The alarm on my Garmin buzzed at 4:15am. I popped out of bed after a so-so night of sleep. Probably one of the better nights’ sleep before an Ironman event. I felt pretty rested and amazingly relaxed given I was about to be racing for ~12 hours. Hopefully less though. I was about to embark on my second attempt of my goal of finishing an Ironman in under 12 hours. Since my fastest time so far was 12:37 at Lake Placid in 2013, I had my work cut out for me.
Last year, I had made my first attempt at breaking the 12-hour mark at Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had something else in mind and provided 107 degree(F) temperatures that forced me to bail out with 13 miles left on the run. The dreaded DNF(Did Not Finish). This year, I was more determined to hit the goal I had hoped for last season.
I made and downed my usual morning smoothie along with a couple cups of Kicking Horse 454 Horse Power coffee, packed my special needs bags and headed out to the race venue. Denise drove me the 3 miles down to the swim start area and then I walked around a mile or so to the transition area. I dropped off my bags, loaded my water bottles and Amrita Bars on my bike and walked back to the swim start. I found a nice quiet place under a pine tree to just sit and chill until Denise and her parents came down.
I had turned off my Garmin 920xt watch in order to save the battery bit, but when I turned it on it just sat there with the “Garmin” splash screen. Hmmm…ok this is not good. I started pressing combinations of buttons to try to reset it. Finally one worked. Not really sure which one though. I restarted it and it finally started correctly. Whew! Not having a watch for a 12 hour race would not be good.
It was getting close to race start and I hadn’t seen Denise yet. I started to roam around a bit but still didn’t see her. They started playing the Canadian National Anthem, so I stopped and listened to that. No sooner did the anthem end and this fighter jet came soaring up the lake directly over our heads!! BOOM!!! WOW! It practically brought tears to my eyes! Not sure why that does that?! If that doesn’t fire you up for a race, I don’t know what would. Now I am fired up!
Right after the jet buzzed me, I spotted Denise in her “Kale” T-shirt. She was looking a bit panicked and emotional but was so relieved to find me. We were both amazed at the jet and could not stop talking about it. A few minutes later the jet buzzed by us again and fireworks at the swim start went off. What a start to the day! Next, the canon went off as the pro men started to hit the water.
After the pros started it was a constant stream of age-group wave starts. We headed down to the very crowded beach and spotted my in-laws. We chatted a bit and then I realized I should get going. Good thing because I realized my wave was up next and I had to walk a little distance around to get in the start chute. I had to navigate through about 3-4 waves to get to me wave, which started right after I got there. And away we went…
The swim started pretty comfortably. It was a beach start and I slowly made my way in on the outside edge of the group. I settled into a nice easy stroke. Everything was going great until about halfway out the first 1.2 miles(swim is one, 2.4 mile loop). I took a mouthful of water while taking a breath and started to choke on it. I do this on almost every swim, so I don’t panic about it. I just have to let my throat clear a bit to start swimming again.
The swim was pretty calm until about 2 pylons from the turnaround. The wind was at our backs and it was hitting the water at this point, so it was getting a bit choppy. As we made first turn it got REALLY choppy. I felt like I was in a washing machine! I had to breath to my left only cause I would get clobbered with waves breathing right. I just kept my stroke and pushed on. It felt so clumsy with the waves bouncing me up-and-down. Eventually I reached the second turn bouy and made the final turn back to the swim finish. The waves continued for 4-5 pylons(13 per 1.2 miles). Eventually, things calmed down a bit and the waves flattened out a little bit.
I was feeling pretty confident in my swim since I was passing many different color swim caps from wave groups ahead of me. I also was not seeing many silver caps from my wave so I had hoped I left many of them behind me. The first time I looked at my time was not until after the 2nd turn and it read around 38 minutes. Pretty much on par for my swim. I was hoping for 1:13-1:14-ish.
I thought I was getting really close to the swim finish, but then realized the course turned in to the right a bit. So I had to start heading in and it seemed to add some time until the finish. It got very shallow too and I had to stand up a bit and then was able to swim a little more when it got deeper again. Finally I hit the finish and ran up to the wetsuit strippers. I had trouble finding a stripper that was free so I probably lost some time there. Done…Time: 1:15:50…meh.
I ran through the narrow, carpeted chute heading to T1 scanning all the screaming spectators trying to find my wife. I finally found her on the opposite side and cut across to give her smooch. I am sure I probably cut someone off for that, but it is worth it. 🙂 Transition was busy but I found an empty chair and put on my bike gear. I then headed to the bike racks and grabbed my bike and was off. Time: 7:40
I headed out on the bike course and heard Denise yelling from behind the fence. I gave her a good “parade” wave on my way Montee Ryan. Montee Ryan had a few little climbs but nothing major. We then made a sharp right turn up onto Highway 117 which comprised the next 30 miles. As you entered the highway there was a long moderate climb, but most of the highway was fairly flat cruising road. There was one pretty decent climb on the way back. The good thing was you got to go down it on the way out. I hit over 50 MPH going down it during the first loop, which was before the rain really started. Weee!
Sometime after the big downhill and the turnaround on Hwy 117 the rain started. And it really started dumping too. There was also a pretty stiff headwind once you made the turn on Hwy 117 to head South. The raindrops actually hurt when they hit my arms. They were pounding on my helmet too making a very loud noise, constantly. It was like people were flicking the fingers against your helmet the whole time. The lenses on my glasses were just covered with water drops. Could have used some wipers or Rainx.
The rain continued to pour harder and harder as the bike went on. My Stages Power meter, which I had just replaced with a new rubber gasket, wrapped in plastic and black electrical tape began to fail. This device always fails on me whenever I wash my bike, so I thought that the extra wrapping would get me through a rainy race. Not the case. While it was still sending watts to my Garmin, the wattage numbers were getting lower and lower, which basically made it unusable.
I was now flying by feel. The good thing is that because I monitor my wattage frequently in training, I know what certain wattages feel like in my legs and in relation to my perceived exertion(RPE).
We then made a short loop through the downtown area of St. Jovite before heading back to the turnaround in Mont-Tremblant. My parents had decided at the last minute to come see the race and had found a B&B South of St. Jovite and I knew they would be spectating in the area. I scanned all the people on the street but didn’t see them as I made the turnaround on the main street. Then I heard my Mom yelling from behind me and turned around to see her standing back at the start of the turnaround. I gave her a wave and then got back into cruising mode again.
As we approached the transition area we then headed to the 20km out-and-back section on Chemin Duplessis. The 10k out to the turnaround is the toughest section on the bike I think. It is a bunch of little steep climbs that seem to step-ladder its way to the turnaround. It gains about 550 feet over 6 miles. The good thing is coming back is like a roller-coaster ride. I was not able to take as full advantage as I would have liked to due to the slippery conditions, but I did hit 40 MPH on it.
I finished the first 56 miles in under 3 hours which was a little over 19 MPH average. A little higher than what I was planning, but I knew I would drop a little bit on the 2nd loop. So far still on track. My legs were feeling a little crampy, but not too bad.
I stopped at the Special Needs area and refueled with more Amrita Bars, 2-bottles with Skratch Labs hydration and one small bottle with my special race fuel mix.
My special race fuel is 4 scoops of Hammer Perpetuem Orange, a packet of beet powder(equal to 6 beets) and two dissolved Salt Stick capsules. I had one of these bottles on the first 56 miles, which I tend to occasionally sip between feedings of Amrita Bars. I had done this consistently in training and it worked so well.
I typically pack a peanut butter & jelly sandwich in my special needs bag, but this time I packed a peanut butter sandwich with 2 Maple Honey Stinger waffles instead of bread. Yummy! I chomped this down on the first climb on Highway 117 via the on ramp. A lady rode past me as I was devouring my little sandwich and said “lunch time!” I laughed and continued munching it down. You know it!!
The rain got harder and the other rider seemed to be more spread out on the second 56 mile loop . I just settled into a nice consistent cadence and enjoyed being in my little helmet bubble. The puddles of water seemed to be more plentiful on the second loop too, so I made a little game of trying to avoid them. The time felt like it went so much faster on the second time around. I was surely not looking forward to my second run on Chemin Duplessis though. I know it would hurt.
I took the long, fast downhill cruise on Hwy 177 a little slower the second time around due to the torrential conditions. Still managed to hit about 40 MPH. I was not looking forward to the turnaround since I knew the blustering headwinds were just waiting for me. They didn’t let me down.
I eventually hit the turnaround in St. Jovite. Gave Mom a couple waves and then back to the task at hand. I cruised back into Mont-Tremblant and prepared myself for another bout with the dreaded 10k of Chemin Duplessis.
There were tons of fans lining the road and cheering as you start out on Chemin Duplessis which is a huge help on that first climb. I was surprised to find that my legs actually felt better the second time around than the did on the first. I kept a nice easy spinning gear and made my way up and up and up. A great sigh of relief came as I reached the turnaround and knew it was pretty much all downhill know to the end of the bike leg.
Now I wondered how my legs would be on the run. When I did Syracuse 70.3 earlier in the Summer, I thought my legs were good to go for the run when I came into T2 but I quickly found out that was not the case. It is always a mystery and you don’t know until you get there. For now I could feel the anxiety of it.
I dismounted my bike and headed into T2 at 6:05:38. I averaged ~18.4 MPH over the 112 mile course which included about 5700+ feet of elevation gain. This was mostly right on par with the predicted time that Best Bike Split had calculated. This was somewhat surprising since I really had no power meter numbers to go by since my Stages power meter had failed miserably on me. Again!
I gave my bike to a volunteer and awkardly shuffled my way in my bike shoes to the transition tent. I grabbed my run bag and quickly found an empty seat. I changed into a nice dry pair of running socks…ahhh! And put on my running shoes. It felt SOOO GOOD to have dry socks on my feet! I put on my run hat and run belt and headed for the run. There was no need for sunglasses or sunscreen since it was still raining. Now the moment of truth. Come on legs…don’t fail me know. Time: 4:30
Whenever you start out running after being on a bike for 6 hours, your legs are going to be a little wonky. The first mile of the run also had a nice little hill in it, but I easily cruised up and over it. As the road flattened out a bit I was started to get an idea that had some running legs under me. Nice!
My plan was to take all on course nutrition this race. In my previous Ironman races, I had carried my own bars and a FuelBelt with my own hydration. A bunch of extra weight. This year I decided to lighten my load a bit and just take it from the aid stations. I always carried bars, but ended up not wanting to eat them or having trouble getting them down while running. This year I trained with gels on my runs and it was an easy way to get the calories in that I needed and then wash them down with water. I figured if I ate the solid food, like Amrita Bars, on the bike I would have a good base in my stomach and the sugary gels wouldn’t be so rough on my stomach.
I downed a gel at the first aid station and followed it up with some water. Unfortunately they only had berry flavor and not my favorite Mocha with caffeine. Oh well. It went down fine and I was feeling pretty good.
There was some slight hills in the first couple miles, but my legs managed to feel good despite them. I lowered the pace a little just to keep them happy.
As I approached the crest of the last big hill for a while, I saw my wife and in-laws standing just down the road where the condo we stayed was. I raised my arms high in the air, Rocky-style as I came over the hill to let them know I was feeling good. They got a kick out that. They shouted some words of encouragement as I cruised by and I told them I was feeling awesome!
The next mile or so was mostly downhill through the old village before flattening out onto a recreational bike path for the next several miles. I was really feeling amazing. I felt like I was running on my favorite running path, The Ironton Rail Trail(IRT), on a training run. I was looking down at my Garmin and seeing paces in the 8:20-8:40/mi range. I was in the zone, feeling good with a nice steady cadence. The rain started again and I was loving it! I was thinking if this keeps up I could destroy my goal here.
I heard a voice on my left and it was one of the bikers that lead the pros on the run. I stepped to the right a bit and she was riding along side me for a longer than usual time. She even complimented me on my pace which was pretty cool. Eventually she moved past and Laurel Wassner came up next to me. Usually, the pros just whizz past me as I am slowly trying to maintain some semblance of a running trot. Not today. She actually took a little bit of time to actually get past me. You really get to appreciate the speed of the pros when you are arm-to-arm with them. I gave her some words of encouragement and then she was off down the path.
After the out-and-back on the path we did a shorter out-and-back on a packed sand path before heading back up the hill and through the pedestrian village. This was at around the 10 mile point and when my legs started to feel a little stiff. I am sure the uphill had something to do with it.
The 3 mile stretch from the top of the hill back to the ski village was probably the roughest part of the run for me. Strangely it was mostly downhill though. My stomach was feeling a little queasy, but I knew I needed to keep some gels going in for energy. I think this was more of a mental thing since I knew I was not quite halfway and I needed to do this again. That all changed after I made my way up the steep hill into the upper side of the ski village.
As you come into the side of the ski village, spectators line the narrow chute through the cobbled street cheering like crazy. Little kids hands leaning out from both sides looking for high fives as you wind your way down through the quaint little village. I sure hope they washed those hands after! My mental state was instantly renewed.
I headed back out for the last 13 miles. I fast-walked up the steep little hill by the swim start and then settled into a nice cadence after that. My legs went on auto-pilot from there on out. While despite the stiffness, they just kept running. It almost felt like I couldn’t stop them if I wanted to.
I passed Denise and my in-laws as they were walking in towards the finish line. They shouted some words of encouragement and I yelled back that “I need more rain!” I guess they were confident I was going to finish at that point.
I hadn’t really looked at my overall time on my Garmin since I was just really enjoying the day. I didn’t want to ruin it by seeing that I may not make my goal time and honestly I almost forgot about that. I was REALLY just enjoying being able to swim, bike and run for an entire day!!! And on a cooler, rainy day too! That may sound strange to some, but I LOVE IT!!!
Before I knew it I was heading down the hill through the old village and onto the bike path. I also got that rain that asked for too! Thanks to the Dude upstairs! I settled back into my nice cruise mode cadence on the flat bike path through the woods for the next 5 miles.
I downed a few gels along the way and water at pretty much every aid station. Somewhere around halfway through the run, they broke out the soda at the aid stations. Well, typically it is Coke, but for some reason they had Pepsi. Yuk!! I am not a soda person, but there are two times I like to have a Coke: On an airplane and at the end of a race. Don’t ask me on the first one, but the second one provides a good blast of caffeine and sugar into my bloodstream to get me to the finish line. Personally, I think this is the ONLY justifiable reason for having the stuff.
So now I could really use a blast of Coke and my only option is Pepsi. I skipped the first few aid stations that had it, but eventually succumbed to the powerful nectar. And I almost puked immediately! Pepsi is the worst! I eventually got it down and then from there on, I mixed it with water to dilute the nastiness of it. Finally I had some caffeine and sugar coarsing through my veins to get my to the finish in a brisk fashion.
They also brought out the Mocha ClifGels with Caffeine too, which is my favorite. I did most of my run training with this flavor and assumed they would have this on course. Maybe they don’t break out the caffeinated stuff until later? Between this and the Pepsi I was back in action again.
I finally reached the uphill section starting at the old village and knew I was only 3 miles away from finishing. I looked at my Garmin… 11:12:?? Wow…I think I got this?!!! With a renewed enthusiasm I now cruised up the remaining hills knowing that I needed to keep a running pace to keep that goal. It seemed to get easier knowing the finish was in reach and I was going hit under 12 hours.
About 2 miles from the finish, the sky parted and the Sun came out to brighten up the last few miles of the most spectacular day. You could not have scripted this any better.
Next, my Garmin beeped and displayed the message “Battery Low”. A little panic raced across my mind. Please don’t die on me now Garmin! Then I realized that it really didn’t matter at this point, but it would be nice to have the whole race recorded. I guess the failure of my Stages Power Meter kind of invalidated it anyway. Argh!
I grunted out that steep little hill right after the swim start. I remember a little girl cheering me on “Come’on Brian…you got this!”, everyone yells your name since it is clearly displayed on your bib. There is no way I could walk now.
Finally, I reached the final uphill before we turn right into the narrow village street lined with screaming spectators. The reality of reaching my goal time had started to sink in. A ton of different emotions swirled through my head. The past 7 months of training flashed through my mind. The past 8 years of training flashed through my head. From struggling to run a mile and struggling to swim 25 yards to now putting together a solid Ironman in under 12 hours. WTH???!! I really did all that? I thought about all those people that helped me get there and supported me on this amazing journey.
I headed into the cobbled village street past the final aid station. I declined the cups of water and Pepsi this time and instead just thanked the awesome volnuteers, who endured the torrential rains all day. I slapped as many of the little hands from the kids that were sticking out along the way down the narrow-fenced chute of the cobbled street. I then reached the familiar fork in the road. To the right was to start the 2nd loop. To the left was the finish line. I very happily veered to the left and cruised down to the finish line. I heard Mike O’Reilly start to say my name…”Brian…” Silence…Pause….”Schwind!” Then right on to some other guys name. For the 3rd time now, he has still yet to say “You are an Ironman!” after saying my name. WTH Mike??!
I happily crossed the finish line, raised my hat in the air and hit the stop button on my Garmin! 11:46:37!!! YES!!! Well officially it was 11:46:47.
If you look up at the predicted finish time I gave my wife, you will note that it reads 11:46:09. Only 47 seconds off! LOL!
I was quickly grabbed by both arms two really nice ladies. They got me a water, a COKE and a freakin’ HUGE finishers medal that almost pulled me to the ground. They escorted me to a guy that took my chip off my leg and another that gave me a finishers hat and tech t-shirt. They opened my can of Coke up for me too after I struggled with it for about 10 seconds. They asked if I wanted a massage? “A Massage??” I said “Hell Yes!” I was then instantly whisked away, out of the finisher area and up a hill into a round building. There were massage tables lined up everywhere and athletes getting massages. What I picture heaven to like.
The ladies led me over to Karen and said goodbye. I thanked them and then was instructed to lay down. Karen asked me what hurt and told her “quads and calves!”. She then worked her magic. I was so relaxed but was a bit worried because I never got to see Denise and my family at the finish. I had looked around, but never saw them. I was hoping they were not worried.
After my awesome massage I went down to the athlete dining area and headed towards an area where spectators where standing. Denise and her parents were there and she loooked very relieved to see me. We chatted a bit and then I headed back to the feeding area to get some post-race Poutine!! Yum!
Denise and I then took the pedestrian lift up to the top of the village and headed to La Grille for my post-Ironman tradition of a Pizza and Beer. Another Ironman finish was officially complete. This one was even a little bit sweeter than the others.
Thanks for reading!