What we learned at Mont Tremblant: Comparing 70.3 to the Full Distance
Ironman New York City just passed a few days ago. WTC took on the Herculean task of putting an Ironman event into one of the world's busiest city. Not only is it one of the world's busiest cities, the access to this city is limited by bridges around major waterways. This coming weekend, we return the more established set up where an Ironman event takes place in a resort community with very easy water, road and lodging access. After 15 months of preparation by organizers and perhaps the same or more preparation by athletes, the world of Ironman racing will converge on the resort town of Mont. Tremblant Quebec, which is a less than 2 hours of driving away from Montreal or the nation's Capital Ottawa. Close enough to big cities to make access easy for those flying in from overseas, far enough away to make the triathlon the centerpiece marquis event in the community for the day, week and month.
Both athletes and organizers had a dry run for the full Ironman event. Dominique Piche and Marc Roy put on a first class event at the Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant in June 2012. Along the way, the entire team learned what worked well, and what could be improved to take this event "over the top" in terms of quality and end user experience. I wrote about the 70.3 venue here:
Dominique and his team met with athletes and solicited feedback on what could be done better. They are taking an championship quality event and making it even better, however, not all athletes have the option to make two trips to Tremblant to check out the venue. As local athletes we do. In fact, some of raced the 70.3 and then returned several weeks later for an "Epicman" Tremblant training camp. It is one thing to race the 70.3 distance, but how a course feels during a half Ironman can be totally different from when you double the distance. That was the purpose of the training camp. To see what things felt like when things got longer. Over less than 48 hours, athletes swam almost 10k, and ran a full marathon split over 3 runs and covered the entire 180k bike course in a single session plus did some extra climbing on some of hardest parts of the actual course and associated climbs. The intent was to a get a better comparison between doing the 70.3 and going "much longer". As this is the inaugural year, we only have so many data points to share with others so below is an effort to project ahead what things will be like in the Ironman.
Here are some of the major differences and what to expect:
- First of all, on race morning, you have ~ 1k walk to race start. Plan some time for that, and also be aware that the dry clothes drop off happens when you get to the beach.
- The 140.6 beach start will be wide. Very different from the 70.3. For those of you who have done Ironman Canada, it will be more like the sister race in Penticton than the narrower crowded start in Lake Placid. The first turn, like Ironman Canada will be almost 2k away. When you make your first right turn, there is a good chance that you will be swimming into the sun, but this is a short section. One more turn and straight shot to the swim finish. The final 100m is shallow and you can walk/swim for parts of this, however, be careful what you walk on as some athlete cut their feet open on rocks.
- On the swim expect calm waters early in the morning. But like Penticton, it is entirely possible for the swim to be wavy "if" the wind blow the "wrong way" which in this case would be North West.
- The bike start with rolling hills for 10K on Montee Ryan and then a 6% grade once you get on the main 117 route. Hopefully this will be enough to break up any congestion that may still exist after the swim. The 117 CAN also be very windy or like the 70.3 it may be wind free making it safe for ripping 70-80 kph descents. Get most of your eating on loop 1 done in the first 70k.
- 70k into the ride, you will pass transition and start on the 20k out and back loop towards Lac Superieur on Chemin Duplesis. This is the hardest part of the entire event. In the 70.3 athletes were able to partially open up the tank at this point. Not so in the full Ironman. Pacing here is key. There is essentially 10k of stair step climbing on several grades up to 12%....34x27 or 34x32 gearing is recommended. Or even a triple. It might not be too late to change your cassette. Don't be one of those guys who correlates his manliness to his gearing. There is an inverse relationship at Tremblant. Those who plan to do well, will have low gearing to keep the crank torque down at low power. On loop 1 it will be imperative to keep the effort in check. The race had not begun yet.
- Also if you are frustrated by any "congestion" and being passed by any "groups" (which seemingly always happens in large Ironmans, despite the best efforts of Jimmy Ritticello's referee crew), once you enter the final 20k of loop 1, this will turn into a total non issue. Bottom line, is that the terrain should break things up. The consensus is that there is around 3300 feet of climbing per bike loop.
- Once you return back to transition, this will be a good opportunity to focus on fueling as you can't do much during the 20K out and back described above.
- Heading back out on the 117 on loop 2, there is a very good chance that the afternoon winds pick up. That's just the way it is. If it is windless consider yourself lucky. If it is windy, this is totally normal.
- Once you turn around at the 120K point on the 117, you'll truly feel the race "about to start". Our athletes that came out to train at our Epicman Camp certainly felt that way. If the wind is the wrong way, it can make this section even harder as it has more uphill than downhill and you are quite exposed. Don't worry, it is the same for everyone. We got really lucky at the 70.3 with a windless day. Temper your expectations at bike loop 2 at the full Ironman will happen a lot later into the day than the single loop on the 70.3. There are many opportunities through this entire sections to safely fuel. You can also waive to fellow athletes heading out to the 120k turnaround point. Everyone will need a mental lift at this point. The legs will be burning but there is still a lot of riding to get done. If it is hot and sunny, there is no shade. Think QueenK style riding except you are beside lush green Canadian Boreal vegetation vs lavafields.
- Now fast forward the day to 160k into the ride. You will pass transition again and be able to waive to loved ones. Now onto the final back breaking 10k out and 10K back. To some degree, you can literally view this as 10k of stair step climbing up, and then when you get to the turnaround you are literally done. The ride back goes quickly with a few climbs (steep and short), but mainly descents. It provides a fair road back to T2, assuming you were patient through the day. In our camp, most found that once they were on this section, they were psychologically over the hump and mentally getting ready to run.
- T2 should be rejuvenating. The place will be lined with spectators and you're right in the middle of the resort and the first 5+ kilometers of the run will be packed with spectators. If anything try to "look good" through here….nothing like the crowds cheering you on if you look like you're having a good time. Keep in mind that in the first 5k there is plenty of uphill running, so don't get discouraged if your Garmin reveals a very low pace. Many athletes in the 70.3 did not realize the severity of these gradual climbs until we started running back.
- On the back side of the run you hit a trail section called "Le Petit Train du Nord", which translates into the "small train of the North". This is an old railway bed converted into a recreational trail. It looks flat, it seems flat, but it is not "exactly flat". In fact, on the way out, we have a 1-2% downhill and then you have to come out of that, on the way back. You can't even tell you are on a grade on the way back, but it just adds up and can mentally carve away at your resources. Both in our camp and at the 70.3 that was the universal feedback. On the plus side the surface is quad saving and forgiving. Those of you who have raced by the canal in Roth know what I am referring to.
- In the 70.3 this out and back trail section was fairly sun exposed, but this was at mid day on closest to the summer solstice with the sun being close to overhead. For the full Ironman expect this entire section to be shaded with the sun lower in the sky. For those running hear after dark, it "could" be quite dark. We don't have any experience running on this trail at night to share with you.
- Coming back into town, you actually have to run up a hill that is around 200m long before flying downhill through the heart of the pedestrian village. The uphill, especially on loop 1 may feel steep, but the downhill is not. For those who have raced Lake Placid, it is much smaller and less steep and will be lined with enough spectators that you can't possibly "not run".
- Once down through the village on loop 1, you end up by transition and repeat the loop, and on loop two you will veer left to the finish. You'll feel like a Quebec rock star at that point (trivia…..name a few). But before that you have an entire loop to run. The general Garmin measured consensus was approximately 700 feet of running per loop, so we're looking at 1400 feet of vertical for the full marathon.
- My personal view is that athletes will need to pace out their energy and that the "real race" will start once you get back on the Petit Train du Nord Trail for the second time. When you get there, the race will still have around 15k of running to go. This is what we will be saving for. There will be less crowd support here, but it will be fairly densely populated with fellow athletes. To some degree, this is one of the values of a 2000+ person WTC Ironman. For 364 days you might feel like a misfit in day to day life with family and co workers. This section will feel like the "Tremblant version of the Energy Lab" but rather than being a misfit in society that shaves legs and hangs out in compression there will be 2000 other guys just as crazy trying to get through their 140.6 mile victory lap that the day of racing represents
Well, that is what I have from the 70.3 and our Epicman training camp that hopefully provides insight and assists you with some visualization for the upcoming day of racing at Ironman Tremblant on August 19th. If you have a chance, wave and give me a thumbs up. I'll be one of those smiling guys in black shorts, and shaved legs (although I will not be wearing compression) doing a 140.6 mile victory lap with more than 2000 like minded guys and girls who set a goal, did the work and are trying to get the best out of themselves.
About the Author: Devashish Paul is a frequent contributor to xtri.com and is a masters athlete that lives in Ottawa Canada. Growing up in Quebec as a Montreal Canadien's fan (during the Stanley Cup winning glory days), he is excited to have triathletes from around the world come to play in his back yard. Dev has completed 20 Ironmans having first raced as a 25 year old at IMC 1991 and has introduced, mentored and coached many athletes to get to their Ironman