Martin Caron, King of Poutine

[Editor’s note: Martin Caron was interviewed before placing 3rd overall at last week’s 70.3 Whistler, winning his 40-44 age group.]

Martin Caron recently torched the rest of the age group field at the 70.3 race held in Coeur D' Alene, Idaho. He won the 40-44 male division by over ten minutes and was the fifth fastest age grouper overall. We had a chance to chat with this fast, self-coached athlete.

Slowtwitch: You are looking very relaxed today, what have you been up to?

Martin Caron: I started off with a 1-hour track session and then a 3-hour bike ride in the heat, with some pretty good intensity.

ST: Before you tell us about that amazing day you had in Coeur D' Alene, for the folks who, don't know a lot about you, maybe tell us about your past. I take it, you didn't pick up that accent in British Columbia.

MC: That's my French accent from North Vancouver [laughing]. No, no, I was originally born in Montreal but raised in Riviere du Loup which is on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River between the Gaspe Peninsula and Montreal. There are no English speakers so we don't speak English very well there.

ST: What role did your parents play in your sporting life?

MC: My dad was pretty active and played a lot of golf and tennis. He got me to play hockey at 4 years old and then I played badminton and tennis at a pretty high level. I considered being a professional bowler. I also played competitive hockey when I was older, I made it to the Bantam B division but I quit because I didn't enjoy it as much.

ST: Did you have any sporting heroes as a kid?

MC: Not really, I met a few professional hockey players when I was at a training camp once when I was in Quebec City but that was about it. I'm not really into watching sports. I go to a lot of triathlons and I am surrounded by pros but I don't know who these people are or what they've done. I'm in this little bubble and that how I have been since I was a kid.

ST: What was your motivation to move from Quebec to Western Canada?

MC: That's a funny story. After leaving high school I trained to be a French Server, which is basically like a very high-end waiter. I also had to make flambes, steak flambe, dessert flambe, coffee flambe, everything is flambe. So I was trained in that, but I never worked at that for a day in my life. After I graduated, I got a job at a pizzeria, worked there for awhile and then decided to get in my car and drive west. It cost me $210.00 of fuel to make it from Quebec to Vancouver. It was 1998 and I remembering listening to cassettes on that drive. When it comes to music, I'm not really picky. I've had an I pod for ten years that still have the same songs on it. That's ok.

ST: You came to triathlon later in life, how did you discover it?

MC: Gee, that's another funny story, I had some friends in Squamish who were triathletes and they wanted someone to train with. One day they said, “come camping with us in Penticton this weekend, we're going to watch the Ironman race and sign up for it the day after.” So we were out there watching and I had no idea what was going on there.

We went back to our campsite for awhile and then at ten at night they said, “Let's go to the finish line to watch the last people come in.” I'm there at 16 and a half hours and the music is awesome, the crowd is on fire, and the people who are finishing are having the best day of their lives. I remember the last guy coming in with three seconds to spare and it was just magic. Then they started playing “Eye of the Tiger” and I just started crying it was so emotional. I didn't say anything, but I was thinking to myself if those people who were in all kinds of shapes were able to the finish line then maybe I could too.

The next day when we were driving back to Squamish we didn't do a lot of talking but when the silence finally broke my friend told me that she signed me up for the race! And then I said, I better take some swimming lessons.

ST: Tell us about your first race.

MC: It was at Boulder City, in the Hoover Dam area and the water was freezing. I remember myself panicking after about 100 metres. The water was dark and cold and I couldn't breathe. The only other time I wore the wetsuit it felt like it was choking me but I didn't know how it was supposed to feel. To survive, I did the breast stroke and the side stroke for awhile and then I thought I'd just try to swim front crawl, but slowly and that seemed to work. I did the 1.9 K in about 38 minutes.

In transition I just took my time. I put on my cycling jersey which was hard to do because I was wet and then when I tried to put on my helmet, it wouldn't go on and that's because I tried to put it on with my cycling gloves still inside it. After getting out of transition it was great and I went from last to about 13th overall. I pushed very hard. But getting off of the bike it was no fun as the first about 8 k of the run is all uphill. On the way back I started to have goosebumps and feel cold and I realized that I was having heat stroke, something that I was accustomed to as a roofer.

I still kept going hard though and I managed to make the podium, I was just one and a half seconds out of third but there was no way the guy in front of me was going to let me pass him, he was strong. I suffered in my first race but it was a good start.

ST: What was your training during the early days?

MC: As a roofer I was working 10-hour days, so a lot of heavy labour out in the sun, so I was really a weekend warrior. I swam with a Masters group and usually did 7 to 10 hours a week and that included my long bike. I topped out at 13 hours a week and for my first Ironman I finished it in 10:03. For my subsequent Ironmans I would take some time off of work and train but I would never taper, I would just keep sneaking in those last workouts thinking that they would make me faster. But now of course, I know.

ST: When did you realize that you were pretty good at this sport?

MC: When I was semi-retired at the age of 39, I took a month off and lived in my camper in Whistler and all I did was train. There was no TV, nothing. I didn't go to town for the month. I just trained on the course and it worked out well because that year and I went 9:09 that was good enough for second overall that year because there was no pro men's race that year. That was a very good result.

ST: How is your training different now that you are retired?

MC: Now that my only job is a landlord, all I do is deposit cheques [laughing]. When I was working so much, I was always tired, so now I've started doing something new. I'm training with intensity! Back then there was never enough time to get in a decent base and there's no point doing enough intensity without enough base, so now I have that time. In those early days, all week I would look forward to my 5 hour bike ride. And after, the beers and the poutine! I'm the King of poutine. People say that I dope on poutine. On my long rides I would always stop in Pemberton for a full meal, beer, poutine and a burger. People would ask, “How can you do that?” I don't know but it worked for me.

When I did Kona last year, I had a mechanical issue on the bike, so while I was waiting for support at an aid station they were cooking up hot dogs for the volunteers, so I asked if I could have one, and they said, “Of course.” They couldn't fix my bike and I did most of the course in one gear, so it was a very relaxed bike. I took it easy and went on to have my best run there ever, so I learned a lot.

ST: You said that you had some unfinished business at Couer D' Alene from last year because you made some mistakes. How did you screw up?

MC: It was the first time that I did a race with rolling swim starts so I started way too far back and there was nobody who I could chase and stay motivated, so that was one mistake. Another one was with my hydration. I keep my bike almost naked, just one bottle on my aero bars so when I went to refuel at the last aid station, I dropped 4 water bottles. I did the whole ride on one bottle and then it got hot. I was very thirsty even before the start of the run. I faded and didn't have the day I knew I could have. I went 1:25 on the run that day.

ST: This year maybe you didn't screw up, since you went 4:16, which was good enough for 5th fastest age grouper, and you were over 10 minutes faster than the second guy in your age group. Tell us about your day!

MC: This year I started replenishing my water bottles earlier so I didn't have that problem. I also noticed that I was able to push 6 watts higher at the same level of intensity and that was encouraging as I got onto the run. I felt a bit sluggish in the first 5k but I was able to hold my pace for the rest of the run without too much problem and I ran a 1:21. I felt that I managed my race much, much better than last year, I was never in distress all day.

ST: As an athlete who is winning at big races & still improving, are you getting any sponsors? Tell us about them and how they support you?

MC: I'm part of the Kiwami Racing Team, and they have just come out with a wetsuit and it looks amazing. Last year I applied just for the heck of it and they accepted me as an athlete, so I have them as a sponsor. For me it's more about the neat team members that I meet at races than the free stuff, because I can buy that. Also I am sponsored by Rekarb, it's a Canadian company based out of Montreal and they are making an energy gel that is made from maple syrup which I really like. That's the stuff that I was using when I was on the bike at Couer D' Alene. I used 4 that day.

ST: You said earlier that both of your parents are pretty good golfers and you are too. You even live in a house located on a golf course. Do you think you could beat Lionel Sanders in a round of golf?

MC: Well, if I have a chance to beat him, it would definitely be on the golf course. Hopefully neither of us would wind up in the medical tent.

[IMAGES: Beer Mile courtesy Heather Seely; Bike: Carrie Allen.]