The triathlon training blog of Phil Barnes

Esprit Triathlon - Ironman Distance - Race Report

This race report is incredibly long. It is mostly written in point form. Memories were coming back to me fast and furious. Almost every sentence starts with "I", which is pretty terrible, but hey, it's a blog. Fact is, achieving this goal was made possible with a lot of outside help along the way. I put in the training, but my family worked with me and around me so that it could be done. Ironman is a selfish endeavour, but I think we managed to do it in a way that brought us all closer together. It is a shared accomplishment.

A short version:

On Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 6:57 PM, I crossed the finish line of the Montreal Esprit Triathlon, after a 3.8K swim, 180K bike and 42.2K run (Ironman distance). I shattered my overall expectations and each individual split time. My "A" goal was Sub 12 hours, my actual time was 10:57:28. It's been said there is a "good wind" and a "bad wind" for Montreal - I'm not sure what we had - the wind was certainly all over the place. Fortunately, most of the wacky weather happened while I was on the run.

It was an amazing day. I loved every minute of it. I could not have been more prepared mentally or physically.  My tactic was to go "full gas" for the entire race. I pretty much went 100% for 223 km, and then opened up the "suitcase of courage" for the last 3k to go sub-11. I savoured the finish. I even got 3rd place in my age group. 14th overall!

My training, race day strategy and nutrition were completely unorthodox. I stuck with what I knew and did what I could, and I wouldn't change a single thing.

PS: The photos are at the bottom, so start scrolling now if you have a short attention span. (or just watch the finish video below)

okay, here's one picture that sums it all up.

The Long Version:


  • Racked and setup without any hiccups.
  • Esprit participants have pre-assigned preferred location racks, with an individual tote box to stash all our stuff.
  • I had organized my bike and run gear in their own respective plastic bags such that I could keep things dry as much as possible, and easily grab only what I needed when I needed it. Everything stowed nicely in the tote box in organized layers.
  • We took a “before” photograph.
  • I was feeling very calm
  • T-minus 40 minutes, I had a successful porta-potty trip – it was reassuring to know I would be starting the day off “empty” so to speak.
  • T-minus 35 minutes, I forced myself to eat a Cliff Bar
  • T-minus 30 minutes – wetsuit on – absolutely perfect / comfortable fit – no bunching
  • T-minus 25 minutes- Guylaine zipped me up, and I bid adieu to her and the kids, and made my way down to the swim start.
  • T-minus 15 minutes – quick re-briefing with the whole Esprit squad – the swim would be on – no lightening nearby – what a relief!
  • T-minus 8 minutes – got in the water, to get wet and primed
  • T-minus 2 minutes – got out, and lined up, it was a “running start” from 2 meters off-shore.
  • T-minus 1 minute – spotted Guylaine and the kids on the dock and waved at them, the sky was clearing up, and it looked like it was going to be a nice day.

Swim (3.8km, 2 x 1.9km loops of an open rectangle – get out after loop 1 and run ~ 15 meters to start next loop)

  • The gun went off, and everything was exceptionally organized and anti-chaotic (from my perspective).
  • I felt comfortable right off the get-go. There was no kicking, no pushing, no bumping.
  • There is a buoy line the entire way, and an underwater cable that you can sight on(off your right hand side), you don’t need to look up and spot very much.
  • I was able to get a (legal) draft most of the first half of the first loop. The second half, I was mostly on my own, but I was following the buoy line without any problem.
  • I got out of the water after my first loop was thrilled to see Guylaine and the kids, and that my time was ONLY 34:50 - I was way ahead of schedule!
  • I dove in for my second loop, and was lucky enough to find a draft again. At the turn around, I lost the draft, and ended up pulling a few others. I wasn’t worried at all. I was feeling great (and happy to help).
  • I knew I was slower on the second loop, and I got out of the water at 38:35; I was so happy to be ahead of schedule, I gave a huge fist-pump.
  • Overall the swim was magnificent – the water felt calm, I was lucky to get a nice draft on both of the “up” lengths, and even though I didn’t on the “down” lengths, it felt like there was a current in that general direction anyway.
  • I was “wise” with my energy expenditure, and would not have done anything differently.


  • Esprit participants are royalty at this race, we had a very short run, ~50 meters to the T-zone from Swim Out.
  • Guylaine and the kids were there directing traffic (as official volunteers). I high-fived Laura as I passed by.
  • The wetsuit came off without incident – my timing chip was still attached so that was good.
  • I forced myself to eat another Cliff bar (which was in my opinion a great idea)
  • I stuffed my jersey with the extra “food” which I had set out, that didn’t fit in my “bentobox” (food storage thingy on the bike).
  • Socks, shoes, glasses, helmet – on, on, on, on
  • Ran up to the mount line, reset the computer, and we’re off!
  • Again, I felt I did everything properly, and would not have done anything differently.

The Bike (180km, 41 loops of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the Formula 1 race track!)

  • This is perhaps the world’s fastest triathlon bike course. I had done the Olympic triathlon here in 2008, and knew it was magical.
  • Some people say there is a “good” wind and a “bad” wind. I think they had a “bad” wind last year (2011). The wind was all over the place this year - I think it was a “net good” wind for the time I was on the track.
  • Over the course of the summer, I had tweaked my bike into a really fast Sprint/Olympic position. It was fast, and tolerable for 40K – but not likely very comfortable for 180K. I adjusted my aero bar position slightly 4 days before the race, and wasn’t terribly comfortable, I made another tweak the day before, and tested it for a couple hundred meters – “I’m sure I’ll be fine, I assured myself” – well, as luck would have it – it was bang on. I was VERY comfortable the whole way, and was able to maintain an efficient aero position most of the time – wherever possible.
  • The first half of the bike was extremely fast: 90K in 2:31:29 – I was shocked it was so fast.
  • By the second half, the wind had picked up immensely on what I will call “the front side” (i.e. the twisty part starting from the apex of the hair-pin turn towards the slight climb before the swooping downhill). It was so crazy the wind – seemingly from all directions – the track was littered with leaves and branches. I had to fight the bike many times just to stay upright – my disk wheel and tri-spoke front were an easy target for the wind.
  • Leading up to the race, my number one nightmare was that the SportStats timing system wouldn’t record my laps properly. I was counting my laps at the beginning but got lost after about 6 - I had my bike computer, which has been mostly accurate all summer, and as I crossed the mat on the tenth time, the announcer called out my name and said, 10 laps, which jived with what my computer read.
  • I could hear my name and lap count almost every turn, and I was reassured whenever my math indicated that the lap number corresponded with bike distance.
  • Guylaine and the kids had found a spot on the track, just before the hairpin, and it was great to see them every 8 minutes or so.
  • My second fear on the bike, was “being taken out” by another cyclist. The track gets crazy busy, and as the flow is counter-clockwise – the rule is opposite to regular rules - slower riders keep left, passing is on the right. As there were over 1900 other cyclists competing in something throughout the course of the day, there was no shortage of challenges to overcome. Generally, the Half-ironman competitors were not much of an obstacle. The sprint-tri, duathletes and Olympic triathletes were sufficiently chaotically distributed around the track so as to keep my mind continuously focused. Fortunately, I made it through alive, without getting pinched in a corner, sideswiped or wobbled into.
  • I had packed a special needs bag: extra bike jersey, spare tube, extra gels, some sandwiches, band-aids and Tylenol - I didn’t need any of it. We were told, not to count on getting the stuff back at the end of the day (and being cheap as I am, not willing to lose $20 in tubes/gels) I picked it up before my last lap and was able to hand it off to Guylaine on the sidelines :-).
  • Overall, the bike was excellent. The 41 laps went by in a hurry. I was never bored and always focused. Over 41 laps, you get to learn which gear to be in when, and where. I took the corners and the hairpin conservatively, and even for the timing-mat, I was sure to be in full-control riding the bullhorns instead of the aero bars. I would not have done anything differently. I did sprain my left glute a little bit early-on using a harder gear than necessary going up the little hill – but it didn’t bother me terribly, and served as a gentle reminder to gear down for the hill.


  • Was (pleasantly) shocked to not see a lot of bikes hanging (indicating I was finished the bike before most others).
  • I had no problems with the transition, I grabbed my “run bag”, headed to the changing tent, and did something I had planned to do – and do not regret one bit. I changed into very loose and comfortable shorts, and a very loose and comfortable T-shirt.
  • I was done and on my way running without any trouble.
  • The only thing I would have done differently would have been to bring my body-glide into the change tent with me, and re-lube. I tried (in vain) to add some after I was all dressed. As it turned out, I didn’t need the extra body-glide, so I got lucky there.

Run (42.2K, 9 laps around the rowing basin – lap 1 has a planned detour in it and was 5.4K, the subsequent laps were 4.6K each).

  • I never once thought of the run as a marathon. All I focused on was 9 laps: one at a time.
  • There was a nice convenient spot early on in the first lap, where I ducked off course to water the flowers.
  • I didn’t have a Garmin to judge my pace, and as it turns out, the mile-markers were all over the place (figuratively – 5K… 9.8K…14.4K; and literally, the wind had blown just about all of them over or into the water). I just set a pace and hoped to hold on.
  • I did notice the 5K marker, and my watch said 24:00. “Well, this is interesting I thought” – who knows, maybe I am on track for a 3:30 marathon (a feat that would have been completely incredible). Obviously I was going fast – but I didn’t worry about it, I wasn’t hurting, so I just went with it.
  • Each lap I would pass Guylaine, the kids – and Annie/Benoit and their kids who had dropped in on time to catch my last 3 bike laps too. It was a refreshing boost to get the extra cheers. The announcer called out my name on each loop, “Phil Barnes from Cornwall, completing Lap 3 of his Ironman”. I was really enjoying the lap format – it was very easy to keep motivated: Lap 3 – I’m a third done, lap 4 – almost half-way, lap 5 – more than half-way , lap 6 – only 3 to go.
  • Other than very strong wind in your face on the “far side” of each lap, the weather had held off, until about lap 5 – when it started to drizzle, and then very quickly, all hell broke loose, and the rain was really coming down. I managed to be in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time (the far side of the rowing basin) when the wind and rain were at their max blowing all the water off the basin completely horizontal. Visibility was ZERO. The rain/water was hitting like needles. The pathway was ankle-deep in water. I was having a truly epic day so far, so I just smiled and figured this would add to the legendary tale of the day. The funniest thing was seeing the aid station volunteers, all 6 of them hanging onto the tent in an attempt to avoid it from taking off.
  • I think it was Lap 6, as I passed by the announcer’s tent, “Phil Barnes from Cornwall… just finishing Lap 6. Phil there are more people behind you than are in front of you!” That was so awesome to hear.
  • Starting my final Lap, Lap 9, I was given a wristband – it lets everyone know you’re on your final lap. Anytime I passed someone, I felt like I was back in Grade 9 with a brand new pair of sweet Nike high-tops. Damn right! Check out my sweet wrist-band... I'm on my last lap sucker!
  • The “Conversation”:
    • With approximately 3 K to go, I figured I was going to finish at about 11:02; my laps were in the 30 minute range but getting longer and longer.
    • Although 11:02 would be fantastic – surpassing my sub-12 hour “pie-in-the sky” goal, was I really willing to tell anyone who asked, for the rest of my life, that my Ironman time was 11:02? Wouldn’t 10:58 be more appealing???
    • It is rare, very rare, that I am able to conjure up the mental strength to overcome the physical discomfort it requires to pick up the pace to accomplish the unimaginable: case in point, my 3:47 marathon, instead of 3:45… my 2:31 Olympic instead of sub-230.
    • This is and was going to be my one and only Ironman …
    • On Thursday night, my buddy Joe had dropped by with a good luck card, featuring “the suitcase of courage”. With 3k to go, my mind cleared, and I focused on that image – and I dug deep inside, and picked up the pace.
    • I used a tactic which I have used several times in the weekly club “sprint duathlons”. I picked out a target 50 meters away, and ran towards it as quickly as possible, before I got there, I pick out my next target, and so on and so on.
  • Up until now, I had been stopping at each aid station. I ran right by the last one.
  • I finally reached the bleacher section of the track, near the home stretch, and I knew I was going to be way under 11 hours.
  • Andrew was waiting with 100 meters to go… he ran beside me along the sidelines…
  • Laura joined him with 50 meters to go, and then Guylaine.
  • I reached the “finish chute” and 10 feet from the finish line, with LOADS of time left on the clock, I quickly checked to make sure there was no one behind me, and I raised my arms triumphantly and dropped down to a walk.
  • I crossed the line pumping my arms in the air and cheering like a complete fool. It was totally awesome. I was incredibly happy and super-pumped. I have never felt so good at the end of race, ever.


  • I was very worried going into the event that I hadn’t really had enough long training days to “nail down” the nutrition component. I had no idea how many calories per hour I should take, yet alone sodium. Everyone is always buzzing about sodium- I never trained with it or experimented with it. I was tempted to buy some salt pills at the expo the night before but someone talked me out of it.
  • My “nutrition plan” was hatched literally 10 hours before the start of the race, as I was piecing together my transition bags, and special needs bags.
  • I set the countdown timer on my watch for 30 minute repeats – at each 30 mins, I would take a gel – whether I felt like it or not. Ultimately, the day’s nutrition went like this:
    • Night before – decent meal at “Les Trois Brasseurs” – chicken Quessadillas with a half-pint of beer (prefaced with a sack of peanuts)
    • Breakfast – very large bowl of 50% Fruit Loops / 50% Lucky charms with milk; coffee and a banana (guessing total of 400 cals)
    • Before the swim: Cliff Bar (250 cals)
    • Before the bike: Cliff Bar (250 cals)
    • On the bike 7 gels, 1 cliff bar, 2 packs of chomps; 1 bottle of Gatorade + 2 bottles of e-load (hand-up from on-course nutrition) + 3 bottles of water (1600 cals +/-).
    • On the run 3 gels + 2 x homemade Nutella/Jam sandwiches (Laps 6,7,8,9: 2 quarter sandwiches per lap) + water at every station + eLoad where available + 4-5 pretzels on laps 6-7-8, and a half a banana on lap 7. Approximately (1500 cals +/-). I had packed the sandwiches in the special needs bag, which I had access to each lap of the run if required.
    • Total for the day (including breakfast) was about 4000 calories. – approximately 350 calories per hour.
  • In retrospect, this doesn’t seem like a solid plan, but I never once felt like I was close to bonking. I also could definitely feel a slight surge in energy shortly after each 30 minute “boost”. The other important thing was that my stomach felt absolutely fine the entire way – I never felt sloshing, and I never had “bowel issues”. In fact (turn away if you’re eating), I was constantly “farting” on the bike and the run – but good, “dry farts”, which lead me to believe that my stomach was working properly and digesting the food properly
  • I have to assume that I “nailed it”, or I got extremely lucky. If I could have done anything differently, I would have packed more gels for the run – one of them turned out to be rotten and was all chunky, so that was wasted. I would also have packed my own sports-drink: I really grew to like the e-load (it’s not terribly sweet, and seemed salty enough to ward off cramps), but it wasn’t always available.
  • The other thing that I did correctly was to bring my fuel belt, but with just one little bottle for water. I would fill that up at the aid stations, and always have it whenever I wanted a sip, or to help with a gel. I also dumped water on my head at each station, even though the sun wasn’t out, I was feeling warm, and the cool water helped snap me back to focus. (The rain provided the water for Laps 5, 6 and 7).


  • Really, I’ve been training for this event for over 8 years. I’m very glad I took my time to get to Ironman distance. I trained for and learned a lot from all my previous events from Try-a-tri, to sprints, Olympics, half-ironman plus 5K/10K, half-marathon and marathon.
  • I think my experience was all the more memorable because of the eight year preparation.
  • From past training experiences, I knew I didn’t want to use a training plan. Yes, they work, but I was adamant I was not going to be a “slave” to the plan.
    • My swim endurance was fine, I wasn’t going to get any faster, I just needed to maintain my confidence at long distances.
    • Long runs take a long time, and they take a long time to recover from – I was able to fake my way to a decent half-marathon in April (on very little dedicated training), so I knew if I could maintain my run, it would be there when I needed it. I assumed I would get faster and have increased endurance as a side-benefit from being fitter overall.
    • Ironman really is all about the bike. If you can’t survive the bike, you don’t even have a shot at the run. I love biking, but I needed to improve speed and endurance.
  • I set up my own 6 month training plan to optimize available time. I did a lot of 2-a-day workouts, to take advantage of lunch-time and early morning / evening time-slots. It really helped that Guylaine was training for her half-ironman too, so I didn’t need to abandon her on weekends. The kids were really good too, and were able to handle themselves for a few hours when needed on weekend mornings.
  • The basic week was :
    • 2 swims of 3000m +/- (moderate pace)
    • 3 runs of 7 to 8K, with an occasional “long run” (My long runs over 6 months were 1x12K, 1x15, 1x16, 1x17, 1x20, 1x27 and a half-marathon race early in April). All of the running was done at incredibly relaxed pace (i.e. 6:20/km with the exception of the half-marathon race).
    • 3 or 4 bike rides per week of 40 to 60k each (with 4x100k rides and one 177k ride over the course of the summer). Most of the biking was done at a comfortable/moderate pace (27 kph average).
    • I also did the weekly club duathlon (2-15-4) – and went full out – most Mondays.
  • Again, most ironman coaches would probably cringe at my training. I knew it would work – and it did.

Bonus Info: (Here are some things that I think may have helped with training)

  • When I started training, I started taking an Omega-3 supplement and Glucosamine. I’m sure my joints appreciated the glucosamine: I never felt stiff or sore from training.
  • I had 4 preventative / maintenance massages each 5 or 6 weeks to keep my muscles relaxed and reduce knots and scar tissue buildup.
  • I intentionally dropped 15 lbs (going from 170 to 155), but for the last 6 weeks, I was hovering around 152, and then with the "taper", I dropped to 148 and couldn't seem to add weight (which worried me a little), but in the end, I think being lighter paid off.
  • The summer weather was an absolute gift for training – I only did one indoor trainer ride, and only canned one bike ride because of rain.
  • Guylaine’s work schedule was lighter than usual this summer – allowing more free time for training, and enabling us to train together.
  • I made sure to do as many weekly duathlons as possible, and I made sure to ride out to them and back. I would still run 8k or so at lunch time.
  • I didn’t really take days off. I didn’t have a pre-assigned rest day. I was responsible in my ramping up, that I never felt overly tired from training.
  • I loved every minute of training (about 98% accurate). There were only a few bike rides, towards the end of the summer that I wasn’t overly enthused about doing. Other than that, I really looked forward to each swim, bike and run. (Even the 5 AM alarm bell).
  • I bought a new bike at the end of last year, which I absolutely loved riding. It felt fast and comfortable. Even though it was a road bike, I still did about 90% of my mileage on it. (My triathlon was still on my "vintage" P2K aluminum tri-bike).
  • I raced 2 Olympic triathlons three and five weeks out from my Ironman. I went full-out and enjoyed them. They were confidence boosting.
  • I tweaked my tri-bike position, got aggressive with it, and learned to be comfortable with it.
  • I bought new high-end tires (320 TPI) for my tri-bike.
  • I broke down and finally bought an aero helmet – maybe it saved those extra 2 minutes to get me under 11 hours … if so, definitely worth the dweeb-like race photos!

Some Stats: I didn’t bog myself down too much with splits during the race, I was able to back-calculate some from the finish line videos, so they are presented for posterity’s sake

Lap Distance Split Split Pace Net Time Cumulative Pace Race Clock
Swim Lap 1 1.9 0:34:50 1:48 / 100m 0:34:50 1:48 / 100m 0:34:50
Swim Lap 2 3.8 0:38:40 2:00 / 100m 1:13:30 1:54 / 100m 1:13:30
T1 0:03:14 1:16:44
Bike Half 90 2:31:29 36 km/hr 2:31:29 36 km/hr 3:48:13
Bike Finish 180 2:45:18 33 km/hr 5:16:47 34 km/hr 6:33:31
T2 0:05:19 6:38:50
Run Lap 1 5.4 0:25:52 04:47 /km 0:25:52 04:47 /km 7:04:42
Run Lap 2 10.0 0:24:30 05:20 /km 0:50:20 05:02 /km 7:29:12
Run Lap 3 14.6 0:25:09 05:28 /km 1:15:31 05:10 /km 7:54:21
Run Lap 4 19.2 0:25:56 05:38 /km 1:41:27 05:17 /km 8:20:17
Run Lap 5 23.8 0:28:21 06:10 /km 2:09:48 05:27 /km 8:48:38
Run Lap 6 28.4 0:30:49 06:42 /km 2:40:37 05:39 /km 9:19:27
Run Lap 7 33.0 0:32:33 07:05 /km 3:13:10 05:51 /km 9:52:00
Run Lap 8 37.6 0:33:00 07:10 /km 3:46:10 06:01 /km 10:25:00
Run Lap 9 42.2 0:32:28 07:03 /km 4:18:38 06:08 /km 10:57:28

Run Splits:

Bike Splits from SportStats:

The Photos
Pre-Race (~ 6:20 AM T-minus 40 minutes)

Emerging from Lap 1 of the swim

Running to start Lap 2 of the swim

Finishing the swim (1/4 second before or after a huge fist pump)

Very happy to be finished the swim, feeling absolutely great.

Merging onto the track for lap 1 of the bike

Full gas down the straight-away

Cautious around the hair-pin turn

Finishing Lap 1 of the Run

Finishing Lap 2 of the Run - "I feel great!"

Finishing Lap 3

Somewhere on the back-stretch, running head first into gale force winds
Then on about Lap 5, it started to rain.... HARD

It Rained Really Hard for about 30 minutes.

The suitcase of courage that CupaJoe dropped off for me Thursday night.
With 3K to go, I opened it up and dug deep inside.

226 km , 10 hours and 57 minutes ... Done!!!!!!
Post Race (~ 7:05 PM) 14th overall, 3rd Age Group