Ultraman Florida Race Report
I have competed for years in sprint, Olympic, 70.3, ironman, and even double iron distance races. As the distance increased, so did the level of planning. It is planning on many levels including; training, race gear selection, race strategy, crew member selection, and most importantly nutritional needs. Ultraman is unlike any triathlon race I have ever experienced. Ultraman Florida is a 3 day race consisting of a 6.2 mile swim and 93 mile bike on day 1, a 171 mile bike on day 2, and a 52.44 mile run on day 3. Each racer works with a crew who will accompany them throughout their race. The crew will assist with directions, attend to their athlete’s needs (nutrition, gear, etc), and provide them with encouragement and updates throughout the race.
For the swim, I started trying multiple makes and models of long sleeved wetsuits as I felt that 63 degrees would be too cool for a sleeveless 6.2 mile swim. In doing so, I remembered why I disliked full sleeved wetsuits. They really wear on my shoulders about 30 minutes into a swim. I then attempted to use a neoprene cap and ear plugs to help conserve heat. I even attempted to lather various creams on the arms in hopes of them helping if I decided to go sleeveless. I tried various styles of goggle in hopes of finding one with sufficient face coverage to keep the cold water away from my eyes. So many options, but could not make a call as to what was the right decision until the practice swim of the race when I could actually feel the water at the temperature it would be for race day.
For the bike, I knew some of the Clermont hills would be hard. To help prepare my legs for the climbs, I did a lot of interval sets where I would take my legs to threshold for several minutes and try to dial down my effort to a little under threshold for recovery. The thought process here is that it would allow me to also be able to push relatively hard as I crested the hills and rode the descents.
For my run training, I first had to ramp up my mileage. To accomplish this, I did a lot of split runs where I would run in the morning and later in the day. This is very effective when trying to build miles as it reduces the chances of injury. I also did some mixed run workouts where I would alternate running on the treadmill and using an elliptical machine. This too can be very effective in trying to build a base and reduce the risk of injury. To prepare for the hills, I did quite a bit of treadmill running at 4% incline.
Knowing heat and humidity could be a huge factor on race day, I decided not to cut my hair or shave for the 3 months leading into the event. Ideally, this would force my body to adapt to being warmer during my workouts. Additionally, I very seldom used a fan for any of my indoor ride or run workouts. These are not typical ways to heat acclimate, but creativity is required when the bulk of training is completed in the garage during the winter without heat…
role of a crew is very demanding and rewarding for an Ultraman event. The
crew’s job starts before race day as they need to understand their racer. They
need to know their racer’s goals, nutritional needs, paces, motivational
trigger points, and much more. My crew consisted Darren Thompson, Jamie Harris,
Marci Gray, and my oldest son, Seth. My crew and I met a couple weeks in
advance of the race to work out the logistics.
the swim, a crew member is required to kayak alongside their athlete throughout
the swim portion of the event. Jamie would serve as my kayak escort. We ended
up doing a couple practice swims together so we could develop a pace and
communication strategy. To reduce the number of times I had to sight the buoys,
we worked it out so she would kayak at my head level so I could use her to
direct me as I swam. We also worked it out so she would flag me every 15 min
and toss a bottle out in front of me so I could continue swimming to it, grab
it, flip over, drink, and toss it to the front of the kayak in one motion.
Practicing this technique worked very well as very little momentum was lost for
fueling. While we are swimming, the rest of the crew would be responsible for setting up
the swim to bike transition. Darren mounted the bike, put out my shoes, jersey,
helmet, lube, sunscreen, etc.
crew support for the bike portions was more challenging. They needed to hand me
bottles, solid nutrition, and lube. In addition, they had to drive the course
and know where we were at all times so they could help ensure I did not go off
course. This is not easy though as they had to constantly leap frog me and find
a suitable place to pull over so they could run out of the car and spread out
enough for me to grab from each of them as I rode by on the bike. Each time I
passed them, they had to sprint back to the car in order to leap ahead of me
again to guide me to the next turn or to be ready to provide me nutrition
job of my crew on the run was probably the most difficult as they not only had
to do all that they did for the bike portion, but also one of them ran with me
carrying my nutrition bottle throughout the entire 52.44 mile run. Making this
even more difficult was that I needed them to stop about every ½ mile to
provide me some form of cooling aid as well (bandana, sponge, cold water,
crew member’s job is not complete when the stage is complete. They are still
there to support their athlete’s needs. What is needed after the stage? An
athlete should consider an ice bath, recovery drink, compression wear,
stretching, food, additional hydration, etc.
the details of the race:
the bike, we drove to the bike shop to get the bike inspected. All bikes are
required to have a signed inspection for from the local bike sponsor or it
cannot be used in the race. This took the better part of an hour so Darren and
I walked down the street to grab some lunch. Once the inspection was complete
we went straight to athlete registration. While at registration I turned in all
the required paperwork, received my athlete package, had my blood pressure and
pulse taken, had my blood tested, and had my interview with Steve King. To my
surprise Sheryl and Jane, the Ultraman World Championship race directors, were
there. I have been exchanging emails with them for a couple years now and
finally had the pleasure to meet them in person. Once we finished registration,
we went back to the condo and did a short jog to engage the running muscles a
little as this would be my last day of running until the 52.44 mile run on day
3 of the race (Sunday). The final activity was the shaving of the head as I
needed to eliminate some hair to keep the core temperature down.
Wednesday night Jamie arrived in Orlando. That evening the three of us sat down to review the rules, course details, my nutritional needs, and tied together any loose ends. Even though this was all of our first Ultraman experience, I was feeling really good about the planning we had put into this event.
Thursday morning we had the welcome dinner and course briefing. This was very informative as each of the athletes were introduced with a short summary of their background. It really helped me to put names with faces. The course debriefing was very helpful too as they explain where some of the trouble spots were and various other tips about the course. By the time we left, I knew we were in good shape. Darren and Jamie dropped me at the condo where I shaved my legs and arms while they drove the kayak to the swim start so we did not have to do it at 5:30 AM race morning.
morning I awoke at 2:00 AM with my heart pumping and brain already thinking
about the race. I knew I would not fall back to sleep, so I got up, ate, and
started my hydration early figuring it would not hurt to get in extra before
starting the long weekend. After eating I took my First Endurance multiV
vitamin and OptygenHP. As a result of my early start, I was able to eat twice
and take in an additional 24 ounces more than I had originally planned. Before we left for the swim start I had a
cliff protein bar, 48 ounces of Gatorade endurance, and a peanut butter and
arrived at the race start around 5:50 AM. Since the kayak was there already,
and the bike was not to be set up until after the swim started, we gathered the
swim gear and found a nice spot on the patio to hang out and do some
stretching. As I stretched, I sipped another 24 ounce bottle of endurance
Gatorade with a scoop of First Endurance PreRace this time. 6:30 AM came around
and all the athletes gathered for a group photo and a prayer circle. 6:45 AM came
and the kayarers headed out into the water as the athletes finished their final
preparations for the 7:00 AM start.
At 6:55 we all waded our way into the water. This was it. There is nothing else to do, but to execute our plan. 7:00 AM and we are off. I took off relaxed and slowly worked into the lead. Not far behind me was Inaki, the Ultraman Wales Champion. Like clockwork, Jamie was delivering my nutrition perfectly. All was playing out as planned with one exception, the boats in the water. There was one that seemed to follow me for most of the swim creating wake that made swimming a little more challenging than it should have been. J I remember reaching the halfway mark between 1 hour and 1 hour 15min. This meant that I was ahead of my target time of 2 hour 30 min. By 5 miles in a horrible headache was setting in and I had to stop to take off the neoprene cap as it was squeezing me a little too much. Once that was taken care of we were off to finish the swim. I could tell that this took a lot out of me because my stroke was getting shorter and I could feel the fatigue in my core. When I reached the swim finish I was in first place with a swim of 2 hours and 22 min. This was 8 min faster than I expected. I took my time in transition to make sure I was prepared for the 93 mile ride ahead. I put on my CEP compression socks, Craft cooling jersey, helmet, and slipped into my bike shoes.
Then off I went on the bike. I already knew the course had stoplights, so when I got caught at every one, it didn’t throw me off mentally. I had checked the weather forecast that morning and knew it was hot, humid, and windy. Headwinds and tailwinds aside, it was the cross wind that really hurt. We had a very long section on the shoulder of a 65 mph road in which we would get blasted by 20+ mph gusts that would blow us very close to traffic. This had me on edge for a lot of the ride. When I reached the final 18 mile stretch to the finish I had learned that Inaki was only 4 min back. It was at this point that I knew I had to continue to push to the finish or he would catch me. He had closed the gap by 7 min by this point. I did manage to take back 30 seconds by the finish line and ended day 1 over 4 min up on him.
Throughout the ride, Darren and Jamie continued to provide me my nutrition via hand offs while I flew by. For endurance events, I always incorporate solid foods in addition to liquids. My solid food of choice are Smuckers Grape Uncrustables. They called out how far to the next turn and what direction to turn. They worked their tails off. Once at the finish, they gave me a change of clothes, my First Endurance Ultragen recovery drink, and a cliff protein bar. I was weighed and ended up losing less than a pound for the entire day. It was at that point that I knew Saturday was going to be a great day.
Day 2 was supposed to be a 170 mile bike, but it ended up being 173 miles (to be explained later). We were fortunate enough for this to start right at our hotel. I again woke at 2:00 AM and could not sleep. I started the morning fueling as before. After I got some food in me, I took my First Endurance multiV and OptygenHP. The difference between day 1 and day 2 was that I was physically exhausted, but mentally my head was in the game. Per the suggestion of Jamie, I moved some of my flat repair equipment to other places on my bike to free up a rear bottle holder. The thought process here was that everybody was starting together and it would be helpful to be able to carry more fuel vs have to slow down for a hand off. I thought the less I had to grab during the early stages of the ride the better. Day 2 I wore another pair of CEP compression socks. They really help me prevent cramping and reduce fatigue. With 30 minutes until race start, I drank my Endurance Gatorade mixed with First Endurance PreRace.
Once again, we had a number of lights throughout the first 100 miles of the ride. When I would see a light up ahead I would race to the front of the race in hopes of making a light that others might miss. This was a good plan, but it did not work. We all either made the light or got stuck together. The day was riddled with thick fog, heat, humidity, and hard rains. Inaki and I had broken away from Nick at one point when we rolled up on some railroad tracks that were on a funny angle. Inaki veered left and went down hard as they were really slick. As I approached the tracks I sat up and veered right. I too started to go down, but I managed to unclip and find the ground just enough with my feet to stay up. I stopped and asked if Inaki was OK. He said he was so I rode ahead another half mile to his crew to inform them of the accident. His crew quickly left to aid Inaki. Having been in a couple really bad accidents in the past, I refused to continue to advance my lead in the race until I knew he was OK. I just rode in circles to stay loose until I saw his crew pass by and was able to confirm that he was back on the bike and continuing the race.
Shortly thereafter, were the hills. The climbs were much more challenging than I had anticipated. There were a couple of climbs in which I ran out of gears and had to get out of the saddle. Unfortunately, it was raining during the hills. After seeing Inaki go down, I opted to ride the downhills very conservatively. I remember thinking that I should be going 40-50 mph instead of 15-20 mph as I rode the brakes during the downhills. I rode for nearly 50 miles before I saw Nick on the last out and back section. He was about 9 minutes back. It was then that I decided to ride hard to the finish in an effort to take the top time for day 2. By the finish I had expanded my lead to 12 minutes. Throughout the day 2 ride, I consumed two and a half Smuckers Grape Uncrustables in addition to my liquid nutrition.
My family and crew were at the finish to greet me. I really enjoyed seeing all of them. Once I spent a few minutes thanking the volunteers and race directors, I headed over to get my weight, blood pressure, pulse, and blood test. On Day 2 I had lost less than 2 pounds. I was ecstatic as I knew the name of the game for a stage race is to minimize the depletion on the body and try to burn fuels you are ingesting as much as possible. In an effort to fuel forward, I was ensuring that I was not only taking in liquid calories, but also taking in plenty of solid foods. While waiting for my post stage massage, I drank my Ultragen recovery drink.
Jamie, Seth, and Marci took turns running with me. Each had a different pace and added a different flavor of entertainment to the run. It was nice switching things up as the pace varied depending on who I was running with. We were 1:49 at the ½ marathon mark. We were also 11 minutes back of Nick at this point. I told myself that we need to negative split. To help the negative split, I reduced the number of walk breaks. Shortly after the 13.1 mile mark, Inaki had joined us. We were running similar paces so we just stayed close for the next 20+ miles. We hit the marathon mark at 3:31 and change. Inaki had a slight lead, but I felt running behind him would be better as I did not want to get into a running race this early into the run. At mile 28 we passed Nick. He was hurting (GI Issues). I half jokingly asked Inaki if he was ready to negative split this run. I told him that we negative split the first marathon so why not try to negative split it all. By 9:30 things really started to heat up. Knowing this was going to happen, my crew had gathered plenty of ice, cold water, sponges, and rags. The goal was to not allow the HR or body temperature to rise due to heat. This strategy worked as by mile 40 Inaki was forced to back off the pace to prevent himself from overheating.
I remember watching the veins in my arms to gauge my hydration. The more we ran, the more prominent my veins became. I thought to myself that we had less than a half marathon to go and I was feeling stronger as the day went. The 90 degree temperature was not phasing me. An official pulled up along side me and asked how it was going. I told him I felt great and was feeling better and better as the day went. It was at mile 42 that I asked him what my run time had to be to set the fastest Ultraman time in history. He informed me that I would have to have a total run time of 7:06:28. I quickly did the math and noticed that it was going to be close if we did not pick things up. I also knew that 10 miles was a lot yet to go. At that point, I decided to just stay steady and stick to the plan. I would wait longer before I would attempt to pick things up. I informed my crew that they needed to do everything in their power to keep me cool and to get me to the finish line. They were phenomenal. They were stopping every .25-.5 miles to douse me with cold water. Their energy was electrifying. We all knew we had a chance a making history and the excitement showed.