To help athletes get ready for the Mont Tremblant Ironman 70.3 we wrote a comprehensive guide. Now we are coming up to the Ironman North America Championships in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada on Aug 18th, 2013. There is $125K of prize money on the line for pros and also 4000 KPR points, making it the last big chance to get an invite for Kona. For Age groupers, with 75 Kona slots, it means that the larger age groups from 35-49 will benefit with several more Kona slots over 50 Kona slot races. So the competition will be fierce. We’ve upgraded our 70.3 guide to highlight the major differences that athletes can expect covering twice the distance in each sport on the same course.
The nice thing about the Mont Tremblant venue is that we get to do the same course for both the IM and the 70.3 and just repeat it twice except for the swim. As the lake is quite large the Ironman swim is just one large open rectangle loop. Athletes start with around 1800m straight shot from the beach, then 200m across to the right, then another right turn and 1800m back to the exit. As we discussed previously, generally the lake in the morning is quite flat, but if we get a northwest wind, it can equally have whitecaps. But this is the only direction that wind would cause any issues. There are no currents that affect the swim. The sun can be in your eyes after the first right turn, but it is generally OK for sighting all the way back. With the full Ironman going to wave starts and wide beach start like the 70.3, there is generally pretty clear and open water within 10’s of meters. Faster swimmers from later waves will pass slower swimmers from earlier waves. Please swim with respect for our fellow athletes. The final 100m approach is shallow and there can be some sharp rocks near the beach, so watch what you are stepping on. The run from the water to the bike is fairly long being in the range of 400m. The fastest pro transitions are in the sub 4-minute range in both the 70.3 and full Ironman.
Swim Technical Q&A
Q: Wetsuit choice, sleeves or no sleeves
A: First of all, the opening answer is a wetsuit with sleeves is always faster due to more buoyancy. In terms of water temperature, for the August full Ironman it is unlikely that athletes will overheat in a full sleeve wetsuit
Q: Goggles, tinted or clear?
A: It is a personal choice. A bit of tint could be good on a really sunny day. Sighting in general is good. The water is also very clear.
Q: With the longer transition run do I need to keep shoes at the water exit?
A: The pavement is smooth and a large par of it is covered with carpet. Bare foot is OK.
Most of the questions we get on our reader forum concern the bike course. It has over 6,000 feet of climbing over the two loops, so on par with Lake Placid, a bit less than Ironman France, but more than the Coeur d’Alene, Kona or Switzerland. But the climbing is deceptive. It does not really hit you in the face immediately, even though the road out of T1 is rolling.
We can essentially divide the course into 4 phases.
The first phase consists of rollers and false flats heading out of the resort on Montee Ryan for around 9-10k with short climbs that you can carry your speed part way up. Depending on how strong you are, they may be big chain ring for some, but for the majority of participants, the small chain ring will kick in too.
The second phase takes you from 10k to 32k on the highway consisting of gradual climbs or false flats along heading to the first major turnaround. It starts with a fairly long climb that is 5-6% grade. This is a great place for athletes to start blowing their race. Even this climb is not so steep to cause any duress, but steep enough to blow some matches. On loop 2, this climb that felt easy on loop 1 is where the biking for the day really starts. After this climb it is an aerobar ride all the way to the turnaround and back. On loop 2, the wind can kick up severely and things can get very lonely. It is like being out on the QueenK except there is no lava in Tremblant, instead you are surrounded by dense maple forest of the Laurentian mountain range. For those who raced last year, you will stay on the highway 3k longer than in the previous year as the shoulder has been paved out a lot further, and this is made up for by less riding back in the town of St. Jovite. We lose a hill climb in town on race day, but we may have more wind on the highway and an extra climb at the far end of the highway. Before leaving the highway, you’ll hit the same hill you came down. Now you are at 49k into the ride and it’s 2.5k. Just side down and spin it out at your target pace/watts. It is still early in the race and will feel easy. On loop 2, with the wind, it will probably feel 50% harder than loop 1, even though you may be going 20W lower (hopefully not). A few rollers and a quick downhill later and you will be ready to head into the town of St. Jovite, which is one of the real towns in the area. The resort of Mont Tremblant is a tourism manufactured entity as you will see.
Phase 3 takes us through St. Jovite and back on Montee Ryan back to the ski resort at around 70k. Going through St. Jovite, you will have a slight uphill heading into town, and a false flat downhill heading out. By loop 2, it might feel hard, but a lot of locals will be there to cheer you on. Once out of the town, you will be back on Montee Ryan. This is one place you need to fuel up because after you finish this segment, you have the hilliest part of the course where it can be difficult to fuel up. It will be especially important on loop 2 to fuel at this point. Don’t get in a race here. Race the last 10 miles of the marathon.
Once this section is done, you are back at the ski resort next to T2, however, the hardest part of the course is ahead on the fourth phase of the ride which is basically 10K out generally uphill and then 10K back with a lot of high speed descending. The road to Kona essentially starts or ends during this part of the course. None of this climbing is really difficult enough on any single stretch to warrant mention as a standalone climb, but cumulatively it adds up to the bulk of the difficulty on the bike course. The grades range from 2-12% with several 12% sections that most cannot do without standing up and if the gearing is too low, either substantially spiking wattage or increasing crank torque, neither of which is really desirable for a full 140.6 distance. When you reach the turnaround, you’ve essentially finished the bike course. Again or those who raced last year, the turnaround on the bike is around 500m earlier to make up for the rest of the extra on highway 117. After the turnaround it is time to wind things up a bit, get up to speed, do a lot of tucking, top up on nutrition (on the less steep parts as you will need both hands on the bars for the parts that are 70-80 kph) and pull into T2 with a few short uphill bursts. Depending on your speed, this last section is in the 15-minute range, depending on how brave you are. None of the descents have any highly technical turns.
Bike Technical Q&A
Q: What gearing is recommended?
A: For most a compact with 34x27 is the minimum if you don’t want to burn up the legs for the run. The top guys at 4.2 watts per kilo may be fine on a standard crank. I’ll even go further and say that many athletes should probably have a triple or a 34x32 combo, possible with SRAM cassette and chain on Shimano short cage derailleur, or on an SRAM long cage. The lower gears will be helpful for saving the legs for the run. Sure you can survive on a standard crank with a 39x25, but at what cost to the run?
Q. What wheel set? Deep? Disc?
A: Dual deep wheels are fine. 60 mm deep in the front and 80/90mm deep on the back is fine for lighter athletes. Bigger athletes can use 80/90mm deep in the front and a disc in the back. There is only one windy section on the 117 where deep wheels can be hard to handle.
Q: Is it really true that the paved the bike shoulder just for cyclists?
A: As we said, Tremblant is trying to make itself a destination resort for triathletes. Good quality roads, just like a world class ski hill is part of the offering. Skiers need good quality grooming. The municipality just applied the same mindset to the bike courses for the triathlon. It’s about user experience. So yes, it is true, they paved the bike shoulders on the side of the highway for athletes. Hopefully they keep that up for multiple years and it is not a one off.
Q: Anything technical on the bike course to be aware of?
A: The nice thing about Tremblant is that every meter you gain going up, you get back coming down. There literally is not a single place on the entire course that you lose your speed due to bleeding it away while applying the brakes. Those of you who have the zero braking rear brake feature of some of today’s super bikes don’t need to be worried.
The run course is fairly deceptive in terms of difficulty. At the surface, the course seems fairly easy with a few short rollers out of T2, with a gradual set of mild climbs going from the ski resort to the old Tremblant village. This is not the place to light up the pace on either loop. Patience here pays off. On loop 2, if you don’t feel good here, keep running but slow down the pace and use it as a signal to take care of your nutrition because you have a lot more running left to do. If you have legs at the end of loop 2 you will be rewarded because you can wind things up on the way back and use the down hills to your benefit.
Once in the village of old Mont Tremblant, you are on an old railway bed that has been converted to a gravel recreational trail. This part is a lot harder than it might appear. On the way out to the turnaround you have a mild downhill, which is probably no more than 1-2 percent. You can’t even tell because you are surrounded by dense forest on both sides. Stand on your treadmill at 1 percent grade and you’ll understand what we mean. But it goes on and on and on, for almost a quarter of the course. Those of you wearing GPS watches may be alarmed by your pace having gone down on the way back. It may almost feel like a gorilla jumped on your back, but it is not just you, it is everyone. The difference between a 1% downhill and a 1% uphill on the way back is 2 degrees and the difference between 2 percent up and 2 percent down is 4 degrees. In any case, this is a long section where you gain elevation coming back and it can feel hard. The good news is that the trail surface is very forgiving on the quads, which is a great thing if you are bigger athlete. The bad news is that on loop 2, this section can seem to go on forever without any change in visual variety and with a lot of athlete density. So if you feel that way, you won’t be alone. Just focus on the next steps, or the next competitor, or your nutrition plan, not how much distance remains. Mentally it is the toughest part of the course and happens to coincide with the last 10 miles/16K that are always the hardest for all athletes.
For those trying to hit PB times, it is important to note is that the out part of the run course is shorter than the back part. After the trail section, there is a short out and back section once you get off the multi use trail after which you retrace your path to the ski resort. But then back in the resort, it is not over till it is over. Here in Tremblant they make you climb one final hill taking you towards the top of the resort. But that climb is there for a good reason. It is so you can come sprinting down the last few hundred meters through the ski village, by the stores and restaurants packed with spectators. But on loop 1, it is more like torture. You pass within 50 meters of the finish line with the crowds cheering knowing there is still a half marathon to run.
If there is a race with great accommodations on the Ironman circuit, Tremblant is it. The entire base of the ski hill is covered with hotels and condos, but it does not end there at the ski hill. It spills over to the entire set of towns nearby, with a wide cross section of lodging options from budget all the way up to 6 stars. There is a bit for everyone and because there are more accommodations than there are triathletes and visitors, it is always possible to find a good rate. You won’t be locked into 7-day minimums like in some host cities of Ironman races. A few at the base of the ski hill might lock you into 3 days, but that is probably worth it anyway. You may actually regret if you stay at the base of the mountain 2-minutes walk from the finish line and not stay longer than 3 days! Many resorts at the base of the mountain also offer free rides to the summit of the ski hill as part of your package. This is a trip worth taking and thankfully they have not made the climb to the summit a part of the run course.
What’s it like vacationing there?
With the cities of Montreal and Ottawa both nearby there is plenty for athletes to tour either before or after the race. Don’t feel like you need to speak French to get by. You’ll find lots of English speakers to help you understand what to do and not to do. Quebec is famous for many international caliber events ranging from the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Canada, to the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Tremblant also has hosted many World Cups in Freestyle skiing. There is a lot of great art, museums, dining, entertainment and culture to take in. 1:40 south of Tremblant you have the nation’s capital in Ottawa with a lot for families to see and enjoy post race. Put it on your plan.
Driving Across Montreal?
Many of our US based athletes driving from the North East need to drive across the city of Montreal. It is one of the largest cities in Canada and to make matters worse the city is an island. This means that traffic is limited by bridges. Timing your drive across Montreal is key. It would be best to drive across Montreal either mid day or late after rush hour. There are only 2 seasons in Montreal: winter and construction season. We’re in construction season, so please plan accordingly. It could be beneficial to break up the drive in downtown Montreal, spend some time, there, have dinner and then make your way over to Tremblant
When you go to visit that town, you’ll see that triathlon is not something that is squeezed into the local community to the disdain of many locals. Rather the community sees triathlon as a key partner to add to its portfolio of tourism success which to date has been focused on snow sports in the winter, and golf in the summer. It is our turn to help the community while they help us triathletes. Welcome triathletes and race well and safe.
Devashish Paul is the lifestyle contributor for Slowtwitch.com. He grew up in Montreal and has lived for 25 years in Ottawa. He raced both Tremblant events in 2012 and the Tremblant 70.3 and has done many training camps over the years on the terrain used at the races there.