July 8th, 2012. The day of my very first triathlon: Tecumseh Try-A-Tri. 300m swim, 11km bike, 3km run. Finishing time 1:08:03
August 16th, 2015. The day of my second triathlon: Ironman Mont Tremblant. 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run. Finishing time 16:58:30
When Lionel and I first met, I could barely run 1km without stopping. That was back in Spring 2011. Every time I’d go to one of his races I would feel so inspired and think to myself, I wonder if I could do that! Then we started going to bigger and bigger races that were longer and longer distances. It is a bit of blur to me how I even ended up signing up for IMMT, but I know it involved some coaxing from Lionel and his mom, Becky. That was on January 21, 2015. I had just under 8 months to prepare for the race. Now, as I’m sure many of you know, it was very difficult to balance work and training. So, my poor time management paired with procrastination got me up to a 3km pool swim, a long ride of 110km and long run of 21km. Safe to say I really had no idea if I was going to be able to finish this thing or not.
We arrived in Mont Tremblant on the Thursday before the race and had a great condo for our stay there. It was pretty much right at the base of Chemin Duplessis, off Quatre des Sommets for those of you who are familiar. The location was perfect. We were within walking distance to the race site.
Becky and I had to bring our bikes for a tune up, as something was wrong with both of our gearing. So, we dropped them off then went to check in and get our race kits. We signed some release forms and got our stickers, etc. And then….they weighed us. Oh man, why did I wear my heaviest shoes today?
Volunteer: “Please step on the scale Miss”
Me: “These shoes are really heavy”
Volunteer: “Hahaha…good luck with your race”
She didn’t get it. I had my leather Converse All Stars on. If you have a pair, you know. Next time, flip flops.
We went to the Ironman tent to get our backpacks and some swag, picked up our bikes and went home.
Lionel’s mom and I got out onto the bike course a few times, and did get to climb Duplessis once before the race. HOLY CRAP! We certainly weren’t in Windsor anymore. I also recall Lionel using the term “rolling” to describe the bike course. Funny. Once we made it back down, I said to Becky, “Wow, maybe it won’t be so bad at 70km, but I’m not sure how I will feel about this at 160km.” We chuckled and went home. But inside, I was TERRIFIED!
The day before the race was very low key and relaxing. We got out for another open water swim on the beautiful swim course. I should mention that my fear of the open water is probably what has been holding me back from doing any other triathlons until this point. I don’t consider myself a weak swimmer and it is not the fear of drowning, but the fear of fish. Fortunately, I didn’t see any fish during the days leading into the race or during the race. PHEW! Maybe I’ll conquer my fear after all.
We had to bring our bikes and gear bags to transition the day before as well.
Bike Bag: Helmet, shoes, socks, sunglasses, sunscreen, watch.
Run Bag: Tri shorts to change into (I wore cycling shorts for the swim and bike portions with a little more cushion, after all I was on there for nearly 9 hours) thicker socks, running shoes, race belt with number attached and gels, hand bottle, sweatband, body glide, towel.
Everything was very well organized in transition and newbie friendly! The only things I had to bring race morning were my bottles for the bike, bike computer and flat kit.
We had a nice pasta dinner at our condo. My parents and Lionel’s Dad made the trip up to support the 3 of us as well. I helped Lionel get his stuff ready and we got to sleep nice and early that night. I knew the next day was going to be the longest day I’ve ever faced but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster ride that it was.
4am came early and I awoke feeling very nervous and not hungry but knew I had to get in some calories. I had a coffee with cream and sugar, two pieces of toast with butter, a cereal bar and a Gatorade. I put my hair in a braid, put some waterproof mascara on (I was gonna look good for this thing at least, or so I thought at that point) got my clothes on and applied my first layer of body glide. In my bag were my wetsuit, timing chip, swim cap, goggles and 1 gel for before the start and some clothes to change into after.
We all left together, the 6 of us. Lionel was on his bike so we parted ways at the 4way stop so he could go ahead and get his bike into transition. We planned to meet at the “swim-in” arch to head down to the start together. A brief hug and he was gone. Becky and I get to transition to load our bottles etc. Oh man, she had a FLAT! We waited in line and the tech said it was likely a slow leak overnight and recommended they change her tube for her. We exited transition and my mom told me that Lionel and his Dad had already left to go to the swim start so he could warm up. We walked to the swim start and waited in line to use the washroom once more. Still no sign of Lionel. I put on my wetsuit and timing chip and ate my gel. The pros were already on the beach and almost ready to start. The crowds were so thick around them that I couldn’t get through to give him a kiss. That’s when I shed my first tears of the day. My mom asked me if I wanted to take my engagement ring off for her to hold and I told her, “No, I’m going to need to look at it throughout the day.”
The Canadian national anthem was sung and cannons fired and off they went. It was just Becky and I now. We walked to our corrals together. Neither of us got in the water for a warm-up. The swim waves were going quickly and we figured we didn’t have enough time. My wave started at 6:57, hers 3 minutes later at 7:00. We gave each other one final hug and then we were on our own. Next thing you know, I’m walking under the arch to activate the timing chip. The announcer asked if we were all ready and the crowds were cheering! I was nervous still and lined up at the back of my wave. I didn’t want to get kicked in the head today. Then the horn went and we were off! I calmly entered the water and just got into a nice rhythm. It was a bit congested at first as I immediately began to swim through people. This was one of the few times throughout the day where I actually passed anyone.
I am not very efficient at sighting, so I just found some feet of someone whose pace was comfortable for me and hoped that they were swimming a good line. I did this with a few different people throughout the swim. I felt GOOD! Different coloured swim caps all around me from waves that started 3, 6 and 9 minutes before me. I breathe to the right when I swim but had to go to the left a few times to work out some neck cramps. After the turn, I began to feel a bit of chaffing on the right side of my neck. (Note to self: body glide neck) I was still grooving and before you know it, I could see the blue arch in the distance through the fog. “Keep going girl, you’re almost there” I thought to myself, “This isn’t so bad!” Ohhh…it was SO early.
I run out of the water and take off the top half of my wetsuit. The wetsuit peelers did the rest. Swim cap and goggles came off and I began jogging towards transition. I grab my bike bag and head in to the changing area. I sit down for a minute to catch my breath and start getting all my gear on. I see that there is a volunteer spraying sunscreen and I thought that would save me some time rather than using the lotion myself. However, I forgot about my newly acquired neck chafe! OUCH! Aerosol sunscreen + chaffing = intense stinging (Note to self: use lotion sunscreen). I threw my wetsuit, cap and goggles in the bag and I was off.
I found my bike in the sea of carbon fibre and headed for the mount line. I clipped in without a hitch and started pedaling. I see my Dad, Mom and Lionel’s Dad before they see me and started screaming at them, “WOOOOO!!!” Oh yeah, I was still having fun at this point. I am out on the “rolling” Montee Ryan now and still feeling good. My goal was to drink a bottle of Gatorade an hour and eat a gel an hour. On the bike I drank at least 10 bottles and had 4 or 5 gels. So I make the turn to get onto the highway 117, riding along just fine still (it was hard, don’t get me wrong) but fine, for now. I’m pushing hard on an up and all of a sudden I almost lose control of the bike. I look down and my left foot is no longer attached to my bike. My pedal came off and was still attached to the bottom of my shoe.
I stay calm and pull over to the side and un-clip my right foot. I lay my bike down and take my left shoe off. I cannot get this pedal off the cleat for the life of me. People are passing by and asking if I am okay. Finally, an official drives by and asks if I need support. Next thing you know, the bike support was by my side. He gets the pedal off my shoe and looks to put it back on the crank arm. He then tells me some bad news. The threads in the left crank arm are toast. Almost completely stripped! He tightens it the best he can but tells me there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again, but I “should” be fine. He was right, it didn’t happen again. I lost probably 8-10 minutes on the side of the road there. I take advantage of all the down hills and for the most part am still thinking positively. Just after the turn around on 117, I see myself approaching the longest “rolling” climb of the entire course. I put my head down and told myself to just keep spinning the legs. I make it to the top and decide to stop at the aid station for some more sunscreen and some new bottles.
I knew Lionel wasn’t having a great day. I saw Jordan Rapp go by the first time and looked at my watch so I could give Lionel a split. 5 minutes back. Second time was 8+ minutes. Third time was 20+ minutes. I knew it must have been a mechanical because he is in very good shape right now. I am heading back to town and Lionel pulls up next to me. We were both suffering. I could tell Lionel felt defeated and bummed out. He told me about the flats and chain getting jammed. We said I love you and he pulled away for the end of the bike portion. I was unsure how his day would end.
I pull up to Chemin Duplessis and think to myself, “Wow, my legs are already dead, how am I going to do this?” But I did, getting off my bike once to walk it up a steep section. People are cheering and then I reach the turn-around at the top. Phew. Downhill from here and then just one more loop. I approach the half way turn around and see my parents and Doug again. They are cheering loudly for me which gives me a boost of confidence that I CAN DO THIS! I was moving significantly slower for the second loop. Negative thoughts begin creeping in now. What the hell am I doing? I am unsure if I’m even going to make the bike cut off. I know my average speed needs to be at least 20 kph. My legs are so heavy at this point. Even the easy gears feel hard.
The next 60km were just full of pain but fairly uneventful. I am coming down Montee Ryan and fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead. Chemin Duplessis again. It’s my mind vs. my body vs. the clock now. I start climbing. I start crying. I start weeping! I get of my bike to walk more of the steep sections because I know I can walk up faster than I could bike up at this point. Then I start thinking very negatively. “Maybe just slow down even more so you don’t make the bike cut off and you won’t have to continue.” Then I notice the people who are descending on the other side are all telling me I am so close to the turn around and I can make it.
I start yelling at myself in my own head, “WHAT DID YOU COME HERE FOR? TO GIVE UP? KEEP GOING! YOU GOT THIS!” Then I make the turn. It is down to the wire. I still don’t know if I’m going to make it but I decided I am going to try my best! Then I got angry. I found another gear. I found another gear at 170km into the bike. From where? No clue. Now I am crying again, but not tears of sadness or pain or defeat. Tears because I was flying down this mountain and seeing speeds I hadn’t seen since the first 20km of this bike ride and I KNEW I was going to make that cut off. I reach the bottom and get out of the saddle and sprint to the mount line, screaming!! I can’t believe it! I made it. Still crying. Good thing I used that waterproof mascara.
I unclip and almost fall over, pass my bike to a volunteer and I start to shuffle into the transition tent. People are cheering! It was so exhilarating. Doug sees me and asks me how I feel. I chuckle and say “Meh” and head into the tent. It was clear to him I was a bit out of it at this point. It feels so good to be off of Queen B (that’s my bikes name.) I am one of the last people to make the cut off. The volunteers were great in the tent. Still whimpering, they help me get all my stuff out of the bag. I towel off and change my shorts and put some more body glide under my sports bra. Socks on, shoes on, sweat band on, race belt, more sunscreen (lotion) and I’m off. During this time Lionel has ran to the 1st km marker. I see him and immediately run right into his arms, stop and we hug. I fully embrace this moment with him. He was so proud of me. I think he thought I was going to pack it in at that point. I told him I wanted to keep going. “I love you baby” he said as I ran…well, jogged, away.
Oh god. Why? Why are there so many hills? My plan was to run for 1km then to power walk for 500m. This plan was almost immediately tossed out the window. People are passing by me and some are saying thank goodness it’s our second loop. UGHHHHH. All I am thinking is, “I hate running.” I keep going. I decide at about 10km that I will likely stop after the half marathon. That if I even make it that far it will be an amazing accomplishment. Enter Barrie Shepley. He was going to get me through this marathon if it killed him. It was already starting to get dark. 15km, his wife Caron Shepley was waiting for us. If it weren’t for their support I would not have finished. Guaranteed.
I head into town and see Lionel, his mom (who finished in 13hrs), my parents and his dad. Caron says she will be waiting for me here if I decide to keep going. I start crying to them again that I’m not going to make the cut off, that I can’t do it, that it’s too hard. I keep moving forward and my Dad starts jogging along side me. He is telling me he is so proud of me and that I AM DOING IT, and I WILL FINISH. I have 3 hours. I need to negative split this marathon if I’m going to finish by midnight. Again I think to myself “Erin, did you come here to say you quit because it got too hard?” I decide to keep going.
Caron is surprised to see me again and we keep going. I need to hold 9 minute km’s if I’m going to finish. The volunteers say I need a glowing necklace if I’m going back out there. It is pitch black out now. I have highs and lows. I keep complaining every ten minutes. I sounded like a broken record, spewing out my sob story that I’d never ran this far before. Barrie keeps yelling at me “Do you want to miss the cut off by ONE FRICKIN MINUTE? LET’S GO!”
I don’t know what felt worse at this point. Trying to run or trying to speed walk. Both equally painful. I had some serious chaffing going on and made a stop with Caron for some Vaseline at one of the aid stations. I do remember the one section with the gravel being very pretty at night. They had hung little glowing sticks from the trees the entire way. This took my mind off of the pain….for 600m. Then it was 5km of more hills and more yelling from Barrie to stop walking. I really didn’t have time to walk. It hurt so bad.
Finally I saw the strobe lights from the village. I knew I was close but also knew I had some more hills before I would reach the finish line. Barrie kept saying, “This is the last hill.” (I had thought that since they made athletes run up that very steep section in the village on the cobble stones at the 70.3, that I’d have to run up that here as well). I kept telling Barrie that there is still one more!! We parted ways at this point and high-fived.
I made it up what I thought to be the second last hill and rounded the corner. Everyone was yelling at me and cheering for me. It was INSANE! But I thought to myself “when do I have to run up those cobble stones?” I DIDN’T! WOW. Talk about relief. I started smiling from ear to ear and sprinting DOWN the cobble stones towards the finish line. High fiving people all the way down. Then I heard it. I heard those words that I wanted to hear so bad all day. I got shivers down my spine and saw Lionel waiting for me at the finish line. My eyes welled up one last time as Mike Riley yelled into his microphone and joined by the crowds screamed, “ERIN MACDONALD, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” The next few minutes are a bit of a blur but there was a lot of smiling and crying and laughing with disbelief that I actually conquered this beast of a race.
Lionel placed my medal around my neck then held me in his arms and said, “You did it babe!” I could not believe it. I did it with 1 minute and 30 seconds to spare. I got my finishers shirt and hat, returned my timing chip and we headed to find our parents. My mom and dad came running towards me, my mom also in tears and both of them with a smile equally as big as mine. They were so proud of me. It meant so much to me that they were there to share this moment with me. I wasn’t hungry immediately after but I was definitely thirsty. And not for lemon-lime Gatorade! We ended our night at Casey’s and had a celebratory pint! We only had one, though, because we were all falling asleep at the table.
I hope this gives someone some inspiration to push their limits. Step out of your comfort zone and try something you never thought you would! If you had asked me 5 years ago if I would ever do an Ironman, I would have said, “What’s an Ironman?” and/or “Are you crazy?”
As I sit here now 3 days after the race and reflect back on my journey that day, I’ve decided that my next race will be a flatter one….that’s right…my NEXT race.