Things I Learned in My First IM – Mont Tremblant 2012. By Stephen Barnes

The locals and volunteers are insane. Their iron-calibre ability to cheer so loudly is truly inspiring.

If someone grabs your bike as you enter transition, don’t fight them for it, they’re likely the valet racking volunteer. Instead, smile and enjoy chatting them up while you get the royal treatment for a moment.

Even though you can’t see the far turn buoys from shore due to the distance and the morning mist, they do eventually show up. They are just awfully far away.

No matter how many swim lessons you take, nor how many drills and thousands of metres you put in each week, don’t forget to practice putting goggles onto a dry face and getting a good seal. Three times in the first 400m or so I had to be That Guy who treads water stupidly, legs-only, while he tries to re-jig his goggs. The third time I made the executive decision to rip off and discard my swim cap so I could get the positioning of everything Just So. In the meantime, just about everyone got past me, including the dreaded breaststrokers. Spent the next many minutes fighting off wayward feet and elbows, along with guilty feelings that some poor volunteer might come across a lone swimmer’s cap, think the worst, and call out the dive team…

How poetically symbolic – my swim exit pic. I am getting this sucker framed.

After a swim like that, passing nearly 700 people on the bike and the run doesn’t seem particularly hectic if you take as long as I did to do it.

It is possible to complete an IM without taking a single bite of anything; I went with all liquid nutrition, from start to finish. Maltodextrin, calcium carbonate, sea salt and water dissolve into a nice homebrewed glop that sits well in at least this person’s stomach. No doubt the cooler temps made it easier to compete without cramping, but hey – I’ll take it.

St. Jovite is big enough to have a sewer system. That means pipes underground, and recessed manhole covers above. More than once (on the first loop only, bien sûr!) I dipped into a sun-dappled, camouflaged manhole cover and nearly Whitfielded myself. 

The locals and volunteers are insane. Their iron-calibre ability to cheer so inventively is truly inspiring.

The winds across some of the bridges along hwy 117 really do pick up on the 2nd loop at mid-day. Happily, it was the only time I needed to grab the bullhorns.

Although it took several more minutes in transitions, I am glad that, for my first time at this distance, I went from swim jammers to bike shorts to run shorts; the peace of mind this flexibility gave me added greatly to my serenity. Next time, though, I smash it with a trisuit or equivalent.

People really need to up their race craft on the bike, especially where hills are concerned; I constantly found myself bombing past folks who were coasting downhill. I guess they do this for a rest? Trouble is, with a lower top speed they also end up pedalling more intensely to make it up the next hill. They save one match only to burn two later on, then they need a bigger rest on the next downhill, and so it continues…

Having said that, I appreciated the overall sense I had that handling skills were above those found in some shorter distance events. Often found myself beside folks on roundabouts & turnarounds, with few concerns.

Those industrial-strength traffic cones that divided our highway rides from cars were so ubiquitous that was easy to take their placements for granted. One cyclist just 50m ahead of me must have had a momentary distraction and clipped his base bar on one. He went down with a loud crashing slap – knocked the wind out of his lungs, likely broke some ribs, collarbone, who knows – his day was almost certainly done. Luckily this was right near volunteers and police so at least some qualified care was right on it. But still, these sorts of things can happen to any of us. One minute you’re strolling along the Seine after a great meal, next thing you know you’ve tripped over the edge and the alligators get you.

Forget the shoe ads. Something I could never know from running pristine trails through the escarpment while training: AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, pumped out of a U2-sized sound system while a few hundred strangers clap and cheer is what actually makes me run fastest.

It is possible to complete an IM almost fully naked 😉 ie. with no GPS, no power meter, no HRM. Just my trusty Timex wrist watch with a split time chronometer*.

* I am a living Timex commercial. What gives me chills, more than the downpour at the end of the run, is that my watch’s battery gave up the ghost just as I crossed the finish line. After more than five years of use, the display began to fade – of all times – on the second loop of the run, to the point where I could only see the main time display, not the small splits above it (at first, I mistook it as a sign I was either rapidly aging or about to lose consciousness). I even recall it working as I took a last glance rounding the final climb along Rue Kandahar before entering the downhill to the finish chute. Then, after crossing the line, I looked down to stop it as we approached the volunteer “catchers” and saw the display had gone blank. I kid you not. Timex Watches: Now With Batteries More Faithful Than the Family Dog…

Finally, and most remarkably: It would seem the inimitable Pat Shaw always shows up – like an angel in a dream – to hug me when I am most tired in events; first it was the Around the Bay race two years ago, in the final North Shore hills, at the end of her driveway, and now here, after she placed the medal around my neck. I was so taken aback with surprise & joy (not to mention being addled from the race) that I promptly forgot she just did this, and I went to ask for one from the following volunteer! Sorry sir, the limit is one medal per finisher.

Post-race: being soaked to the skin makes a long line-up for poutine just not appealing enough to endure – regardless of how good it is purported to be – so I caught up with my three drenched, indulgent family members and we retired to our nearby room. Screw the ice bath, I took a long warm soak.

Just like I have heard, recovery really does feel easier than after a stand-alone marathon. It must be that I was so tuckered out from the swim and the bike that I couldn’t muster enough speed to really trash my legs!

Oh yes, and the locals and volunteers are insane. Their iron-calibre ability to cheer so loudly, so inventively, and so infectiously, for so many hours, even in the pouring rain, for heaven’s sake, is truly inspiring. Thank you, everyone, who helped make this happen.

Final thought to all of my fellow TCoB members: a big thank you for all of your support and encouragement these past few years. You are a big reason why I can already see that this is not a one-and-done for me.