Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2014: Mind over Matter

Two weeks ago I made my Ironman debut in Mont-Tremblant, Canada, four years (and two days) after my first triathlon. Building my base over a couple of years and maturing as an athlete was a wise choice for me: race day was anxious but intensely exciting, eager to put my training to the test. I finished 5th in my age group and 20th woman overall (amateurs and pros) in 10:37—landing on the podium, meeting all of my goals, and finishing with a Boston-qualifying marathon! Most importantly I felt strong, happy, and grateful most of the day, confident that my training was just right. Rather than sharing a detailed point-by-point race report, I’ll focus on a few aspects of the training approach and race strategy Coach Dave and I applied that I believe were keys to my success.

Since the swim is the shortest leg of Ironman, the most important skill is swimming efficiently. Coach Mike and I swam three times a week with Arlington Masters the last year, where we had a coach critiquing our stroke and other strong swimmers to push us. This helped us maintain good technique, and all workouts were quality so we maximized the benefit of our somewhat limited pool time. A 90-minute workout every Sunday and a 2-mile open water race this spring gave me confidence for the Ironman effort, and sure enough I felt strong throughout and entered T1 excited for the bike.

The Ironman bike is almost the opposite of the swim: it’s half the race, and big gains in speed and power demands time in the saddle. Technique and aero position only help in small ways. I did three 100+ mile rides, one of them 50% hillier than Mont-Tremblant, plus some weekends of back-to-back rides and 90 minute week day workouts. While Codeon doesn’t encourage big spending, investing in a CompuTrainer did help me tremendously this year, especially through a long and snowy winter. I knew exactly how much effort I was expending every workout, easily measured my gains, and had control over “conditions” so I could train with specific power targets to get the most out of my time. By syncing that up with heart rate I could gauge my effort on race day even without a power meter, and as a result the rollers at the end of each loop were manageable. Bonus: I got to enjoy passing men who’d charged the climbs!

This was the biggest success of my day. I’m a strong runner and run well off the bike, but Ironman was new territory for me: I’d only done one marathon (Marine Corps last fall), and no one does a run like this in training. I’ve learned over the years that high run volume takes too high a toll on my body, so Coach Dave helped me build endurance with minimal strain. For example, one weekend I did a longer brick run Saturday and 16-mile run Sunday, and another was a long race-pace run Saturday and 10-mile trail race Sunday. Weekly track workouts and hilly runs helped build strength for those last miles. Perhaps most valuable for me was mental training: throughout Ironman I thought of my long training runs, fast run legs in races, and my identity as a strong, happy runner. Dave reminded me to celebrate each pass and every strong mile, and these meditations kept me moving at an 8:04 average pace—while monitoring my heart rate, which luckily stayed low. For me running is the leg most influenced by mindset, and the day after the race I read advice from the sub-3 hour marathon pro women echoing this: Kelly Williamson first broke that barrier once she abandoned her fear of the Ironman run. Believing in yourself really CAN transform your race. In fact, how could anyone race Ironman at all without taking a leap of faith? I had 100% confidence in my training which is crucial, but also belief in my inner strength.

I can’t overemphasize the value of a supportive network. This is my fifth season as a triathlete, and over the years I’ve learned so much from teammates, training partners, Coach Dave, the USAT coaching network, and the triathlon community that I didn’t feel I was diving into the unknown. I learned from the successes and mistakes of others and learned to race the 70.3 distance well. Building a base over years allowed me to focus on fine-tuning like speed work and balancing effort across the disciplines for my strongest possible finish. Next year Mike and I will race shorter distances but already considering an Ironman for 2016–and preparing to sherpa for Mike in Kona next month!

Dawn on IMMT podium Mike Kona qualifier IMMT bike course from above


About Dawn

Dawn is a top tier Age Group triathlete, long-time swim instructor, and soon to be a USAT Level I Certified Triathlon Coach. Dawn has raced 16 triathlons, including four half Ironmans; more than 35 road and trail races; open water swims and endurance ride events. She is a member of Ignite Endurance.

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