Finishing at the top of Mont Mégantic at the observatory, this is the catch phase of this race. For me, life is shooting for the stars- we never know how close we get but we can always try. That’s what this race was all about- trying.
No one ever said doing 2 extreme triathlons 1 week apart was smart, especially with so much travel and logistics involved. Thankfully, like you, I think a little different. I saw tackling these races as a challenge, an expedition and a great way to dive deep into the culture, the landscape and the beauty that is Alaska and Canada.
“Stepping into the water…it’s black”
Endurance Aventure as an event company were brilliant. They sourced an amazing local volunteer Louis whose generosity left me stunned. Translator, host and support crew Louis did it all! His home literally overlooked the swim start and looking over Lac-Mégantic we could even see the final mountain top. He took care of food, assisted in transition, he and his son shuttled after me and supported throughout the bike. Finally he pushed, pulled and cajoled me the final 14km of the race. Again- the warmth, the generosity and caring of strangers – incredible!!!
At 3:50am the athletes walk to the swim start together, led by the town mayor as a sign of remembrance to those who lost their lives in the 2013 train wreck (almost 6yrs to the day). Stepping into the water for the 4:30am start, except for the flashing lights on the 190 athletes, the support kayaks and the first few buoys, it’s black. The 3800m fresh water swim felt great, having no danger of being at the front end of the swim, I had plenty of flashing lights to follow. Towards the swim exit the across the lake swim temperature dropped sharply due to the local rivers entering the lake and I was happy to exit in 1:11.
“Mother Nature showed me who was boss”
Quickly stripping off the wetsuit, I donned the cycling gear and was off. With a course that’s notorious for its climbs- no surprises the first 200m is straight up hill. It is a breathtaking bike course. The first 55k Lac-Mégantic loop is beautiful and honest too. Multiple climbs, workable descents, it’s a cyclists paradise. Visiting frequent tiny towns, the support from these tiny communities were brilliant although much of the cheering was lost in translation…
From about 65km Mother Nature showed me who was boss. 20-25km of tough solid cycling and climbing including the second biggest climb of the day before a little respite heading back towards Lac-Mégantic around 105k. Then it was time to lace the gloves and step in the ring for another 12 rounds.
Lil Aussie Battler
Honestly, I’m sure there is flatter rollercoasters! Around 120km I had to loosen my helmet as the constant pressure of the up/down was making my head hurt…. in credit to the race organisers Endurance Aventure, the community really embrace this race. In Quebec, French is their 1st language yet they were always able to help this lil Aussie battler. These “open” roads were heavily marshaled and riders always had right of way.
The bike finished on top of a wall! Literally 1km from the USA/Canada border this final climb of 15% gradient felt like the beginning of Trump’s design to build a wall. 180km on the bike, just shy of 3000m climbing and almost 6:30 in the saddle, I love my bike but gosh my legs were cement….
Extra set of legs anyone?
According to course profile it was hard for me to imagine how challenging this run would be. It almost looks like a net downhill race for the first 28k. Yet it starts with a pinch so steep I was walking within 3’ of the run start before a long, tough trail decent before we hit runnable terrain. The run varied between road and trail and I was glad for choosing the my HOKA Clifton’s early. Temps on the road were up around 26 degrees and early it was clear I hadn’t been able to change my legs at transition, they were still full of cement.
9’/1’ of running and walking was the plan from the start yet honestly, even early this was dubious. The greatest thing about the run leg of a triathlon is each step brings you closer to the finish and with idle dreams of finish times washed away, I set about soaking up as much of this experience as possible. Around 21k in, switching off the road onto farmland trails for another 4K my run/walk strategy was officially dead. Now it was walk/jog when I could.
Little Wild Canada
The final 4K road stretch was my personal death march. Getting passed by 3 competitors, feeling ready to collapse before sinking into a seat. Unfortunately swapping HOKA Clifton’s for Speedgoats isn’t the same as swapping for fresh legs. Louis, my faithful support, joined as we entered a section known as “little wild Canada.” A 4K section, leading to the base of the final two climbs. Another completely underestimated section of trail and for me it was unrunnable. Windy, muddy, rocky and loose footing- little wild canada was all of the above. I was numbed to think of the two polar extremes of the race: those who would have powered and ran through it about an hour earlier or those who would be entering under the guide of torchlight hours after me.
“Rocks, boulders, tree roots and mud littered the course”
The bonus 3rd transition at the base of the St Joseph and Mont Mégantic climb saw me grabbing any and all food that wasn’t nailed down. Watermelon, pretzels, coke, bananas. It all sounded great. It also provided the first obvious reflection of time- 12hrs of racing down, Louis and I had 2 climbs and 10ks to go. Could we make it by 14 hours?
If “wild Canada” was tough this next climb was truly extreme! Rocks, boulders, tree roots and mud littered the course. Some scampering was required up the biggest rock formations which on tired legs was just laughable. Getting passed by one runner heavily leaning on ski poles and another who’s crew was literally holding her arm and pulling her up the climb. Yep this was special!! Then there was what seemed like 2 false summits, where rocky precipices peaked before the trail sucked back down before scrambling north yet again. Finally we hit the small church on top of the mount where the observatory on the neighboring hill marked our final destination and the 38km marker signaled the start of the final descent.
That Finish Line Feeling
I was fried!! Only 4K to go there was still uncertainty in the air. Dodging the rocks, tree roots, slapping swarms of flies even much of the descent was a walk. The focus of one foot in front of the other was my only path. Thankfully, the path ran true and by now the announcers voice was loud and clear. As the light between the trees increased, the forest cleared and we hit the final stretch of road. Only 300m to the finish!!!
Flags from all over the world lined the red carpet before the massive finish banner right in-front of the observatory. I’d seen this observatory throughout the day for almost 8hrs and I was here!!!!! Holding Louis’ hand in mine I crossed the line! French or English announcements, it makes zero difference. That finish line feeling breaks all barriers. It was truly euphoric!!! What a day, what a trip. Finishing in 14:03 Canadaman Xtreme Triathlon is one beautiful monster!!!
Thank you to Endurance Aventure for such an amazing event. To Louis and his family for their incredible generosity. To the people of Lac-Mégantic and to the wilderness and the beauty of Quebec, thank you.
It’s been said that people don’t remember what you said but they remember how you made them feel. I’m sure it’s the same for Canadaman. I’ll forget a tonne of details about Canadaman, but I’ll never forget that incredible feeling, the joy, the satisfaction, the belonging that came with finishing my “Mont.”