10 lessons learned from completing an ultra triathlon

By SOLO

One unexpected, but amazing side effect of doing as many crazy races as I do is meeting people that are much (MUCH!) “crazier” than you are. Enter Dan.

I first met Dan at the Spartan Death Race, only to learn that he has done the Death Race many times. Watching him go into the race, and go through the race was truly an inspiration. I remember thinking: “This is how you finish the Death Race!”. Dan was upbeat and calm throughout the whole thing. Then again, that seems to be his basic disposition – a calm smiling presence. He is a great hugger too, and, as you know, that earns you major bonus points in my books. Never mind the fact that he has completed the Gobi March, a 250-kilometre ultra-marathon through the Gobi Desert in northwestern China, along the borders of Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

Dan is totally my bucket list crush. Swoon.

Yet I only recently learned that he is a lawyer. Lawyers seem to do quite well in the world of extreme sports (hi, Amelia!). I swear this world of racing is hilarious, because you can race with someone for a number of years without knowing what they do for a living.

If you Google his name (don’t you do that with all of your friends?), half of his pictures come up with him dressed in a suit, and the other half has him hauling heavy shit out of a river in the middle of a frozen river in Vermont, or something similar.

Recently, Dan has outdone himself yet again, by finishing fourth in Triple Anvil ultra triathlon in Virginia. In this interview, he speaks about participating in extreme races as a way to honour his father.

For those not privy to the world of ultra triathlons (me!), that’s the THREE TIMES the IronMan distance – swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles.

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In today’s post, he shares some lessons from swimming 7.2 miles, biking 336 miles, and running 78.6 miles. All in a row.

Jeez. And I’ve been complaining about running the 50k.

Here we go:

*       *      *

1. Dedication

One of the main take-aways is that you don’t need the finest of gear or the fanciest of nutritional products to finish a race like this. You simply need to be dedicated to the task at hand, and committed to finishing no matter how much pain you might be in. That being said, chocolate-covered espresso beans help.

2. Hydration

Temperatures were cool and you were never far from your tent so keeping hydrated was not an issue. I switched between Nunn electrolyte water and my home-made “Michael Jordan Secret Stuff” [Space Jam reference, FTW]. It’s basically a jug of water with a ton of honey, some Gator Lyte unflavoured electrolytes, and lemon juice. It has worked fine for me. I find I digest it better than other products, including Perpeteum.

3. Shoes

I used an old, beat up pair of grey Nike running shoes. I don’t know the model. I do know that I did most of my training with them, and then ran three marathons on them. Worked fine. I probably could have purchased a fancy pair of running shoes but…meh [shrugs shoulders].

4. Sleep Deprivation

Dealing with no sleep this time was more difficult than it normally was. I suspect it was because I started sleeping more than my normal 5 hours as a result of the triathlon training. I would probably incorporate more sleep deprivation training next time. I took two 20 minute naps on the first night, and two 5 minute naps on the second night. They really helped as I felt a lot fresher afterwards. I also found that Red Bulls and 5hr Energies weren’t really helping me much. The best thing for me was plain ol’ black coffee.
I also hallucinated a lot of faces, billboards for non-existent ice cream brands, and violent LARP-ing battle royales in downtown L.A. and/or Albuquerque. Not sure which.

5. Swim

Steady, consistent swimming will keep you going forever. I finished the 7.2 miles and felt great; I could have gone a lot further. I had a gel and a couple of sips of water every 45 minutes and that was enough for me. I’m still blown away by Dr. Beat (1st overall) who was chugging pineapple Fanta every lap.

6. Bike

I bought a low-end road bike last June. Before that, I had an old pink steel thing called the Pink Lady. Hence, I am no cyclist. It showed since I neither used Aero bars, nor do I even own a cycling shirt. More time on the bike in training would have been useful, but frankly, you just have to get it done.

How to avoid awful saddle sores when riding long distance: Courtesy of Olof’s bag of tricks, take one pair of cycling shorts, apply Chamois Butter super-liberally. Wear the same shorts for the whole time. Re-apply from time to time. Use a hazmat team to wash said shorts.

7. Run

I tend to run on trails. Running on asphalt was a significant change, and I think that it was what led to the Achilles pain and the pain on the top of my feet. Next time I would spend more training time on asphalt to habituate to the conditions more. I also did an ok job of alternating between a fast(ish) walk on the uphills and running faster when I could muster it. But the biggest tip is also the simplest: just keep moving forward.

Solo’s note: I can vouch for the incredible difference terrain makes. Pavement is brutal on  your body, especially if you are used to running on trails. I blame the flat well-groomed trails for crushing me in my first ultra marathon. 

8. Crews

They are both essential and dangerous. You need to be really strict about using them as a resource (getting food, switching bottles, etc.) without stopping too long each lap. After a long stretch it feels great just to talk to someone new for a bit. That being said, the conversations with my brother Rob, with Andy, and with plenty of others made the race memorable.

9. Tracking Progress

I quickly and deliberately lost track of what lap I was on. This allowed me to mentally accept that I had, for example, a minimum of 24 hours on the bike. Same thing with the run. This approach worked really well for me as I was able to simply accept that I would keep going until it was done, without having to wrestle mentally with how slow the laps were adding up.

10. Foot Care

Trail Toes foot cream and Injinjis have been the best combination I’ve come across to avoid blisters. I had one on my heel, but all told, it didn’t bug me much. This was despite a lot of rain.

That’s what I got. Take from this what you will.

So, there you have it, folks. What I took from this is that my friends are freaking awesome. What about you?

In awe,
Solo

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Posted November 6, 2014

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