Along with about 15-20 others from Raleigh, NC I traveled to the spectacular ski resort of Mont-Tremblant in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. Mont-Tremblant is located about 90 minutes north of Montreal.
Having lived in Montreal from late 2001 to mid 2003 I was familiar with Mont-Tremblant, but only as a ski resort. The hub of activity is the Village where there are many hotels as well as restaurants and shops to occupy much of the typical nervous pre-race time. Nicole and I stayed at the Fairmont as did my father. There were many other hotel, B&B and condo options that are a short drive to the village.
As one would expect the village is on the side of the mountain so there is a lot of walking up and down depending on how far up your hotel is located. The Fairmont was located the highest in the village so we made ample use of the free village gondola to save my legs for race day.
For the first time in my Ironman history I got a normal night of sleep the night prior. I was out by 11:00pm and up at 4:00am. By comparison, my last Ironman in Switzerland I tossed and turned until 3:00 and then awoke at 4:00. I had always been told the night before sleep was not that critical. I proved that to myself in Switzerland as I felt no ill effects from one hour of sleep. To date Ironman Switzerland is my PR.
I had a good breakfast at the hotel buffet and made my way down to transition. Everything was in order except a last minute realization that I forgot to use a Velcro tie for my Speedfil A2 water bottle. Luckily I was able to find one in the bike shop. Problem solved. I made my way over to the porta-john line and waited there for 30 minutes before I got my turn. I have yet to compete in an Ironman race where I didn’t wait in a port-a-john line at least 30 minutes prior to the race start. Eventually Nicole, my friend/training partner Mark Wicker, Jay Temple (Mark’s buddy) and I made our way over to the swim start.
The water was in the high 60s and super clean/clear. IMMT was a test site for the new SwimStart initiative, so my AG (40-44) start was the 3rd wave (after the pros). I positioned myself pretty close to the front as I expected to swim my typical pace of 1 hour. We started standing in shallow water and after a few steps take off for the swim. With the wave start it was not quite as violent as a mass start but by no means is it contact free. It wasn’t long before I found some open water and got into a groove. Unfortunately it also wasn’t long before I started to catch the slower swimmers from the wave that started 3 min before me. This is the part of the wave start that I dislike. Although the start is clearly safer and less chaotic it is difficult to maneuver through a throng of swimmers from earlier waves. Based on the variety of cap colors, I ended up passing swimmers from all three waves in front of me. Trying to navigate around and through a wall of mostly crooked swimmers I think added a bit to my overall time. I cannot imagine those in the later waves who are elite swimmers like my friend Erin Cutrell. Erin was in the next to last wave and swam a 54 minute split. She must have passed over 1000 competitors. I also had a fellow competitor tap-tap on my feet for literally 2 straight miles! I could not shake this guy not matter what I did. It is quite alright to draft off a swimmer in front of you, but don’t tap their feet for the entire swim. It is very, very annoying.
I exited the water in 1:01, pretty much just right where I expected to be. The swim felt pretty effortless. I was not the least bit spent from the effort which was the plan. So far so good. I sat down on the grass to get some assistance with the wetsuit removal process. For the newbies, these eager volunteers are known as the wetsuit strippers. Yep, it’s a fun name. Here is where it all went wrong for me. As I was sitting in the grass on my butt having my wetsuit yanked from my body a fellow competitor ran (much too close) behind me. As he ran by me his knee collided with the left side of my head, just above the ear. Place your hands on your head just above your ears and clench your jaw. Do you feel that muscle moving? That is where I was struck. Everything immediately went black and I saw stars. I laid back on the ground and the medics were on me in a flash. I was not knocked out unconscious but I was in bad shape. I asked them to give me a minute and told them I’d be fine. After a minute or so I got up and jogged to the changing tent. As I entered the tent I felt dizzy and proceeded to fall flat on my face. The volunteers just thought I had tripped so once I was back up there was no concern. I took my time changing into cycling gear and attempted to gather myself for the task ahead. I convinced myself I would be okay and continued on my way.
My head was simultaneously throbbing and spinning. The pain and swelling in the muscular part of my head rendered me unable to chew. My Ironman nutrition does not include and hard/solid food so that didn’t concern me. After a few miles I started to feel a little better. The course is very undulating and I got into a decent pace/rhythm early on. At the turnaround on the highway I was starting to fade a bit. My head was hurting badly and overall I was feeling pretty well out of it. By the way, in general it is not a windy bike course until you reach the highway. By the 2nd lap it was significantly more windy than lap #1. Also, I should point out the road conditions/pavement are overall excellent.
I pushed on and had moments of “I’ll be okay” mixed with “I’m done”. The last 6 miles of the loop is by far the hilliest. The course climbs in a stair step manner up to the top of a hill with some of the pitches at 12%+ grade. Then we turn around and come flying back down the hill. I finished the first split in about 2:50 which was right on my goal pace of 5:40-5:45. I headed out for lap two and it wasn’t long before I knew I was in trouble. The effort and exertion required for the bike was taking its toll. My head was feeling worse. By mile 75 I knew it was game over. The only way I could finish the bike was if I slowed way down. I backed off the last 35-40 miles. It was while descending the last stair case hill that it occurred to me attempting the bike was not the smartest thing I’d ever done. Here I was going 40+ mph down a hill with what was later diagnosed as a mild concussion. I cruised into T2 and handed my bike off to a volunteer. Lap 2 was 3:24, total time 6:14.
It seemed as if I was in T2 all by myself. Ironically, a medic came over to me as I must have had a disoriented look on my face. He asked me if I was okay. I said, “I don’t think so, let me tell you what happened.” He took me into the medical tent. I was evaluated and it was determined that I had suffered a mild concussion and my day was over. The medic called Nicole. She and my dad met me and I told them the story of what had happened. We went for some lunch and spent the rest of the day/evening relaxing and cheering Mark and other friends during the run.
In retrospect it was an unfortunate accident that ended my day. I was disappointed that the racer who collided with me never even stopped to apologize or see if I was okay. As hard as his knee hit my head there is simply no way he didn’t know what had happened. I’ve heard of racers suffering a concussion during the swim (very dangerous) or from a crash on the bike. What happened to me however was a first. I have decided will sign up for the new 2014 IM Chattanooga as it is only about a 7 hour drive from Raleigh and a desirable date, Sept 28th. Mark and few other friends will also be competing so we have that to look forward to next year.
Overall, the course at IMMT is challenging but fair. You get out of if whatever you put in. Although I did not get to run I saw most of the course as I had ridden it on my bike earlier in the week. By no means is it flat, but if you pace properly on the bike it is manageable. There are no steep hills but lots of rolling gradual hilly sections. I was happy to hear that IM has awarded Mont-Tremblant with the 70.3 World’s next year. Canada is an awesome country with very friendly people and they will be a tremendous host for 3 long course races in 2014, IMMT 70.3 in June , IMMT 140.6 in August and in Sept, the 70.3 Worlds.
Of all my fellow NC friends who raced, all of them came way with positive reviews of IMMT. Thumbs up to the Mont-Tremblant community for a superb race!