Friday Feature – Sophie Dagenais

Team Triumpher Sophie Dagenais

I discovered the world of triathlon in 2011 following a mutual challenge launched by my husband: to train together and complete a triathlon. Our first Sprint event was an exhilarating experience, not to mention our first open water outing at Meech Lake, in a water temperature of only 13 degrees! We then enthusiastically took part in many triathlons and races (10K, half marathons and marathon) each year. I had the pleasure of meeting Coach Julia thanks to my online purchase of a MyFloat in 2014: her passion for triathlon and her Team Triumph presentation were most inviting. Also, the prospect of training in a pool with other swimmers immediately appealed to me. I also quickly realized in her company that swimming techniques had evolved since my teenage years and my short time of competitive training. It was in 2016 that I joined Team Triumph for all of my training and discovered the benefits of training with a group of determined, warm, friendly and generous athletes, all happy and willing to share their knowledge.

I had always been intrigued by long-distance swimmers. The second edition of La Traversée du Lac Tremblant appealed to me this year as the ideal event to try while encouraging a local initiative at my favorite resort. When I applied for the HUUB Ultra Swim 12km I honestly did not think I would be selected. Once selected and committed, my first goal was to complete the challenge and, with a little luck, in a time of 4:20 given the maximum time allowed of 5 hours. I reviewed all of my technique at the beginning of my training with Coach Maggie, lowering the position of my head, initiating the movement from the hips and slowing my kick. Like for a marathon, my training had to stay in zone 2 but for longer periods of time. So I gradually increased my training volume from 2.5 km to 10 km and then added races in zone 2 and 3 to make it to the 20 km recommended per week. The swim-run equivalency is that about 1 km of swimming corresponds to 4 km of running.

I registered as a swimmer to then quickly realize that it was a team challenge and that I needed a support kayaker. Annemarieke Goldsmith came highly recommended by many Team Triumph members and it was a real joy when she agreed to take part in the challenge with me last April. We met a few times and went on long training outings in the beautiful lake where her cottage is located. On these occasions, I realized that I had to completely rethink the nutrition component of it all because it is very difficult to swallow anything upright with a wetsuit on. Only the gels and the drinking water were going to be used. Since energy expenditure in the water can never be compensated for during an actual event I also made sure not to lose weight. A happy problem, some say! We practiced 60%, 70% and 80% of the total distance. The data available on Training Peaks and explained by Coach Julia was very useful for me in order to balance my training properly and to avoid injuring myself. I also greatly benefited on all aspects of swimming from Coach Kevin’s past experiences of swimming Ultra 10 km events.

The study of the swim course announced in mid-July revealed specific challenges at every kilometer. We were ready to face the challenge by getting up at 4 am on August 4th. Lake Tremblant is very unpredictable and it was a blessing to have a calm morning with little wind. The logistics were impressive and it was a real adventure to arrive at the far end of the lake. I was fortunate to meet incredibly experienced swimmers who wanted to share their passion and experience on the boat to the Bay of Bears. For her part, Annemarieke took the bus with the other kayakers and had to walk for 10 minutes before she could get to her kayak. There were 6 waves of 20 swimmers at the start, starting at 8 in the morning and every minute afterward. Like most beginners, I was in the last wave of swimmers and wore number 108 out of 120 (based on my estimated completion time). My first goal was to find my support kayaker among the 120 kayakers posted ahead of the departure point. The start was a little hectic with kayaks and swimmers all trying to find their way. I was happy to learn that I had swum my first 2 km in 34 minutes. However, I had underestimated the energy expenditure of the start phase and my first nutrition stop should have taken place 10 minutes earlier than planned. We settled at a steady pace thereafter and I moved to 69th position at the 6-kilometer mark with a pace of 1:57 minutes per 100m. Each bay we crossed had side currents and bounces. My kayaker kept me on pace and stuck to our nutrition race plan. I made sure to apply all the advice that Coaches Julia, Maggie, and Kevin gave me over the last few months to keep a good technique. I thought that the 90-degree crossing of the lake would be the hardest part, but the last 4 kilometers along the east coast were the hardest: the currents seemed to come from all directions and the lowlands were preventing me from making a complete movement with a full extension of the arms. Without my Garmin watch, which is banned by the Swimming Federation, it was difficult to assess my pace in this hectic area.

The finish was a pure moment of joy with my enthusiastic Team Triumph friends: Debi, Renee, Pauline, Don, David, Stephanie, Claude, Ann and my husband Francis waiting for me on the beach! So I completed the Crossing in 3:59 with an average pace of 2 minutes per 100m, ranking me 71st. This ranking and my participation in the 3km Bring on the Bay now position me 27th in the Global Swim Series – Women’s Division with wetsuit and 8th in my age category. I am very grateful for all the support and trust that my family, my friends, and the Teams Triumph coaches have given me to meet this challenge. It was an exciting and very educational experience in my triathlon journey with Team Triumph.

woman swims in open water