Race Report: Ironman Mont-Tremblant

Background

On a rainy Friday night this past November, I received a call from my friend Bryan. Bryan and I trained together the previous summer in Kingston, Ontario and raced the 2015 edition of Ironman 70.3 Muskoka, but he had since moved out to Calgary, Alberta. I was at a house party when he called but I stepped outside to take his call. He was joined on the phone by his buddy Jason – they wanted to know if I would join them racing Ironman Mont-Tremblant the following summer. The goal would be for all three of us to qualify for Kona together. I was by no means in a state to be making decisions at that point of the evening, but I agreed to their plan.

Over the next several months the stars began to align. I was fortunate enough to land a summer job in Calgary, meaning I could train with Bryan and his training buddies. However, the beginning of 2016 proved to be tumultuous; I had to battle debilitating injuries and untimely illness. Upon finishing the school year, I was not satisfied with my level of preparedness. A strong performance at the TC10K in late April proved however that my fitness was better than I thought.

I moved to Calgary at the end of April to begin my summer work term. We decided upon an early season half Ironman, Ironman 70.3 Victoria, as a tune-up race for Mont-Tremblant. I was primarily focused on cycling leading up to the June 12th race, with minimal time and emphasis placed on swimming and running. I had a breakout performance in Victoria, especially in the swim and run, for which my training was minimal. This gave me great confidence heading towards Ironman Mont-Tremblant.

Unfortunately, the Calgary summer weather following 70.3 Victoria race presented significant challenges for training. Daily thundershowers and hailstorms throughout late June and July significantly hampered training in what should have been a high-volume training period. There were several weeks when I was not able to ride outside of my obligatory daily commute to work (10 km each way). Despite how minimalist a training plan may be, you would be hard-pressed to find one that prescribes 100km/week of cycling 8 weeks out from an Ironman.

The lack of cycling did allow me to focus more time on swimming and running. Although I had a strong swim and run in Victoria, I knew I couldn’t rely on my minimalist approach in support of an Ironman. I began to take the two disciplines more seriously and rediscovered my love of running and found a new affection for swimming. I logged significant mileage in these disciplines during this time and began to see major gains, especially in the pool. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like a swimmer! Meanwhile, I was hoping (read: praying) that my bike fitness would carry over. I took a two week taper leading up to the race, packed my bags, and headed off to Mont-Tremblant.

Pre-Race

I departed Calgary after work on Tuesday and arrived in Ottawa late that night. The following morning, Bryan’s mother (Geeg) picked us up in Ottawa and we headed to Mont-Tremblant. We arrived in Mont-Tremblant Tuesday afternoon and met up with Jason and his girlfriend. We had rented a large apartment 4 kilometers from the village along the run course. We unpacked, set up our bikes, and ventured out for a one hour ride along the bike course. Once home, we ate supper and got some much needed sleep.

On Thursday, we spent the morning exploring Mont-Tremblant and registering for the race. In the afternoon we made the 90 minute drive up to a cabin in rural Quebec where Bryan’s extended family was staying. It was great to hang out with all the nieces and nephews, and Bryan and I were able to get a 20 minute swim in. Following a great dinner and evening on the lake, we returned to the apartment.

The following day, Bryan’s family came up to Mont-Tremblant for the Ironkids run. All the kids were running in the 1km fun run, and I was requested to run with Bryan’s nephew, Angus. In the Ironkids run, parents are allowed and encouraged to run with their children. However, Angus quickly made his way to the front of the starting area, while all the parents were at the back. I wasn’t about to trample over a bunch of 8 year olds, so I joined the other parents at the back of the corral. As soon as the gun went off Angus was out of sight, and I was stuck running in a kids race by myself like some narcissistic jerk. I was able to regroup with Angus at the finish line, who proudly showed me his medal and proclaimed that he had finished in the top ten. We regrouped with the rest of the family and returned to the apartment. After lunch and a nap for the kids, we headed down to the village once again to go luging. Luging at Mont-Tremblant involves racing gravity-powered go-karts on a winding tarmac course down the ski hill, complete with obstacles and hairpin turns. It was a lot of fun! Once I finished, I met up with my dad and sister in the village, who had just driven up from Toronto. I showed them around the village and we grabbed dinner.

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That’s one tall 8 year old!
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Great view of Mont-Tremblant from the top of the luge course.

Saturday was bike check-in day. We got an early start and went for a 30 minute ride. The bikes were then cleaned, transition bags packed, and we headed down to the Ironman village. The process was very quick, and following a few walk-throughs of transition to prepare for the race, we headed over to the beach club for one last swim. We then returned to the house for the evening and prepared for race day. By this point, I had entirely removed grains and vegetables from my diet in preparation for the race, so my diet was akin to that of a picky 10 year old. I was able to catch half of the Tragically Hip’s final concert before heading to bed at 10pm. I fell asleep surprisingly quickly.

I woke to my alarm at 3:45am and headed downstairs to the kitchen. I ate a bagel with butter, a banana, a Clif bar and drank a cup of coffee. I also sipped on my Infinit custom blend which I had designed specifically for Ironman Mont-Tremblant. We were in the car by 4:45am and got dropped off at transition shortly before 5am. As soon as I exited the car, I realized I had made a big mistake – I had forgotten my torpedo bottle, the water bottle that fits between my aero bars on my bike. My torpedo bottle played a crucial role in my nutrition preparation and I was afraid my race would be compromised without it. I was able to borrow a spectator’s phone and text Geeg to see if she could bring it for me. I was not going to receive it prior to the swim, so I made an alternative nutrition plan in case the bottle did not arrive. Once the bike was race-ready, nay the torpedo bottle, we made the long walk to the swim start. I was feeling a wide range of emotions, a mixture of nervousness, fear, excitement, and anxiousness. This was the first time the magnitude of the event really hit me.

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My dad and sister traveled all the way from BC to watch me race.

Swim

I arrived at the lake in time for the CF-18 Hornet fly-over. It was incredible to see this engineering marvel light up its afterburners as it roared over our heads. It’s second pass, matched with the firing of a howitzer and fireworks, marked the start of the pro men’s race and shortly thereafter the pro women’s race began. I was in the first wave of starters, M18-34, and we were herded onto the beach following the pro women’s start. I seeded myself close to the front of the pack on the beach. The gun went off and we began running to the water. I knew right away I had picked a bad starting location. The guys in front of me were poor dolphin divers and I was caught in a bottle neck. The first kilometer of the swim was incredibly physical and I was punched, kicked, dunked, and grabbed repeatedly. I had no room to move, could barely breathe, and was swimming incredibly slow. Meanwhile, faster swimmers who started further back were trying to swim over me. It was a terrible, miserable experience and it began to get to my head. I kept thinking to myself “how am I going to get through this race if I can’t even get through 500m of the swim.” I was in a dark place for the first half of the swim. At the turnaround, the water was extremely rough. It felt more like an ocean swim than an inland lake swim with the large swells and choppy water. This actually played in my favour as I was used to swimming in these conditions from training in Lake Ontario and it spread out the field. On the return to shore, I was finally able to find a rhythm and was swimming really strong. I kept focusing on maintaining a long and strong stroke. The shoreline quickly approached and soon enough I had hit the beach and began to exit the water. I glanced at the clock and was very disappointed to see a time well over an hour. Given my result in Victoria and all the swimming progress I had made leading up to this race, I was hoping to swim one hour flat. However, there was no point in focusing on the negatives, there was still a long day ahead. I got my wetsuit off and made the long run down the 500 m carpeted run to transition (T1), receiving supportive cheers from throngs of spectators, including my sister and dad.

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Making the long run from the lake to T1. Photo: Hannah Rudson

Result: 3.8km, 1:04:47, 1:40/100m, 158/2480 OA, 7/51 AG

Note: I would find out after the race that I was not alone with a swim time slower than my expectations by 4-6 minutes. Several people online believe the course was swimming long.

Bike

The forecast was calling for a torrential downpour about halfway into the bike leg. I had decided heading into the race that I was going to bike very hard leading up to the rain storm as the rain may compromise road conditions making it more difficult to sustain power. I passed many people in the first portion of the bike, holding a strong effort. The downpour began right at the 30km mark of the ride and with it came a fierce headwind. It was some of the heaviest rains I had ever experienced, and I grew up on the rainy west coast! Battling through the rain and wind was challenging and demoralizing, but I recalled a memory from the day before at bike check-in. I was blown away by the amount of aerodynamic sins on the bikes people were checking in. Superbikes with aluminum wheelsets, people with gels and tubes taped to their downtube, Gatorskin tires on race wheels, etc. As someone who has a decently aerodynamic set-up, I knew that these conditions would penalize others more substantially than myself. I focused on maintaining a steady power output and making sure I stayed on track with nutrition.

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Holding an aerodynamic, but comfortable position on the bike. Photo: Finisherpix

Fortunately, I arrived to T1 to find my torpedo bottle on my bike. Thanks again Geeg! In addition to my torpedo bottle of Infinit custom blend, I carried an extra bottle of an Infinit custom blend puree I had made, containing 3 bottle’s worth of powder. As I depleted my torpedo, on the fly I would refill it will the puree and dilute it with aid station water. Additionally, I was consuming half a sleeve of Clif shot blocks per half-hour. The nutrition plan payed off as I was able to ride strong throughout the course and head into the run with a lot of energy.

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Sitting upright as I attack a climb on Chemin Duplessis. Photo: Finisherpix

 

Result: 180km, 5:14:58, 34.4km/h, 73/2480 OA, 1/51 AG

Run

I had a slight shoe issue in T2 that ate up an extra minute or two, but I was able to get it sorted out and charge out onto the run course receiving further support from my sister and farther as I headed off. 2km into the run I had to remind myself that I was indeed running a marathon and if I keep running sub 4 minute kilometers I was going to have a bad time. I locked-in at a comfortable pace of 4:25/km and began ticking off the kilometers. At the 5km mark, I was greeted by friends and family who informed me that I had a 16+ minute lead heading out onto the run. This was fantastic news as I knew that few people in my age group had the speed to run with me, let alone to erode a full 16 minute lead. I focused on running a 3:16 marathon, which would require the 2nd place guy to run a sub 3 hour marathon – a daunting task, especially on the hilly Mont-Tremblant course. I focused on maintaining my nutrition plan that I had begun on the bike. I carried a speedfill bottle containing an Infinit custom blend puree equivalent to 2 bottles worth of powder. I would take a squirt of it and “chase” it with water from aid stations. The first lap was uneventful, but I knew the race really began on the back half of the marathon. Crossing the half-way mark, I knew as long as I did not “blow up” I had the win in the bag. I ran kilometers 20-30 rather conservatively, anticipating the dreaded “wall”. Unfortunately, at the 32km mark I had to take a quick trip to the biological penalty box. After 9 hours of continuous exercise, I was very worried the sudden stop would result in my muscles seizing up. Fortunately, following my sentence I was able to run strong and the quick break actually gave me an extra jump in my step. The “wall” never came, and the nutrition plan worked out perfectly. By the final few kilometers, I only had to overcome muscle fatigue in my legs to push to the finish. I ran up to the top of the village and made the turn into the finishing chute. As I was an early finisher, the crowd erupted as they saw me make the turn towards the finish line. It is all just a blur in my mind, but the video shows me high-fiving people in the crowd before crossing the line to sound of Mike Reilly proclaiming “Ben Rudson, you are an Ironman.”

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Signaling for an “eau” as I approach an aid station at the tail end of my first lap of the run course. Photo: Hannah Rudson

Result: 42.2km, 3:16:11, 4:38/km, 33/2480 OA, 1/51 AG

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Crossing the finish line at Ironman Mont-Tremblant. Photo: Hannah Rudson

Final Result: 9:44:44, 33/2480 OA, 1/51 AG

Post-Race

Following the race, I couldn’t stomach food for a few hours. 10 hours of eating nothing but shot blocks and drinking sports drink will do that to you. Once I had been released from the finishing area, I retrieved my bike and equipment and headed back to the apartment with my dad and sister. Once I had showered, we went out for a celebratory post-race meal of a burger and poutine. Following dinner we planned on returning to the village to watch the midnight finishers, but we were all too tired. I returned to the apartment and had one of the best sleeps of my life.

The following day was the brunch of champions. It was really cool to stand on stage with the other M/F18-24 winners to accept our prizes. I received a trophy and an Ironman jacket. However, the real prize was the qualification slot for the Ironman World Championship in Kaluia-Kona, Hawaii.

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M/F 18-24 Podium. Photo: Ironman Mont-Tremblant

As the winner of the M18-24 age group, I knew following the race that I would be awarded a qualification slot for Kona. However, I was not required to take it and could “roll-down” my slot to 2nd place in the age group. This was difficult decision to make. The Ironman World Championship is the pinnacle of long course triathlon, and arguably of triathlon as a whole. I had grown up watching the race annually on NBC and I now had the opportunity to race it. I had the chance to swim at the famous Kona pier, to bike among the volcano fields and to run along Ali’i Drive. However, participation in the race requires an extensive financial commitment, with race fees, airfare, lodging, and a poor Canadian dollar. The timing of Kona is also challenging. The October 8th race is only 6 weeks following Mont-Tremblant making preparation difficult. Additionally, it falls right during midterm season at school. Taking more than a week off classes is difficult at any point in the semester, let alone during midterms. However, Kona is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Unlike the Boston Marathon for example, Kona has competitive entry system, where slots are allocated based on race placement vs. time. This makes it more difficult to qualify and also means that even if you qualify one time, you may not ever qualify again. Ultimately, I had heard too many sad stories of people passing up Kona slots only to never qualify in subsequent races. Additionally, I will be graduating university in May 2017. I am uncertain of what my future will hold following this stage of my life, but it is possible that I may not have the time, money, or ability to qualify in the future. If I passed up this opportunity only to never qualify again, I would always regret it.

I accepted my invitation for the Ironman World Championship on October 8 in Kaluia-Kona, Hawaii. I am incredibly excited to race against the top athletes in the world on an iconic course at the birthplace of Ironman.

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Heading to Kona! Photo: Alan Rudson

 

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