Ironman St. George - How Hélène Fortier Tackled the Beast


Ironman World Championships in St-George, Utah May 7, 2022

(to replace Kona, Hawaii, from October 2021)

t George has always held a special place in the hearts of many Team Triumph campers as our favourite place on earth. When Helene asked me if I could coach her for the IM world championships of course the answer was a resounding YES!!


With lots of careful planning, heat and altitude adaptation strategies, a cassette change and loads of communication back and forth we were able to get Helene to the finish line of the Boston Marathon and then the IM World Championships 3 weeks later on what was billed to have been one of the toughest IM courses and conditions. Many people DNF'd or if they did finish they had to walk their bikes up the hills or walk most of the marathon. If you don't know Helene she is one tough athlete but does everything with a huge smile of gratitude!


Congrats Helene!! We are all so proud of YOU!!!


Here is her race report! 

Short version: 8th Ironman and by far the toughest and the slowest but I raced it with some of my cautious race strategies, I’m happy to say I had a great day. Every Ironman is so different. My best was Ironman Cozumel in November 2021: 11:57 hours (swim 1:05/bike 5:55/run 4:42) and my slowest was this Ironman World Championships in St-George, Utah: 15:08 (swim1:37/bike 8:08 /run 5:01). St-George, Utah has spectacular views and so many paved bike lanes and paths to bike and run. I hope I go back in the future.


Long long version

Months before

When I received an email saying "Congratulations, you qualified at Ironman Cozumel 2021 for the IMWC in St-George, Utah on May 7", I thought: 3 weeks after the Boston marathon, the pandemic is not over, do I want to go there by myself, etc... My amazing friends encouraged me not to turn down a World Championships. My friends Glenda Clapham and Connie Copeland even decided to join me for the trip to go train and support me at the race and this had a huge positive impact on my race!


I also contacted Julia Aimers to ask if she would like this challenge: prepare me for the Boston Marathon and 3 weeks later for the Ironman World Championships in St-George. I knew that she had organized training camps in St-George in the past so she knew the area well and I was also interested in her coaching strategies. Thank you so much Julia for getting me so ready for these 2 events!


My preparation for the Ironman was different than usual as I had the Boston Marathon 3 weeks before. Julia focused more on quality bikes than long bikes, all indoors, with a focus on hill simulations to build muscle endurance for this tough course. She also monitored closely my level of fatigue and any aches and pains and had me do all sorts of strength training, mobility, and yoga which reinforced my body. Boston went well and after, we had to readjust the plan to give me more rest to recover well for the Ironman and it worked.


A week before

Everywhere you go in St-George, there are paved paths for biking and running with mountain views and you can actually train since the speed limits are fast so we used those for some of our bike and run training without having to go far. On Monday, we biked up Snow Canyon, the last big climb that I would hit after 160kms of biking hills. We saw right away the effect of the altitude. We were breathing a bit harder and it was a nice 22C. We drove to Sand Hollow Park for a short swim and found out that our heart rate was higher due to the cold water and the altitude. Sand Hollow reservoir is at 900 m and Ottawa is at 100m. I was very happy to have brought my neoprene swim cap and my booties that were allowed on race day with the wetsuit because the water was cold.


We finished our day with a run where again, our breathing was a bit harder. On Tuesday afternoon, we drove the big Veyo Loop which was a challenging part of the bike course that would come late, before Snow Canyon. The scenery was so spectacular but I was starting to be nervous about biking so many hills and was wondering if my bike cassette 10-32 would give me enough easy gears to cover 180kms of hills!


I chose to skip the Parade of Nations at 5:30pm as I wanted to focus on maximizing my rest. On Wednesday, after a 5km run with a few intervals, we drove to Sand Hollow again but nobody was swimming as we could see white caps. We had a short bike ride and the wind was very strong. Glenda gave me good tips for biking with strong wind. The wind reminded me of the IM World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in 2019 and again, I was nervous about race day trying to picture myself biking in those mountains with strong winds.


On Thursday, I had a day off of exercise and attended the French race briefing in the afternoon and at night, we attended the Banquet Athlete Dinner and show. 


On Friday, I did a 20 min bike activation followed by a 10 min run activation and we drove to Sand Hollow to drop-off my bike. Glenda, Connie and I had another 20 min swim, this time it was calm but again, the heart rate would go high for our kind of effort.


Race day

Same routine as my previous 7 Ironman: early breakfast with oatmeal, chia-hemp heart-flaxseed, maple syrup, Greek yogurt, berries and a bottle of Greens + with caffeine, a banana 1 hour before the race, a gel 15 minutes before and drinking water with electrolytes before the race.


Shuttle bus at 4:45 am to Sand Hollow. I was almost as nervous as my 1st Ironman in 2014. I was trying not to think of what was coming ahead: the heat, the potential of flat tires or bike mechanical issues, the hilly 180km bike with intense heat, dry air (harder to breathe), the predicted strong wind. It was nice to share these last moments before the race with Janice Campbell who was at the same swim start with all the other F 55-59.


As usual, as soon as I started to swim, I relaxed and treated my swim with even more caution, focusing on relaxed breathing and treating it more as a warm-up than a race. The water was cold and near the end, I was starting to feel it so I was happy I had my booties and neoprene cap. During my swim, I saw several people who looked like they were struggling.


When I started my bike ride, even if it was hot outside, I shivered for several kms. The first 30kms, I was at about 27 km/h but slowly, my average speed started to go down and I let it happen. I was checking my heart rate and going by feel and using my easiest gear a lot to save my legs for later. I was feeling great even if the conditions were getting more challenging with a strong headwind and it was hot but I focused on my hydration, keeping myself wet and listening to my body. It helped that my only goal for this race was to finish. When I arrived at the big climb to Veyo, I was catching up to more and more men who had started before me and they were having a hard time. I started seeing athletes stopped along the road that looked exhausted, medics, and even passers-by, helping athletes. On the way up to Veyo, I had some magical moments admiring this breathtaking scenery and feeling so grateful! I felt like I owned the road for a moment. Then at the big climb up to Veyo called the Wall, most people around me were walking beside their bikes and it was long. I was so happy I had preserved my energy and my legs earlier! At the top, in Veyo, the air was hard to breathe because of the elevation (1300m) and the dryness and I coughed a few times. After the descent back to town, we had to climb the inside smaller loop called Snow Canyon and again, more and more athletes along the road and most people walking the climb beside their bikes and also bikes abandoned along the road that got picked up the next day. Here I was, still feeling great with no aches and pains, in control of the heat, biking slow but feeling great and positive. I finished the bike in over 8 hours but feeling awesome, ready to run a marathon and excited to see Connie and Glenda cheering me on at the bottom of Snow Canyon!


The run... Wow, I had never seen so much walking in an Ironman and by strong World qualifiers too! It was a death march and as I was feeling good, I ran the whole marathon. It was still hot so I was running slow but I didn’t walk. It was a 2 loop course with spectators along the road and paths. I think it was close to 100% hills with a total elevation of 1413 feet (431m). In comparison, Boston has +815 feet and -1275 feet. From 25km to 42.2 km, I have to admit, I was looking forward to the finish and my stomach didn’t feel like eating and drinking but I forced myself to take small bites and small sips regularly to keep my energy. And I made it to the finish line while so many didn’t or had such a difficult day!!!



The days after, I heard and read about so many athletes who ended up in serious physical conditions! The DNF rate (did not finish) was 22%, so sad for all those athletes who had worked so hard for this! An Ironman can be raced by taking some risks or by going at it with caution. I usually go with caution unless I know the terrain very well and can control the weather situation. My cautious attitude has paid off a lot at this race so I’m very proud of this Ironman that took me over 3 hours more than my previous one and 90 minutes longer than Kona, Hawaii 2019.


Thank you so much to my honey Alan, my rock, who encourages and supports me with love every single day. Thank you again to my coach Julia Aimers for her awesome preparation and support and to my great friends, especially Connie and Glenda who were with me for this 10 day adventure and cheered me on race day!!! After a fun day in Las Vegas, back home for some rest before more running and triathlon events over the next several months... Thank you for reading and I hope my experience can help even just one person.


Helene Fortier

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