matt m im picIt’s not fair to you the reader, to try to know someone after just one reading of a blog post but before I give you a brief recap of my amazing race day Canada, let me back up with some background.

My life has been filled with amazing journeys to exotic locations to race this humbling sport of triathlon.  From Panama City, Fl to Lake Placid, NY to Kona, HI, this path for me has been such a blessing on my life.

This past weekend, I toed the start line in picturesque Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, for my 13th Ironman distance race.  After discussing with my wife about this being my last Ironman race for a couple years, I came into this day without any pressures, just leave what I had on that course.

Situated in the mountains of a small ski town, Mont-Tremblant presented a racecourse suited perfect for my strengths.  Rolling terrain on the bike and a smoothly and not technical run course and most importantly, cool temperatures which gave us the perfect setting for a wonderful day.

Having the experience of racing in the Ironman World Championship, which takes place every October on the second Saturday, I went into this race with no outward expectations of returning  - I felt my first time was meant to be my last.  Kona is a special place that I shared with my wife and friends and enjoy every step of the race … however, in the back of my mind, qualifying ONE LAST time at Mont-Tremblant would be very sweet!

Race morning is always a puzzle of nerves, anticipation and excitement – you try and piece them together and not explode before the cannon goes off.  Cool temps greeted athletes with a light mist grazing over the mountains and the small French town.  Perfect!

I made quick work of my transition area; setting up my bottles on my bike and taking one last calm 360 degree look around at my playground for the next 10 hrs.  Let’s go to work

The moments before the start of any race are emotional.  For me the moments before an Ironman event conjure extreme excitement I can’t find anywhere else.  Reminding myself that I deserve to here, with 2500 athletes, vying for the right to call them an Ironman, can be very overwhelming.

Before I knew my 35-39 age group wave was in the water and starting our 2.4 mile tour of the local lake.  It was setting up to be a great morning with the mist backing up and settling far above the mountain peaks.  I had a perfect path to each bouy and make fast work of the 1 loop swim course in 1:04 hr. Upon exiting the swim finish, I proceeded to my bike, a .25 mile run to pick up my bike transition bag.  The volunteers were great in helping me gather my helmet and bike shoes and direct me to the bike out exit.

This course did not disappoint with stunning, sweeping views of the mountain ranges, as I sat in on my pre-race plan of taking the first loop of the bike out strong but not at a sprint-like pace.  The key to Ironman racing is patience, however, you have to stay in the moment as to your effort.  I repeated this throughout and hitting the second loop of the bike it was my time to start the push.  My body was responding perfectly – I was taking in the needed hydration and my nutrition was on point, with taking in the amount of gels and calories set for me.

At mile 90 of the bike, I caught the pro women leader, which gave me huge confidence rolling into the run transition.  In past races, my thought process was always ‘get me out of the swim and onto the bike’ which is my strongest discipline of the three; this time around, with a concentrated run training block, my mindset switch and instead was ‘get me off this bike and onto the run course’.  My bike time was 5:13.  Right where I wanted to be.

You can always gauge how you are going to feel by the first couple steps upon dismounting from your bike – for me, GAME ON!  I felt great.  I ran into T2, bike to run, calm and collected, and ready to tackle this last leg.  I grabbed cups of water and Coca-Cola on the way out and started ticking off the miles.  My pace was consistent and strong.  

You have a lot of time to ponder various thoughts on a 26.2 mile run, however, in an Ironman, staying focused on the task at hand is crucial.  I had to maintain my hydration and not get ahead of myself.  Throughout the first 13.1 mile loop I had the pleasure to run with the lead women, one of who was a local Pittsburgh athlete, Beth Shutt, a second year pro out of Natrona Heights.  We worked together over the first half and when we broke apart I knew I was on track to do something special.

Coming back through town is always huge boost energy wise.  My wife and friends were stationed at a turn to see me run by with loud and emphatic cheers!  13.1 mile to go and I was starting to feel the effects of the long day.  I really had to buckle down and keep the mindset of ‘just keep moving’.  At some point, you hit a breaking point in a race – that deciding moment when the voices scream for you to stop, just for a couple seconds or minutes … the good athletes tell those voices to go away.  I had to try because I was hurting.  I gathered one last push up the last two steep hills – I could here the crowd at the finish waiting for me … I could feel the cramping sneaking up … it took everything I had to muster up one last gasp up the last remaining hill and the turn of my life time into the finish chute.

The finish line of an Ironman is something special.  It can be described but never duplicated or felt by someone else.  As I ran down this ‘yellow brick road’ to my time in the sun, I truly felt this is where I belonged.  I took a moment to think about everyone – family, friends and life acquaintances - who had helped me along this journey to MT.  My wife, who never ceases to amaze, who handles long training hours, but is right by my side; my family, which embodies ‘it takes a village to raise an Ironman’; and my great friends, who never fall short on inspiration … all join me in spirit to cross the finish line in 9:56 hr.  This time gave me 11th in my age group and 52nd overall in the race.  This was a personal best time for me in career.

My post race activities switched quickly to recovery - thinking about the unspoken goal of potentially claiming one of the coveted slots to Kona.  The afternoon turns into evening and evening into nighttime, all the while dreams are fulfilled with athletes crossing that finish line up until midnight.  Mont-Tremblant gave these phenomenal athletes everything it had – tough course, beautiful countryside and the hospitality fit for a royal family.

My utmost appreciation to the lovely residents of Mont-Tremblant.

Oh, and about that little race in October on the big island of Hawaii, in that quaint little town of Kailua-Kona, with 2,000 of the worlds best athletes, ready to tackle sports most challenging day of swimming 2.4 mile, biking 112 mile, and capping the day with a 26.2 mile marathon … see you all on October 11, 2014, as I humbly test myself against this amazing athletes!  We are so excited.

Stand by to stand by for that race report.  Aloha!

Published in Triathalon