4am. Two different alarms went off at in the airbnb to assure that Patrick and I were alive and well. I barely slept the night before. But, here we were. We got our transition bags prepared, dressed for the colder weather, and ate just enough mini wheats to coat the stomach. The venue was probably the only light source for miles that time of day. We walked in to assure our bikes were squared away, drop our transition bags and got our body markings. They placed our number on both arms and age on our calf. Music played loudly in the background, but no one was listening. Whether you were there to support a loved one or the one taking on the three-headed beast, your focus was on the race.
As we sauntered over to the start, my nerves had finally started to surface. With some shaking and cold sweats, my body was giving me its take on the situation. “You don’t have to do this. Seriously, you have proved enough. We were not made for this.” But with every inch of doubt that crept into my mind, I took one more prideful step. Upon arrival of the start, I turned to the black water and was assured that there was no turning back.
6:30am. Everyone was lined up and ready for the battle to commence. They had allowed competitors to self-assigned their starting position based on what they believed they could complete the swim in. Patrick and I knew that the odds of us finishing together was very unlikely so we separated from the start. Surrounded by people I didn’t know towards the very back, I watched as the professionals attacked the water never to be seen again. My legs buckled. Slowly the other waves of competitors edged closer and closer to the water. It felt as if I were walking towards a slaughterhouse as person after person took to the water. My heart was beating out of my chest. The screams and cheers from those that watched the start of the race numbed my body. The wetsuit felt like it was continually pressing into my chest. As much as I did not want to move, my body continued into the water and then stopped for further directions.
As the short breathing commenced, I went to work. You see, I strategized a game plan in the practice lanes of the lake to get me over my fear. With a deep breath, I would close my eyes and simmer underwater. And then, when I was ready, I would go. I could care less about what was going on around me. And fortunately for me, I was able to tune out everything and reminiscence back to my pool practice days. Eyes still closed, I went and didn’t look back. Within the first 50 meters of the swim, my right goggle started to take on water. In a desperate and costly attempt, I stopped took the goggles off to remove the water and secure them back onto my eyes. With the temperature difference of the cold air and my warm face, they immediately fogged up. There was nothing left to do but swim.
And swim I did. I didn’t stop after that. There were canoeists, boats, and life guards that lined the course. Not to mention, large buoys serving as markers to give assurance I was going the right direction. My watch buzzed every 500 meters and I was elated to find the first mile was my fastest ever swam. Although there was some bumping and collisions with the other 2700 swimmers, that did not stop me from getting back to land safe and sound. I walked out of the water as if I was on cloud 9. 2.4 miles done in record timing for me. With some help from the peelers (this was the name given to those that would help me get off my skintight wetsuit), I was in my first transition zone and soon on course to find Patrick.
8:38am. I took to the bike route at a blistering pace. The course was a two lap excursion covering the beautiful landscape of Mont-Tremblant. Excitement fueled my legs as I cruised through the first loop. The loop was set up where all competitors could see each other. Hairpin turns capped the course giving the feeling of a glorified out and back. It was along that first stretch on the highway where I saw the hundreds of competitors in front of me. And then it happened. Roughly 20 miles into the race, there was a familiar face. The relief on Patrick’s face upon seeing that I completed the swim was priceless.
“I’m coming for ya man!,” I yelled as I found another gear. With ease, I powered past some of the weaker riders. Now that I had a reference point, I knew exactly what needed to be done. I picked up some electrolytes, water, and carbs along the way. The course was dressed with rest stations every 13 miles or so. At this point in time, the sun was out and I was settling into a beautiful pace. Bikes still coated the course as I got a look at plenty of makes and models. I was able to catch Patrick before going into the second and final bike lap. He encouraged me to push past him and with what felt almost instantaneous, he was out of sight once more. This time, I was to be chased.
Tucked away just before the halfway mark was a series of climbs that I was anticipating. Patrick and I did a quick sweep of the course via car the day before just to mark major elevation discrepancies. And it was then where I made a serious blunder by underestimating the course. Upon signing up, I saw that the bike course would have and elevation gain of 2000. Assuming feet, I knew that my previous 100 mile bike race prepared me for the journey. Canada leverages the metric system though, and I found that the 2000 was in meters, not feet. The elevation gain was over 6400 feet. And over half of it was at the end of this loop. Shifting to my lowest gears, I started my climb. My legs were burning in anguish and head struggling to look up. I stood up for some additional torque and passed those that were at a standstill. I gave this part of the course everything I had at the time, and then realized I was only halfway through. As I shifted back up to gears I utilized prior to the big push and sat down, it hit me. My legs were absolutely torched. Even worse, the first of many cramps started to appear in my right hamstring. I made a terrible mistake.
Although I was drinking a lot of water, I wasn’t hydrated and the cramps and charlie horses were a living testimony to that simple fact. My pace slowed, form started to break down, and mental endurance started to wane. The sun seemed to get hotter, pedaling less effective, and mindset shifting. It felt as if I was going backwards as many of the people I passed initially, started to gap me and disappear into the distance. I recollected myself. Forward, just keep moving forward. And with that, I sacrificed pace for progress. The goal was to finish, and finish I would. Even with some brutal cramps along both legs, I just didn’t get off the bike. The ultimate test was getting up that monstrous elevation gain just one more time. As a friend once said, I needed to borrow some fitness from tomorrow for this big feat today. And that I did. Standing up resulted in a charlie horse I could not afford. So I stayed seated as I legit muscled my way to the top. My body screamed for me to stop, but I was way too invested now to even think about that. Getting to the top of the hill was so fulfilling and I rode that momentum down to the second transition marker. Ya boi had finished the 112 mile bike.
3:45pm. With swiftness, I changed to my running gear to take to the Mont Tremblant streets. It felt as if the energy doubled of those spectators along the course. And I had the thought that all that cheering was for me. I had worked so hard to get to that moment right then and I had finally made it to my strength. I was born to run and had the experience to prove it. I started at what was my “easy” pace of 7:30 miles. The goal would be to start here and work my way down. I felt so mentally good the first few miles that I straight up passed the water stations. The first 10k was downhill and I took advantage. Don’t let the pace fool you though, I still had some baggage from the previous two parts that I just completely overlooked.
My legs were a ticking time bomb. I was on the cusp of cramping with every movement. Every step brought a jolt to the entire system. I would feel the tension in my hamstrings, calves, and quads all at once. In the slight mis-step or shortening of my cadence, I knew it would be a wrap. For whatever reason, this initial pace was a great groove for me so I rode the wave. By mile 8, I was feeling everything and changed directions for an uphill battle. By the time I made it to the hill that treated me so kindly upon its our first interaction, it stared me in the face and showed no mercy.
I caught the meanest charlie horse that left me limping up the hill. The folks along the course grimaced as I painfully passed them. There was an individual who ran towards me and asked if he could help. Assuming he was a coach, I thought that I had nothing to lose. He rubbed down my leg, handed me a pack of salt tabs and instructed that I take the tablets and coke at every chance I could get for the electrolytes. Although not 100%, I trudged along and followed orders to a T.
Meanwhile, as my body was slowly deteriorating, I was on the lookout for my buddy, Patrick. The running course was set up just like that of the bike. I saw everyone but Patrick. Thinking the worse, I couldn’t believe that he decided to drop out after coming this far. Angry, broken, and near defeated, I continued to place one foot in front of the other. As I looped for the half marathon marker, the roars of the crowd were deafening. They were not for me though, but the individuals that zoomed past me towards the finishing shoot. I almost cried. I was so close, but still a distance away from truly celebrating.
The next few miles were absolute purgatory. As my pace slowed to a pathetic trot, people were yet again passing me and I had no response to give. Surprisingly enough, my breathing was just fine. I physically just couldn’t go any faster. Every step was painful and every water station was an oasis for me to collect myself, drink as much coke as possible and procrastinate to starting back up. I ran my slowest mile in my life just touching the 12 minute marker and I still had to face this dreaded hill back to salvation.
On the turn back to the finish and with seven miles to go, there was Patrick right behind me. I have thought through the odds of him using the restroom and hidden from me as I passed, and it still baffles me to this day. But at that point in time, I could care less where he came from. We were finally together.
“I need to knock out this last 10k in under an hour to break 13 hours,” he said to me. A surge of energy hit my system as I dug to the well and scraped the bottom for anything I could find. We were well under pace, but I realized that the quicker I went, the less time I would have to deal with the pain. Quick math told me to speed up, so we started knocking out 9:30’s. There was little to no talking, but each other’s presence was all we needed. We pushed through the discomfort and the people to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
7:52pm. With a few 100 meters to go, we realized that the picture that would historically mark the completion of this phenomenal feat would be together. What an honor it was to cross the finish line together with a subtle fist bump to commemorate a journey well done.
Final time: 12 hours and 53 minutes.
Patrick and I proceeded to try and eat, grab our gear and get back to the Airbnb. Everything hurt. It took nearly a week and a half to feel like my normal self. But, now whenever I think back on this crazy endeavor, I just smile. People ask me if I will ever do another one, and I immediately highlight that I won’t. Then again, with some extra time under my belt, you never know.
My name is Alex Grady, and I am an Ironman.
P.S. Yes, I got the tattoo.