Ultraman -- Day 3 Recap

I set my alarm for 4:30, but awoke at 4:00, restless and unable to sleep.  How is it possible that I could have problems sleeping after the past 2 days?  The mysteries of the body.  Top UM finisher Peter Kotland said he couldn't sleep for 3 days after winning the event (with his epochal 5:33 course record setting double marathon) 10 years ago, so I guess its a thing.

Anyway, I got out of bed, hyper aware of just how tired my legs were.  I wouldn't say sore, just a deep fatigue.  Running at all (or even getting out of bed) seemed like a bad idea.  But the notion of throwing down 52.4 in the Hawaiian Sahara?  Almost inconceivable.  But my heavy training and the 5 race simulation weekends I had under my belt had prepared me both mentally and physically for this.  Just five weeks ago I rode 140 miles then woke up the next day on shredded legs to run 45 miles, so I knew I would be fine.

Had some coffee and Chris, LW, my dad and I headed down the road to the competitor and crew buffet breakfast.  I rarely eat much of anything before a long run, but again I knew I needed to get some calories in.  I loaded my plate as Josef Ajram looked at me like I was crazy.  "You can't eat like that before running!"  Maybe he was right.  But I was starved.

As we finished eating, it began to pour rain.  Great.  

I headed for one last bathroom break.  Waiting for a stall I chatted with race leader Alexandre Ribeiro, who would be facing a battle today with Miro Kregar and Peter Kotland.  I told him I wished I could be around to watch the showdown and asked his thoughts on the day, particularly if he thought he could beat Kotland.  And it was at this moment that Peter Kotland himself appeared from the stall we had been waiting on!  Dude, that was seriously embarrassing.  Not that I had cast any dispersions on him, or any of these guys for that matter.  They are all incredible athletes and champions.

But as we ventured out to our vans to caravan about a 1/2 mile down the road to the race start, the rain mysteriously stopped just as abruptly as it began.

Crowding along the side of the highway in the dark, the runners and crew readied themselves with last minute preparations as race director Jane Bockus gathered the competitors in a circle around a native elder.  Arm in arm in a large circle, we bowed our heads in unison as an elder said a prayer blessing, then blew a resounding tone on a huge conch shell to begin the day.  We all moved to the road and within seconds we were off.

5 seconds later, our fearless leaders -- running gods -- were off.  Miro Kregar, Alexandre Ribeiro, Peter Kotland, Tony O'Keefe -- gone and never to be seen by me until the finish line.  Today was to be my tortiose moment.  Slow and steady.  Conservative and smart.  So slow and conservative in fact, that almost the entire field was ahead of me by the end of the first mile.

My plan was to break the run into an interval workout.  8 x 1 hour repeats, with about five minutes of walking in between.  I ran the first hour according to plan, right along side Jason Lester.  We chatted nervously, agreeing that we would take it super easy.  Its a long day and we both knew there would be countless roadkill by mid-afternoon.  The first long section is a descent, which may seem easy but can prove fatal to the thighs later on if one is not careful, so my pace was nothing to write home about.  Heart rate steady at 128 - 134 max.

I took my break at the one hour mark and was being very careful to hydrate and take in proper nutrition and electrolytes.  The morning sky was very clear, so I knew it was going to be blazing on the Queen K highway lava fields very soon.  

I had been unable to get my coach Chris Hauth on the phone that morning and I knew he wanted to impart some stratagy, so I had Chris call him from the van.  He wasn't able to reach him initially, but around the 90 minutes mark, they connected.  Chris hopped out of the van and jogged alongside me.  "So what's the news?"  

"Well," Chris said, reluctant.  "he wants you to run 4 miles, then walk a mile.  Then repeat."

"What?!?!?  Walk a full mile every fifth mile?  You gotta be kidding me!  I trained to run this thing!  I did a 45 mile run 5 weeks ago!  I can do this."

"I think you should listen to him."  Chris' words fell like a ton of bricks.  To me this sounded like conceding the day.  A loss of faith in my abilities.  Like throwing in the towel.  Giving up.  Not an option.

"He says it will pay huge dividends late in the day.  You need to follow his advice."

Shit.  The guilt trip.  Hauth knows what's he's talking about.  This I know.  He is a top ironman pro.  He has trained people for this race.  Chris was right.  I needed to take the advice.  It was just so counter to every competitive fiber in my body.  But I relented.  And this restraint was probably the hardest part of the entire race.  Harder than the swim, the Day 1 climb or the ascent over the Kohalas.  I knew I needed to be a tortoise today, but not a slug.

I agreed to give it a shot.  The first mile I walked, I was passed by so many people my head was spinning.  On the second cycle I think I was in 32nd place.  Only 3 people behind me.  I was in 9th place overall dammit!  This was not how I though the day would play out.  And this is precisely why my coach didn't lay the strategy on me the night before -- he knew I would revolt.

At the 1/2 marathon mark, I was still in 32nd.  It was the slowest 1/2 marathon of my life.  "Can I please start running!?"

"No."  Chris said abruptly.  I get the walking part.  Just not the full mile part.

But it wasn't long before this highly suspect strategy started to prove its point.  Every time I ran, I would pass bewteen 2 to 4 people.  Then when I walked, 1 of these people would again pass me, but not the others.  When I again ran, I would pass that person, plus 2-3 more.  On and on.  Again and again.  Leapfrogging.  I started to believe.

By the marathon marker, I had begun to slowly move up the field and had seriously negative split the course so far.  But even better, I felt totally fresh and fine.  26 miles so far?  No problem.  

By now it was hot.  I mean really hot.  about 88 degrees with intense humidity.  I took in water, CarboPro1200 and Endurloyes.  I held ice cubes in both hands to cool my core temp.  I was holding an even pace on the running, still maintaining about 135 bpm.

By mile 30, things were starting to get ridiculous.  The bodies began to pile up on the road and I became the hunter.  The highway is so straight and long, you could spot people 1/2 mile up the road, like blurry oases.  I would spot someone, then challenge myself to pass them before my 4 mile spurt would end.  And generally I would do it.  "Whose next?" I'd ask the crew.  Then I'd reel them in.  One after another.

And if I still wasn't a full believer, around 38-40 miles I passed Gary Wang, who was ahead of me in the overall.  Gary is a supreme ultra-runner, having competed several times in the Western States 100, among other legendary races.  He was hurting badly and suffering from stomach issues.  And I just kept feeling stronger.

But 52 miles is still 52 miles.  And the Kona heat is still the Kona heat.  All bets remain off and at around 40+ miles things started to get difficult.  I didn't want Chris or LW running alongside me anymore -- any outside stimulus was too much.  I had to narrow my focus and conserve as much energy as possible.  I had no room for any movement not essential.  And each 4 miler became progressively more difficult.  The first mile was all about finding my running legs again.  Miles 2-3 were hitting a solid stride.  And mile 4 was holding on to that pace until it was time to walk again.

And the Kona landscape can be so deceiving.  When you pas the airport, you think you are almost home.  And yet still so far to go.  Every mile started to feel like 10.  With about 9 or so miles left, I took my last walk break, which I cut short when I saw Mike Rouse behind me just a little too close for comfort (he was still almost a half-mile behind).  So I cut the walk break short and focused on running the last 7-8 miles straight through to the end.  Chris ran with me through the intersections to ensure my safety.  But everything began to hurt.  I resisted every temptation to slow, thinking about how much I sacfrificed for this moment -- time away from wife and kids, missing my stepson Trapper's soccer games (he made the All Star team), date nights with my wife, trips to the zoo, birthday parties with my 4 year old daughter, and all semblance of a social life.  There was no way I was going to slow down.  So I sped up.

I pass the Marina and headed for home.  Just a couple miles until the turnoff down the hill to the finish line.  Every stride was painful and I could feel my left hamstring and right calf / achilles starting to go out on me.  I finished the last salt tabs I had and prayed I wouldn't get a cramp, the only thing I feared could sideline me at this point.

As I made the turn down the hill, the emotions began to swell.  I got goosebumps.  My crew was cheering.  Chris ran along side me for a bit, telling me it was an honor to be there for me.  The feeling was mutual.  Tears began to well as I laid down the last half mile into Old Airport Park.  And yet the actual finish was still so far down the road!  I tried to pick it up, but I was maxed.  It was all I could do to just hold my pace across the line.

I finished.  9:00 hours even.  Certainly not a time I can brag about.  But I did negative split the course and I am pretty damn sure I was the only one who did.  That said, I was again prepared to learn that I had plummeted in the overall rankings.  I was so far back.  There was no way I was in the tope 15, maybe not even in the top 20 anymore.  And I was OK with that.  I had given it everything I had that day.

Final place: 11th.

Shock.  I had only dropped 2 spots from 9th the day prior.  That can't be right.  Some people must have dropped out.  Or been DQ'd.  Nope.  

11th place.  10th Fastest Male (Shanna Armstrong kicked my butt on the run to move up on me).  2nd Fastest Male American.  And (I think?) the top finisher amongst the UM first-timers.  Fair and square.

Damn if Chris Hauth wasn't right.  A freakin soothsayer.  Had I ran my race, I would have been keeled over on the side of the road.  Or at least in the medical tent, like so many others I saw at the finish line.

Josef Ajram was experiencing shock.  His toes terribly blistered and suffering from going out way too hard.  He was 3:45 at the marathin (I think I was like 4:40 or something absurd like that) and yet he only finished 27 minutes ahead of me.  And many others.  Sure my legs were toast and I could barely walk, but I was lucid.  And happy.

I was greeted at the finish by my crew, as well as by Chris' girlfriend Erin and her parents, who supported throughout.  I was elated, if not depleted, exhausted, dehydrated and all sorts of other "-ted's".

But I was an Ultraman.  I am an Ultraman.  And I will never forget this experience.

More thoughts, reflections and tons of photos to come.  But for now, below are the official race results:

24th Ultraman World Championship
November 28-30, 2008
The Big Island, Hawaii
S 6.2 mi/ B 90 mi./ B 171.4 mi./ R 52.4 mi.

Final Results


1. Andre Ribeiro (BRA) Swim 3:12:00 (7) Bike 1&2 12:22:06 (1) Run 6:15:32 (2) 21:49:38
2. Tony O'Keefe (CAN) Swim 3:04:06 (6) Bike 1&2 12:40:40 (3) Run 6:46:58 (4) 22:31:51
3. Miro Kregar (SLO) Swim 3:19:53 (16) Bike 1&2 13:06:00 (5) Run 6:14:16 (1) 22:35:24
4. Peter Kotland (CZE) Swim 3:19:53 (12) Bike 1&2 12:45:30 (4) Run 7:33:20 (5) 23:38:48
5. Carlos Conceicao (BRA) Swim 3:29:27 (14) Bike 1&2 14:11:42 (9) Run 6:46:28 (3) 24:27:17
6. Erik Seedhouse (CAN) Swim 2:55:53 (3) Bike 13:37:16 (7)) Run 8:03:59 (7) 24:37:08
7. Josef Ajram (ESP) Swim 3:35:03 (16) Bike 12:31:50 (2) Run 8:33:45 (11) 24:40:38
8. Scott Gower (USA) Swim 3:03:39 (5) Bike 1&2 13:56:03 (8)Run 8:24:46 (10) 25:24:28
9. Peter Mueller (SUI) Swim 3:14:33 (10) Bike 1&2 14:33:18 (10) Run 8:17:14 (9) 26:05:05
10. Richard Roll (USA) Swim 2:41:28 (2) Bike 1&2 14: 51:42 (12) Run 9:00:32 (15) 26:33:42


1. Shanna Armstrong (USA) Swim 3:02:44 (1) Bike 1&2 15:05:06 (1) Run 8:17:13 (1) 26:25:03
2. Suzy Degazon (USA) Swim 4:59:08 (3) Bike 1&2 16:22:47 (2) Run 10:01:57 (2) 31:23:52
3. Catherine Paulson (USA) Swim 4:37:33 (2) Bike 1&2 16:52:33 (3) Run 11:16:11 (3) 32:48:22
DNF Leslie Holton (USA) Swim 5:46:58 (4) Bike 1 DNF Run 11:48:12 (4)



don said...

What a fantastic race report. You had such an adventure out there. Congratulation and thanks for posting. Woo Hoo! You rocked it!