I had done my research; with the new lower Kona Qualifying (KQ) slots at Ironman Mont Tremblant, I knew it was going to now take a top 3 placing in my age group to secure a spot. Based on the history of my AG in this race, I had figured that it was going to take a 9:37 race to secure the 3rd spot. That meant a 1 hour swim, 5:15 bike, a 3:15 marathon and then 7 minutes for transitions (or some similar combination).
My confidence had wavered all year… A good training run or ride would boost the confidence, a less-than-stellar training ride would have me wondering how anything close to 5:15 on the bike would be possible, then an age group win at Muskoka 70.3 put me back in a winning mindset. Throughout the eight month training process, I was sure to never lose sight of the fact that I was going to enjoy the process, enjoy the day, and make sure I crossed that finish line again to earn the title of Ironman! The decision had been made, I was going push for the time needed for a KQ and if that led to me pushing too hard, too early, and walking the run, so be it… I just wanted to ensure I did everything in my power to succeed!
We arrived in Temblant on Monday so I was able complete my training/final taper week on the race course as well as enjoying some family vacation down-time before the big day. Of course, a lot of that time was spent obsessing over Sunday’s weather forecast… Although we had great weather throughout the week, Sunday was not looking good with expected high winds and 30mm+ of rain, heavy at times in forecast – but when is the forecast ever correct?!?! This time!
Nervousness was high on race morning – Ironman is such a long race; there is so much that can go wrong in 9.5+ hours of racing and I was feeling the pressure to perform! I had made it clear to everyone when it came to what I wanted to accomplish and I didn’t want to disappoint!
Lora had me down to transition for 5am to setup my bike then I made my way to the swim start. Lora and support crew (Mom, Paul, Tina, Jordan, Eva and Maya) were able to make it down and spend the final nervous moments with me before I headed off for what was going to be a very tough day.
‘Oh Canada’, a couple F18 fly-overs, a 5 minute warm-up swim, fireworks, Pro-men at 6:35am, Pro-women, men 30 – 34, and then it was my turn! The men 35 – 39 were up at 6:45am; there was close to 300 signed up but 257 had made it to the start line (which can be an accomplishment in itself). I made my way to the front of the pack for the running beach start and we were off. I got out clean, no-one swam over me so we were off to a good start… I could see quite a few guys pulling ahead quickly to my left but I stuck to my plan and raced the swim within my means. The first 1500 meters out took consistent concentration as we were fairly congested and caught the slower guys from the first AG wave quickly – the choppy water had the non-confident swimming slower than usual. When we made it to the first turn buoy, the swells had become very big for a a small lake! Although I was enjoying the challenge, it made it tough to get into a good rhythm and hard to determine if I was on pace. With 500 meters to go, my shoulders were starting to tire which was a good indication that I had paced it properly. My 1:04:31 over the 3.8k swim was off pace BUT reading others comments post race leads me to believe everyone was about 4 minutes slower than goal/expectation/past results here. I was 16th of the 257 in AG and 152 of the 2480 OA.
Transition was smooth and I was out on the bike. By 7k into the bike I had passed the ‘swimmers’, moved into 10th in AG and 93 OA. This was around the same time that the rain started to come down… And it wouldn’t stop until close to the end of my run! I specifically remember thinking to myself at one point during the bike ride ‘Wow, this is hardcore, anyone that makes it through this wind and rain today, has REALLY earned the title of ‘Ironman’!’ I was enjoying myself and it got even better around the 75k mark… We were on the major climbing section of the first loop and a age 53 calf biked past me… I had read a lengthy article about ex-pro/extraordinary individual Pierre Lavioe where he predicted a top 20 finish and a 9:30 time… I thought, this must be him, he’s got the hair and his bike fit is reminiscent of the 90’s when he would have been at his best. I have so much respect for what this man does for kids and sports in Quebec, I was honored to bike with him for 50k. He would pass me on every climb and I would find my way back in front of him on every decent/flat. The long flat section on the way back to town on the 117 is where I would finally lose him… He mush have been pushing 30% more watts than me to be powering past me on the climbs but I knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep up on this flat into the wind section the way he sits up on his bike. I was feeling good about my race at this point; if he was on track for his expected 9:30, accounting for the fact that I started 9 minutes before his wave, I just needed to stay in front of him and I was close to my goal time!
The final 60k on the bike was my biggest worry going into the race but I felt good… My effort level was up a bit as expected and my speed was pretty close to lap one! Between kms 122 and 155, I moved up another 10 spots to 54th overall and was able to hold pretty close to that through the final 25k. My 5:09:32 for the 180k bike was better than expected, had me back on pace for 9:37, put me in 55th overall and 8th in my AG.
It felt so good to get off the bike… No major mechanical issues and I kept the rubber on the road on a day that saw many crashes. Now we just had a marathon to get through. The clock read 6:29:xx on the way into transition which was 6:19:xx into my race considering the 10 minute gap between my wave and the first pro wave. Counting 2 minutes for transition, I needed to run 3:16 to hit my 9:37 goal. Perfect – I can do that! The first 10k felt great, I was running on pace for a 3:09 marathon… I knew it was too fast but my heart rate was telling me that it was okay. I was now up to 6th in my AG and gaining on the top 5 and then it started to hit me… I thought my nutrition was on point all day but something was not agreeing with my stomach. I ran another 3-4 very uncomfortable kms… I remember passing Amanda Stevens (5th place pro at the time), we traded some words of encouragement (that was very cool) and my motivation was back up. I knew stopping could be the difference between KQ’ing or not but by 15k, I had NO choice. A 3 minutes stop led to Pierre, 2 in my AG and a total of about 10 people passing me but the biggest problem was that my body clearly wasn’t absorbing the nutrition properly as I had NO energy left! I felt so defeated, I was still running at this point but it was a constant mental battle… I was arguing with myself – ‘It’s okay to walk the rest, I did my best!’ Then the other side of the argument – ‘Keep running Josh, I want to be faster that last time! I have family waiting at the finish line and don’t want them to have to wait an extra 2 hours for me!’ Most of all, I did not want my kids to see me walking or have to explain to them that Dad had to quit running!
I walked a couple aid stations between 16k and 19k, drank the Pepsi, ate some pretzels and started to feel alive again… The mental struggle continued for the rest of the race but thankfully even in my malnourished state, I was always able to come up with more excuses to keep pushing instead of walking. I would walk half the aid stations for the remainder of the race but but I had a good competitor to run with and was able to run a respectable pace considering the circumstances.
My 3:31:57 marathon led to a total time of 9:53:44. 8th in AG, 50th overall, 37th amateur… As close as I was to qualifying for Hawaii, I was closer to a complete collapse. I don’t know when I will be able to chase this dream again but feel that I am certainly stronger after this race and would not bet against myself next time!