The Long Overdue Race Report – Ironman Mont Tremblant

I’ve had a lot of time to think over Ironman Mont Tremblant, how it went, and lessons learned from it. Then life got in the way and before you knew it, here we are . . . out of race season and into winter base building mode. So now that I have some free time, here is my race report for Ironman Mont Tremblant. I apologize in advance if this gets lengthy, but here we go.

So, to say I was nervous and excited about the race would be an understatement. I was going to race in an Ironman in another country! I have never been to Canada, and I was excited about that. When I told some of my IM friends that I was doing Tremblant, they either said I was crazy, or told me to have fun with those hills. I was worried about the hills, as the race program shows parts of the bike at a 12% grade. The biggest hill, Duplessis, is a three mile climb at miles 50 and 100, and people have been known to walk it because it was too hard. I only hoped I trained enough to make it.

The next exciting part of this trip was that I was going to be racing alongside my dear friend, training partner, supporter, and one of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, Kelly Hill. We train together through E11even Athletics, and although this would be the first time we would meet face to face, we have trained and encouraged each other for a long time. This was going to be IM #6 for Kelly, and it felt like waking around with a legend. Having completed 5 IM races, Kelly has a ton of information to share, especially at Tremblant, as she had raced it before.

So we made it to Kelly’s cabin which is a couple hours away from Tremblant to spend the night. I finally got to meet Kelly, her husband Steve, and their four girls: Ryleigh, Paige, Megan, and Kenna. They made us feel right at home, and we even got a quick lake swim in before settling in for the night.

The next day we made it to Tremblant, and two things I noticed right away: the roads there are amazingly well kept, and that would make biking easier, and that they were rollers everywhere. That would probably make biking more challenging. But it was too late to turn back now.

We met up with Tynah Sharpe, Kelly’s friend and the lady that Kelly trains with in Edmonton. This was to be her first IM, and she was really nervous, but I know that feeling. I was calm at Maryland, but this time I was nervous. I was worried about the hills, and if Maryland was just a fluke . . . What if I can’t do it again? That plagued my thoughts.

So we got to our respective condos, settled in, and then got some light training in before the big day. Kelly had us meet her and ride up Duplessis. It was challenging but doable, but that’s after a two mile warm up. It would be entirely a different beast at mile 50 and 100. Then we piled into Kelly’s van, and drove the rest of the course. The car got really quiet . . . There were a lot more hills, and a lot bigger than I trained on. This was going to be extremely tough . . . Maybe too tough.

So we went to the IM village, and Tremblant didn’t fail to impress. The athlete village was in a ski resort area, with gondolas, shops and restaurants everywhere. It is a beautiful area, and Ironman was everywhere. The local residents made you feel welcome, and the scenery was going to make for a picturesque race, if I could finish it.

Before we knew it, it was time for the athletes dinner. Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, was there, and if we finished we would get to hear him say those beautiful words “You are an Ironman” to you personally. I could not wait to hear those words. I had to hear that, I just had to finish and hear him call my name. At the dinner, Mike got the crowd excited, working them up and getting the adrenaline going. Afterward, they had a fireworks show for us!

The next day we checked in bikes and bags, and went to see the “We are Triathletes” movie that was there for a special showing. More adrenaline rushes, and I would recommend that movie. Some people don’t realize the dedication it takes for one race, and any little thing could throw it off. Then it was time to call it a night and get ready: race day was almost upon us.

Race Day

Fog. We woke up to fog. We got to Kelly’s condo and then down to transition at 5:00am. We prepped our bikes, dropped off special needs bags, and then headed down to Loc Tremblant for the swim. It was wetsuit legal, and we prepped and stopped for photos before heading to the beach to line up. It was a self-seeded by swim time start, so we lined up where we thought we’d finish.

But the fog delayed the start for an hour. We were getting cold, even in the wetsuits, and were hugging one another in an attempt to stay warm. Kelly reminded me of our agreement: we run our own race, no matter what happens to the other. We agreed again and finally, the fog lifted enough to allow the race to start. And then we were off! Ironman Mont Tremblant was underway!

While the race was underway, the fog had other plans. It resettled on the lake, and it made it difficult to sight the buoys. I counted strokes between buoys 1 & 2, and planned to use that to help know when to sight. With the buoys being on my right, and since I breathe to the right, sighting should be easy, right?

But no. I counted the strokes and sighted . . . No buoy. Twenty more strokes, no buoy. Even though I was in a pack of swimmers, I doggie paddled to find the buoy . . . Way over on my left! We swan at an angle. People were swimming everywhere, and there was no way to avoid them. You just had to manage. I finally made it to the first turn, and my left calf cramped. I kept swimming and finally it loosened up, but by the second turn my right calf cramped. Getting to a kayak would be a challenge, as you would have to cut through swimmers going every which way to get there. I decided to keep swimming for the finish, cramp or not. It finally gave way and I was able to exit the water in 1:36:56. I actually swam 2.6 miles instead of 2.4 due to the fog.

After a short run to transition (gotta love wetsuit strippers) I was changed and getting my bike out of T1. It was time to see if I could do this hilly ride. Steve told me that Kelly was 6 minutes ahead, and I hoped that I would see her on the ride.

The start of the ride was great, and beautiful scenery throughout the entire course. But as we hit the turnaround we were faced with the first big challenge: A long steady climb up without the momentum of the downhill for push you up. Before you knew it, you were out of the saddle, pumping away and dropping gears as quickly as you could. Then you would get a break, and then another climb. My quads were burning, and we had not reached Duplessis yet! I wondered how that was going to go, if I was hurting already.

I met up with Julie and Steve, and they said Kelly was heading up Duplessis already. I still hadn’t seen her. Tynah had not been seen yet, but she was on the bike. I stopped and used a Hot Shot drink to relieve cramping, and heading up one of the biggest challenges I have ever done: Duplessis.

I have never been in first gear, out of the saddle, and cranking so hard so long that much in my life. Midway up, there was a man banging on a road sign with a rock. Bang…bang…bang! It was annoying until I realized that he was banging out the cadence you needed to make it up the hill. This gentleman was there at my mile 50, and 100. Lord only knows how many hours he stood there banging out the cadence. But it helped me get through that section.

But then the quads cramped like never before. It was so bad I barely got unclipped. I got to the side of the road and my legs looked like I was posing for a muscle magazine, my muscles were so defined, yet in such pain. Another athlete was sitting in the grass, pounding on his quads with his fists in an effort to loosen them up. I decided to not sit, as I was afraid that I wouldn’t get back up, but used that tenderizing technique on my quads and it helped. I pushed my bike to a flat and started again.

As I reached the last short climb before the turnaround, I saw Kelly. She was flying down the hill. I thought “how am I ever going to catch her?”. I made it to the turn and started down. I had decided to coast if I could to give my quads a rest. Coasting was no problem, as I soon reached 41 mph! It was scary and I was white knuckled all the way down. Suddenly I was on my second loop.

I struggled back to Duplessis, and started my second and last climb. I saw Julie, and she said I had an hour to make it up and down Duplessis. I told her I didn’t know if I could. What we forgot was that they added time due to the delayed start. I still had not seen Kelly, and assumed she was heading up again. More Hot Shot, and more screaming quads as I struggled up the big hill. I got to the last short climb and who did I see flying down the hill? Kelly was on her way down. At least I hadn’t lost any ground on her.

Another fast downhill (this time less scary, and more concerned about making up time), and I was heading to T2. It took 30 mins to climb up, and 10 mins to come back down Duplessis. Some riding, some walking, but I made it. Or did I?

As I rode into T2, volunteers in matching t-shirts were there to take your bike. As I got close, a man in a windbreaker and a hat pointed at me and to come to him. I did, and as he grabbed my handlebars he spoke very sternly to me . . .in French. I don’t speak French. I don’t say croissant correctly. So hearing this caused me to think I didn’t make the cutoff, and was getting a DNF. He must have seen the tears welling up, as he leaned over the bike and softly said, in English “Do you have everything you need off the bike? You have plenty of time. Go, go!” I said “Oh God I thought I was getting a DNF”. He smiled and said “No, you are fine. Go!” I finished the bike in 7:31:34

So as I ran to T2, I saw Steve, who gave me an update. Kelly was off on the run, and Tynah was fine and on the bike. So I grabbed my run bag, changed and headed out for my marathon.

The run was pretty, and at about mile 5 or 6, I knew who was just in front of me. I ran close and said “I’d know that tattoo anywhere” referring to her beautiful watercolor shoulder tattoo. Kelly smiled and said she wondered when I would catch her. We chatted for a bit and found out that both of us were hurting: Kelly’s back and my quads. We decided that we had plenty of time to make it, and to run/walk together to help each other along. So we ran along until we crossed a timing pad and heard the beep. It sends info to people tracking on their phones or computers and lets them know where you are at. I said “now everyone knows we are together.” Kelly looked puzzled and asked if that was a problem. I said no, but lets have some fun.

So as we heard the next timing pad, I sprinted ahead and crossed it and then stopped and waited. Kelly crossed and asked what I was doing. I told her “now everyone thinks I left you.” We laughed and then at the next one Kelly ran over it first. Then finally we crossed the last one together. We were giggling, thinking about what everyone was thinking, with this great running battle going on between us.

We saw Tynah as we came out of the long straightaway. She had been throwing up and was walking a lot. We told her she had to cross the timing mat about 10k away in a certain time or they would pull her. We hugged and then made her run off. Kelly and I worried the remainder of our run if she was going to make it.

We headed up the cobblestone hill to the finishers chute, and we were ‘debating’ who should go first. I tried ladies first, it’s her country, but Kelly was having none of that. She said “you know you could have left me on the run. It would please me if you would go first.” How could I refuse that? So in the chute I went, people cheering and finally hearing Mike Reilly say “Travis Kneale! You. Are. An. Ironman!” My second Ironman was complete. Final time:15:18:20

Twenty seconds later, Kelly Hill became an Ironman for the sixth time! We collected our finishers hat, shirt, and medal and headed for the food tent. We grabbed some water and chocolate milk, then off to Kelly’s condo to shower, change, and watch Tynah come in.

We got back and met up with Steve who had bad news: according to the tracker, Tynah was going to be 2 minutes too late. Steve, Julie, Kelly’s sister and her girls all went off to find Tynah and push her in to the finish. But they left Kelly and I with no phone, and no way to know what was happening except for watching the clock tower, and listening to Mike Reilly call in the final runners.

Mike said on the PA “there’s four more coming”. First were two were men running together, then a woman, but on Tynah. There is a tradition that people dressed as angels run in with the final runner, and here they come . . . But not with Tynah. Kelly and I were on the verge of tears. Tynah had tried so hard, and it was so close, this can’t be the way it ends.

Suddenly, we could hear Julie and the girls screaming “Go! Don’t stop!” And there was Tynah. We wanted to hug her, but screamed at her to run!! I think the video says it best:

After a brief stop in the medical tent, I presented Tynah with her finishers hat and shirt. She got her medal before going to the med tent. At one point as she lay on the cot in the med tent, her eyes opened and she looked at me with a huge smile and said “I really did it!” Yes Tynah, you really did! You are an Ironman!

We had one more day to relive our race, and enjoy each other’s company before heading our separate ways. I truly hope I can race with them again. Kelly is such an inspiration to me, and Tynah shows that you never give up. Hopefully we can get Julie and Steve involved in the next one and have our own group of 5 at the next one. It was a blast.

And of course, since I did an Ironman in another country, I had to add another tattoo:

Next time, I go to Colorado to train on hills before tackling Duplessis again. Thank you Kelly, Tynah, Julie, Steve, Ryleigh, Paige, Megs, and Kenna, and the Hill family for making this a great time. Thanks Jenni for getting me ready for this. I really did it! Ironman #2 is complete! Time to look for number 3.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.

Live healthy, be happy!