With all what went on in the Bay Area with the fires, I didn’t feel super compelled about telling my Ironwoman story. Who wants to know about this, I’m no elite, not that young anymore either so who would care. But then I remembered that I always like to read blog about Ironman stories good or bad, it’s always a pleasure and a nice distraction. So here it is, your distraction for today. Warning though there will be some TMI moments, so beware!
Morning: it’s go time.
The big morning has arrived. I couldn’t sleep as usual before a race and got up at 3:30 AM or even earlier than that, now I can’t remember. I had a big cup of coffee and while sipping on it, I made my super extra double size it smoothie. I was not very nervous but my stomach is never in top shape in the morning especially that early, so I prefer to do something more liquid and bring it with me to the transition area. It consists of some protein, almond milk and UCAN (two scoops). For extra carbohydrates, I use some fruits but because I’m in a hotel I use pureed pouches (Clif or baby food). I also added some beet root powder and some almond butter. Overall calorie content is at least 500 kcal with 44g starch, 18 g fruit (50/50 glucose/fructose) so just a good mix to get you started. I’ll bring everything with me to the transition area in a disposable bottle. My bike was already there so all I had to bring were my nutrition for the day and my water. Filled out my containers on my bike with water and some electrolytes (SOS rehydrate). I also take some extra salt pills with that, that I tape on my frame. On my frame I also had a bottle of UCAN at about 10 g/h with some BCAA. I’m also going to have very liquidy nut butter about 1 tablespoon per hour to give me an extra hundred calories. Overall I’m about 140 kcal per hour on the bike and with about 10 to 15 g of carbohydrates/ hour. Once all that was set I started to put my wetsuit on. I still was having my smoothie and went to see the pros to say hi and I saw my friend Carla as well. We headed out together to the swim start. I was in a pretty good mood, all giddy, no nervousness. I’m usually more nervous for Olympics and shorter distance because there is no time for mistake and it hurts, the pain always scares me but the fatigue does not. I knew I had a really long day in front of me but all I could do at this point was stay in the moment and that was going to be my motto all day.
The day before…
The start of the swim at Mont-Tremblant is so amazing because they have all those fireworks and the planes that fly over, so it’s pretty spectacular. Also the announcer speaks French and that is a plus for me as it is my mother tongue. They also implemented the rolling starts which makes it a little bit easier in terms of not being smashed and punched as much but then you don’t really know where you stand compared to your fellow age groupers, not something that I worry about too much anyway… So I set myself in the 1 hour 15 to 1 hour 20 group even though I had done better than that previously. I was just not sure about my swimming abilities this year. As I reported in Part 1, I had change my swim training a little bit and I didn’t feel super confident that I could go below 1h15 so that’s where I went. In retrospect, I think I had a pretty consistent pace the whole time, feeling pretty strong, I just had sun in my eyes and didn’t have the right goggles unfortunately because the forecast was cloudy but then the sun got out. That was about the toughest part really because that forced me to breathe on my left side only on the way out, which is my weaker side. How do I know? From the Endless Pool! Always harder to keep up with the pace breathing on the left. Working on it.
The water is so pristine and clear and you can drink it! Convenient I guess. I was happy and loved my new Roka wetsuit. I got out of the water in 1:13 which is the exact same time that I had in my last Ironman, so not bad! Plus it did not feel like I went as hard so bonus points there. I was 16th out of 86 at that point. I went directly to see the wetsuit strippers always hoping that my tri shorts won’t come off in the process!! I spent some time in the changing tent to put some proper bibs and a jersey. At this point I was feeling really energetic and was ready for the bike.
Where are the strippers?
Bicycling has always been the part where I struggle the most. I think it’s more psychological because in shorter races I do better in the bicycling then running in terms of placement but for a longer events it’s been more of a challenge. I knew this year I definitely had made some progress in the wattage department, not much but still better. My coach and I used bestbikesplit.com to estimate a finishing time. I was therefore aiming for 6:30 on a 5000-6000 ft elevation gain course, which is still much better than my last Ironman Canada in 2015. But never underestimate the taper! The taper can be so magical and I’m a PRO at tapering. While others are still biking, swimming, running, I definitely take the opportunity to relax to the max before the race. The last couple of weeks I felt really tired and my legs were totally trashed but I knew that the taper would freshened them up. When I started bicycling I just felt so strong and great and I went a little bit harder than what I was supposed too. I had to be careful so I was also looking at my hr to keep it in z2. I kept thinking maybe that’s a mistake but hey it was not that crazy and had nothing to lose really. My half split I remember was 3:03 which is much better than what I anticipated. Now the challenge: was I going to be able to keep those Watts for the second half. It turned out I could it just felt a little harder and my heart rate definitely kept rising to low z3. At 65 miles I saw Carla, I had stopped a bit for a pit stop (ain’t gonna pee on my bike, no way!) and there she was. We talked a little bit but not too much did not want to get a penalty and they were real sticklers as Carla can tell you! At 75 miles I started feeling a little tired and that’s when I used my magic pill! That is my caffeine pill that I tape on my frame. I felt so much better and I was able to finish the course really strong. However, the wind had picked up a little bit, I honestly kept the same watts but the time was a little slower on the second half. Overall my time was 6:15 so 12 minutes slower on the second half with the pit stop and the wind. I was really happy because I was not expecting that at all! I was in 17th place at that point and my split was 23rd out of 85. Probably can still do better on that one.
My speed machine #SQUAD, made in Québec like me!
Now I’m in the changing tent, got my running gear on and started running. Legs felt pretty good and I was giving myself a mile to settle in. But oh surprise, hills! Small ones but still, not what I was expecting, most of the course was on a bicycling trail but the part through the village was a little hilly.
Then suddenly on my right there was a shuttle passing by and I heard “Allez Isabelle”. People on the bus were yelling my name through the windows. What’s going on? I learned later that my mom had asked the driver to stop so she could take a picture and by then everybody knew about me on the bus! I started laughing, dropped my nutrition, the guy behind me started laughing too! Funny moment. That definitely got me pumped!
I had developed a really good mental strategy to keep me busy thinking about the moment for the whole thing. First 10K: 57 minutes, not bad. First half 2:02: that is often my half Ironman half marathon time, so I was really surprised! Things were going well. They had this band right in the middle of it. It was truly great because you would pass by them 4 times basically. On one of the pass they were playing: don’t stop believing. You know that song right, can’t get it out of my head now. I had literally made that song as part of my playlist during training so definitely brought a little tear to my eye. (Please don’t roll your eyes!!)
Let’s go on. My 30 K was at 3:05, I was slowing down a bit but not too bad. I was doing the calculation in my head and I thought I would be under 12 hours. But I can never do math correctly in a race, I had forgotten about the transitions. Duh. The last 10k I was really starting to hurt. Then I got stuck behind this guy who kept farting and I thought to myself: Dude, do something about that, that’s what happens if you eat too many carbs…Finally passed him and then saw this lady in my age group who was walking and I thought to myself: why not me too! Re-duh. So walked a little bit on the last 2 miles. Crazy! Redid the calculation in my head and realized: oh f*** , forgot about the transition! And I started running again.That is how your brain works at the end of an Ironman. It turns out I was 12:02! Noooo! Oh well, learned my lesson. 4:19 marathon, 11th on the run and 13th overall in division. My division is gnarly, kuddos to Fiona who did it in 10:20! (She is also first in my AG in the world!)
Nutrition was good with 20g/hour mostly from pro bar beans. I had some Coke at the end, too much I think. I was sort of craving it and had 4 ounces all at once at one aid station. I know better not to do that. But do what I say and not what I do! 4 ounce is a little much and my stomach did not like it. Fortunately by then I was near the end and the feeling passed pretty quickly. Was also trying to drink water at every aid station, about 3-4 ounce. Had also my electrolytes pills, 2 per hour as a I’m a medium sodium sweater. I did a test a couple of years ago. It’s too bad but I learned later that a doctor in his 40s who was competing actually died from hyponatremia, which is a low sodium plasma concentration. Really sad, that is why over hydrating without any electrolytes can be really dangerous.
On the last mile I was determined to really enjoy the scenery, looking at the sunset on the lake, and the pretty village, was really feeling happy inside and smiling. Then I saw the finish line! My mom was there which was also nice. Really good memories, I’ll cherish all of my life.
Fixing my hair before the photo finish (priorities first)
I was of course pretty beat up and it took me, I don’t know maybe half an hour in the tent before I could actually get up and get some food. I was not really hungry but thought I should eat something… Tried also to drink. Got all my stuff and went back to the hotel with my mom. Ordered a beer and some food but did not feel like eating too much. Went to bed and then woke up at 3am starving! Finished my meal and everything else I could find in the fridge. All is good! This is not a professional advice I usually give but at that point you have to do what works for you! Next day was feeling pretty good and went to the banquet where I met Rachel Joyce, who had just won the day before!
Next day looking a little beat up while Rachel is still fresh as a daisy!
Couple of nights ago I went to see Chrissie Wellington talk. She is truly an inspiration. What struck me is how sensitive and thoughtful she is. Her and I agree on the fact that triathlon is really a selfish sport, let’s face it. She was able to justify this endeavor by first of course earning money with it and then now, being a real influencer. What is in it for age groupers though? I don’t make a dime out of it, actually I pay a LOT of money to do this sport. But for me, it’s also a good learning process as I coach nutrition for people who do triathlon. Because there is always the science as you learn but in reality the practice can be quite different. And that nobody will teach you unless you experience it yourself. So coming back to my question, why doing Ironman? For health reason maybe? That one does not work either because as a health practitioner I know that Ironman is actually NOT healthy for you. That’s right. Truly if your goal is to be healthy, than run easy and walk every day, do a little strength training and have a really good diet. That’s my role too, making sure that my clients stay healthy in the whole process. I think I managed it pretty well for myself so that is right there something to be proud of. So again what can justify this Ironman thing? It’s the process, the discipline and the example that you set for others and yourself. But it’s also a good opportunity to reflect on the fact that because you can do this, you are lucky and should be grateful. Which segues to the fact that this year I raised money for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation in honor of a friend who developed the disease a couple of years ago. Read her story here and it’s not too late to give!
I wanted to thank all my supporters who gave to this worthy cause already, as well as my family who supported me all the way and my coach John Dahlz who knows what works!