4.5 months in the making, my goal race, the Montreal Demi-Espirit 70.3, was here on Saturday. It’s a flat course that offers “your best chance you’ll ever get to personal best” and for me, it did!
I first decided to do this race and my sister and her crew had decided to race it because it is a “bucket list” race. Company on these long distances races is great and once I heard about the unique course I was in.
The race takes place in the Montreal 1976 Summer Olympic Park. Summer in the rowing basin, riding around the Formula One Canadian Grand-Prix track, and running back around the rowing basin. It was amazing for spectators as people were everywhere along the entire course, and as an athlete you were able to see your supporters multiple times on route.
The swim is an out and back in the Olympic rowing basin. This swim is unique in that while it’s open water, it’s a protected current-free basin is similar to a 2 km long, 100-meter wide and 3-meter deep swimming pool. The water has a sandy bottom which I was able to view the entire time and “is considered superior for swimming.”
Because of these conditions I felt very confident on course. There was lots of space in the water and not once was I near another person where we might have touched. Certainly the number of women were less, but we also had a great deal of space. I stuck to my usual plan of a steady effort and during the final few hundred meters set my sights on a few swimmers that I wanted to pass and I did giving myself a third place age group finish for the swim.
The 90 km bike portion of the race consisted of completing 21 laps around the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, which is the site of the Formula One Canadian Grand-Prix. The 4.3 km loops were very smooth and were filled with a combination of winding turns, hair-pin turns, and straight aways. There was one bottle drop/aid station which had it’s own lane and an opportunity to not only grab a bottle while continuing to ride, but also pulling over for a stop.
The Pro-timing chip on your ankle counts your laps, but I also used my Garmin to make sure I was on track. The lap count is shown on a giant screen near the exit lane, and your name and bib number appear on the monitor on lap 5, 10, 15, 19, 20, 21. The race are continuously shares that when you see your name with the number 21, you must exit the course, however I saw at least 5 people who misunderstood and did an extra lap.
My bike experience was one that is most easily described as terrifying. As one of the first few women out of the swim I entered the bike loop, with tired legs, at a measly 25km/hrs pace. I entered into a bike race in progress with many men holding what I could only assume was 40+km/hr paces. I felt like Disney’s Simba during the stampede scene of the Lion King. Men was racing past me on both sides. There was no organization as to where slower riders should be and when I assumed it was to stick the left and pass on the right (which it was) speedy men would cut through almost no spaces nearly taking both of us out to pace. This was my race situation for almost the first 40 minutes until more women entered the course and I can only assume some of the faster men started exiting.
21 loops certainly offered an interesting option as I was able to see my family and receive their coaching and cheers almost every 8 minutes, I will be honest that while 21 laps seemed fun before riding, it was very mentally challenging and required a lot of focus for almost 80% of the time. Although that being said, this mainly flat course was one of my fastest rides, in which I was able to hold my Olympic distance pace during double the distance.
The 21.1 km run starts at the back of the Transition Area where you will run directly onto the Voie Maritime for a short 2km out on the trails. I entered this area at the exact time the duathlon was starting here. They let me get a few feet ahead before they started and it was certainly motivating to run so closely with others.
Once back on the basin wall, you circle the Olympic Rowing Basin and complete 4.5 laps. The race almost everywhere including the website states 4 laps, but it’s actually 4.5. I didn’t realize this until I was on course and for over two hours watched racers run across this floating bridge, trying to figure out what they were doing and whether that was my race or another distance.
While heading out on what I (and my family) thought was my final lap I asked a staff what the deal was after a large group ahead of me went across. It was here on course that I learned about the extra half lap. This definitely sucked as I had mentally thought I was nearing the finish, and then having to explain to my family too, while running, that I still had a half lap left. I hadn’t started my Garmin on time, so knew that wasn’t reliable. So when it was finally my turn to cross the bridge – I was jumping for joy.
The course was well fueled with 3 aid stations per loop. They had water, ice, coke, pretzels, and an electrolyte drink. They were well organized and the volunteers did a great job.
One thing to be aware of is that almost all on race communication on race day is in French. Pretty much the only thing I spoke while on course was the phrase “English please”. This was challenging on the bike, where I felt very unsafe and was unsure of what was happening when people didn’t appear to be following the “rules”. Race communication prior to race day was bilingual.
That begin said, I enjoyed this flat and fast race quite a bit. It gave me personal bests and an awesome spectator experience from my family and friends. I would definitely suggest others give it a try.