2016 Ironman Mont Tremblant Race Report: Dawn Cass, 5th W40-44, 11′ PR!

426 640 Rich Strauss

Bit of Philosophy:  Ironman obviously tests your physical abilities, however, when thrown some additional challenges you really need to dig inside yourself mentally.  Do you have the perseverance and attitude to get through?  I actually think anyone could do the race…as long as your head is in the right place.  If your head and mindset are there, you can accomplish anything.  I put this to the test on race day…and in reality I personally believe this concept of all people in “real” life, work and play. Hope you have a bit of time to get through my report and would love to hear comments.

Background:  3rd IM (prior 2 at IMMOO); last year was a 45 min PR/11th AG after taking a year out due to a torn hamstring…only started proper training in May ’15 for the Sept race.  After that…I thought to myself….what could I actually accomplish if I stayed healthy in 2016?!  Booked my spot in MT that month.

After WI, my hamstring was ok but sore, but I also started to feel some hip pain on the opposite side.  MRI showed “possible” labrum tear but couldn’t say for sure without surgery.  I wasn’t going to do that based on a guess.  Strengthening and PRP got me through and didn’t cause to much of a concern through training.  Last straw that I almost broke the camel’s back…foot pain (more of a sandpaper rub) while running.  Really?!  I cannot make these things up.  Xray showed mild bunions (which I only thought my grandmother could get) and suggested stretching my shoes.  My 2016 year of being uninjured didn’t start exactly to plan.

Started run durability program in November and moved into IM Intermediate from there.  I stuck to the program almost to the T through around May…run paces were up, FTP was back to 228 which was a level I hadn’t seen since pre-injury.  Overall felt good.  After May, kept up with bike and swim training just fine….runs were more about making sure I kept to the time but missed out on some of the intensity.  The injuries in the background were not a problem but now and again would remind me they were not 100% gone.  Took a week out of training to calm things down.  I didn’t want to risk pushing things to much to take things over the edge.  I faltered on race day on the run…and perhaps had I kept to the intensity level of the program things would have been different…will need to figure this out.

A month so before MT my power meter died and got sent back to Quarq.  They repaired it however in the most critical time/RR, I was without power and missed it.  When the PM came back, it had very odd readings and finally settled in to be about 15 watts lower than where I expected it to be.  On race day, I had a couple target ranges in my mind and was going to just see how I felt as I rode.

I was a bit concerned all summer that the race was going to be hot and humid.  I love hot…for lying by the poolside with margaritas in hand, (Danielle…if you are reading this, can I have mine now?!)  but not for running/racing in.  In the end, you may have seen me “fall out of my box” the week before race day when they were forecasting 100% chance of rain!  Guess I shouldn’t have been wishing away the fun in the sun conditions.

Few basic questions I need to find answers to:

1.     It’s a bittersweet end:  I am super happy with my placing and a PR.  Coming in 5th was beyond what I thought could happen and I am still smiling at the result.  Had I found 12 minutes in my day however….I would have come 3rd.  Two spots for Kona in AG…1st took it, 2nd rolled to 3rd…means I could have gone to the big island.  What should I have done differently on race day to get those precious minutes back?  Ie, where do I need to work now to better prepare for next time?

2.     Was I actually stronger and raced smarter than the >150 other ladies in my group…or was I just crazier to go faster than them down the decents in terrible weather?  I need to ensure I am both stronger and smarter than the others…this defines my race selection and training plan for 2017.  How do I up my fitness level, race smart, and pick a race that best suits my strengths (more than the other ladies)?

Short story:  Finish time 11:41, 5th in AG, 66th gender and a 11 minute PR

  • FTP: 228 (or 215 on dodgy repaired PM); Watts/kg: 3.8 (~3.6 on repaired reading)…target goal was to drop 2 more kg’s but didn’t quite make it
  • Super secret goal (only husband, Julian and coaches were privy to)…20-30 Min PR & bump my placing to get close to Kona territory/a possible rolldown.
  • Weather conditions were the toughest I have been through…mental focus and perseverance was critical
  • Overall pleased with the final result, PR, and podium…know there are things to work on for next year…hungry to up my game!

Longer story:  

Arrived in Mt Tremblant after a long 12 hour drive on Thursday.  Friday Ironkids where we got the girls hooked on the sport…it was a wonderful time.  Friday night dinner with EN and great to meet the team!  I absolutely love the MT area.  We spent time there this past summer for training and family time and it’s a beautiful place….people are wonderful and everyone supports and really goes all out for the Ironman crowd.

Morning of race, woke early, breakfast of porridge, applesauce and beet juice.  Sipped Gatorade.  We stayed in a timeshare right across the swim start which was perfect.  Walked over to transition to pump tires (used latex so was a must to do so) where I saw Turby and Carol.  I was nervous about the race so was great to see familiar faces and thanks for helping!  Walked back to the condo and the girls and Julian walked me down to the start.  It was a great atmosphere and loved the jets flying overhead.

Swim:  Desired: sub 1:06min for a PR….expected: 1:11…actual 1:12, 15th in AG.

It was the first non-mass start I have done for a full race and expected it to be a bit quieter than what I was used to.  I also watched the podcasts where Patrick mentions he wasn’t touched all day….good news!  Lined up with my group…40+ ladies and headed near the front.  For some reason all year I have gotten very anxious in open water and was hoping this would not happen.  Calmed myself and from the beginning, I was able to find a good stroke…no freaking out so happy thoughts in my head.  First leg waters were calm however there was A LOT of body contact.  In fact, I was fighting with people throughout the swim a ton more than I have ever done on mass start.  Not sure why however it wasn’t a quiet hour or so.  First leg out uneventful apart from the bumps…turn the corner and WHAM….where in the world did those “Atlantic Ocean-like” waves come from?!  The water had a lot of chop and we actually saw waves.  I felt like I was getting tossed everywhere however kept my cool.  I felt like sighting was off and based on garmin I swam 100 yards further than course.  Turn the corner again to head back in thinking things will calm down and they didn’t.  It was a very rough swim on what I thought should have been a pretty quiet inland lake.  Going through my head was the looming storms that were to greet us on the bike….hmmm.

Looking back, 2 years ago through injury all I did was swim…and managed a PR in 2015.  For some reason this year I lost some form and didn’t feel I got it back.  At the same time, I did the program however also did a fraction of the swimming by comparison (as I was actually cycling and running) this year. I don’t think I can blame the water conditions or the body blows…I just have a bit of technique to work on to get some minutes off.  I can actually swim a standalone 100 yards in 1:29 minutes consistently so I don’t think my technique is all that bad.  I need to figure out how I hold that (or similar) pace/technique over the long course.

T1: 6:52…still not the quickest however shaved 2 minutes off what I normally do in T1 so happy.  Surprised no volunteers to help you with bags but no big deal.   There is a saying that has stuck in my head for a year now….someone said to me after looking at my Madison results that I need to “stop painting my nails in transition”.  Thanks to John Withrow, I left the nail polish at home this year.  Biggest issue I had in T1 was fighting to get my Castelli T1 cycling top over wet skin…good thing you didn’t see…it wasn’t graceful and many curse words were said.

The tent felt busy so guessed I hadn’t done that great.

Bike: Desired ~5:40, expected (with rain adjustment factor) ~6:00, actual 5:48 (including the rain of course!), 5th in AG off the bike. 17 min PR.

Bike stats:  Avg power 140w, NP 150w, VI 1.07; TSS 251, IF .66, avg HR 133

Link to file for anyone who can help give me some input/thoughts on performance.  Am new to training peaks so still learning the functionality so I would appreciate your critique…good/bad/ugly!


The bike is my favorite part of the race.  As mentioned, I was freaking out at the thought of rain and had in my head I needed to be smart, slow down and mentally adjust my time expectations due to wet conditions.  I was shooting for average power of around 150w…give or take considering the issues with PM readings.  140 on the low side and 160 on the high side and would just gauge based on how I was feeling.  I didn’t have power on my race rehearsals so decided to run with the above.

I spent a lot of effort this year in getting more aero.  Upgraded my bike, took a lot of non-aero bits off to streamline, and took the front end down quite a bit vs where I was riding for the last 5 years.  Finally..thanks to everyone (Rich, Jeremy, John, Terri, others) who helped me with advice on getting DI2 in general and specifically shifters on the brake levers…this provided to be the most useful part of the bike in such difficult conditions on race day.  Finally, I thought a lot about what I would wear…ended with EN tri top with Castelli T1 stealth over the top….not sure if that really does anything on the aero side, but it did keep me warmer which was needed.

Setup below…I am only 5′ 4″ so have to warn you…it’s a small bike….and in my opinion doesn’t look as “cool” as for the taller guys/gals…but works.

Started the bike without rain so thought perhaps the weatherman could be wrong (Sorry Ed!).  From the start, focused on getting my heart rate down and JRA pace.  Julian and the girls were waiting for me a few miles into the ride which was a wonderful lift. I tried to picture their smiles/cuddles at the finish line..it felt like a very long way away.  Shortly after, the heavens opened up and would not stop until I was nearly done racing for the day.  As soon as it started….I started to freak out again.  It took a while, but got back into my box and decided I would have to deal with it and get on with things.

As you have seen from other reports….thoughts of “dying/crashing” on the bike crossed my mind MANY times.  The rain was coming down so hard it hurt.  There was a lot of water pooling everywhere and it was difficult to see.  I knew things were bad when I saw the mayor slowing people down after a bad crash.  I was a bit nervous to use the brakes to much and cause things to slip more…it was mentally the toughest ride I have done.  I could actually feel the tension and pain in my neck and shoulders from holding onto the handlebars so tightly.  I didn’t take advantage of the downhills as I would normally do on a race and just tried to keep the speed to a safe level.  There was actually a lot of congestion in areas and people getting dangerously close.

I knew I had to pay attention to hydration and nutrition and kept on track.  I peed at least 4-5 times on the bike so as a gauge, knew things were flowing.  Mixed water and Gatorade and for the first time ever, managed to get through the bike and to the run without a major GI issue.  I learned from the past that taking only Gatorade gives me a terrible ache that just doesn’t clear.  Ate gels every 30 minutes, ½ powerbar, one cliff gel, salt 1x an hour.

PSA:  The “wrap your powerbar in rice paper” trick is a fantastic idea but AVIOD it at all costs if you think it will rain.  The rice paper dissolves away and you are left with a soggy, separated powerbar stuck to your jersey…some even soaked into the threads of the material…yuck.

Pacing wise…wanted to make sure to stay on track so set the garmin to lap every 4 miles.  It helped however I have to be honest, my mind did drift at times due to the focus I had on surviving the weather.  I thought I kept it around 150…probably close to zero on big decent as I didn’t want to go to fast…on the climbs, didn’t want to max more than 200w.  Fitness and nutrition wise felt good on the bike…even towards the end.  It actually took a lot of energy out of me however to ride in those conditions and I don’t think I realized just how much until the 2nd half of the marathon.

T2:  Still no nail polish…4:55, I nearly cut my time in half vs last year.  The fast cats out there can do it quicker so will set the bar for next year.

Run:  Desired 4:00….expected ~4:10 (rain shouldn’t matter, temps were in my favor), actual 4:28, 5th in AG.  Avg HR 137.  Run file below:


I decided to change my socks in T2 and in doing so, I felt like a new woman!  The fear of death on the bike was over…my feet were dry and I could now see where I was going as the rain had subsided for a bit.  Here I come marathon!

Saw Julian and the girls within the first few miles and again, another wonderful pick me up!  Seeing them several times on the run helped tremendously to push me on.  I was having issues getting my heart rate bracelet to connect to my garmin at the start so was very agitated.  Got connection issues sorted and focused on what I needed to do.  I was targeting a pace of 10-10.30 to start however when I looked down at my watch, it gave me strange readings within the miles…8 min to 11 min pace…all when I was running the same.  Guess was that with the weather above, I was getting some inconsistencies.  Decided to focus solely on heart rate.  Heart rate on long runs had been 140-150…I knew if I went up to 155 it was to high…unless it was the final sprint to the end.

Started the run and felt fantastic!  Cautious to keep to HR, I was averaging around 135-140 max throughout.  Considering the rate was low, I didn’t worry about pace.  Looking back however I may have started to fast…but shouldn’t HR be the ultimate gauge?  I averaged a 9.45 for the first 10k…running miles 3-5 closer to 9min.  1st half marathon just under 2 hours so tracking to the 4 hour marathon if I could hold it.  Rain started after the first hour however I didn’t actually mind..it kept me cool and my feet seemed to deal just fine.  I was taking gels every 45 minutes and salt for first 3 hours on the hour.  I had trouble taking Gatorade early on so only took small sips and water.  I am lovin’ life…until…

BAM….who in the world put that wall in front of me on mile 13/14?!?!  I hit it dead on and life changed for the remaining half.

Injury wise….things were just fine…cannot blame this.  My quads were on fire and hurting.  The other 2 IM’s I did my legs didn’t feel a thing so this caught me by surprise.  I watched my HR like a hawk and it didn’t spike.  It held to the same 135-140ish as per the first part of the race.  My stomach felt tight (not hurting however) but like I couldn’t take much down.  I continued with gels 45 min and tiny sips of Gatorade or water.  I looked at my pace however and where it felt like I was still running a 9-10 min/mile…I was sliding and holding more of an 11 min pace over the second half.  I decided not to push the HR in fear of my legs bursting or my stomach knotting up…none of which happened.  Special thanks to Turby who I saw many times over the run….his words of encouragement helped tremendously.  I continued on and didn’t feel like I could push it at the end.  I knew less than a mile left but only sprinted once in town.  Funny how all the pain in your body goes away at this point?! The run through the town was fantastic and will stay in my head for a long time.  After crossing the line and out of the chute….I finally got Julians & the girls smiles and cuddles…guess it wasn’t as long away as I thought on mile 5ish of the bike?!

Back to the beginning and the “bitter” part of my bittersweet day….it was a terrible run and kicking myself thinking about the second half.  I am not sure if it was the stress of the day (weather) that contributed?  Did I overcook the bike (I didn’t actually feel like I did?)  Did I go out to fast (HR says no)?  Part of me questions if I should have just pushed through it and raised the pace more.  Quads on fire and a bit of a belly ache are really not going to kill me….I had room to get to 150 BPM and didn’t go there.  Why?? At the time I didn’t feel like I could…but on reflection, I could have.  The ~12 minutes I needed to find in the day were left on the table on the run.

But for the “sweet” part of the day….I tend to always look at the bright side of things in life and racing so like to end with these thoughts.  Fantastic location…fantastic people.  EN people and coaches are the best.  I PR’d and got a podium place in the toughest racing conditions I have been though.  No injury problems (knock on wood everyone), and crossed the finish line with a smile on my face.  This race may be on my hit list in 2017…will see.

I will now take some downtime and rest and recover. I am pretty good at getting injured so need to resist the urge to book any other big races in 2016.   I need to build in some core work this year to keep me strong….I really hate doing it but expect it’s good for me.

I want to make one final special mention to my husband Julian and my little girls.  Without their support and encouragement I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have.  Here is what they worked all night to produce (while I was sleeping) so I could have a send off on race morning.

 Thanks for reading….appreciate feedback/thoughts/critique!

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