A Test of Will in Mont Tremblant

Tough and humbling day yesterday at Ironman Mont Tremblant. I was really confident going into this one that I would have a good performance. I had done a lot of good work on the bike and run, and had spent a few weeks improving the foundation of my swim stroke. I also have spent nearly two months working on improving my hydration and nutrition strategy. The only downside was that usually Mont Tremblant is fairly cool, so I was unsure if it would be a true test of nutrition and hydration in the heat. We were fortunate to have some freakishly warm weather, with the Real Feel peaking around 102 fahrenheit.

The day started off well. I had probably one of the better swims of my life. I was under 7 minutes back to the leader. What was interesting is that it was also one of the easiest swims of my life. I am assuming it was because instead of thrashing my arms and trying to feel as much pain as possible, I concentrated on holding the good technique I have been honing in practice.

Out onto the bike my intention was to hold 315-320w from start to finish. This was very easy in the initial stages, and I had to remind myself constantly that the day was entirely about practicing self-discipline. At that power output, I was a bit surprised at how slowly I was pulling time back. At around 40k I got a time update and realized that I was actually beginning to lose time to the leader. I didn’t think anything of it though, as I knew I was riding within myself, and I thought that at that power output eventually the time would begin to come down.

Until around 100k I just focused on implementing my nutrition and hydration strategy. Around this point, I leaned into a corner a little more than usual and felt the rim touch the ground. Once onto the straight I took a good look at the back tire and was dismayed to find that it was running very low on air pressure. Fortunately, Ironman was doing live coverage of the race and the cameraman was right next to me. I immediately started yelling to them to call for a new rim. I kept riding as I figured a rim would come fairly quickly. Unfortunately, nearly 10 minutes passed and a new rim still did not arrive. Going down the fastest section of the course, my back wheel really started to wobble, so much so that I had to slow down in order to feel safe. At this point I decided to change the tire.

This was the first time I have ever changed a tubular in a race. I got the old tire off fairly quickly, and the new one on decently well. I aired it up, put it on the bike, shoved the old tubular down the back of my shorts and got back on the bike. While changing it the chain must have fell off. I went to apply pressure and the chain jammed both above and below the crank arms. On the top, it even fell below the little arm that prevents the chain from falling in between the crank and the frame. I immediately dismounted the bike. I was able to get the bottom dislodged, but the top was jammed really hard. I was reaming on it, but was unable to get it out. I was starting to think my race was over. Fortunately, the pressure of being on the live video feed allowed me to muster enough strength to pull the chain out. I put it back on and started riding again.

Admittedly, the race was over for me mentally. I tried everything I could to motivate myself, but I just couldn’t get my head back into it. I couldn’t help but wonder how long I had been riding the wheel for like that, and how much of my effort had been in vain. For the remaining 70k the best I could do was average 240w. Not long down the road, I started to feel the rim on corners again. I looked back, and the air pressure was very low once again. My already dwindling motivation was completely gone. The day was a complete disaster. At around 160k I passed my fiancée Erin, who was doing her first Ironman. I slowed down next to her and we had a brief chat. The gist of it: We were both suffering hardcore. I tried my best to motivate her and leave her with words of encouragement. Just before this moment I had decided I was going to drop out of the race once I finished the bike. When I saw how hard she was working, and that she was doing her very best to persevere through the mental and physical pain, I knew that I would be unable to drop out of this one.

A marathon is a long way to go when your heart is not in it. I had one reason to finish this race: Erin. I know how powerful of an experience your first Ironman is. I knew she was going to have to go well beyond any level of pain and suffering she has ever gone to in order to finish. How could I possibly offer her motivation to persevere, later on that evening when she was on the run course, if I did not persevere and finish the race myself?

I had a glimmer of hope on the initial stages of the run. Unfortunately, while sulking and feeling sorry for myself, I threw my nutrition and hydration plan out the window. By 15k this started to catch up with me, and the rest of the run was just about survival. It was very challenging, but eventually I made it to the finish line.

On a more positive note, my mom finished the race in 13:01. I was very impressed with how well she performed in the heat and on such a challenging course. I am excited to see what she can do when she dials in her bike training and nutrition. One day soon I hope we can toe the line in Kona together.

For the rest of the day and night I cheered Erin on. She made the bike cut-off with only a few minutes to spare. The way she looked getting off the bike, I wouldn’t have held it against her if she decided not to enter the run course. I hurried up and jogged to the first kilometer marker. When she reached this point, we had a good hug and she started to cry while saying “this is sooo hard.” I told her that it’s okay if she doesn’t want to continue, she has already proven that she is tough as nails. But she said she wanted to keep going and we parted ways.

WOW! Spectating is stressful. I updated the athlete tracker probably a thousand times between six and midnight. She made it to the half-marathon turnaround with about 10 minutes to spare before the cut-off. It was a very inspirational moment. She was in severe pain, but she had it in her head that she was going to finish and went out for the second lap in the pitch black. The tracker failed to update for quite a while. We were worried that she didn’t make the cut-off at the final turnaround at 31.7km. But, just as hope was almost lost, the tracker updated and we saw that she was almost exactly on pace to finish right at midnight.

Even at 11:50pm I was still unsure if she was going to make it. I was standing at the finish line with her medal, praying that I would be able to give it to her. And then, at 11:55 I saw her come around the corner. It was an amazing sight. I had shivers down my spine. I can’t begin to imagine how deep inside she had to dig in order to make the cut-off. But she did! And she is an Ironman!

All in all, it was a good day. My luck wasn’t the greatest, but to be right at the finish line when Erin crossed, made all of those negative feelings go away. I think Erin’s journey throughout the day is very powerful, and I am going to have her do a guest blog post on her experience. Check back soon for that.

Thanks for reading and following along. Without all of your cheers out on the course, it would have been impossible for me to persevere through this one.

Mom Erin and I

12 thoughts on “A Test of Will in Mont Tremblant

  1. It doesn’t matter if you don’t win all the time. You are such an inspiration to everyone who follows you, and you are a winner to me. You keep in touch with all your fans and that is the main thing. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to Erin’s blog. Well done everyone!

  2. Have to say it was amazing to watch both of you struggle and persevere on Sunday. We all know that you will take the lessons learned and be that much better (which is scary for your competitors in Kona). congrats to both of you!!

  3. Thanks for sharing. It was riveting watching it all unfold. All the best with the remainder of this season.

  4. You can’t be a superstar everyday on the race course. But you are a superstar in life. Your personal journey has inspired me and so many others, more than you will ever know. My wife and I were cheering you, your mother and Erin on all day.
    Your future is very bright! Good luck in KONA.

  5. Wow such an amazing sense of perseverance from both you and Erin Also congrats to your mom. Yes it would have been nice that the results were better. But you sure showed the world you are a very strong competitor See you at Muskoka ironman?

  6. You are such an inspiration Lionel! Reading this just makes me wanna register and do it next year. I had the opportunity to see you at the pre race pro meeting in Tremblant last Friday, and it was a great experience! Couple years ago, fore me, you were just some random dude who “beat me” at Mississauga half marathon, now you are a rock star! Good luck in Kona, I will be watching!

  7. Lionel,

    You are awesome. I dig your style, both in the race and out, and I’m pumped you’ve found a sport that you enjoy and thrive at. I’m definitely an ‘average’ athlete, in that I know I can move pretty good but will never really get suuuuper quick, so it’s great to see someone who finds a sport they love, kills it, and in the end remains humble and human. And it’s so rad to have yet another Canadian on the scene making waves. Proud. I hope to one day toe the line at a race with you. Until then, keep on rippin’ it up!

  8. Way to go, Lionel! I am totally in awe of the power you can put out on the bike and even more when I see the pace you run at afterwards. Our paths crossed as I was heading out for my first run loop and you were coming in for your finish, in the old village. You looked like you were in pain. I have a lot of respect for athletes that push through to finish even when they are not having a great race. As Sebastien Kienle said, losing is also a good learning experience. Congratulations to you and congrats to your mom and Erin. The three of you are totally awesome!

  9. You are such an inspiration! You are my favorite pro to follow and I learn so much from reading your blog. I dream race one day is an 70.3. I will be cheering for you in Kona!

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