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Thursday, September 16, 2010

John Fortin 'You are an IRONMAN' race report

Sorry, its long, but the story is mine and my thoughts and memories of the culmination of one of the most awesome experiencees ever!  Pictures are in no particular order!

John Fortin you are an IRONMAN!
Words that will likely ring through my head for a while! An experience I will never forget, a drug I won't soon stop doing! A race report for this event can not nearly do it the justice it deserves, you can appreciate it if you think back to your first, I am sure of that.  
WOW! 5am wandering down the road in dowtown Madison with 2340'ish other tri geeks with their families and friends in tow.  Ecery athlete with head hung low in a space of their own, I am sure that was the same space I was in(its that place where we do the drug that I talkd about in an ealier blog).  We drop off our special needs bags on the way over for our treats and things for half way through the bike and run.  
First order of business was to confirm the transition bags to add any extras and make sure all is well.  With tons of athletes in the room you can still here a pin drop, with everyone else standing at the door to the room taking photos of the event.  Bag check reconfirmed, ready to go to body marking. 
The morning is awesome from a temperarture perpective with stars in the sky above us.  As we wander over to body marking the crowd is getting thicker with people.  The participants are still quiet and in their zone.  As we head to the marking station the volunteers are calling out and directing us to the right area.  They are doing as awesome jib at keeping athletes only in the right area so that it moves smoothly.  The body mark volunteers are awesome, big and bright smiles  and a great cheery attitiude to help break the mental ice from the racers.  As I strip down for body marking the true reality of the start line is for real.  I feel more than ever that I am bout to truly compete in this ridiculous event. I allow myself to get caught up in the vibe and gather all the energy that is flying around me from others.  The air is thick with it, it is so easy to grab it and store it for the start line.   
After body mark, off to do bike inspect.    As I get to the bike rack, I don't see my bike where I racked it the day earlier.  No panic, within a minute I locate it and check it out.  With the Zipp wheels I want to make sure that all is good as they can be a pain to pump up, so if a flat is in order I don't want it to be today.  All is in order.  I load up my water and electrolytes for the day.  Now it is time to head towards the start. 
As we move in the direction of the water I spend some time geting myslef into my own space and zone. A bit of a meditation for the mind. I tune out the nervousness around me and build a mental and physical energy from the people around me, leaving out the negative energy they are holding onto.  Before I even head down to the water I am doing fist pumps becuase of the energy that I have built.   I am so pumped to be in the water.   30 minutes before I get my suit on and begin the journy down.  Most of the faces around me have blank stares filled with a million lbs of energy and excitmemnt.  As I head towards the water there is still 25 minutes to go, it is a water start so I figure I would rather be in the water moving and building positive  energy than on land with all the people who are afraid of the swim filled with negative energy.  As I wander in it hits me that I am in, no way back, no where to go but forward for the next 12-17 hours.  I go in to my waist in thw water and look around at those around me, most of the people out in the water are looking confident and seemingly forward to the race ahaed.  Before moving into a swim position I figure one more pee is probably in order, why get out there and have to swim and do it when I can stand like I am wearing a Depends a do it in my wetsuit.  Anyone who tells me they have never had a nervous pee in a wetsuit is either dehydrated or a masochist! 
My water strategy is to get out in the front! Regardless of where I am I figure I am going to get hammered, so at thr front gets me in front a few hundred others in the washing machine pummelling! All around me people are gatrhing in, barely a spot for my elbows, as I floar I push around to work at a place of my own.  As it it crowding in I figure there is no way that I will get out without a kick on the head, but nothing I can do about it.  I focus on keeping calm and not allowing myself to spend any energy on soemthing I can't control.  The countdown to start continues as the pro cannon goes off.  10 minutes and counting, the anthem, 3  minutes and counitng, the question, 'who here today is going to become an IRONMAN', massive cheers and the gun erupts! 
Holy shit! I am really doing this! As soon as it goes off, I am moving forward without a bloody idea where I am headiing.  I figure soemone amongst all the others knows the direction so I paddle like a mad man to find me space.  Within the first 200 yards a kick to the face, people grabbing at my suit cord, my feet, holding my shoulder.  Another 50 yards an elbow to the face and my googles fall off, a quick recovery and back at it.   I remain calm as I kick and swim and tussle in the chaos.  I push and hustle my way for the forst 500 yeards trying to find my own spacen it aint happening so I decide to settle in for a good fight to the swim end.  I work to find a groove and to preserve energy while moving forward.   I find myself in the chaos single side breathing to maintain a good breath and not start hffing for air, I try a couple of bilateral breaths in the chaos but it is not working during the mess so I keep moving with status quo.  I am totally relaxed in my swim even though the pirahna pit is still as fun as ever. 
At one point in thw swim the little man jumps onto my shoulder to have a chat.  I ask him what the hell he wants? He says 'nothing, but did you remember that you are running a marathon today, after 112 mile bike ride?' For a minute I entertain him and think about it, then, NO CHAnCE is that little f€*¤ getting in my head, so I turn to do another stroke and let soemone else pull him off my shoulder and send him flying, I figure the element of surprise should keep him away! 
I keep swiming past the half way mark for the second lap when I fiannly find a little open space, enough to settle in with bilateral and an even more relaxing stroke and rhythm.  From time to time someone decided to draft which I don't have a problem with. Until you grab my feet more than 3 times.  At that point y will get the extra little kick telling you to find your own space.  I did spend some time in drafts, but found it took more energy that it gave back, so went back to focus on getting the swim done and racing my race.   I turn the last buoy and start the swim towards shore, my breath still very relaxed and no unnecessary energy spent.  As I come to the shore I see my time on the board, I am excstatic, 1:10, holy smokes I think to myself, all the training paid off! In a washing machine I was still able to knock off an amazing swim.  I come out of the water pumping my fist high with energy and excitement, I have started this in a great way! I drop to the ground where the awesome volunteers strip me and send me on my way! 
The crowd is insane, they are screaming and feeding so much energy! I love energizing crowds so I run up the helix shouting that I want to hear them and getting them to be loudder.  It feeds more energy into me with each person that joins is.   
Transition one is a great epxerience! The volunteers are amazing, in a flash they have all your stuff laid out and ready for you.  They ask you want you want to do, help you get your shirt over your head, stuff your pockets with whatever you need.  It is crazy how efficient they are and how the focus is on keeping you focused on your race.   I get my bike gear on and I am on my way.  Out the door and the sunscreen gang is waiting to grease you down, then along the bike racks. As you are running to your bike shouting your number it is being passed down the line, by the time I get to my bike he is ready to hand it to me.  Another 200 yards and I am in the saddle and on the road. Down the helix and along a path by the lake settling in for the ride ahead.  I start off keeping my senses about me, no point in blowing up as the course is considered amongst the 2 hardest of all races.  I get my legs turning and get some water into me.  There is a no pass zone early on to help get settled in.  before long we are on open road and it is time to do what I am going to do.  My bike strategy is to ride HR rather than speed.  I know I can ride fast but know full well that it is a long day ahead.  As I look down my HR is still a little high, obviously nerves have not come down from the swim.  The bike is still very crowded and there are 2 draft officials keeping an eye. It isn't long before a guy ahead of me is carded a penalty, people immediately start to back off and allow order to form.  After about 20 miles my HR finally starts to drop to an acceptable zone.  The course is extrmely hilly with less than 5% flat over the ride, so paying attention is in order.  There are 2 corners that are 90degree turns immediatrly into steep climbs.   The camp this summer helps me out and I nail them. On each corner rolling past 1/2 dozen riders and getting to the top relaxed.  At the top of each hill I am able to get up to a good cadence and up to speed quite quickly, feeling good and ready to go for more!  As I ride along I focus on keeping my wits about me knowing the day is young. 

As I approach the first of the hills I am doing it knowing that I will have some mental support along the way. D'rog was volunteering for the race and was at the top of Mt. Horeb.  A dragging kind of hill, one that seems like it is not big bu when you are on it, it never seems to stop.  As I am riding up I take inventory on what I will need and plan to call Derek out at the top.  As I roll up to the station I have a total mental fart and forget to call him, good thing he is sharp, he sees me coming along and shouts out and gives me high fives, it is an awesome recharge!  Thank you Derek for being an awesome cheerleader out there it was a great boost on a good ride!
After Horeb comes the fun hills on the course.  There are 4 hills that are of 'big' to pay attention to.  As i ride along to get to the first hill I think about settling in to have a smooth ride.  As I approach the first hill I start to gear down and ride smooth.  Up the first hill I have an awesome ride and move past several riders on the way up.  The fans are great cheering and pulling you up making you feel like a champ.  At the top of the hill the batteries are fully charged and I roll off with no problem.  The next 2 hills are the same experience.  I did focus on hills over the summer and the results are awesome, I finish each of them comfortable and without my HR blowing up! After the last hill it is back into town for the second loop, again past tons of wonderful spectators charging me up with new energy.  The start of the 2nd loop plays a little on the mind.  A good ride to start, am I riding too hard?  My HR is good, my legs feel OK, I guess all is in order so I start the loop with a confident attitude.  Mt. Horeb the second time is another good experience, there are a ton of people there now and it is a wonderful scene.  I charge through Horeb and onto the hills to come.   The second go at the hills are another strong ride, I charge up them past riders and keep my HR in check for the ride back into town and back to the transition area.  When I did my inspection on Friday, I missed the straight line back to town on the ride. Oops!  It is a bitch with a ton more hills to get you home.  Not knowing is the worst part of the experience, thank goodness I did not blow my brains out earlier because it would have been costly now! As I spot the transition area we also enter into a no pass zone, it is a great relief at this point.  It provides a time to settle the legs get a good spin on and mentally prepare for the upcoming run.  At this point my glutes are a little sore but the legs overall feel OK, in retrospect I had not started thinking about the run yet so it was all good! The ride finished on the coolest finish you can do, spinning up a parking helix overlooking where it all started 6 hours earlier. It is fun as you are riding up seeing it from so many angles as you spin in the helix circle.  Into transition we go!
I spin into the dismount area to be greeted by outstanding volunteers again, I am amazed at how great a job they do!  They tell me immediately to drop everything and get into the change area, they will move the bike pick up my shoe that I did not manage to get off my foot or pedal in an organized manner.  As I jump into forward motion the realization that my legs are still on my bike sinks in!  Holy smokes, I can manage a decent shuffle but not much more.  Oh well, I figure out of transition things will loosen up and I will get moving.  Into transition I go!
The volunteers have all my things ready for me.  I made a choice to change for each segment to be comfortable for the race, after all I am not going to get any speed records so getting it done is first priority.  As I get ready to go, I realize that I did not bring my watch strap for my GPS!  OH!OH!  I had planned on doing the run by HR and not having that key piece was a mental challenge.  Oh well!  I move on and decide it will be a perceived effort run.  Before long I am on my way out the door to start on the journey.  I burst out with an enthusiasm and a bounce in my step thinking I am ready to hammer!  NOT! I get out past the sunscreen crew and feel my quads screaming at me.  HOLY CRAP!!  The little man is on my shoulder and he is dancing and screaming, having a full out party!!  For a flash I questioned my ability to run the marathon.  But to spite the little man, I gave him a slap and decided to go with what I knew, yes I did do the training and I could get it done.  It would be a little different than I had somehow imagined it would be.  I make a call that I will do a 10 minute run and 1 minute walk day, NO, an 8 minute run, 1 minute walk, NO, I am going to walk now and run sometime in a little while.  I look around and it seems that I am not the only one in that mental and physical space.  Everyone around me is walking, those who are running are not going anywhere quickly.  If there are fast ones they are buries amongst all the turtles like me.  As I continue I look at my watch and determine where I am and where I might get.  I determine that I have 6 hours to complete a marathon to reach my C goal, the one that would be the ultimate, somewhere under 13 hours. Quickly I feel some excitement, however move back to the reality of the event.  I came here to finish per the terms of my A gaol and that was what it was time to focus on.  I moved forward shuffling and waddling along in my run/walk routine, enjoying water, ice, power aid(or whatever the heck they are serving) and living the energy from teh crowd.  They are fantastic, cheering and sending great words of encouragement and pushing me forward along the route.  I follow the exact same routine until I can hear the crowd at teh half way point.  The noise sends shivers down my spine and fills me with new energy, it is so awesome to be a 1/2 marathon from being an IRONMAN!  I run into the half way station and see my family and friends screaming, I am so excited and happy to be there!  
I call out my number and they dump my bag out for me.  I have a pair of compression tights which I decide will be a saviour for the second half of the marathon, so I grab them to put them on at the next stop.  I then begin my end of the event shuffle.  When I reach the aid station, I jump in to the washroom and throw them on.  As soon as I come out, I grab a glass of ice and dump into the front of the compression tight, then push the ice down the legs onto my quads.  It is a wonderful feeling! Immediate relief, I feel I am able to hobble a littel faster than I previously was.  I continue the shuffle past each mile marker feeling like I am not getting anywhere quick. Then at the 20 mile mark the reality hits me.  I am so damn close to becoming an IRONMAN, I could crawl and get to the end!  I feel the excitement building and push myslef to run a little farther before I walk more.  Walk/ shuffle/walk/ shuffle enjoying every minute of what I am experiencing and the awesome words I am going to hear in a while. Mile 22, mile 23, mile I am running into mile 25 I have a girl run up behind me and we start talking.  We both share how we are hurting and how awesome it is that we are almost there.  We make it to the aid station and start walking as we drink, I start out and run a little more while she continues to walk.  As I walk a little she comes up behind me and says 'let's go!' I tell her I will go for a bit and likely walk again, she says, 'no your not' you are 1 mile from the end and you are going to finish this running.  So we run side by side towards the finish.  The crowd noise is getting louder and louder, the energy is amazing.  As we turned around the last corner I could now see the crowd ahead, adrenaline rushed and I felt myself actually running for the first time all day.  I turned to tell the girl to join me and we were going to finish this thing together, she looked at me and said, GO, GO and finish!  My family and friends were on the sideline screaming giving me a huge rush and making me run with an energy of 6 months of training.  I could hear MIke Reilly calling out those amazing words, I started pumping my fists with happiness!  I ran with my hands high through the finish line hearing him say 'JOHN FORTIN YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! ' 
 Holy crap, 365 days of getting ready, 24 weeks for IRONMAN training program, thousands of dollars of gear, new friends, real and in the blog world!!  12:02:31, in that flash of a moment all of that rushing through my head, my veins and very bit of me! I was 20 feet in the air, the volunteers trying to hold me down, rushing with excitement and pride, happier than I can ever remember!  THe volunteer has trouble holding me an I am so high with excitement, he directs me to the finish photo and lets me go on my own! I am so high on the triathlon drug that I talked about it is unbelievable!
The event in every way was a realization of something that I once thought I may never accomplish.  Through the process I had the opportunity to learn new limits, conquer new fears, push myself and others to the edge.  An experience that you could not recreate chemically with any drug.  It has been AWESOME, crazy amazing and I am still flying high from it!  
I miss training already, I have been out for a couple of short runs and it has felt great.  I am going to the pool tomorrow morning to get my feet wet and play lightly to continue to recover!  Seems like a waste to waste the fitness.
John's Ironman Adventure continues, I am starting the journey to IRONMAN Canada.  One that is full of new opportunity, a new challenge to conquer.  I learned a ton about myself in the training this year and now I will take the lessons forward.  I am going to run harder and faster, until it hurts every workout(the ones that ned to)  I will take my swim past a swim the miles and put in some swim til it hurts and see if I can get faster.  I will do some short races and see who I can chase down until I collapse across the finish!  I will share my thoughts rants and motivations with all of you and continue to follow and be inspired!


  1. I did not proof read it!! Took me a while to get the first part done! So for those who have been here for a while, enjoy the spelling mistakes, they are part of the adventure that this year has been! THANK YOU to all of you, you have been an awesome inspiration!

  2. Just found your blog. I LOVED this race report. It totally brought back many of the emotions I had as I completed IMFL last year. Thanks for bringing back the memories, and thanks even more for sharing your memories. Cogratulations, IRONMAN!

  3. Awesome race report and AWESOME job! Loved reading this... It brought back a lot of memories :) Oh, and I love the name 'pirana pit' for the swim!

    Enjoy your IRONMAN status!!! :)

  4. I am just getting around to getting time to comment on blogs I have been reading since I was gone - so sorry this is a bit of a late CONGRATS!!! You are awesome. What an incredible race report. I am totally saving this to read again as my IM gets closer.

    Love that you told the little dude on your shoulder to screw off.

    I am so happy for you, I knew you would rock it. I was in Baxter Park on Sunday on top of North Peak, and I thought.."I wonder how John is doing today?" You are an inspiration, amazing job, and I look forward to your next IM adventure.

  5. Congrats on a job well done! - I just started working on a IMLP journey of my own. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. John what a fantastic race report! I love every single word written. I could FEEL all of it! I am sorry I didn't find your blog until recently but am excited to follow you through Ironman Canada. :-) Congratulations, you are an inspiration (and an IRONMAN!)

  7. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!! Way to go John, you did GREAT!

    I was super thrilled to see you on the bike course TWICE!! that MADE MY DAY, seeing you on the run was just as tremendous - it was a joy to see you running at solid pace, you looked smooth. It was super cool to see you performing after following your training since around Feb.

    "As soon as it goes off, I am moving forward without a bloody idea where I am headiing." hahaha

    Since Feb I have learned a lot from you...especially with regard to attitude and my mental approach and frame of mind. You explain whats going on with you VERY WELL and it has helped me a TON. In two weeks I am going to visualize kicking that little man in the teeth WHEN he shows up around mile 15 and will flick him flying again WHEN he shows up again at mile 19. haha.

    More than anything when I saw you each time on Sunday you were in the moment, enjoying the race, the day, the event. Way to finish that off!

    Also I dont know how "sharp" I was since I lots your run photos that I had - Sorry! Bummed I lost those but couldnt be more happy to have seen you do this. CONGRATS!!!

  8. Awesome Awesome job Ironman John!

    I had like 10 commnets while I was reading but I have pretty much forgotten them all now. But D'Rog definitely got super fan of the day award. Wish I could be in Lake Placid for him...

    I'm back in the pool today and a little bummed there isn't any race season left but trying to pace myself since I'll be back at training for IMCDA very soon. And next year will be my year to use IM fitness for the rest of the race season.

    I hope you hear Mike Reily's voice every night as you fall asleep.

  9. WOO! Great job, you are an Ironman! I can only imagine the high you are on right now.

    Amazing race report, I felt like I was right there with you. Hats off to a great race and a fantastic time!

  10. Congratulations John!!! Wow, that was a great experience you had there. You are a brave man starting the swim at the front of the pack in your first IM. I wish I'd be that brave!
    I like how you describe every sensation you had during the race. I felt like I was there with you while I read your report. I still remember those few seconds before the swim start, when you feel your hair standing up. I had exactly the same sensation you had: "Holy shit! I am really doing this!".

    Congrats again on a job well done! And also send my congrats to Hugh! I saw him in your pictures and on the results page. I do not remember for sure, but I think this was his first IM, too.

  11. Incredible John -- awesome race report too.

  12. I had tears in my eyes from whoa to go on this race report John. Especially when the woman came up to you and said you will finish it running. What an unbelievable accomplishment and you should feel very proud of yourself. I am. Well done. You are an IRONMAN.

  13. Great race report, and thanks for being encourages me to twack that little woman on my shoulder more often!

    You are an IRONMAN!

  14. I read this blog while sitting at Starbucks and I am sure right about now everyone around me must think I am insane, I am crying and laughing at the same time!
    WOW! Congratulations! You did an awesome job. I hate it when that stupid little guy shows up to question your ability!
    As a proof reader, no you didn't proof read it before posting, but that made it that much more personable. I love reading your blog, I love the emotion you put into it and I can't wait to read where your journey takes you from here! (not to mention when my journey starts next year I am sure I will be trying to hit you up for advice!)

  15. John – This race report gave me goose bumps. The way you captured the energy in the pre-race moments was incredible. I’ve not ventured into tri’s just yet (marathons so far)…but I’ve always just seen a bunch of nervous people standing around at the start. But after you described it in this way…it’s an energy that I plan to tap into going forward. Congrats on this achievement. You’re an inspiration.

  16. Awesome race report J. I felt like I was there, it was a great read. Congrats again on the finish, you're the man.