Turning an Ironman into ULTRA Steel



In the world of triathlon, most people think that the pinnacle distance of the sport is the iron distance race:  2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run.

There’s no denying that the iron distance can be a beast.  I know from personal experience.  Having finished an Ironman, though, gives me confidence that I could likely do another one day (and with this year being the fifth anniversary of me crossing that bucket list item off, I’d love to do an anniversary version again).  Frankly, however, for many athletes, the concept of doing an iron-distance race is daunting.  Heck, for some people, even toeing the line for any triathlon is daunting.

Ultraman races are the extreme distance for extreme triathletes.

Wrap your head around this:  6.2 mile (10 km) open water swim, followed by 261.4 miles (420.6 km) of cycling and then 52.4 miles (84.3 km) of running.

Yeah.  You read that right.  320 total miles (515 km) of multi-sport madness.  Ultraman Florida was held this past weekend; 34 athletes participated.

Frankly, it’s difficult for me to comprehend even one component of that event.  The first person out of the water this weekend took 2 hours 22 minutes.  The last competitor pulled himself out of the lake in 5 hours 9 minutes.  What the hell does one think about while they swim for 4 hours or more?  For comparison sake the guy who was first out of the water would have averaged about 1:15 per 100 in a SCY pool!  I can’t even do that at my peak conditioning for any length of time – even one 100!  Cycling 261 miles?  Seriously?  I have a hard enough time riding 261 miles IN A CAR – forget pedaling that far.  Then, after all that, go and run not one, but a DOUBLE marathon.  All in the same weekend.  Yeah.  Right.

It’s pretty much unequivocal that the nut-jobs who tackled this distance are freaks.  I mean, come-on.  How many people would voluntarily submit themselves to this soul-crushing, toe-blistering, delirium-inducing event?

The answer, in short, is a few hardy, superbly conditioned athletes.  Ultraman isn’t about a race, so much, but about the ultimate cathartic event.  The community that is built at these events is apparently second to none.  The guys and girls who even attempt this kind of race are pure rockstars.  The creme de la creme.  The epitome of uber-athletes.

Carbon turns iron into steel.  Pure grit and a love of endurance sports turns an Ironman into an Ultraman.

My sincere congratulations to all who participated in Ultraman Florida this past weekend.  A special shout-out goes to Susan Haag, my Team Rev3 Tri teammate.  She was one of just six women who raced.  She is pure bad-ass.  And hilarious.  She literally danced across the finish line!



Topics You Won’t See on Triathlon Websites

So, you’ve been a triathlete for a while.  Or maybe you’re brand new to the sport.  Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve heard of, visited, or maybe participated on some of the popular tri-related websites.  The two “biggies” for folks in the US are Slowtwitch and Beginner Triathlete.  Of course, there are others out there, too. I’m sure that there are others worldwide.

These sites are often very informative, giving tips for training, equipment, or race locations.  They also present an opportunity for bragging about personal accomplishments, ranting about perceived (or real) issues with races or products, and a unique forum for equipment vendors and race directors to interact directly with their customers.

As with many things on the internet, these sites also offer up a bevy of humor and other off-color topics.  You’ll find threads about how to deal with big boobs while running, how much leg a guy should shave, how much triathlon training impacts our marriages, how to pick up and date other triathletes, and many, many more.

But what you won’t find (but should) are discussion topics like these:

  • GUYS ONLY:  I’ve got lots of “junk”.  How to keep that under control while running
  • Normal things that I’ve seen on a run/bike
  • What do I have to do if I need to poop in the middle of a race?
  • Belly hair – if I shave it will I be more aerodynamic?
  • Triathlon lube – safe for internal use?
  • 700 or 701, whatever it takes – a primer on wheel diameter
  • Body fairings – critical advancements in how to optimize personal aerodynamics
  • Is dog paddling my IM swim OK?
  • My nose always runs when I’m cycling when it’s cold.  Why?
  • The runner hat versus visor conundrum
  • Yes!  I aged up!
  • Beer mile strategies – how to not barf
  • Traveling to a race – tips for packing your clothes
  • Races in Florida – drafting is legal there, right?
  • I killed a squirrel today on my bike ride!
  • Flying mounts (or how not to rack yourself)
  • Guess the number of times I’ll walk in my race!
  • Help!  How do I do a snot rocket?
  • Best workouts to keep me from qualifying for AG Nats!
  • Tri kit & bike color coordination tips
  • PSA – Car drivers hate cyclists
  • Why doesn’t my OWS have a black line to follow?
  • Bike speed: Need tips to increase from 20.1 MPH to 20.2 MPH
  • Battle scars – show me your road rash

Surely there are some other topics that you likely won’t see, but should.  What are your thoughts?

A Terrorist’s Impact on Endurance Events

Exactly seven days ago we were struck by a horrific terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon.  The deaths and injuries were horrific and full of gore, as we all know.  By week’s end the terrorists were dead or apprehended, bringing one chapter of the event to a close.  Certainly the story will have more and more chapters for those who were impacted directly or indirectly.  Bodies will heal.  People will cope with the stress and mental trauma.  Perhaps law enforcement will find out what motivated the attack.

In some regard, life will begin to return to normal.  (That could be a blog post in and of itself…whether or how we could return to normal after a horrific and tragic event like last Monday’s.)  Our sport, on the other hand, while physically the same – we’ll still swim, bike and run – likely will change in many ways both large and small.

Imagine the life of a race director now, post-Boston.  While I’m sure that RD’s already had a multitude of considerations at play, now they need to worry so many more things.  Among their concerns could be having to worry about having cameras on the course (or at least if buildings along the course have cameras).  Do they need to have hazmat teams available?  Should patrons and spectators in finish line areas be expected to go through security screening?  How do you contain an entire course (upwards of 140 miles) such that a would-be terrorist can’t harm an athlete?  Can you even contain a full course?  Should RD’s employ undercover police officers to monitor race expos?  What degree of background checking of volunteers should the race organization do?  How can they guard against food-borne terrorism? 

Any person with even scant imagination could dream up untold scenarios where athletes in endurance events could be at risk.  Frankly, all the potential concerns are a little overwhelming to me.  I’m glad that is not my day-job.  Truth be told, I’m even more appreciative of the hard work that race directors and race companies do now that I’m beginning to think about all of this stuff.

Here’s my perspective.  I really hope that endurance events don’t change.  Certainly RD’s and race companies owe us a duty to make sure that we’re safe…and that hasn’t changed just because of Boston.  I hope that just because of last week that race experiences don’t pale.  I hope that Rev3 continues to have a great finish line experience.  I hope thousands of spectators line up along marathon routes.  I hope people continue to flock to places like New York, London, Kona, Los Angeles, Cedar Point and Boston so that they can compete in big marquis events.  I also hope that athletes and spectators alike continue to go to races in Greensboro, Boise, Fort Wayne, Knoxville or Jacksonville. 

Surely there are some things that will change as a result of Boston.  Perhaps there will be tightened security.  Maybe there will be bomb-sniffing dogs or more surveillance cameras.  There could even be armed competitors (think air marshalls in aero :-)).  Lord knows, registration costs could go up.  But so what?  You and I – we’ll continue to do events.  We will keep running.  Biking.  Going to triathlons.  Marathons.  And if we’re lucky, more and more people will also.  In fact, I predict that demand for the 2014 Boston marathon will be higher than ever.  Perhaps all marathons will be like that.

People will be concerned about safety, but at the end of the day we will not allow ourselves to become paralyzed in fear.  We will run for those hurt or killed in Boston.  We’ll continue to have completing an iron-distance race on our bucket list.  New athletes will do their “couch to 5k” plans. 

And that is a GREAT thing!

A Dear John Letter to Ironman

Dear Ironman,

You and I, we have a history.

I’ve sweated and swam, biked miles upon miles, and ran like Forrest Gump. All in an effort to overcome the races you’ve lain in front of me. Not just once, but several times.

Orlando. Panama City Beach. Louisville. They are familiar territory. A few good memories have come from my pursuits there. More of them have been ho-hum.

Once I was pleased to hear Mike Reilly proclaim that I was an “Ironman”.

But I’m over you.

It’s not you…..it’s all me.

I’m tired of swimming with two thousand friends. I don’t like drafting when I’m supposed to be racing. I don’t like feeling like a customer.

Triathlon isn’t about those things. At least for me, it’s not. Triathlon is about the challenge. Feeling like you belong at a race – regardless of whether you’re the first finisher or the last. I like spectacle and boisterous finish lines as much as the next guy, and while you’re good at that, others are equally good – if not better – at it than you are. I want to feel valued as an athlete. Part of the family. Cared about. Loved.

And you, well, you don’t do that anymore for me.

I’m just a tick mark on your headboard. Another zero on the balance sheet. Another person to sell logo’d merchandise to for too high a price.

We’re done. I know you’ll find others. People will constantly clamor for the “notoriety” that comes from doing one of your races. Good for them.

I’m in this for something more now. Good riddence.

I’ve got a new sweetheart. She may be a little younger than you, but she’s better in oh so many ways. Her name even sounds cooler……Revolution3. Change. New. She’s all that.

So we’re breaking up. Have a nice life.