23 August, 2012
My 1st Ironman - Lessons Learned & Sights Seen
- The region surrounding the venue really wanted us to like this event: on our drive in Friday afternoon we passed municipal crews driving huge drum brush sweepers along the bike lanes, water-cannoning as they went. The entire 90km circuit was pristine.
My (Swag) Bag is Bigger Than Yours
Okay, so I am a sell-out. Shoot me. I can't help it if the Ironman Mont Tremblant (IMMT) swag bag given away at the pre-race sign-in is, in a word, terrific. Like any good transition bag it has multitudinous pockets, zipped sleeves, vented pouches, compartments I am still discovering, durable material and hardware, comfortable straps, generous roominess, the works. I guess I know what my price of devotion is now, and I've got to say it's far smaller than a Lamborghini than I expected. The trouble here is - the damn bag is a yeller; the graphics and text scream Ironman! from almost any angle. Fair enough, it's their party, their swag bag to give away. But the question becomes where & how to use it? If it's for swim gear at workouts I'd be embarrassed if real swimmers saw how slow & awkward this alleged "Ironman" swims. Carry all my crap to work with it? Naw, the graphics are so garish it'll look like I'm gloating... same if I use it to schlep the family's lunches, raincoats and camera to the zoo. And the holier than thou statement it would make if I used it as a real transition bag would pretty much oblige me to go out way too hard in each leg of my next event — as if to justify what it implies — dooming me to comprehensive cramps and the issuance of all the wrong fluids from all the wrong places.
- I arrived at the start line on the wings of Lady Luck: healthy and ready - felt like a victory before the cannon sounded!
- On the day prior, at bike check-in, if someone grabs your bike as you enter transition, don't fight them for it, they're likely the valet racking volunteer. Instead, smile and enjoy chatting them up while you get the royal treatment for a moment. They even photographed the bike's race-ready mug shot for security.
SWIM: 1:21:59 - yoiks!
- Even though you can't see the far turn buoys from shore due to the distance and the morning mist, they do eventually show up. They are just awfully far away.
- No matter how many swim lessons you take, nor how many drills and thousands of metres you put in each week, don't forget to practice putting goggles onto a dry face and getting a good seal. Three times in the first 400m or so I had to be That Guy who treads water stupidly, legs flailing, while he tries to re-jig his goggs. The third time I made the executive decision to rip off and discard my swim cap so I could get the positioning of everything Just So. In the meantime, practically everyone got past me, including the dreaded breaststrokers. I spent the next many minutes fighting off wayward feet, elbows, and guilty feelings that some poor volunteer might come across a lone swimmer's cap, think the worst, and call out the dive team...
How poetically symbolic - my swim exit pic. I am getting this sucker framed
The Red Carpet Treatment Not Lost on These Tender Hobbit Feet
My elation at finishing my first IM swim was fueled by the crowd, several people deep, that lined the ~800m run in to transition from the swim exit beach. Happily, this was paved in brand new, cushiony red carpet. As I jogged along to the cheers and cowbells I spied my elder son, and he ran with me where gaps in the crowd permitted; got a laugh from said crowd when I yelled back to him that everyone's going for a bike ride now! as if we were all in some enormous group treasure hunt. Which I guess we were, in a way.
- After a swim like that, passing nearly 700 people on the bike and the run doesn't seem particularly hectic if you take as long as I did to do it.
- It is possible to complete an IM without taking a single bite of anything; I went with all liquid nutrition, from start to finish. Maltodextrin, calcium carbonate, sea salt and water dissolve into a nice homebrewed glop that sits well in at least this person's stomach.
- The town of St. Jovite is big enough to have a sewer system. That means pipes underground, and recessed manhole covers above. More than once (on the first loop only, bien sûr!) I dipped into a sun-dappled, camouflaged manhole cover and nearly had a moment.
- The winds across some of the bridges along highway 117 really do pick up on the 2nd loop at mid-day. Happily - outside of some of the steepest hills - it was the only time I needed to grab the bullhorns.
- People really need to up their race craft on the bike, especially where hills are concerned; I constantly found myself bombing past folks who were coasting downhill. I guess they do this for a rest? Trouble is, with a lower top speed they also end up pedalling more intensely to make it up the next hill. They save one match only to burn two later on, then they need a bigger rest on the next downhill, and so it continues...
Just When I Thought I Was Getting the Hang of This...
...at the far turnaround on highway 117 I was struck not only by the afternoon's stronger, gustier crosswinds, but also by some remarkable black clouds brewing over the transition zone dozens of kilometres away. I will always remember this sight squeezing a laugh out of me, along the lines of Bring it on! And boy did they ever bring it - the torrential, but mercifully brief, downpour we received on the run was heavy enough to soak me through, my shoes waterlogged to the point where it didn't matter whether I ran through the puddles and street-side rivers that formed or tried to skip around them.
- Having said that, I appreciated the overall sense I had that handling skills were above those found in some shorter distance events. Often found myself beside folks on roundabouts & turnarounds, with few concerns.
- Those industrial-strength traffic cones that divided our highway rides from cars were so ubiquitous that was easy to take their placements for granted. One cyclist just 50m ahead of me must have had a momentary distraction and clipped his base bar on one. He went down with a loud crashing slap - knocked the wind out of him, likely broke some ribs, collarbone, who knows - his day was almost certainly done.
- Although it took several more minutes in transitions, I am glad that, for my first time at this distance, I went from swim jammers to bike shorts to run shorts; the peace of mind this flexibility gave me added greatly to my serenity. Next time, though, I smash it with a trisuit or equivalent.
- I have heard that a thoughtful gesture in these big races is to take a moment to hand off a note of devotion to your S/O when you start your run - something acknowledging your appreciation for their support, how much they mean to you, all that mushy stuff you were too tired to express over the previous half year of training. So I had something written up and, exiting the tent at T2, I scanned the fencing until I found her. Trouble was, she was standing back from the fence and the crowd, across the drainage ditch behind the crowd, up on a knoll to get a better view for taking pictures. Clearly a quick, romantic peck & hand-off wasn't in the cards. I held my note up helplessly, grimaced, she held her arms up, with a slight smile/WTF look, and I pulled up to a panic stop.
Luckily I'd printed my note up on some thick card stock, so I folded it in half like some two-year-old's idea of a paper airplane, leaned between some of the folks in the crowd, and Frisbee'd it as best I could in her direction. My years of playing Ultimate paid off - the dang thing sailed far enough to land on her shores of Isengard. The cool thing was, as she scrambled down the slope to retrieve it I could swear I heard the crowd around us collectively sigh & go, "Ahhhhhhh!"
- Forget the shoe ads. Something I could never know from running pristine trails through the escarpment while training: AC/DC's Highway to Hell, pumped out of a U2-sized sound system while a few hundred strangers clap and cheer is what actually makes me run fastest.
- If it has to rain when you're running, it may be best for the sky to just open up and pour. With a good pair of merino wool socks on, once you are thoroughly soaked, splashing through puddles and drainage rivulets won't make a difference and you get to feel like a kid again.
- It is possible to complete an IM almost fully naked ;) ie. with no GPS, no power meter, no HRM. Just my trusty Timex wrist watch with a split time chronometer*.
* I am a living Timex commercial. What gives me chills, more than the lightning, thunder, and downpour at the end of the run, is that my watch's battery gave up the ghost just as I crossed the finish line. After more than five years of use, the display began to fade - of all times - on the second loop of the run, to the point where I could only see the main time numbers, not the small splits above it (at first, I mistook it as a sign I was either rapidly aging or about to lose consciousness). I even recall it working as I took a last glance rounding the final climb along Rue Kandahar in the pedestrian village before entering the downhill to the finish chute. Then, after crossing the line, I looked down to stop it as we approached the volunteer "catchers" and saw the display had gone blank. I kid you not. Timex Watches: Now With Batteries More Faithful Than the Family Dog...
Post-race: being soaked to the skin makes a long line-up for poutine just not appealing enough to endure - regardless of how good it is purported to be - so I caught up with my three drenched, indulgent family members and we retired to our nearby room. Screw the ice bath, I took a long warm soak.
- Just like I have heard, recovery really does feel easier than after a stand-alone marathon. It must be that I was so tuckered out from the swim and the bike that I couldn't muster enough speed to really trash my legs! (EDIT: Having said that - just over a week later, I bent over and twisted to pick up the soap in the shower and *doink* my sciatica shot a reminder through my lower vertebrae that I will always need to be vigilant. A week on and after a round of NSAIDs I am now able to sit and walk and talk like a human again. Ironman my ass... )
- The cost of staying in resort-calibre accommodations is quickly forgotten when you can take a gondola to & from the transition zones and you've got a view like this from your balcony:
- where else but in this locale can IronSherpas can be bribed with everything from crepes to a grocer selling boneless skinless chicken breasts, all within a stone's throw from the transition zone?!
- Lastly, and far from least: the locals and volunteers are insane. Their iron-calibre ability to cheer so loudly, so inventively, and so infectiously, for so many hours, even in the pouring rain, for heaven's sake, is truly inspiring. Thank you, everyone, who helped make this happen. It was truly epic, in no small part because of you.