by Jim Kelley
This race report begins just over a year ago at Ironman Mont-Tremblant, August 2013. For those that don’t know, an Ironman is comprised of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run. Last year, I was pulled off the run course by the medical staff with just 7 miles left to go before the finish line. I had been puking my guts out and couldn’t even hold down water. I’d “been there” before in this situation with stomach shutdown (3 previous DNFs) and didn’t want to go through another death march to the finish line. I took the free ambulance ride back to the start area. A week or so later I started discussing my race with our E3 Head Coach Jorge Martinez. Being a USAT certified coach I was embarrassed to notch another DNF because of nutrition issues. I had paid for a race nutrition plan from another source and when Jorge took a look at it he basically said, “this plan is insane!” Waaaaay too many calories per hour and my stomach couldn’t handle it and shut down. DNF #4. Never again. I swallowed some pride and asked Jorge to be my official coach. He used my previous sweat test results and developed a very simple race nutrition plan that worked out perfectly in my next race at Ironman Arizona just a couple months later in November 2013. I had no GI issues and notched an Ironman PR with a 10:20, missing Kona qualification by just 2 spots. I didn’t care about missing out on Kona as much as I was pleased that I finally got rid of my race nutrition demons. Fast forward to Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, 2014…
We flew into Montreal and rented a car for the drive up to Mont-Tremblant. M-T is a world-class ski area/village and has quickly become a highly-rated Ironman venue. This year the race is the North American Championship (2nd year in a row) and in September they are hosting the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. This was my 3rd year racing M-T (inaugural race in 2012) and I fell in love with the venue at first site. The village has a very European feel to it and the surrounding area is the Laurentian Mountains (no I don’t work for their tourism bureau ). We arrived fairly late Thurs. evening so the first order of business was getting to athlete check-in on Friday morning. The line was already starting to get long an hour before check-in opened. After check-in it was time to get ready for the kids 1 km race at 11 a.m. There were thousands of families at the venue and they held a 1 and 5 km race for kids to help the families get more involved. There were several start corrals based on age and Payden got right up front for his group. They did a loop around the village and finished at the Ironman race finish arch just like the parents would be doing on Sunday.
After the race we headed over to the Tribiketransport tent to pick up my bike, and wheel and gear bags (highly recommend this method of getting your bike to an Ironman venue) and then went back to the condo. Next on the chore list was organizing my gear, which for an Ironman race is just a notch below the logistical intricacy of preparing for conventional warfare. This was my 12th Ironman race and long ago I had developed a spreadsheet to help organize everything (geeky I know). You are given 5 bags: Morning clothes bag, swim to bike bag, bike to run bag, bike special needs bag, and run special needs bag. In an Ironman you don’t put all your gear next to your bike such as in a local triathlon, so you access the swim to bike and bike to run bags in the transition tent between disciplines. The bike and run special needs bag are accessed at roughly the halfway points of the bike and run courses and contain any nutrition items or bike mechanical items (spare tire, spare CO2 cartridge, etc).
I had to switch out my 808 wheel that I had to put on for transport and then put on my wheel that has my Powertap and disk cover on it. I noticed that the brake pads were not touching the rim at all which didn’t make sense because I had been training on that wheel most of the summer. Regardless of how it got out of the proper setting, I adjusted the brake cable and realized how lucky I was that I noticed it on Friday instead of during Sunday’s race. After finishing organizing I went for a quick run down to the village and back.
One of the pre-race activities at an Ironman is the Athletes’ Banquet. The huge tent at M-T accommodates all the athletes and their families and they usually have a great group of performers for entertainment. I always recommend the banquet for first-time racers but I still like going to them even after so many previous races…the food tends to be the same. We went early this year because we got stuck waaaay back in line last year. The highlight of the banquet is listening to presentation by “the voice of Ironman” Mike Reilly. If you’ve ever watched coverage of the Ironman World Championship on television Mike is the guy that announces every finisher’s name and hometown and yells the iconic phrase, “YOU are an Ironman!” and he is present at most of the Ironman races in North America. They had a live band on the stage near the finish line so we listened…and some danced….for a bit. On the walk home we stopped to watch the huge fireworks display that the race does on Friday night and after the finish on Sunday at midnight.
I got up a little early and headed down to the lake for a quick 20 minute swim. The water seemed a little colder than last year but it was still fairly nice. One of the “must do” things at M-T is to stop at the floating coffee bar near the swim start. Just swim up to the pontoon and they hand you a nice cup of hot coffee.
Then I rode the bike for a quick check up on the road that goes up to Lac Superior. Mandatory bike check in is by 3 PM the day before the race so we walked my bike and bags down to the transition area. I tried to meet up with Dan Arnett from Atlanta to say hello but we didn’t cross paths. While waiting I met a guy who was riding a bike all decked out with panniers for a long distance ride that had taken him from British Columbia to Mont-Tremblant on his way home to Montreal. He said his bike and gear weighed over 220 lbs and I could barely lift the rear wheel. He said he was heading home to Montreal to rest for 2 days before heading to Spain for several weeks to ride the coastline there….as Ben Jonjak commented later….”that’s a man who has his priorities straight!”
Once I check in my bike and bags I go into race mode and start to focus on the next 12 hours before race time. I prefer to use a different energy drink than what is offered on the course so I prepared all my bike water bottles and run Fuel Belt bottles to put in the ‘frige overnight so I wouldn’t have to bother mixing drinks in the morning.
Race morning began at 3:30 a.m. since I like to have breakfast at least 3.5 hours before the race starts at 7 a.m. I had half a bagel, one instant oatmeal pack prepared, banana, 2 cups of coffee, and a bottle of pineapple Skratch energy drink. The transition area opens at 5 a.m. so we started walking down at 4:45. The first task was checking tire pressure and there was no need for the air pump so Lindsay and Payden made the hike back to the condo to return the pump – I really appreciated it! They offer tire pumping in the transition area but I hate waiting in line so I always bring my own pump. Next up was getting body-marked with race number and age. Then I made the trek to the transition tent to put 3 bottles of Skratch drink in my bike special needs bag and a couple of fuel belt bottles in my run special needs bag. I drank another bottle of Skratch with an hour to go before the race start and then we made the ¼ mile walk down to the swim start area. The lines for the porta-johns were long and I was glad I took care of business earlier in the morning. 15 minutes before the start I downed a packet of GU and water and then we headed down to the beach. They have wave starts at M-T and I was in wave 5 so I had time to get in a quick warmup swim. I kissed and hugged Lindsay and Payden and made my way to the water.
Most of the time I tend to start on the far left for Ironman swim starts so I can stay away from the crowds. But with a wave start and fewer swimmers to contend with I decided to stay to the inside right and swim inside the buoys…which is legal as long as you swim to the outside of the buoys at the far corners of the rectangular swim course. I felt like I had a good start and my warmup served me well as I got into a good rhythm right off the bat. My goal was to swim as straight as I could between buoys and taking advantage of any drafts off other swimmers if the opportunity presented itself. There was one guy in particular that seemed to be swimming faster than me and I drafted off of him a couple of times for the first leg of the course. I was passing racers from earlier waves which made me think I was on a good pace--for me anyway. From looking at my GPS file of the swim it seemed like I did a good job of sighting well and didn’t waste time getting off-course. I came out of the water in 70th place in my age group. My goal for the swim was 1:10 or better (my PR is 1:09) so I was a little disappointed with a 1:13 but it could have been worse…I swam 1:19 last year. Those 13 minutes over an hour would come back to haunt me on Monday morning…more on that later.
As I jogged out of the water I got out of the upper part of my wetsuit and then ran to the wetsuit strippers past the timing mat to get the rest of the suit off. As I grabbed my suit and started to run to the transition tent I heard Lindsay yell my name just as I had already gone past her. I yelled a quick “hey” and headed out. We had a ¼ mile run from the swim exit to the transition tent. The past 2 years they had the entire ¼ mile covered with a red carpet but this year we had to run on bare asphalt…it wasn’t too bad though. My swim to bike (T1) transition time was 6:56 which was a little better than last year’s 8:24 T1 time. The temperature was a little chilly so I made the last minute decision to put on my E3 windbreaker vest that I could ditch at bike special needs if I needed to. Then it was off to the bike rack and exit T1.
Swim stats: 1:13:41 (1:54/100m) 70/232 Age group rank
The bike course at M-T is 2 loops with the first part of the loop being on bigger highways with some long gradual rollers. Then you head back towards the ski area village taking a small out and back to the town of St. Jovite before reaching the village. Then the second part of the bike loop is a 4-5 mile out and back on Chemin Duplessis with some fairly steep climbs where you need to watch your power output as best as you can. The good part is, there are some nice downhills on the return where you can coast at high speed if you don’t shy away from speed.
Based on my bike Critical Power prior to the race, Jorge had set up a goal of riding at an average power/NP of around 190-195 watts and an intensity factor (IF) of 0.69-0.70. I set up screens on my Joule to display the following variables on the screen: average watts for the entire ride, 3 second average watts, normalized power (NP), IF, average speed and distance. Monitoring this information allowed me to stay within my power goals as closely as possible. I knew going into the race that any time spent over 285 watts was a big no-no as it would affect my run later on. Although I wasn’t going terribly fast I started passing other racers from the start. From 70th place in my age group coming out of the water I had moved to 41st after just 4 miles on the bike. With my crappy swim time this made sense as I had some catching up to do. The wind was not a factor on the first loop but it picked up noticeably on the second loop. Since I was using my own energy drink and did not want to take a risk with using a super-concentrated energy bottle (diluted with a sip of water) I carried 3 water bottles of energy drink with me. I realize some people criticize carrying that much weight but I really did not want to use the product offered on the course so that was my only alternative. Besides, I’ve seen plenty of race footage from Kona with pros carrying 3 fuel bottles on their bike. In addition, I had an XLab Torpedo between my arms mounted on the aerobars for plain water. I wish I had discovered the Torpedo before this race because I really like how it functions, it’s easy to refill, and you can tuck the straw out of the way when not in use. It also has a mount on the front that I put my Joule computer on which made reading my power output very easy without having to move my head (or my arm) around to look at the Garmin on my wrist.
The Ironman bike is all about patience. It is tempting to hammer the bike, especially on the first loop when you are feeling fresh. But you’ll pay a price for it later in the bike and even more on the run. All Ironman run courses are littered with athletes that had a fast bike split but are walking on the run. At the bike special needs station I stopped to get 3 fresh energy drink bottles and I dropped off the vest I was wearing as it was warming up. I had now moved up to 26th in my age group. The wind picked up on the second lap so you had to make sure you were not pushing too hard to keep the same watts you were pushing on the first lap. I think I managed the climbs on Chemin Duplessis fairly well, but on the second time around I wasn’t paying attention and left my chain on the big ring and dropped my chain when I tried to change gears on a steep climb…stupid. Lindsay had been tracking me on the Ironman app on her phone and told me on the first ascent of Chemin Duplessis that I was 33rd in my age group. My nutrition plan for the bike was fairly simple, for each hour I took in one bottle of Skratch (2.75 scoops/bottle), one bottle of water, a GU (vanilla and strawberry-banana), ¼ to 1/5 of a Powerbar, and a Saltstick pill for electrolytes. I stuck to that plan almost perfectly and felt strong during the entire bike leg. The final numbers for the bike were: average power 184 watts, NP 200 watts, IF 0.70, and average speed 20 mph. I quickly entered the transition tent and tried to get out of my bike shoes and put on socks and running shoes as quickly as possible. I grabbed my E3 visor and race number bib and jogged out of the tent. My bike to run (T2) transition time was 3:29 which was much faster than last year’s time of 5:23. By the end of the bike I had moved up to 23rd in my age group.
Bike stats: 5:35:37 age group rank=22/232 mph=20 AP= 184 watts NP= 200 watts IF=0.70 VI=1.09
My run goal was fairly simple…after easing into a good run pace for the first few miles I wanted to run 7:50 to 8:00 minute/mile pace. For nutrition, the plan per hour was one GU, a Saltstick pill, one Fuel Belt bottle of Skratch (less concentrated than on bike), and water from aid stations. The run course is also 2 loops with some fairly steep but short hills in the beginning and then you run on a long out and back on a paved bike path for quite a while. On the return you pass the halfway point in the ski village and you get to run by the turnoff that goes to the finish line which you can clearly see just a few dozen yards away, but you have to run another 13.1 miles before you can cross it! So cruel. Some spectators were cheering on racers at one point a couple miles before the halfway point and one yelled out my bib number 2417. Then I heard someone that sounded like Lindsay shouting “2417?.....2417??” She and Payden had walked backwards on the course trying to find me and they didn’t notice that I had gone by them. Luckily the spectator yelling my bib number got her attention and when she tried taking a picture I told her I wasn’t slowing down for a photo op so she tried to run ahead of me to snap one.
There was a brief soaking shower just before the halfway point and I was glad it stopped and did not make the second lap miserable. I had now moved to 15th in my age group at the halfway point of the run. I was feeling very confident, and even though I was a competitive runner for 30 years prior to starting racing triathlons, this was the first time in my Ironman career I felt like I was finally putting my running skills to use and “racing” an Ironman run. My mile splits for the first 20 miles were as follows: 8:10, 8:44, 7:36, 7:53, 7:48, 8:18, 8:03, 7:53, 7:40, 7:56, 8:11, 7:49, 8:18, 8:00, 8:24, 7:37, 7:53, 7:50, 8:04, and 8:18. However, unlike my bike nutrition execution my run nutrition started to fall apart. I did OK for the first hour but my brain simply did not want to consume another GU. I did manage to continue sipping Skratch from my water bottle and I made sure to take in plenty of water at aid station. On the second loop I grabbed one small cup of Coke and I still kept sipping Skratch, but I stopped taking in all of the other planned nutrition because I still have a lingering fear of stomach shutdown when racing an Ironman. After mile 20 that decision started affecting my run. After the final time on the paved bike path my legs starting feeling heavy. There is a long gradual uphill after leaving the bike path as you head back to the village and I looked to the guy to my right and said “I’m not looking forward to this hill”…he laughed and agreed. I just tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other and resisted any fleeting thoughts of stopping to walk part of any hill on the course. My mile splits for the final 6 miles were as follows: 8:47, 9:13, 9:30, 9:55, 9:59, 9:14. Not good. This is another place where I “lost Kona”….more on that later.
The final miles ticked off and I could hear Mike Reilly at the finish line in the village cheering on the finishers ahead of me. As my splits above indicate, I was able to pick up the pace a bit the last mile and then entered the narrow pedestrian path that goes through the village to the finish line. It was lined with screaming people 4-5 deep and it sent tingles up my spine. I usually get a little choked up right before an Ironman finish and this time was no exception. I could hear Mike yell “Jim Kelley from Centuria, Wisconsin….YOU are an Ironman.” I held up 8 fingers over my head for 8 finishes and I think Mike mentioned that on the PA system after he saw me raise my fingers. I hadn’t seen any other men in my AG on the same second lap as me on the run so I pretty much knew I didn’t pass enough runners in my AG to qualify for Kona. I saw Lindsay and Payden after the finish and she said she thought I was 15th in my AG…not even close…or was it? I managed to grab a couple bites to eat but quickly lost my appetite so we walked back to the condo. I laid on the bed for a minute to let my stomach settle but that turned into an hour nap. After I woke up I ate the food we had brought back from the finish line and then watched the live finish line video feed on the web. Another Ironman was in the books.
Run stats: 3:37:37, age group rank= 11/232, avg pace= 8:18 min/mi
Overall in the event I finished 200th out of 2317, finish time 10:37:40
Ironman racing is all about waiting in lines…waiting in line on the race registration website a full year prior when the race entry opens up the day after the previous year’s race (some races literally fill up within minutes after registration opens…Arizona filled up in about 30 seconds last year when I got in!)...waiting in line at athlete check-in on Friday…waiting in line for the athlete banquet on Friday night…waiting in line to get into the transition area on Sunday morning at 5 a.m…waiting in line for a portajohn…waiting in line at the swim start corral….then a little racing for a few hours…then waiting in line on Monday morning at the finisher’s merchandise tent to buy a finisher’s jacket or shirt. I got to the merchandise tent an hour early and there was already a line formed. I managed to control my wallet and passed on a jacket and bought only a finishers polo shirt. Then it was waiting for the ceremony where slots for entry to the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii are awarded. I knew going into the race that my age group probably only had 7 “Kona slots” allocated to it based on the number of entrants in each age group. So, based on my finish placing I knew I didn’t have an automatic slot. For each age group they start with finisher #1 and ask them if they want to accept their Kona slot. If they accept it they immediately get in another line and pay their $750 entry fee for the World Championship to be held in October. Then finisher #2’s name is called and so on until all the slots are awarded. If a person declines their slot for whatever reason (e.g. scheduling issues at work/family or they already qualified for the WC at a race earlier in the year) that slot “rolls down” to the next finisher. Once 6 of the slots had been awarded they started the rolldown (some had declined) and read off names one after another. Amazingly, there was no response from anyone in the crowd for a bunch of names. I lost track of how far down the list they had gotten. Then a name was called which was followed by a loud cheer from the crowd. Some lucky guy had gotten the last slot in my age group. As I said, I had lost track of which finisher number they were on, so I went up to him and asked him his AG placing. When he said “14th” I couldn’t believe it….I had missed a rolldown slot by one place. Later that day I found out that the 14th place finisher had beaten me by about 4 minutes overall….but he crushed me by 10 minutes on the swim alone…that is one reason I “lost Kona”…but when I consider that I had slowed down by 1.5 to 2 minutes per mile in my last 6 miles that is another place where I “lost Kona” and couldn’t get the finish time I needed to qualify. I had missed qualifying at Ironman Arizona last November by 2 spots and now I had missed by one spot (albeit a rolldown). That leaves only one other outcome for my next race, right?!?!
Ironman racing is a very selfish endeavor that requires a lot of time and scheduling hassles. I owe Lindsay and Payden a huge thanks for putting up with all of my 6 hour rides on Saturday mornings. It meant a lot to me to have them cheer me on during race day. As I finish writing this up in the 3rd week after the race I’m already itching to get back to training for the Birkie this winter and next year’s Ironman….likely in Couer D’Alene, Idaho in June. Thanks for reading!!
Thanks for the great write up Jim! Anyone interested in having Jim work out a training program for you can contact him here:
Associate Coach - E3 Training Solutions