17 Jul Canada Man 2018 (Guest Post by Brad Arndt)
Set in beautiful Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, the Canada Man/ Woman triathlon is an “Extreme” Triathlon like no other. Beginning with a sunrise swim in beautiful Lac Megantic, the day includes a spectacular bike ride with 2,500 m of elevation gain and a run that finishes at the Lac Megantic observatory after 1,200 m of climbing.
On Sunday July 8/2018, Brad Arndt of London ON competed in Canada Man 2018. Here is his Race Report:
Brad Arndt: Canada Man 2018
Canada Man 2018 was on my radar from the time I first heard about it just prior to the first edition in 2017. The full Ironman distance, on a very challenging course, with the last part of the run finishing on trails. Perfect… all the things I love! Be careful what you wish for! The race website calls Canada Man the most intense, wild and beautiful triathlon in North America.
Canada Man is part of the world wide series of events that are Extreme Triathlon. And for good reason. A few things set this race apart from other full Iron distance races. Because of the increased difficulty of the course Canada Man starts at 4:30am, meaning you swim in the dark. This allows them to keep the cutoff time at midnight, but increasing the time allowed to finish to 19:30, instead of the traditional 17:00 for Ironman. The bike is just hills. Big hills and long hills. There is over 2500m of vertical climbing on the bike course. But the run is what really sets this race apart from others. It has over 1200m of climbing. The first 29k is tough, a combination of hilly trails, gravel roads, fields and asphalt roads. The last 12k is only described in the race manual as “rugged trail”. This is grossly understated.
Because the swim starts in the dark athletes are required to wear strobe lights attached to the back of their swim goggles. It made for quite a sight at the start, all these flashing lights entering the water on the heads of the 157 starters. Once the swim started it was really not hard to adjust to the darkness. Sighting was more important for the first 1k or so, following the flashing buoys and other athletes’ lights, but as dawn arrived it was not an issue. As a dominant right side breather it was beautiful watching the orange and red sky open up to the east as we swim to the north end of the lake. I was comfortable in the swim and felt good about it.
I should point out that I had no idea what my time was at the end of the swim. I don’t wear a watch, gps or look for a time clock. I also take my basic computer off my bike for races. It allows me to focus on the moment, go by feel and trust that with my experience I can gauge my effort through the day. It may not be for everyone but it works for me.
Another big difference with Canada Man is that there are no traditional transition zones or aid stations. There are bike racks where we racked our bikes the night before at the finish of the swim, but we have to rely on our crew for all our aid during the bike and run. A lot of planning went into my nutritional needs for the day, including amounts of bottles, water, calories, electrolytes, and food, all of which I had organized in the back of our van to make logistics as easy as possible. My wife and son, Tyler, were my crew for the long day, and my brother in law and sister in law helped with support and cheering as well. It’s a very long day for them, but they enjoyed seeing the race up close and getting a different perspective on the race. After I left transition on the bike Tyler gathered my swim gear into the van and off they came after me. Tyler would also be responsible for having my run gear ready at the end of the bike and collecting my bike and gear into our van.
The bike course is very challenging, but I really enjoyed the beautiful course. I can only remember one flat section, about 5k long at about 170k. Aside from that it is all up and down. I really tried to take advantage of the downhills, gaining time and speed where I could. I rode with a couple other guys for a lot of the second half of the bike, they would pass me climbing then I would pass them on the descents. They would often be resting on the way down while I preferred to use the free speed, keeping my effort consistent whether going up or down. I met my crew about every hour on the bike. We had it organized that I would get a bottle of Maurten, and energy and electrolyte drink, a bottle of water, and a Honey Stinger waffle each time. This gave me about 450 cal, enough to supply for the bike and fuel for the run when it’s harder to keep taking in calories.
In long races the mental part of the game is critical. I never want feel like I am forcing anything. I don’t get frustrated at anything. It’s a long day and I want all my energy to be positive… It’s All Good! I have a mantra that I use… Calm and Strong. Calm mind, strong body. I go into long races knowing that things will not go perfectly… I might have stomach issues, mechanical issues , fatigue, cramps, sore back, taking a wrong turn… whatever. Whatever issue arises I can deal with it. On this day I didn’t have anything affect me on the bike. Aside from having numb hands from the cold air for the first 40k I would say the bike went perfectly. I rode well, staying calm and strong for the first 179k. Then I hit the wall… not physically, but literally. The last kilometer of the bike is almost comical, straight up and very steep. It teases you because you can see the cars parked at T2 on top of the hill for most of the last 5k of the bike, it just takes forever to get there. Coming into T2 at the end of the bike is usually time to coast a bit, stretch out the back and hips to get ready to ease into the run. Not here. In my smallest gear it was all I could do to keep the pedals turning over. I was riding with 2 other guys at this point and we were all locked in the same struggle. One of the guys starting going wide across four lanes, using the 2 lanes and 2 shoulder lanes to create switchbacks. I quickly followed. This made a huge difference as I could actually turn the pedals over. The three of us swerved our way to the top, glad to see the end of that hill. Or so I thought.
I met Tyler as soon as I dismounted my bike. He came with me into the change tent, where he had all my run gear out and organized. After a quick transition I quickly asked him which way out. He said it was down the hill. I thought the run started with a trail section but I was in no state to question him, thinking that maybe we ran down the hill on the road before we started on the trail. I quickly used the porta john then ran by the volunteers and spectators at the top of the hill and proceeded to brake my way down the steep hill, thinking that this was not good to be trashing the quads in the first km! I was about half way down when I started to question whether I was on the right route. I asked a driver in a vehicle coming up beside a cyclist if I was going the right way. He didn’t understand English, but nodded and said “Oui”. Okay I’m good. I keep going down the hill. I asked another driver and got the same response. When I had almost reached the bottom I stopped and looked back up. There were no other runners coming, and none in front of me. That’s when I knew I made a mistake. I turned around and started running back up the hill. The run quickly turned to a walk. A couple minutes later a truck came down the hill and stopped. He was one of the race organizers. I found out later that my sister in law told him that I went down the hill, going the wrong direction, so he came to get me. After getting a ride back up the hill I was ready to start the run JThis is where the mental thing comes in. I just stayed calm… it is what it is. So I can proudly (embarrassingly) say that I ran the farthest of anyone in the race. If you look at my T2 time it says over 13 minutes. I actually had a very fast transition, just a long journey from transition to the run start!
Of course the “start” of the run was a very steep uphill section, all on shale rock, followed by about 2k of steep downhill running on the same shale. The run is broken up into different sections with varying terrain. I had it all written out ahead of time, creating a mental picture of how it would unfold. We switched terrain 8 times, covering different sections of trail, gravel roads, asphalt roads, and fields. Through the first 29k the run was tough with hills but I felt consistently good, taking in fluids and electrolytes and some calories, mostly in the form of Carbo Pro, Nuun, and Coke. At 29k we enter the trail. I changed into trail shoes at this point. The 4k section from 29-33k is described as rugged. I’ve raced a lot of trail races, some of which I thought were technical. This was another level of technical. Very technical climbs and descents, deep mud, creek crossings. This 4k section took me over an hour. At 33k I met Tyler, who was ready to be my pacer for the last 9k. Because of the technical trail, isolation and inability for emergency crews to access the trail, everyone is required to run with a pacer for the last section. As we headed out I saw the race time on a clock for the first time, 11:38. I was thinking that I had a shot of breaking 13 hours, which I kind of had in my head as a goal, without knowing what lied ahead.
If the previous 4k section was rugged I don’t know how to describe the last 9k! In addition to the mud, steep ascents and descents there were countless steep rock faces that resembled rock climbing more than trail running. In the last 9k we climbed 3 mountains and descended 2. I wouldn’t say it was as much running but more climbing and scrambling. Not wearing a watch we had no idea of time or distance, just head down… relentless forward progress. We didn’t talk much, each of us having to focus on our next foot fall. Tyler and I each had 2 bottles in our packs and were well equipped that way. I stayed positive, not once thinking about how much longer it was, just knowing that each step is another step closer. Despite some of my concerns about Tyler being able to keep up he had no problem keeping pace. Over the previous months I encouraged Tyler to run regularly to prepare. He did a trail run at Fanshawe once, a hill workout at Boler and another couple runs… period. That’s what it’s like to be 19 and fit! Neither one of us had an idea that the 9k would take us over 2 hours!
This section was the only time during the race I felt unprepared. I had done what I thought was good preparation for a hilly race while living in London. Some of my long runs I had run “hilly” roads in and around London, then ran the last hour up and down the ski hills at Boler “Mountain”. I think the only way to really prepare well living in Ontario is to do technical steep climbing and descending some of the technical trails in Collingwood, using poles. Of the trails that I know in Collingwood there is still nothing that compares to the steepness, technicality and length of these. Talking to a few athletes after the race they wouldn’t even think of doing trails without poles, they make that much of a difference. Again, these trails are not Ontario trails! Most of this part was power hiking, climbing, slow technical descending and running where possible. I still felt okay, consistently drinking and staying focused. I just wasn’t moving very fast!
We knew we were getting close to the finish when we started seeing more spectators filing on to the trail to cheer on runners. We came off the trail and saw the observatory, knowing the finish was close. I wanted to run to the finish but it was too steep and quickly started to walk. I was able to escalate to a jog for the last 100m… some semblance of a sprint finish! Tyler and I crossed the line hand in hand with proud smiles on our faces. The finish line at the summit of Mt Megantic is Spectacular! I received messages from friends and discovered that I finished 20thoverall and 2ndin my age group. Jen, Tyler and I celebrated at our hotel with beers and takeout burgers and Mexican food. Aaah. They were fantastic as my crew and obviously I could not have done it without them!
After the race ended there was a huge sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and satisfaction, knowing that the process of preparation and execution had come together as well as I could have envisioned. But not relief. In a way I was sad that it was over. It’s a long journey preparing for races like this… physically, mentally and emotionally. Even though the destination is reached, I have a hard time accepting that this journey is over.
And so begins the next journey…
Thank you Brad for sharing your ‘latest greatest adventure’. An amazing, unbelievable accomplishment! Congratulations Brad!