When Joe Reitan first came into a swimfit practice at the Y on crutches, little did I know that we were about to embark on a memorable journey. He gave me the low down on what happened and remember thinking, “wow, Joe is broken, but he’s lucky to be alive.” Then, came the shocker, “I want you to coach me for Ironman Coeur d’Alene” Joe said. I let that sink in for a second: the responsibility of taking a broken body and getting it fit for an Ironman in 6 months; daunting seemed to be the prevailing feeling.
As a coach, our creed is to assist the athlete in becoming stronger and healthier. It’s also about achieving the unattainable and the unknown. Joe came to me with one fine challenge, one that I took very seriously. There can be a fine balance with being fit and being under pressure to do too much with an Ironman looming. With Joe, we did not want to blur the lines. The cost of injury would mean a big blow to his goal and his psyche, and a good coach does not injury his athletes.
It was paramount that he understood the necessity for aerobic conditioning with a focus on form. Couple that, with finding balance in every aspect of his life; sleep, nutrition, relationships, work, entertainment. With Joe’s extreme circumstance we had little margin for error. As you’ll read in his story, he could not run until 4 months prior to IM CDA. We made swimming the backbone of his fitness and healing process and it paid off in a big way. Joe’s comeback is stunning, not just for the short time it took to get in the best shape of his life, but also for the enriching life experience. Don’t think you can compete in triathlons? Think again, getting a support structure and smart training plan together and you too can achieve the unattainable and the unknown.
Thanks Joe, it is an honor to have been part of this journey.
My Road to Ironman
On June 11, 2011 I raced in my first ever Ironman 70.3 in Boise. As I crossed the finish line, my boss and co-worker literally caught me and had to take me to the medic tent. I was suffering from electrolyte imbalance. While spending that hour in medical I called my dad, told him I had finished and announced that I was going to do a full Ironman in 2012.
July 17, 2011 I signed up for the 2012 Ironman Coeur d’Alene. I called my dad and said, “I want you to be there; you have a year to fit it into your schedule.” I had had a great race at Burley Spudman in Burley, Idaho, on June 30th and was flying high going into August to finish off my race season.
On August 9, 2011 at 8:15 a.m., my life changed, as did my race season hopes and dreams. I was commuting to work in the bicycle lane when a dry cleaning van turned left, hitting me broadside and sending me airborne into the windshield. I ended up on the ground, curled up in the fetal position, breathing heavily and trying to organize and analyze what had just happened. As I was placed on a back board and put in a cervical collar I knew I could still move my feet and hands, reassuring me that I had not injured my spinal cord. While riding in the ambulance, I wondered if I would ever be able to race again at a competitive level, knowing that I had a fractured left anterior pelvis, fractured left lower leg (fibula), crushed right wrist and hand, and an apparent ruptured right quadriceps. I also knew my helmet was cracked and my bike destroyed. This was all bad news.
It was a rough next few days as I tried to absorb what had taken place. I was extremely depressed as I wanted to be swimming, biking and running, but instead I was getting in touch with race directors trying to figure out how to pull out of races for next year and request refunds. One week later, on August 16th, I was in surgery to rebuild my right wrist with 14 pins/screws and a plate. Then the rehab began. I did hand therapy to regain strength and range of motion, and physical therapy to strengthen my legs. It wasn’t until October that I was back on the bike, but that only lasted a month.
On November 1st, I underwent another surgery, this one to have my right medial quadriceps reattached to the patella. I was ordered to do limited range of motion and no running or riding until January. Though I could have resigned myself to the fact that my racing career might by over, I told myself I was going to bust my ass to recover to race Ironman Coeur d’Alene on June 24, 2012.
On November 28, 2011, I started my training with YMCA coach and Professional Triathlete Kevin Everett. I told him I had a goal of completing IM CDA 2012, but then I told him my restrictions. From the first time we talked, I knew he was worried I would overdue the training, and I knew I had to follow the doctor’s orders to prevent further injury. Kevin started me on an upper body/core strengthening program along with a swimming workout that did not involve any legs (pull buoy all the time). It wasn’t until mid-January that I was able to start biking, and February before I could even attempt to start running in the Alter G Treadmill at 50% weight bearing. The running was really rough and I had constant pains. I had extreme doubts that I would be able to run a full marathon in June after a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike.
I had several serious discussions with Kevin as I progressed through the training. He kept telling me that if I stuck to the program and didn’t push things too hard, I had a chance. I decided to try the Boise Y Spring Sprint 2012. My swim in the pool felt pretty good, and then the next day came the ultimate test: the bike followed by the run at race pace. I came in 17th overall and 1st in the 18-29 age group. I was back for short distance, but I was still worried about the full Ironman.
June 10th came around and I started my taper for IMCDA. To this point I had only run 13 miles, the furthest I had ever run in my life. Two weeks from now I was facing a full marathon as the third leg of the Ironman. What was I thinking? Then Kevin said, “You made it this far without injury, you will be fine for the race.” We discussed my nutrition strategy and how I was going to reach my goal of finishing in 12-13 hours though I would love finishing under the 12 hour mark. On the Monday night prior to the race, Kevin shook my hand and said, “Good luck, you can do it.”
On June 21st I packed the car and headed north. Destination: Coeur D’Alene. It didn’t really hit me until I was in line to get the coveted blue Ironman participant wrist band. I knew this was going to be a great weekend, felt somewhat confident about the swim, very good about the bike and knew my biggest challenge would be to make it through the run. Saturday June 23rd was bike check-in and then it was time for final preparations for the morning.
It’s finally here. Race day. June 24th. It’s 3:30 a.m., the alarm goes off, and I start making breakfast. I start wondering if I am consuming enough calories at breakfast in case I don’t eat anything else prior to the swim. Then comes the prep work for transitions. Do I have everything set up? How am I going to run through the transitions? Fortunately, my talks with Kevin have prepared me well and I am surprisingly calm. The earlier group swims in the pond and numerous practice transitions made for a lower- stress race morning. At 6:30 a.m., the transition closes and we start the walk down to the beach. It is almost time for 2400 athletes to run into the water. My main thought: “Protect your head in the swim.”
The cannon goes off and we all run in. I decided to go off to the right in about the middle of the pack, with the objective to see the buoys on the left side when I breathed. This was a great strategy! My goal of protecting my head from getting kicked was reached. I can’t say I didn’t get the crap beat out of me in the swim as people hit my legs and swam over me, but with all my swim training and Kevin’s coaching, I completed my first 1.2 mile loop in 32 minutes. On the second lap, the waves started to pick up and the water became choppy. I crossed the transition mat from the swim at 1:08:56. I was thrilled with my swim time, so I decided to take the few extra seconds to use the wetsuit strippers. I ran into the transition tent and had a great transition to the bike. As I exited the tent I grabbed my bike, ran out, jumped on and I was off and feeling great! I was able to take in nutrition and drinks as I rode the course out of town and had to pee by mile ten, just as I had hoped. Unfortunately I was unable to pee on the bike like I had planned, and had to stop to pee several times throughout the bike course. The head wind out 95 didn’t help either.
At the end of the bike I had a great transition and started running to get my run bag. With the quick transition I was headed out, still smiling after a 6:11:12 bike split. As I followed my watch at the mile markers, my first three miles were 8-8:30 minute miles, and I knew this was not going to last and needed to slow a little. My first 6.6 miles were at a 9:49/mile pace, the next 6.8 miles were at 11:36/mile, and then I was hurting, mentally and physically. I spotted my dad and girlfriend and stopped to talk for a few seconds. I was mentally revived, but now it was back uphill. The walking/running began and the next 6.1 miles were at a pace of 14:56/mile. Finally I had reached the final turn- around and realized I could be under 13 hours if I kept going. My last 6.7 miles were my fastest per mile average at 11:06/mile. I give lots of credit to all the crowds on the course, especially in the last two miles for encouraging me to keep pushing. Once I hit mile 24 I knew the finish was in sight. I picked up my pace and had a big shit-ass smile on my face. Rocking out to music and singing along in the last few miles was so much fun. I did exactly as Kevin told me, “Have fun and enjoy!”, I soaked in every moment of the last few miles. Then came the final turn onto the packed Sherman Street. Seven blocks down I could see the finish and hear the voice of Mike Riley announcing, “….YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.” The sidewalks were wall to wall people, cowbells ringing and signs all around, and people holding out their hands for high fives the whole way down the road. I continue running and taking it all in with a big smile. Then I hear the words I have busted my butt to hear, “Joe Reitan…YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.” I crossed the finish line after a 5:09:22 marathon resulting in a 12:40:21 finish. I was an IRONMAN after a very tragic accident 10.5 months ago.
I committed to the Ironman saying, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE” and followed through with it Thanks a ton to my coach Kevin Everett. With his help and my unbreakable dedication I was able to overcome a very damaging accident and achieve my goal of finishing an IRONMAN!!!