually do that exact workout because it was a week before my June marathon, so I only ran 8 miles after the 70.  Which meant that I never really practiced nutrition for a long run following a long bike.  I think it is critical you get that particular workout in somehow.  If I were going to do it again, I think I’d do more practicing with liquid nutrition like Hammer and Infinit, both on the bike (where I used mostly solid nutrition because, well, I like to eat), and on the run.  You might also practice specifically with things you KNOW will be on the course.  I made a mistake with that one too – I assumed, because they served “bonk breaker bars” on my IM 70.3 that bonk breakers were served at EVERY IM race.  Not so.  Turns out what they serve on the course is race specific.  So – find out what’s on your course and I’d recommend you try all of it.

Happy training everyone.