Thursday, July 13, 2017

I Ran Up a Mountain! CanadaMan Extreme Triathlon Guide report

Where do I start with this latest adventure?  What started as some drunken New Years talk with my friend Lauren, ended up being one of the most amazing things I've ever been a part of.  This past weekend, we went back to Quebec for yet another race.   This time it was the CanadaMan Extreme Triathlon in Lac Megantic.  I had never heard of this race but I knew of other extreme triathlons like the legendary Norseman in Norway and the Celtman in Scotland.

These races are all Iron distance races (or close to it) but they are done on courses that are extremely difficult in terms of elevation gain, terrain and sometimes even weather conditions.  They are also completely unsupported in that there are no aid stations on the course. You have to bring your own crew.  Unlike Ironman, athletes are actually able to receive outside help.  It was mandatory for athletes to have a crew.  For the bike leg, you had to have a support vehicle and for the run leg you could have either a support vehicle or a cyclist that stayed with you and for the last 8.3km you had to have a guide because the last part of the run course was up a mountain.  On a trail.  I thought it sounded like a challenge and 2017 was going to be the year of me stepping outside my comfort zone so I figured why not.  Lauren had originally asked me if I wanted to do the swim but that was a hard no.  Especially once I found out that you start at 4:30 am IN THE DARK. Let's change that to a HELL.  No.  So with me volunteering to do the run, G didn't think I'd want to drive to Quebec by myself (he was right, it was far!) he said he'd do the swim.  Which worked out for the best since he's a much better open water swimmer than I am.

I'll give you a brief synopsis of what this race entailed:

3.8km swim starting at 4:30 am in Lac Megantic.  It was a point to point swim.  
180km bike with 2600m of elevation gain.  That is a LOT of climbing.  
42.2km run on road, gravel and trail, finishing on the top of Mont Megantic, with 1200m of climbing, 900m of it happening in the last 8.3km.  

Insane?  Definitely.  

On a side note, I now understand why there are a lot of very strong French Canadian triathletes.  When you have nothing but ginormous hills to train on, it stands to reason that you’re going to develop some solid all around strength. 

We left Toronto around 10:30 am on Friday to make the almost 800km drive to Lac Megantic.  We made pretty good time along the 401 save for when we stopped at rest stops.  It’s summer holidays so these places were JAMMED.  What is usually a 15 minute stop max turned into at least 30 minutes in some instances.  Welcome to summer road tripping in Ontario.  We got stuck in rush hour traffic as we skirted Montreal and that set us back a good 40 minutes or so.  Once we got through that we were really entering Quebec farm country.  Cell service got spotty and places to stop were few and far between.   It was beautiful though.   Even when the rain started.  The clouds opened up and it poured hard for a while.  We started seeing signs for Lac Megantic.  I was curious to see what  the town was like after the disaster there 4 years ago. 

We drove in and passed through an older section of town, along the main street.  We came up to a set of railway tracks and it became very apparent where the accident had taken place.  One side of the town had old buildings and the other side had brand new more modern looking buildings along with nice manicured gardens and a lovely waterfront.  There was still a lot of open empty space that was fenced in.  Land that had yet to be developed I suppose.  This new part of town was lovely.  But it was very surreal.  As Lauren had commented, it was as if someone just dropped a brand new town in the middle of an old one.   I don't think it was an accident that they scheduled it very close to the 4 year anniversary date of the tragedy (July 6th and the race was July 9th).


Still some space for new buildings



Even though this event is a small one compared to Ironman (roughly 200 competitors) I can only imagine what the tourist dollars meant to local businesses and the surrounding area.  The Inn we stayed at was completely booked as were several of the other local hotels .  On race morning, the local Tim Horton’s was jammed.  I don’t know if they were expecting to have that many people come in.  But they handled it in stride and people didn’t have to wait too long for anything.   


For a first time event, it was incredibly well organized.   There were a few hitches here and there, mainly due to language, but for the most part it seemed really well executed and the community definitely rallied around it.  

G and I brought our bikes with the grand plan of doing a ride on the Saturday but the forecast was not in our favour.   There was a small window of sunshine that we took advantage of and drove over to Mont Megantic with Lauren's dad Jim.  The plan was to ride the 5+km up the mountain.  By the time we got there, the clouds had rolled in and I bailed on climbing up it.  I didn't want to descend in the rain so I opted to just ride around the surrounding area.  I'm glad I did because holy crap, I struggled on the surrounding roads, let alone trying to climb up a mountain.  As I was out on the road, I could hear thunder in the distance.  I turned around and started heading back to the parking lot at the park entrance.  As I was riding back up the road, it started spitting.  I saw a cyclist coming towards me on the other side of the road.  As they got closer I realized it was G.  I asked him what happened and he said he had started redlining as soon as he started climbing and it got worse as he went up the climb.  He didn't think it was smart to continue pushing so he turned around at about half way up the climb.  I asked him what happened to Jim and he said he was still planning on going up.  So we pedalled back to the car just as the rain started to get heavier and heavier.  By the time we got back to the car it was raining pretty steadily.  I had suggested that G go back up the mountain and check on Jim so he loaded up his bike and I took mine into the park office.  Just after G left, the skies opened.  It was like a monsoon there was so much rain and wind.  If you saw my IG stories, you would have seen the insanity.  I sat inside and waited and about 15 minutes later I see Jim come flying into the parking lot.  He was completely drenched.  He came running into the park office with his bike and G showed up in the parking lot shortly thereafter.  I can't believe that he rode down the mountain in that downpour.   He said it was a bit of a slow go but was glad he did it.

We loaded up our bikes and headed back to the Inn.  By the time we got back the rain had stopped.  Of course, ha ha.  We showered,  got ourselves organized for the next day and then headed out for lunch.  The mandatory athlete briefing was at 3:00 pm so we went into downtown Lac Megantic and had lunch.  We met up with the rest of the team, sat through the briefing trying to figure out what was happening.  I could piece some things together because I understand french.  I can't speak it any more but I still have a pretty good understanding of words so I get the gist of what people are saying.   After the briefing we went over race logistics and then headed back to the Inn to get changed and head out for dinner.  G had to be up at 2:50 am to be down at the Arena for 3:30 am, which also meant that I had to be up.  So we wanted to be in bed early.  We wrapped up dinner by about 8:00pm and then headed back to the Inn.  G and I were asleep by 9:30.  I slept really well and woke up around 1:00 am to go pee.  I fell back asleep right away and the next thing I knew G's alarm went off.   We dragged our butts out of bed, G got himself sorted and we made our way into downtown Lac Megantic.

The hockey arena was a hub of activity.  G got his wetsuit half on and we went into the gymnasium to await instructions.   Finally, just after 4 am they announced that we'd be starting the walk down to the swim start.  We all started filing out of the arena into the parking lot.  I looked up to see a full moon.  It was beautiful.  The night was quiet except the footsteps and the odd bits of conversation.  We followed a boardwalk along the outskirts of the new part of town.  There were a bunch of locals along the path that came out and were clapping as the athletes walked by.  The local church was a lit up in a variety of different colours.  It was stunning.  The boardwalk was lit with little bamboo torches all they way to the water.  It really was a pilgrimage.

As we got closer to the water, I could hear people cheering.  I was shocked to see the crowd that had come out to see the racers off.  For a small town, there was a lot of people.  G handed me his shoes and his jacket and he zipped up his wetsuit.  I kissed him good luck and he wandered down to the start of the water.  I went around to fence to get a better view of the start.  There was a huge spotlight on the shore which cast enough light to illuminate the water at the foot of the beach.



There were some announcements and then they counted down to the start.  The horn went off and arms started flailing.  I figured I'd have about 1h - 1h 15 minutes to grab a coffee and get to transition.


It didn't take me too long to get over the T1, I think getting my coffee took longer, ha ha.  I was rewarded with this lovely shot when I arrived.  I found Lauren and saw Wade waiting in transition.


At 1:05 G still hadn't arrived so I was a little concerned.  I noticed the water was choppy at the start.  It was very windy.  So I suspected that would be a bit of an issue.  G showed up 7 minutes later for a 1h 12 minute swim for 3.8km.  Slower than he had anticipated but he said the water was choppy.  Wade headed off on the insane 180km trek and we went to go get breakfast.  Wade figured he'd be between 6-7 hours on the course depending on how bad the hills were so we had some time to kill.  After breakfast we managed to spot him pass the driveway to our hotel.  Once he had gone by G and I headed back to the room where I promptly fell asleep and G watched F1.



Lauren's parents were Wade's crew on the bike and Lauren's dad got some awesome shots of him and course.   Look at the climbs!



Best race sign ever!!!


Lauren had set up a Garmin live track so we'd know when she started running.  I had finished packing up all the goodies into the trail pack so I was ready to go.  I did a bit more work on training plans and then we headed into town to get some lunch.  Lauren texted me to let me know how Wade was doing.    He was cooking along on the bike given the amount of climbing.  G and I finished up our lunch and headed back to the room.  I was getting antsy.  So we packed everything up and opted to head over to T3 early.  I'm glad we did because it was packed.  We had to park on the road vs in the parking lot at the base of the mountain.  The transition point was obvious - it almost looked like a finish line.  I spent a lot of time running back and forth to the car, trying to get my legs warmed up and to calm myself down.  I was really nervous.  I had no clue what kind of trail we were going to end up on and I didn't want to slow Lauren down.

The Garmin live track was perfect.  We were able to track Lauren as she got closer so I had a pretty good idea as to when I'd need to be down at T3.  As she got closer, I grabbed the two extra bottles she wanted from Wade's mom, Patti, and I went down to T3 and waited.  I heard the announcer say Equipe Blood Sweat and Beers and then he said the team names so I figured Lauren would be around the corner any minute.  She rounded the bend and I could see on her face that the last bit had been tough.  Wade handed her a pepsi and she slammed that down.  She didn't want the bottles I had so we left them and we took off into the trail.

The first part of the trail was single track and not terribly technical but that changed quickly.  Lauren said her legs were tired so we slowed things down.  We chugged through the single track and the terrain started to change.  Things also started to get a lot steeper.  We were heading into a lot of rocks.    We went from running to climbing.  It was tough.  We were literally going straight up.  I could see why people were using poles.  Our first km took us almost 11 minutes.  Our second km took us over 22 minutes.  We also stopped for a bit a this point.  Lauren was hurting.  I don't blame her.  This course was no joke.  She had already gone through a really tough part earlier on around 28km that involved scaling some rocks.  Now she was back in the thick of it in the woods.   We pushed along, scaling rocks and sloshing through mud.  My trail shoes were getting a proper christening out here for sure.

We knew there was a small downhill in the course before it started climbing again and that couldn't come soon enough.  This was mentally taxing.  It was like climbing switchbacks up a mountain on your bike  You can't see the end, just turn after turn of uphill.  We scaled more rocks and we started to see the tree line thin out a bit.  Sure enough we came out into an opening with a stunning view of the valley and forest below.   The crazy part?  We weren't even close to being done.  We were just over 3km in.  Of course we couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a selfie.  We checked in with the two volunteers that we passed and headed back into the trail.

We were losing it a bit at this point.  And we still had a long way to go.
We went right back into all the mud and rocks.  I vaguely remember passing a sign that said 1000m.   It's no wonder my ears were popping, ha ha.  We eventually came out into another open space.  It looked like the top of a ski hill.  There was a big cross at the top and the view was amazing.  We found the blue trail flags and were pleasantly surprised to find that we were now running on a lovely undulating gravel trail.  We picked up a lot of time cruising along here, especially since it was mainly down hill.  Which meant that we were going to be climbing again eventually.  We enjoyed the downhill while we could.  Eventually the gravel trail ended and it turned into single track again.  This is where Lauren was at home.  She had gotten a second wind and was flying along this path.  I am not the most agile so I started to fall back.

It was muddy, rooty, twisty and turny for a long time.  The climbing was gradual so we didn't really notice it.  We caught another team as we went along.   That spurred us on to pick up the pace.   We had done a lot of descending and not much in the way of ascending.  That changed relatively quickly. We started scaling rocks and picking our way around tree roots while going up once again.  We could hear snippets of voices and what sounded like the finish line.  I glanced at my Garmin and we were at 7km.  We were close.  All of a sudden we came up on another team.  The two guys stepped aside and cheered us on as we passed them.  Lauren and I were booking it.  We found the uphill to be much better than the downhill.  We could really hear the announcer now.   We turned a corner and there was a random dude on the trail cheering people on.  He was super high energy and we high fived him and thanked him for being there.  We were so close.   We could hear the announcer clearly now.  We scrambled up some more rocks and saw an break in the trees.  We came out along the side of the road on the way up to the observatory.  There were a few people there cheering.  The road was pretty much straight up but at least it was road.  It was also SUPER windy.  Lauren ducked behind me so she could conserve some energy.  The road wound around towards the top and as we made the turn, we saw the finish line come into view.  There were people everywhere.  Lauren's husband, Wade, came running towards us.  I knew Lauren was going to get emotional.  It had been a long tough day and she said when she saw Wade she was pretty sure there would be tears.


The three of us jogged along towards the finish line.  As we got on to the finish line red carpet and they started to announce the team name, Lauren grabbed my hand and I'm pretty sure she had Wade's hand as well and we crossed the line as a trio.

G met us at the finish line and the team got their medals.  What a day.  What an experience.  That last 8.7km took us 1 hour and 52 minutes.  It was hands down the hardest run I've ever done.  But it was also the most amazing.  I'm so proud of Lauren, Wade and G.  That was a race of epic proportions and they crushed it.



After we had gotten back to our rooms to shower, they found out that Blood Sweat and Tears ended up being the second place mixed relay team out of 19 teams!  That is pretty freaking awesome.

I am so glad I volunteered to do this.  This took me way outside my comfort zone and, I actually enjoyed myself.  So much so that in our post race texts, I told Lauren that I want to do some trail running in the off season.   More adventures will result from that I'm sure!

I will leave you with the elevation chart of the last 8.7km....






What do you think folks?  Would you attempt something like this solo or as part of a relay?

I can honestly say that I have zero desire to do an extreme triathlon.  I don't mind suffering but only for a short period of time, ha ha.

Massive thanks to Jim, Lauren's dad for all the awesome pics!

~ Coach PK

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