Wisconsin 2012 Race Report: JT Thompson, 12:13…from a STROKE to an 18′ PR!

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IM Moo – From A Stroke To Ironman® PR – Living Life!

Wow – is this really going to happen??? I turned the corner coming on to State Street in downtown Madison with about ¼ mile left to go. The street was packed with people on both sides and a few of them were saying “You look good J.T……Go J.T.” Now I’d love to think I was a famous triathlete – like they knew my name like Macca or Chrisie – or that I really looked good – but the reality is that my name was printed on my bib with my race number, which was around my waist and people were reading it. But I loved it anyway… I did know a few people – Troy who I’d done a ride with on the bike course in July and also a group of EN members cheering their heads off on the corner as you came up to the capital… They’d been there a while cheering as I’d high-fived them on the way out…seemed like they were having fun.

Ironman® Wisconsin

As I started to run around the capital building (the IM run course goes by the capital building of Wis 4 times) for the last time, I could hear Mike Reilly announcing at the finish. It made me think of my friend Jess Withrow and her mantra of “Just get me to The Voice”. I yelled out, “Here I come, Voice” and a bunch of people at the side of the rode gave me that “ This racer must be losing it look”. I laughed and went around the next corner where the run special needs aid station was – 3 different volunteers asked if I needed my bag, which I responded “No thanks – I’m on my Way Home!!– to the Voice” Seems kind of funny now, but it felt great to say it then.

I made the left turn away from the front of the capital and headed straight for the finishers chute. Past the sign the said “2nd loop to the left, finish to the right” I’d made that left a little over 2 hours before – much better to now go right. And I thought – wow – what a last 6 months to a year it’s been………


Ironman® Wisconsin Run


So my IM Moo (Ironman® Wisconsin’s nickname) began 5 days after I signed up for the race the previous year. I was riding in the Gran Fondo NJ (which I hear is a great race) when I hit some sand and gravel in a corner and long story short, ended up breaking my collar bone in 5 places, 3 broken ribs and a collapsed lung. After a little hospital stay, I figured I’d be back in action in about 2-3 months since these are pretty common pro cyclist injuries, and they come back that fast….

Well – by mid-December, after months of physical therapy, I could still hardly raise my arm above my shoulder and my Ortho doc said, “ this is not normal – something else is wrong” Now more tests. My favorite was the EMG – it’s one they do to test your nerves by basically giving you electric shocks – so at least now I know what it’s like to be tazered! Turns out after visiting another Ortho doc, that I needed to see a super specialist as he thought I might need surgery.

Into NYC I go and yes – I need “Nerve De-Compression Surgery” as 2 muscles in my shoulder are getting no electrical inputs and will basically die if I don’t get this fixed. So on March 9th, what was supposed to be 3 hour outpatient turned into a 6 ½ hour operation and when I got into the recovery room, the left side of my throat, vocal cords and tongue were all paralyzed. The nurses and doctors weren’t sure what had happened – my heart rate and blood pressure were constant the whole operation and I remember slurring –there’s no way I could have had a stroke – I just did and Ironman® last summer! Well – 5 days of impatient stay later, finally figured out that I did have a very rare stroke, but the good news is that the symptoms usually subside in 8-10 weeks. But how and why did I have this?

Turns out I have a hole in my heart. Was genetic and been there since I was born. But after sitting down with my cardiologist, and going thru all my symptoms, I got the green light to keep training and racing. So that’s what I decided to do and kept IM Moo as my goal….


I flew directly into Madison from Newark on Thursday afternoon and my brother Bruce, who was also doing the race and had driven up from Chicago, picked me up at the airport. Since my flight was a little early, we raced downtown and registered that afternoon – were no lines at all, so highly recommend this time for folks in the future. We then headed to our hotel, Doubletree by Hilton, which is about a mile from the Monona Terrace where the race began and had all the expo and meeting rooms. Concerning our hotel, if you can’t get one of the ones real close to the start, this one works as only about a 15 minute walk to all the action – better than having to drive and try to find parking…

Thursday night had dinner with the Endurance Nation team in Verona – was great to meet some people in person that hadn’t met and talk about the latest race info. Friday morning was a swim with various team members. Good to get a feel for the water and I also tried a full wet suit for the first time since the shoulder surgery – no issues, so decided to go with it during the race vs. a sleeveless. Had lunch with more teammates after the 4 keys talk by Rich and then picked up the bike from TriBike. Took it easy in the afternoon due to bad weather.

Friday night went to the athlete’s dinner. I was a little skeptical of attending, but others wanted to go, so fine by me. Food was OK and certainly set up with lots of carbs. (But no dessert – what do you think we do these crazy things for – to eat!) Mike Reilly MC’d it and I really enjoyed what they had put together – Have to say I’d recommend the dinner to others in the future…… After dinner – went and found some gelato!

Saturday Morning – went to a Madison Institution for breakfast – Mickey’s Dairy Bar – found right near football stadium. Great food at an old time dive kind of place – highly recommend to future racers for day before carb load – pancakes were great! Next – got on the bike and went for a ride around town on the run course. Had the same feeling as the year before “Man this run course feels long! – Holy Crap!” Then came back and grabbed our run and bike bags to drop them and our bikes off at Monona Terrace. Bruce and I met up with Beth Schwindt there and we decided to head into town and had a nice lunch at Graze (sure seemed like an appropriate place to eat for IMMoo!) Then back to the hotel to get the rest of our stuff ready, then watched the Badgers lose in football while eating the Ironman® buffet at our hotel bar! Crashed at 9:30.

Race Day

Bruce and I were up at 3:50am – got dressed, had the Core Diet race breakfast (gotta love applesauce in the morning!!?) Grabbed our special needs and dry clothes bags and hit the street walking to the hotel at 4:55am. Dropped off our special needs bags and then checked our transition bags. (Note of thanks here to John Withrow for reminding me of the idea of putting neon colored tape on the transition bags. In a room filled with 2600 bags that all look alike, it was very easy to find mine with the green and orange duck tape all over them.)

Next – down to pump up the tires on the bike and make sure she was all ready to ride. Thanks to Brian Kelly for letting us use his pump.

Ironman® Wisconsin Transition


Next – off to use the bathroom one last time before the race – sounds easy, but everyone has the same idea. After finding the bathrooms packed, we wisely decided to head over to the adjoining Hilton and use their facilities – no problem. Then tossed on the wetsuit in the skyway access from the Hilton to the Monona Terrace (no crowds here) and ran into Coach Rich on his way to the start. Then headed over to the EN meeting place – took some pictures and then went to the start to hand in our morning clothes bags. Ran into Rick Shea there and we began our journey thru the coral down toward the water. Wasn’t moving very fast and the cannon for the pros starting at 6:50 and the national anthem happened and we still were not in the water (Lesson here – if you want to warm up for the swim, get there real early). Finally got in the water and swam over to the ski jump.


With Sarah Kim and my brother Bruce before the start



My plan had been to start near the ski jump since it was near the middle. But once I got there, I realized there were very few folks directly behind it, so wished my brother a great race and we moved behind it to one side with about 4 people in front. The canon went off and I went around the jump and then quickly went right in front of it – wow – 30-40 yards of clear water! Lasted about 30 seconds before everyone saw it and came in from both sides. From there, it was the typical Ironman® swim battle of watching out for everyone and trying to keep moving forward. I will say that it was not as rough as Coeur d’Alene the year before.

Ironman® Wisconsin Swim

Ironman® Wisconsin Swim

The course was now a one-loop rectangle, so the first buoy was a long way out, but followed the tradition of IM Moo and as I rounded the buoy, gave out 3 Moo’s as I went to breathe. Was fun to hear other mooing as well. Crazy race!…. Long back stretch of the loop. Even with tinted goggles, hard to see the buoys so followed others. Finally hit the last red turn buoy and headed back to start. Hit the ramp and looked up to see a time of 1:13:xx and thought – wow – PR’d the swim after having shoulder surgery only 6 months before. (Many thanks to my physical therapist Janice Morra and Dr. Jason Levy, my ART specialist from APRC for all their help in getting me ready. ) Next – got my wetsuit peeled and then ran up the helix toward T1 (parking garage ramp) which was lined with people all yelling (ok – so I did encourage them a few times – I’ll take as much support as I can get!) Time 1:13:31….


Cool thing happened when I got off the helix as I heard someone yell my name – turned around it was my brother, who was only about 15 seconds behind me. Said Hey, then grabbed my bag and into the change room. Here a volunteer came right up and grabbed me. Turns out it was an EN teammate (Brian from Chicago – sorry, last name slipped me) and he saw the EN jersey and jumped. We tossed my stuff on the floor and went to it. Since it was cold, so went with arm warmers and a vest, as well as socks, since my bike was close to as far away from the bike mount as possible – figured they wanted all the old farts down here since we knew how to run with our bikes!! Grabbed my steed and off we went for a little ride! Time – 10:04


The ride started fine – headed out of Madison and quickly ran into my brother again and we rode together for the next 10-15 miles or so. Must say the first 30 miles or so were classic EN – I’m sitting on my watts and taking it easy and getting passed like crazy. It’s taking all my will power to not jump on some wheels or hammer them on a hill, but I hold back and think that I’ll see them later (or that they are really that much faster then me on the bike and need more swim practice!).


Hit about mile 45 and that’s where the bigger hills start. Old Sauk road was crazy – like the Tour de France – people on both sides of the road, dressed like crazy and whopping it up. Saw Rich and other EN’ers cheering and again it was hard not to want to hammer the hill with all the people out – so I just looked for pretty girls..….


Old Sauk

Old Sauk

Hit 2 more hills and it was the same – just great crowd support. Came flying thru Verona and again both sides of the road lined with people – just not as crazy when you are going about 30mph….Stopped at special needs and grabbed two new bottles – Thanks to John Withrow again as per our discussion, I bought a little lunchbox cooler and froze my bottles the night before – they were both nice and slushy – sweet!

Rest of the bike was much like the first loop – crazy fans. Only issue I had was that on taking off my arm warmers, I ripped off my Garmin 310 and the strap broke. Definitely went back to pick it up!…. around mile 75 I noticed that I was starting to pass lots of bikes. This continued for the rest of the bike. Happy to say that I had a negative split and still felt strong coming in on the last miles…. Time 6:16:04….Had said before the race I was targeting about 6:15….


Pretty uneventful. Had a volunteer help toss my stuff on the floor and picked up what I needed. Only thing that added a minute is that I ripped my race number when I was pulling it around to the front – a volunteer ran and got me pinned up, and off we went for a jog…. Time – 5:53


The run starts off basically heading around the capital building and down State Street – with tons of crowds around – Was really taking mental effort to go slow as I was fired up. But held it in check (I think – my Garmin didn’t start to work till the 3rd mile – helps when you take it out of cycling mode when you are running!!)

Coming Down State Street from the Capital

Running into Camp Randall stadium, ran into my brother again – he was running with Brian Kelly and looked like they were just chatting away – having a nice Sunday afternoon stroll thru Madison…(talking in an Ironman® run?? I was just trying to get as much air as I could!!) Was keeping cool by grabbing ice at the aid stations and putting it in my hat and hitting the sponges. Firing down my Infinit run from my Nathan belt and taking the Powergels (now going for the double caffeine) about every ½ hour.

First loop went well – a little slower than I planned, but I did put in the 6 stupid slow miles as R&P have drilled into me. Started the second loop fine and soon enough, ran into my brother again as he had waited for Brian for a minute. I asked if he was OK – he said yes, was just waiting – well, he’s a little competitive and I think seeing his little brother pass him was a too much – he was soon right behind me and caught me just as we were heading into Camp Randall for the 2nd time. We ran together for the next few miles, then I started to hit a rough patch, and I told him to go race his race – don’t wait for me….



Ironman® Wisconsin Run, State Street

Ironman® Wisconsin Run, State Street

I hit the aide station just after mile 18 and like the others, ran toward the end and then started to walk while getting ice, water, sponges – but this one was a little different. Once I started walking, I was little dizzy…Oh boy – need to take a little more walk and drink some more. Grabbed a cup of ice and filled it with my Infinit – then walked for about 50 ft. before I picked it back up….could tell I was dehydrated so knew I needed to manage it….

Was great to see all the EN support and fellow racers Kathy Nelson, Sarah Kim, Beth Schwindt, Annie Stokes, Claudia Langarica, Jeff Linkus, Brian Kelly, Mike Semmerling and other EN’ers out running. Congrats to my brother Bruce – he was targeting under 12 hours – Pulled it off at 11:58:56….

Soon hit State Street again and Coach Rich was there – he said “OK – Time to Finish This!!” Felt pretty good the next few miles along that lake – and was able to pick up the pace. But by about mile 24 the dehydration was catching up to me, and just had to drop the pace down and gut it out…….

So… I came down the finishing chute – heard my name called out as an Ironman® – looked up at the clock – 12:13:50 – Some how I’d pulled off a PR on a tougher course. Wow, it had been an interesting year – and 6 months to the day of my shoulder surgery and stroke – but it felt great to be an Ironman® again. And while a PR is fun, the best thing for me was just being out their competing and loving life. I made my goal by just being able to start!

Photo Credits go to EN’er David Salzman – thanks & hope to see you racing next year!

Go here to listen to TJ’s race report interview with Coach Rich




Coach P

All stories by: Coach P
  • Francie Van Wirkus

    Hi JT.

    Thank you for a terrific report on your experience & your learning! I was there but did not have as great of a day as you 🙂 Like you, I’ve returned after a serious medical illness: mine was breast cancer. What a victory it was just to be there and finish in the middle of the pack! It wasn’t my best but it was very satisfying.

    I detail much of my obstacles in recovery in my second book.

    I wish you continued health and no more crashes!! See you at the races!

  • Francie Van Wirkus

    Hi JT.

    Thank you for a terrific report on your experience & your learning! I was there but did not have as great of a day as you 🙂 Like you, I’ve returned after a serious medical illness: mine was breast cancer. What a victory it was just to be there and finish in the middle of the pack! It wasn’t my best but it was very satisfying.

    I detail much of my obstacles in recovery in my second book.

    I wish you continued health and no more crashes!! See you at the races!

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