Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ultraman Training: Finding Aloha in the Uncomfortable

I have started this post about a dozen times.  And a dozen times I've been interrupted, and then more exciting things happen so I delete and start over.  And it's been a month since my last update.  If I tried to explain everything that has happened in that 30 day time period I guarantee you would not believe me.  I'll run through some highlights.

1.  DAYS after my last post, we went to camp.

Our annual Team HPB training camp takes place over a long weekend in March.  During this weekend we smash ourselves and encourage our teammates to do the same.  This year going into camp with a decent amount of fitness I thought, Oh, I'll just breeze through the 100 mile bike ride and 10k swim no problem.  And compared to past years I did "breeze" through them.  But Hillary always manages to make the workouts challenging testing both my pride and my confidence.

For example, I've been swimming loads of yards for weeks now.  10k is really not a big deal.  BUT she made it a big deal by assigning me intervals that I can't hit.  Like 30 x 100 on 1:30, as 75 free/ 25 stroke (alternating back/ breast / fly).  Free no problem.  All those other strokes?  Forgedaboudit.  Or a kick set on 2:00.  (I SUCK at kicking).  But I did survive the swim.  And I was stronger for challenging myself through it.

A little post 10k swim selfie.

My favorite day ended up being our annual team race up Mt. Lemmon.  We divide into groups based on predicted finish time and then when your group hits the base of the climb it's game on.  We were instructed to race up the hill.  So in my little group of 6 or 8, we got to mile 0, I lapped out and gave them about 20 seconds to get moving and when no one did I surged from the back and took off.

First ones to the Cookie Cabin!!  #allthefood

About a mile later, Coach Alyssa had pulled Lauren up to my wheel and deposited her there.  We were instructed to keep the pressure on, work together and alternate miles.  We rode together until somewhere around mile 10 and when I went to take the lead Lauren fell off the back.  Only I didn't realize it so I kept going... talking to myself this whole time.  At some point when I don't get a response, I glance back and see that she's gone.  I'm by myself.

So I continued to hammer the pace stopping only briefly to refill water at Windy Point.  I lapped out at the top of the climb, 3W shy of my all time best, and 3 minutes shy of my PR.

Top of Gates Pass with my Team HPB roomie, Alli!

2.  The day after run.

Camp ends on Monday with a long trail run.  It's more of an adventure run because inevitably you get lost in the desert and 14 miles ends up taking 3 hours.  It's tradition to meet for margaritas on Monday night at the JW Marriott and celebrate the fact that you survived.  After lunch on Monday everyone checks their training plans for the next day to coordinate meeting up for the 2-3k recovery swim.  Everyone's looking at their smartphones and deciding which flavor of margarita they're going to get drunk on.  Meanwhile I am looking at my smartphone and a single tear rolls down my face.

Lost in the desert.  #adventurerun

My plan says this:  12- mile build on river path as 3 easy-3 steady- 3 stronger-3 very strong.
this is not about being fast -it is about doing the best you can on tired legs #ultramantraining

Immediately I am feeling sorry for myself.  Where's my easy recovery swim?  Maybe camp was supposed to feel easy and I don't need recovery?  Then why don't I feel like it was easy??

It was a slippery slope and needless to say there were no margaritas for me that night.  My husband drank a few margaritas to numb his tired body, but opted to retire to our casita early with me so that he could sherpa my run the next morning.

12 mile progression run on tried legs.  #ultramanstrong

We got up early to hit the river path.  My first 2 miles were slow and stiff.  10:45, and 10:30 respectively.  And then the stiffness and soreness from 5 days of camp just melted away and each mile was progressively faster.  I tried to keep them in groups of 3 as I was instructed.  My second 3 miles were closer to 945.  My 3rd set of 3 was around 9 or just under.  My last 3 miles?  824, 813, 735.  Those miles were faster than my progression run after the Mt. Lemmon ride.  And the best part was I felt fantastic by the end.  Like I could run forever.  Tired + Strong= Happy Place

And I still got to do my recovery swim later that afternoon.

3.  THE Ultraman Planning meeting!

After my run along the river path I sat down with Hillary for a 2 hour planning session.  We talked about everything pertaining to Ultraman.  Logistics.  Race strategy.  Nutrition.  Crew strategy.  Clothing options.  Anything and everything that might be important.  We made lists.  We looked at course profiles online.  We went over it all.  I felt a lot better about everything afterwards because I actually had a plan in place.  Hillary also reviewed the calendar for the next 6 weeks and we discussed where we could put all my final BIG workouts so I have a plan in place.

Hillary looks very excited about my impending suffering.

4.  The Lemmon Double.

A mere 5 days later I found myself back in Tucson, this time to tackle the Mt. Lemmon double.  Hillary had a second camp taking place and she thought it would be a good idea for me to climb the mountain twice with some SAG support in place.

I woke up that morning to a 3 am alarm and felt like my brain had been peeled out of dreamland.  You know that feeling when you wake up after a night of drinking and you're not hungover, but actually still drunk?  That's how I felt.  Only there was no drinking involved.  I felt dizzy.  And weak.  And slightly nauseated.  I am 100% certain it was a combination of being slightly dehydrated and calorically deprived from the day before.

The whole way to Tucson I blasted Avril Lavigne and Ana Nallick, while pounding calories and caffeine in hopes that I would wake up.  I parked at Le Buzz and took off on my bike in the early morning darkness.  There was no one in sight.  It was quiet and peaceful and watching the sun rise over the mountain, casting light over the varied terrain was spectacular.

Unfortunately I didn't appreciate my surroundings for long, and soon I was in survival mode.  I felt like dirt.  I drank my bottles filled with the usual calories, and ate some food but nothing was helping.  I cried.  A lot.  But I kept going.  After what seemed like an eternity I made it to the top of the main climb.  I pulled into the Palisades Visitor Center parking lot.  I got off my bicycle and sat down on the curb.  And I cried.  I cried believing that I was not going to do the second lap.  I was going to descend the mountain, go back to my car, and drive home with my tail between my legs.  I ate some more calories, dried my face, and started down.

As luck would have it, Hillary's group was only at mile 1 of the climb when I passed on my way down. I shouted over "this is not happening" and she responded "yes it is. You're fine". I stopped at the bottom of the climb, cried some more, took off my winter descending gear, ate some more and turned my bike around to head back up. It was quite possibly the hardest decision I've ever made. My car was 4 (flat) miles away. My pillow and bed were a 2 hour drive away. And I turned around for another 5 hours on the mountain.
Smiling because I finally caught up with SAG on lap 2!

I started catching the slower riders within a couple of miles and SAG passed me at around mile 3 and my friend Lauren yelled some encouragement out the window-- I immediately burst into tears. I stopped for SAG at mile 6 and basically cried the entire time I was eating/ refilling water.  

After my second trip up I pretty much looked like a zombie.
And then I got back on my bike and kept pedaling uphill. My second lap was much stronger than my first. Having company was such a boost and I forced myself to take in calories every 20 minutes. I made it to the top and sat like a zombie while everyone slowly arrived.

Pit stop with Team HPB teammate, Colleen.

When it was time to go, Hillary biked with me to the top of the climb out and then I descended alone. By the time I finished I was crying again, but not because I was feeling bad, but because I actually finished the ride when everything in me wanted to quit. Physically I've done way worse workouts/ races... but mentally-- major demons were conquered.

Here is what I learned. It is 100% mental. All of it. I was convinced that I had contracted the flu and that's why I felt so shitty on the first lap. I felt dizzy, weak, completely miserable. That ALL went away when I had calories in me and company on the road.

Mt. Lemmon Double:  second time up.

These are the instructions I told my crew that night after eating an entire pizza and sitting on the sofa for an hour:    No matter how many times I tell you I'm finished, I'm not finished. You can let me cry as long as I keep going. Tears felt like the only response my body had after a certain point. Please do not be afraid if I cry. Everything else felt like autopilot. Second lap up, I literally felt like a robot, programmed to do only what HPB told me to do. I had no feelings or emotions other than hunger/ thirst.

I know I am in very capable hands in 5 weeks.  I have tried to share as much of this journey with my crew as possible so that not only do they feel more a part of it, but they also know what I've been through.  And at mile 150 when I still have more than an hour to go on day 2, and 12 hours on day 3, they can remind me of The Lemmon Double.  

5.  Swimming with my paddler.

A few weeks ago we got an email from the assistant race director.  They "strongly encouraged" us to have one of our own crew members be our paddler during the swim.  Of course I immediately have a panic attack because a) I live in the desert b) none of my crew kayaks c) we are less than 7 weeks from race day.  I simultaneously messaged my entire crew/ cheer squad on our private FB page and emailed the assistant RD.  After a few hours, and many, many emails (Thank you, Dayle!!!) I finally came to the decision to do a test run with one of my cheer squad members.  

Marsha is one of my closest friends and when everyone was commenting on my post with "this is not ideal, but we'll do it" type of response she sent me a private text message explaining her background on the water, her comfort level, and her desire to be my kayaker.  Instantly I felt calmed by her confidence.  We set up a date to borrow a kayak from my colleague and take a practice run in Saguaro Lake.  

We were made for each other.  She tested my ability to follow the kayak by steering this way and that way.  I never had to pick up my head once because I could just breathe to my right and she was right there.  I could adjust my position based on how close I was to the kayak and didn't have to worry at all about where I was going.  I ended up swimming about 3/4 mile farther than I should have because I was just in my zen place.  

1 paddler + 1 swimmer + 1 kayak= fun morning on the lake!

And so ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce my 4th and final crew member, promoted from cheer captain!!  (Blog interview coming!!)

6.  10k is the new 5k.

I love swimming and I'm always anxious to see what type of long swims I have coming my way.  The 10k I've been doing lately looks like this:

Warm up: 1500 (specific set but not relevant to this post...)
5 times through this main set:
5 x 100 @ 1:25, 
500 swim for time
500 PBB cruise (so not totally easy, but not race pace)
Cool down:  1000 (specific set)

What I love is that even when I'm at 8k, I can hit my 100s on 1:25 no problem, and my 500s for time were on a 1:22 pace.  That is the benefit of Ultraman training.  During IM training, a 30 x 100 on 1:25 would have put me on the couch for 2 hours.  Now, it's like, whatever, I've been through worse.   I love these long, challenging sets.  I will be a little sad when Ultraman is over.  I might beg to do a 10k once a month just for fun.  :)

7.  Oceanside 70.3

The week of Oceanside we backed off the training just a touch to try to rest my legs for the race.  Even up to race morning I just didn't feel like I had much to give.  I texted my #bff and told her "I don't want to race today.  I want to stay in bed.  I am racing.  I just wanted to say how I really feel."  To which she responded with "LOL!"  Not exactly the sympathy I was looking for.  

I went through the whole pre-race routine and by the time we lined up for the swim start I was like, whatever, it'll be a short training day.  The swim was nothing special, but when I got onto my bike I felt so. fucking. strong.  Ridiculous strong.  Ultraman strong.

Representing Smash-Dimond:  we are STRONG!

I was pushing higher watts than I've ever been able to before in a 70.3, but yet never felt like I was going to blow up.  I could just keep going forever.  My legs were burning, for sure, but it's that tired + strong feeling that you probably only understand if you're doing the kind of training that would push your legs into that zone.  I can imagine it's what a ultrarunner feels like when he lines up for a half marathon.  It is the best feeling ever and if I wasn't so tired right now I might entertain the idea of another Ultraman in my future.  I LOVE this training.  I am eating it up.

Back to Oceanside.  When I got off my bike I had no idea what my run legs were going to look like.  But it was more of the same.  I felt SO STRONG.  I clicked off the first couple of miles a little too fast (like usual) and then settled into my planned pace for the run.  And I just stayed there.  It was amazing.  I've never felt like this in a race before.  I've had good races before but never a race where I was doing this well and felt so comfortable being so uncomfortable.  Ultraman training has definitely taken the ability to suffer to an entirely different level.  And it is so exciting.  

Photo courtesy of @tpspates :  Oceanside run course.

With the rolling start it was about an hour before I finally believed that I had actually won my age group.  There could always be someone who starts 20 minutes behind me in the swim and races faster.  So I waited and waited and the little number 1 next to my name on the Ironman tracker didn't change!!  I've been on the podium in Oceanside before, in 4th and in 2nd.  But this was my first ever age group win!  

And the best part about it was how great my body felt in the days after the race.  There was no soreness.  I was tired, like sleepy tired, but no measurable fatigue.  And when I did my first 30 minute jog a couple days later there was no requisite 10 minutes for my legs to feel like they weren't filled with lead.  I just felt normal.  Like I was going for an easy run.  My body is absorbing, recovering, and adapting, over and over, and it feels amazing.  

Photo courtesy of @smashfestqueen :  Our Smash-Dimond Team kits!!! LOVE!

8.  The final countdown.
Before I go, I want to share the second half of the interview that was recorded by Renee Hodges of Foundation Physical Therapy.  She and several of her athletes were racing in Oceanside last weekend too!  Always great to see them out on course working hard!  Click HERE to open the video!  The first half was shared in my last post-- so scroll down if you missed it and you can find the link there.  

I have 35 days left before I am lined up on the beach in Noosa ready to swim 10km, bike 420 km, and run 84.3 km.  I have 24 days before I board my flight.  I have 3 LONG rides left to do, one trip to the Grand Canyon, and one 50km training run.  I am trying to savor every single day because the time is slipping by so quickly.  It seems like just yesterday that I was nervously submitting my application to the Ultraman Australia team, when in reality it was 9 months ago.... (before Kona!)  And I know that if I blink my crew and I will be sitting at the awards banquet on May 16th and it will all be over.  I am excited and terrified, and hopeful, and grateful, and tired, and strong, and ready.  I am ready to be part of the Ultraman Ohana.  I am ready to do work, Kokua, to give everything that I have and all of my heart to this adventure that lies ahead of me.  I am ready to find my Aloha on the eastern coast of Australia.    


Monday, March 6, 2017

Putting the HOW into Ironman Training

There's a lot that goes into being able to train and race Ironman.  I've had some questions over the last few months and I thought it would be fun to talk about the HOW.  How do I make it all work?  Where does the money come from?  Logistically, how do I manage to race multiple times per year?  The why is the easy part.  The how is the meat and potatoes.

1.  Time management.

Each of us chooses how to spend our time.  Regardless of if you compete in triathlon or not, each of us has 24 hours every day to allocate to the things that are important to us.  In theory how you spend your time should reflect your priorities.  For me, outside of my job (which is not necessarily MY priority, but definitely a necessity), training is priority number 1.

For the last 5 years I've worked a full time job with 4 long shifts per week.  So the days I worked were longer - 11 hour shifts.  And I own a small business.  So on my "off" days, I am spending anywhere from 6-12 hours per week at my small business, mostly behind the scenes taking care of bills, payroll, paperwork.  As of January 1, I decided to go part time.  Mostly because I was burned out at work.  After 17 years in the field, I found I was lacking the compassion and emotional energy needed for me to be good at my job.  By stepping back, I feel so much less stress and have started looking forward to coming to work again.  I'm not sure if I will go back to full time at some point.  Time will tell.  But for now, I am enjoying a little extra time at Cadence (my small business) and a little more free time for recovery.

I miss out on a lot of the social things.  Dinners, parties, etc, that take place after 7 pm.  And because we choose to travel and race, there's not a lot of extra money for eating out, shopping, entertainment.  I don't like the word "sacrifice" because it implies that I'm giving up something that I want and other than time with friends, I really don't care about all the other stuff I'm missing out on.

I also realized recently that people seem to think that I train WAY more than I actually do.  For Ironman training, I averaged 12-15 hours per week.  Maybe in peak week I would top out at 18.  Maybe.  And an easy week might be more like 6-8 hours.  Granted, I was working 50 hours a week and really, there's no time for more than that... but even if there was, I'm not sure I would have been assigned more.  We'll see when I go back to "just Ironman training."  (Ha!!)

Having stepped back in my profession, and begun the bulk of Ultraman training I've been a little closer to the 20 hour per week mark.  With Ultraman there HAS to be long bike rides and very long swims.  I never rode 6 hour in one session before an Ironman.  Well, at Ultraman there's a good chance I'm going to be on the bike between 10-12 hours on day 2, so I better prepare for that in training.  And I have to swim 10k in the ocean.  So instead of topping out at 5k for Ironman prep, I am doing a weekly long swim between 7-8k, and soon there'll be a weekly 10k swim.

I'm not going to pretend that I have some amazing formula for work/ life balance.  But I will say that I am blessed beyond belief that my husband enjoys this sport as much as I do.  So it never crosses our minds that we are spending "too much time training."  We make it work because we want to.  And I've found that when you WANT something, amazingly enough you're a lot more willing to make it happen.

Couples who play together, stay together.

2.  Money

Guys.  I don't have kids.  This may be the biggest factor in my being able to train and race triathlon.  Truthfully, I am winning the no-kids lottery here.  Kids are expensive.  I am selfish.  I would much rather spend my money on myself.  Don't worry, that's not why I didn't have kids.  It's a lot more complicated than that but the bottom line is, it's a choice.  One that 100% of people have to make at some point in their lives.  I'm just glad I realized it early enough in my life to take preventive measures.

I'm not rich by any stretch.  In fact, we are well below the median income for Ironman participants.  But my husband and I live in a house that we like.  We ride bikes that we chose.  We travel to races that we want to go to.  We can afford good food- with a lot of organic options.  We don't go out to dinner often.  We don't really spend money on entertainment.  We don't have car payments or credit card debt.  We don't have student loans.  We have an in-case-of-emergency savings account.  We have a retirement account.  And from what I've been told, I can't take it with me when I'm gone so I don't mind enjoying life a little while I'm here.

3.  Habit

We started in the sport of triathlon 12 years ago.  WOW.  That seems like forever!  For reals, that's almost 1/3 of my life.  During the last 12 years we have formed patterns and habits that make training routine.  It's part of our day just like eating and sleeping and going to work.

On a side note, there are certainly a lot of excuses.  A lot of seemingly valid reasons why we shouldn't / couldn't get our training done.  But because we WANT to do it, there are no excuses.  My alarm sounds at some version of 4 am (sometimes 330, sometimes 445) but there is never a morning when I hit the snooze button.  Or decide I'll do my workout "later" (because we all know later never happens).  It's habit.  It's routine.  It's not always easy or pleasant to get up at 4 am, but having a routine makes it so much easier.

One of the differences with Ultraman training is that I'm doing a lot more split sessions.  Meaning one workout in the morning, with a mandatory 4-6 hour break before a second afternoon session.  I will admit that I am very much a morning person and as easy as it is for me to get out of bed at 4 am, it is sometimes equally difficult to get out the door for round two.  Especially if it's something I don't particularly love, like a treadmill run.  In the morning I don't give it a second thought.  In the afternoon, I have to look beyond motivation to get it done.

Nailing an afternoon session with a little help from my better half.

4.  Logistics

Travel logistics present a nightmare for a lot of people.  Over the last few years we've routinely done 3-4 Ironman events per year.  That means traveling to places like Panama City Beach, Lake Placid, and Coeur D'Alene.  We minimize our hotel costs as much as possible by doing research well in advance of when we need to make a reservation.  We try to split costs with friends when the opportunity arises.  And I married someone who is as Type A as I am, so I don't feel stressed about making all these arrangements.  He is so much more on top of it than I am, sometimes.  We have a good system.  I take care of flight/ car rental and he works on hotel.  There's a lot of communication in there but we never get two months out from race day and realize no one has made plans.

Also, along with logistics (and money!), there are a lot of "rewards" credit cards available now that will cover flights and other travel arrangements.  We have two credit cards that we use for business so we accumulate points very quickly.  In the last 4 years we've maybe had to pay for 2 flights which saves a TON of money.  Obviously not everyone has a small business that has purchasing power, but we all have monthly spending that could be working for us.

Update on Ultraman

We are now 67 days from the start of Ultraman!  I had my biggest training week to date last week with 224 miles on the bike, 39 miles running, and 22k in the pool.  It always amazes me how the body absorbs and adapts to the work that is being consistently done.  After my 50k I had a couple of weeks where my run legs were just a little blah.  Ironically, it was after a couple of hard bike sessions that the run legs came around.  My body was absorbing the work that had been done, it has adapted, and now we can take it to the next level.  Baby steps.

I am feeling less terrified of surviving Ultraman and more confident that I will be able to achieve this dream.  Later this week we're off to our annual Team HPB training camp.  Last year I was pretty much dead last in every bike ride.  I am hopeful that the work I've done so far this year will help me to be able to hang in a little bit longer.  And I'm super excited to get onto Mt. Lemmon and see what I can do!

Also I want to share Part 1 of an interview that was done with Renee Hodges of Foundation Physical Therapy.  We sat down in January to chat and she shared the first half of our conversation on Foundation's Facebook page.  Nothing life shattering, just a little more about my background.  I have always believed that if I can do this sport, and THRIVE in this sport, anyone can.

And if you are interested in taking YOUR training to a new level, I am coaching under Hillary Biscay on Team HPB!!  I have been working with several athletes for the last 8 months or so, and as of January, I am officially part of the Team HPB coaching staff.  Feel free to contact Hillary directly for information or comment on this post and I can get in touch with you directly.  You don't have to be winning races, you just have to be committed to the process of getting the best out of yourself.  We work around all kinds of work schedules, family commitments, etc.  And as I mentioned above, don't let the name scare you away.  Each athlete is individual and not everyone shares the same volume of training.  I want to help my athletes in their journey of #findingaloha... whatever that looks like for them.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ultraman Training: Tired but Strong

A couple of conversations happened in the months prior to my applying for Ultraman.  In one conversation I told Coach Hillary that if I was going to race Ultraman and then never race again, I didn't want to do it.  I love this sport too much to NOT be involved.  She assured me that my teammates who took very long breaks after Ultraman struggled with motivation and she encouraged me to take my recovery seriously and not schedule an "A" race right after Ultraman.  I took her advice and scheduled only fun things in the 4 months following.  Long fun things, but just for fun.

The second conversation we had was about training.  I wanted a mental picture of what my life would look like during training.  She assured me that the total volume or organization of my schedule was not significantly different from Ironman training- but there would be longer long rides, and longer long runs, and longer swims.  She said there'd be more split days-- instead of doing all my workouts in the morning as I'm accustomed to doing, I would have a break and tackle a second set in the afternoon on tired legs.  And similar to IM training, there are several hard days in a row followed by a recovery day.

Sunrise on my long run.  You don't see this sleeping in!

After IMAZ I took several weeks of "off season".  I had a couple of recovery weeks followed by a couple of unstructured weeks, followed by a couple of structured but very much easy weeks.  Just after the first of the year we started to ramp up the training.  And the ramping was very slow at first-- but honestly I felt like total dirt.  Even though I wasn't doing much I would have 1-2 good workouts followed by 1-2 bad ones.  And it was hit or miss.  I couldn't predict which ones I was going to fail miserably.  It's not like I felt like crap running and would have bad run workouts.  I would have one absolutely fabulous run one week and a shitty one the next week.  Or a great bike workout and a few days later one worthy of forgetting.

I was starting to doubt myself and question if I was even going to make it to the start line in May.  I tried to remind myself that this is completely normal and I always have about 5-6 weeks of very blah workouts right after the off season.  And sure enough, just in the last week things have finally leveled out.  And I feel like me again.  Energetic.  Normal.

Tired but strong is my theme right now.   And my happy place.

The miles are building and though I've not done anything longer than what I would in IM training yet (other than swimming!) the arrangement of my workouts leaves me in a chronic state of fatigue.  Not in a bad way, I assure you... just like how you feel in the middle of Ironman training when you're piling on the work and there's no end in sight.  

I don't feel fresh starting the group ride on Wednesday mornings, which is a hard enough ride when I am rested let alone already fatigued from the 3 previous days of biking.  And when the group punches, I can't hang on.  But when we hit our two sustained climbs where everyone attacks, I can get into a rhythm and be ok.  My numbers are fine.  I feel my muscles burning in a way that assures me we're making progress, and I am still hanging on.  Every week I'm thinking, oh shit, I'm gonna get dropped for good.  And every week, I hang on by the skin of my teeth.  And every week I get a little bit stronger.

I can sleep like the dead.  It takes me like 0.5 seconds to fall asleep when my head hits the pillow.  

I can eat like a linebacker.  In the off season, I start to get a little bored of food because I'm never super hungry, and food just seems like a chore.  Now, a calorie cannot pass my line of sight without me consuming it.

My second home...

And I'm having fun.  I'm tackling new workouts.  Particularly in the pool there have been a few new workouts that are super challenging.   My coach has a favorite IM specific swim workout where we do a ridiculous amount of 100s on like 1-2 seconds rest.  Every time I see that swim on my plan I just pray I'm not having an "off" day.  Because even on a good day it's challenging.  Well, that set of 100s has turned into 300s, still on 1-2 seconds rest.  Oh, and make that 15 x 300 on no rest in the middle of a 7500 yd swim.  *BOOM*  That's ultraman training.  And it's only February.  I can't wait to see what April has in store!!

As weeks go by and the big weekend gets closer, my anxiety level goes up a little.  But each day I am building confidence in training, and building a history that I can refer back to when the going gets tough during the race.  I feel really lucky to have a coach that has won Ultraman.  I am in good hands and I gotta just keep doing what she tells me to do.  We are under 100 days now.  Travel plans are made.  There's no turning back.  I've got this.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Build Your Tribe: Ultraman Crew Intro: Heidi, aka: Hiddie

On a scale from 1-10 how excited are you for Ultraman Australia?


LOL, why?

First of all, it's Australia.  Second of all, to get to see you in that environment and racing in that, it's exciting.  Cause this is not Ironman.  This is not 12 hours.  This is all day for 3 days.  Plus everything around Ultraman is so exciting.

How many times have you crewed in the past?


And it was World Championship?


Who did you crew for and how did you end up on the crew team?

I crewed for Dave, the father of a good friend of mine, Kathy.  It was kinda last minute.  They were talking about who to invite for crew-- and I was training with Kathy as she was preparing for the World Championship (WC)-- so they decided I would be a good crew member to help her dad out with specific things-- nutrition related.  I was familiar with their coaching plan/ nutrition plan and understood everything about the event.

If Dave finished that year, which he did, he was going to be the oldest finisher at 65 years of age.  He paid two other people from the island to be crew members, but we figured it would be easier for him to take orders from me on what to eat and when, than a stranger.

Walk us through each day... what did you do?  What was it like?

Basically I was his sherpa extraordinaire.  Anticipating what he would need before he needed it.  Day 1 is super early.  We had planned out in advance what was going to be in the van, how it would be organized, so that everything was readily accessible.

Making sure he was in a good spot mentally and not stressed out before the swim.  When he started the swim, that was the only break we really had.  For the WC, we only had to drive 6 miles, but he was going to be in the water for a few hours.  So we got breakfast, and I got to know the other crew members.

We all need a little dose of 'calm the fuck down'.

We watched the finish of the swim-- saw Kathy come through, and then one of the other crew members caught Dave in the water and helped him out.  Got him through transition and make sure he had anti-chafe, made sure he had his side mirror.  The rest of the day was leap frogging him, making sure he was on top of everything.  He was a strong cyclist so we were able to go several miles between stops.

Toward the end of the day, there was two other guys in his age group and we were keeping tabs on where they were so that he would have a carrot.

The logistics in Hawaii are so difficult because you have to have different hotels every night.  The place we were staying didn't have an "address" we had GPS coordinates, so it added another element.

He finished pretty strong on day 1.  Someone grabbed his bike and gear, I took Dave over to the recovery area, tried to get him going on food/ recovery shake, and then in line for massage.  We refilled our ice chest to get through day 2.  And it was predicted to rain.

I feel like it always rains at the WC...

Yes, I think it's that time of year.

So we get to the hotel and cleaned up his gear- the bike, the bottles, the wetsuit, clothing.  We prepped the bottles for day 2.

OMG I am getting overwhelmed...

You shouldn't be!  You don't have to do any of this.  We will be taking care of you.  Plus, you'll be done earlier than he was-- more time to recover and prep.

Day two.. up very early.  Made sure he was awake.  Packed up the hotel, because we won't be back there.  Got him situated at the start line and then rearranged the van.  He had shipped cases of Gatorade Perform because he had trained with it so we had a huge cooler to move around.  After we dropped him off we went out about 5 miles to wait for them to come by.  It was pouring rain.

We leapfrogged him all day.  There are sections where you can't stop-- no feed zones--  and an area where the drivers have to navigate around.  By the time the cyclists came through there, it was sunny and humid.  He stopped to get into dry clothes.

He was doing great, doing great... and then we got a text from Kathy's crew that the weather conditions were horrible -- super windy and cold on the climb.  We had his clothes hung out the window and hung over the heaters trying to dry them even more.  We passed him his dry clothes.  And then we just tried to keep him in our sight on the entire climb.  People were walking up the mountain with their bikes, it was THAT bad.  Being blown all over the place.

He missed the turn for the descent.  He was close on time, and we were honking to try to get his attention, but he couldn't hear us.  So eventually we went around him (on a narrow road which was scary), and told him to turn back-- he did make the cutoff.  The other two in his age group didn't make the cutoff that day, so as long as he finished day 3, he would officially be the oldest finisher.

Day 3 is awesome!!!  So freaking awesome!!  But the night of day 2 was really rough.  Dave was so out of it.  I couldn't get him to eat or drink anything after a while.  The other crew members were getting pissed at me for being on his ass about the nutrition, but I knew he still had a double marathon to run.  He HAD to eat.

Kathy was sick that night.  I wanted to help her, but I had to make sure Dave was ok, and I was not on her crew.  We had to replenish ice stores.  We had to make room for the bike in the vehicle, so more rearranging of the van.

Everything was soaked, so we had to try to get everything to dry.  It was hot and humid and disgusting.  We didn't want everything festering for another day.

Did you eventually get him to eat?

I found out during the marathon, that he didn't eat.  I found his bottle in the back of the van.  Completely full bottle of his recovery drink.  He ate that night, but didn't completely comply with my orders.  :)

Kathy was so sick that night, and we didn't want Dave to know because if she dropped out we didn't want it to affect his race.  We wanted him to not lose sleep worrying about it.  He needed to stay on his schedule.

You need to friggin' spreadsheet that shit.

What's so awesome about day 3?

You've made it!  All you have to do is finish the run in 12 hours.  And you're on the Queen K-- and it's historical and magical.  And everyone in Hawi knows what you're doing and they come out and cheer randomly.  And you can see the other athletes on day 3-- you're not so spread out.

Plus, watching a 65 year old man RUN a double marathon after all he had already done... it was amazing.  He ran every step.  Kept making forward progress.

You get to run a little bit with him..  He doesn't like to talk while running.  and I don't like to talk running so it was cool to run with him and be perfectly OK not talking.  At one point there was a group of 3 teenagers hitching a ride.  They asked for a ride.  The crew member driving said no.  They got upset, saying do you know how far we've walked?  And the crew member, pointed at Dave and said this 65 year old guy has already run 40 miles.  You can keep walking.  And they were like, no way, that's not even possible, what day did he start?

How much did you get to run with him?

Not much.  Maybe a total of 10 miles.  One of the other guys ran a few hours.  It got so fucking hot out there it was unbelievable.  And windy.

It's hard to tell when you're out there how far you've gone- there's no land marks, your're moving relatively slowly compared to biking.  But as soon as you come around the corner and see that Walmart or whatever it is, and you know it's all down hill to the airport.

I thought by day 3, you'd just be mentally done.  But he had such a good attitude about everything.  He just took one mile at a time, and if you do that, before you know it, you're at that turn.  Plus calculating the whole time, and knowing that he is going to make the cutoff-- it was an added comfort.

Were there any significant obstacles that you ran into and how did you deal?

The weather thing was huge.  In hind sight, I would never let anything stay wet or salty.  I would wash it, dry it, and be ready to use it again.  He would have frozen to death on the end of day 2 if we hadn't been able to dry things as quickly as we did.

I felt fortunate to be on a team with an athlete who had been there before.  And he's an engineer, so he's very precise in his planning.  I never went into it feeling like, oh crap, what do I do.  He basically laid out a plan for us to follow.

Even his nutrition was calculated very precisely- down to the minute.  He had been doing Ironman for so long, he already knew what worked for him.

Communication between the crew members could have been better.  Since we were all basically strangers, it was difficult to manage at times.  We all had very strong personalities.

Plus I'm a ray of fucking sunshine.  I'm damn charming.

Was there a designated crew captain?

I guess it was kinda me, since I knew him... but it was never spelled out.  We split jobs pretty evenly, but I focused most on nutrition.

If he had spelled it out that you were captain would it have helped with communication?

I don't think so.  The other guys were marines, so very strong personalities.  One guy was great, but the other guy-- was harder to communicate with.  As a crew, you're tired too and you start to forget things.  The biggest thing was just to remember that we were all there for Dave, and the only thing we had to do was get him across the line in 12 hours.

One of the guys has gone on to do crazy endurance events because of his experience with Ultraman.  That's pretty cool.

It was really cool at the finish line to see how many people already knew Dave.  From previous ultramans, or just from being there that year.  And to get to the finish line and have his wife, daughter and son in law there-- was really cool.

Do you see any specific challenges that we might face in Australia?

I think there's a big difference between going to Hawaii, and traveling to a completely foreign country.  Everything is going to be unknown.  I think were going to run into a lot of things that we are not expecting.

What do convenience stores sell?  When are they open-- even as simple of things as that.  Getting there early enough to plan everything in advance is going to be crucial.  Where are the gas stations?  Where can we go for last minute items?  If a day does take 12 hours, and the stores close at 9 pm... we have to be aware of the time limits we're up against.  That sort of thing.  Knowing where the local bike shop is.  Knowing where the pharmacy is.  Restaurants.  What if you are in medical after day 2, and we still have to eat at 10 pm.

You've done ragnar... you know what 3-4 people in a van does to people.  It's human nature.  No one has the same personality, so we all need a little dose of calm the fuck down.  And focus on the goal of getting you to the finish line in under the cutoff.

The logistics of getting all your stuff there... you need to be prepared for every weather condition for every day of the race.

Fortunately we have CB for the bike which is awesome.  That would be the scariest thing-- you can't really just go anywhere with the Dimond.

Another thing is not having to stick around at the finish line -- you can go back to our place and start eating and have Marsha work on you there.

I feel like we need to make a list of gear....

You need to friggin' spreadsheet that shit.  And send copies to all of us.  And bring a box of quart/ gallon size baggies to keep everything sorted.

And you need to be prepared for ailments that don't normally happen.  Have cough syrup, immodium, etc, etc.  You don't know what you're going to need and over the course of the three days your body is going to break down.

I think the day before the start we went to Walmart and bought stuff we thought we might want.  I think at mile 40 I might want Twinkies?--- so we bought Twinkies.  That kind of thing.  Hand wipes.  Hand sanitizer.  You're out there so freaking long.  Buckets that we could dunk towels in to keep them cold.

You should start a list now... on your phone or where ever that when you randomly think of things you can add them to your list.  You won't remember everything you will want or need, so start making that list now when things come to you.

Mentally, just assume that stuff is going to happen.  You might lose luggage, etc-- Dave, the day before the start he determined that his bike wasn't working.  It turned out the cables were corroded.  We started taking about renting a bike, and all that jazz, but thankfully the bike shop in Kona was able to re-cable his bike at the last minute.  It's so huge that CB is going to be there for your bike.

Designating a job for everyone will create a lot less crew drama.  You do your job.  You designate each person, based on how you think you will handle things -- who will you take food orders from.
You know which person will make sure your shit is clean.  Make sure your meal is ready.

What strengths do you see yourself bringing to the team?

I think I know you in a way that.... if you just want everyone to just shut the fuck up, or if you're just in pain.. I am pretty good at seeing ahead at what we might need to do/ think about.  Like on the run, if you're dying at mile 5, we need to shorten the leap frog intervals.  We need to make sure we're keeping you warm enough or cool enough.

I don't do well planning ahead for myself, but I am really good at planning for others-- I think having 2 people who have crewed before is key.  Ultraman expects you to follow the rules, and they will call out the teams that are not.  So having people who know the game is important.

Plus I'm a ray of fucking sunshine.  I'm damn charming.  Everyone needs that person on their crew.

:)  You said Dave was a planner, and an engineer.  Did you feel prepared for crewing?

Oh yeah.  I knew what Ultraman was because Kathy had done it before, and Dave had done it before.  I understood what went into it, but you can't fathom it until you're there watching it and doing it.
It's like watching the Barkley's documentary and going oh, those guys are in pain.  But it takes actually being there to see what the fuck is really going on.

And Kathy was really OCD, and worried about her dad, so whatever he didn't do- she was all over it.
Did I tell you about when he called me to ask to crew?


I was at my in-laws, who are the same age as Dave and can't do anything physical.  Kathy calls me, all serious, and asks me to crew for her dad.  I was so excited.  I was trying to explain to my family what he was going to do and they were like, no that's not possible.

I think as you get older, the gap in the difference in people's abilities widens.  Some people are as active as they were in their 30s, and other's live on the sofa and don't believe they could ever do anything.

What do you think is harder, physcial or emotional toll?

Emotional.  You can push through physical pain, but if you are emotionally beat, it will affect the physical-- and it's easy to succumb.

My very first Ironman, my friend Kevin told me every time you get emotional and start to think about how hard it is and that you can't do it, just give yourself 5 minutes.  In 5 minutes you'll feel differently and you'll be able to keep going.

That's good advice.

In this longer of an event, the emotional toll is even more prominent.  You become fatigued.  You start to doubt yourself, and think about things you should have done differently in the days before.

Was there anything you saw among other teams where you were glad it wasn't you?

Family bickering.  Family bringing their own issues into the race because you chose to have your wife and your mother crewing for you.  There's no room for bickering between crew.  One of the guys too, I never saw his crew out on the run.  He had just done something crazy- like a deca - not long before Ultraman, and I don't remember seeing his van at all.  I would feel like shit if you didn't finish because we just weren't there.

What are you most excited about for Ultraman Australia?

Watching you finish.  And watching you crush the swim.  I have friends who see your stuff through me and they're all like, is she going to win the swim?

And I think the finish line on day 3 is going to be even more emotional than Kona.

When did you know you wanted to do Ultraman?

That's funny you should ask.  I asked DB when he know that this was inevitable, and he told me Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 awards banquet.  

Oh yeah... he took that picture of you talking to Hillary..

Yeah, she was getting ready for the WC and I think I was picking her brain about it.  It sounded cool... I knew it would be along way off but definitely something I was interested in.  And then a year later I had the opportunity to crew for my teammate in Canada, and it solidified it in my mind.  

I feel like you can learn so much from crewing... I knew from crewing 100 milers for friends that I could never do an Ultraman without crewing first.  You just gain so much.  Plus it was, like, the most amazing experience ever...

Give yourself 5 minutes.  In 5 minutes, you'll feel differently.

What's my swim pr?

58 something??  From Texas?

(laughing) No.

What is it?

54 minutes

Is it really?!?!  Shit you better get swimming.  Jesus, that's fucking fast.

As crew, do you have any advice for me?  For your fellow crew?

Jesus, your swim PR is 30 minutes faster than mine.

:)  Any advice??...

For you, lean on us for EVERYTHING.  Save all your energy.  If you need something ask us.  That's why we're there.  You shouldn't be going to get anything-- food, water, anything.  The whole time-- not just race day.

For the crew, we really need to communicate and agree... not one person saying, well I'm going to go do this.  The 3 of us need to work as one person.

What does ohana, kokua and aloha mean to you?

Pretty much exactly as it says.  It's the family that you make, family can be so many things, but family and love are the people that I choose, that I feel close with and have a bond with though shared experience.  We didn't grow up together, but we have a bond and love through our shared experiences.

After doing this with Kathy and Dave, I always know that we'll always be there for each other.  We have a bond that can't be broken by space or distance, or time.

Anything I should have asked?

(thinking)  I don't know....  do I have any allergies to strange bugs?  Am I allergic to kangaroos?  LOL.  No, I can't think of anything.

How many epipens do we need to take?...

I have 3 on order.  I am allowed to bring them in the carry-on...

Something for you to remember, even if you say you're ready, you're going to think at night that you can't get through this.. But you can.  And you will.  Knowing you, you're going to start freaking out as this gets closer.  HPB is not going to let you go into this unprepared.  That voice in your head that says you can't do this is a liar.

And I'm placing a bet with CB on your swim time.  And if I win this he owes me #allthebeers.

:)  Last question,  do you ever want to do Ultraman?

I've always thought about it since I crewed for Ultraman.  At one point we had planned out who was going to race what.  Someone picked Florida,  I was stuck with Canada.  I think if I got to a place where I was healthy enough again, I would consider it.

And I would crew for you.  :)

I know you will!!  I have a feeling after Australia it will be even stronger of a desire.


And that was the 3rd and final crew member for Team Finding Kona!  Thank you, Heidi, for letting me share your very first cup of coffee with you while hammering out this interview!  I love you, #bff!!  So excited for OZ!!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Build Your Tribe: Ultraman Crew Intro: The Beav

The scene opens with a husband and wife sitting on the sofa.  The television is on low in the background and a laptop sits open in her lap, fingers poised over the keys.  An interview is about to take place...

MK:  On a scale of 1- 10 how excited are you about UMOZ?!?!

DB:  7.7.

MK:  Why?

DB:  Well, I’m not as excited as you… but I’m excited enough that I want to see it.  Plus since I'm on crew I get a free trip to Australia.  That’s exciting!

MK:  What preconceived ideas do you have about Ultraman?

DB:  I think it’s going to be easier than everyone thinks on you.  And harder on me, sitting behind the steering wheel for 3 days… a week after IM.

MK:  What do you think your strengths will be as a crew member?

DB:  The wiseness that comes with age

MK:  Um, no.  That’s not answer…

DB:  My strength will be that absolutely no matter what — I will not let you NOT finish.  Because I can be tough with you and deal with the repercussions.  #toughlove

MK:  Do you see any weaknesses, or what are you most unsure of?

DB:  How in the hell we’re going to get all of our shit to Australia!?!

MK:  What do you think the biggest challenge for me will be at UM?

DB: Learning how to relax.  Not be in control.  

MK:  So you promise to take care of everything so I can relax?

DB:  mmm, hmm..   Yeah, I’ll delegate that task.    
You can’t sweat the little things because the little things won't matter.  The only things that matter are your nutrition and your bike.  Nothing else matters.  It’s going to come down to the basics.  Do you have your nutrition and is your bike mechanically sound?  And I’ll make sure we have our sound machine. :)

MK:  When did you know that this was inevitable?  

DB:  Sept of 2013.  Ironman Lake Tahoe awards banquet.  You talked to Hillary about it, I think she was getting ready for the World Championship.  

MK:  WOW.  I totally forgot about that.  Cool.  
Would you rather be racing than crewing?

D:  Yes, of course.  

MK:  What?!  Why aren’t you?

D:  You said I couldn’t.

MK:  What?!  No I didn't!  I said we couldn't race side by side!  

D:  Right.  But think about it.  You’d come out of the water ahead of me and have to wait around.  But then I’d have to just chill with you on the bike.  And then we run together.  

MK:  But we can’t share crew!!!  And there’s no drafting!!  And that's a lot of time for us to annoy each other!!!

DB:  I know.  So I won’t do it because we won't go through the cost of Ultraman 3 times. 

MK:  What if I wanted to crew for you?  We could go to Florida.  That’s less expensive.  

DB:  No.  not going to happen.  Though I’m more likely to do Ultraman than a hundred miler.

MK:  Even if I ran the hundred with you?  

DB:  I’m not sure I could do the training that would allow me to do the hundred.  This is not part of the interview is it??

MK:  Yes.

DB:  *sigh*

MK:  OK, OK.  
So what does ohana, kokua and aloha mean to you?

DB:  I guess I haven’t thought about it.  The reality of it is, to get through the race you’re going to have to have a lot of family interaction- trapped in a car for 3 days.  YOU are going to have to love what you're doing to get though the dark spots.  Leading up to it you are going to put in a lot of work— and you’re going to have to have the support of your #tribe to get through the training.  Coach Hillary, me, Melody swimming 10ks with you, and everyone who is going to bike and run with you.  

MK:  I know you’re not the touchy-feely type… are you looking forward to experiencing the Ultraman Ohana?  

DB: yes and no.  Just like with any family, sometimes you want to spend time with them and sometimes you get on each others nerves and you’re ready to be done with them after 3 days.

(mk:  laughing)

DB:  I”m excited for the epicness of it.  Being able to brag to everyone about my wife. 

(mk: beaming)  

Of course that’s why I wanted to do it with you….  bragging rights.  

MK:  But I feel like our crew is pretty laid back , I think you guys will be fine.  
How far do you want to run on day 3?

D:  I would run as far as I’m physically capable of.  Ask me that on day 3.  

MK:  What’s my Ironman swim PR?

DB:  57 : 23

MK:  What?!  NO!!!  

DB:  (Shouts out a few more answers-- still wrong..finally landing on the right one.)  Ironman Lake Tahoe….. 54 minutes?  Are you happy now?

MK:  You’re gonna need to know!

DB:  Why do I need to know?

MK:  When I’m leading the swim they’re going to ask you my stats!!!  

DB:  Who?!?

MK:  The Race Director! 

DB:  WHY?!?

MK:  Cause they want to know!!  We were frantically texting Hillary and checking Ironman websites in Canada when Barry was leading!

MK:  What do I want to know about your thoughts on UM?
What should I be asking you?

DB:  Do I have to perform sexually every night?

MK:  NO!

DB:  Is alcohol allowed in the support vehicle?

MK:  Ummm, not sure.  Doubtful.  I’ll read the rules. 
What can I do to make your job of crewing easier?

DB:  Before we leave tell me 100% what it is you need and want so there is no discussion in the heat of the battle.

MK:  Good.  I agree.  It’s good to have a plan.

DB:  Can I wear my new sound cancelling headphones in the car?

MK:  Bahahahaha!  Yes.  Maybe you can share them.
Do you think I’ll be ready in 4 months?  We land on May 4.  

DB:  Sounds about right. Of course.  You have the best coach in the world and the best work ethic.  So I don’t see how you can’t be ready.  

MK:  Which day would be your favorite?

DB:  Day 3 for sure.  That’s when you realize all the work has paid off.  You get the reward.  The icing.

MK:  Which day do you think will be hardest?  

DB:  Hardest:  day 3.  Mentally, day 2.  

MK:  Yeah, 170 miles is a long way to bike.  

DB:  In your head.  But you’ll be prepared for it.  And that’s key.  

MK:  Will you massage my legs every night?

DB:  Yeah.  Cause we all know what massage leads to.

(MK: giggling)

DB:  What do you want me to know?

MK:  Just what you already said— we need to have a plan in place so nothing is left to chance.

DB:  And who is in charge when everything falls apart?

MK:  Well, in general— the crew captain has final say.  And obviously if it's a bike issue, Chris.  But I think if it’s a  breakdown in nutrition, etc— you are probably going to have the most input, the most creative ideas— because you know how I train, what I like, what I don’t like.  You have had to be creative in your own training.  You will be able to make suggestions on things to try that I might be able to eat, etc.  

Fades to black....

Friday, December 23, 2016

Build Your Tribe: Ultraman Crew Intro: Chris Blick

Off season is over and 2017 is nearly upon us. My Ticker tells me we are under 5 months from Ultraman. (OMG!!!) I thought it would be fun to talk to crew member extraordinaire, Chris Blick, about his experience crewing for a fellow Dimond guy at Ultraman Florida and the Ultraman World Championships held last month on the Island of Hawaii. And after this interview, I had so much fun I decided that I would profile each crew member over the next few weeks! So stay tuned, there will be more coming in the Build Your Tribe segment!

How did you meet Rob?  How well did you know him before UM Florida?  

I first met Rob via email. It was quite awhile before I eventually met him in person, but we had gotten to know each other pretty well by then. I was working at Dimond at the time, it must have been Spring/Summer of 2014. I wrote Rob to introduce him to Dimond and ultimately try to get him on board one. He was receptive to the idea and after a few discussions he joined Team Dimond and immediately got even stronger on the bike, which was already his bread and butter in triathlon. I didn’t meet him in person until the following year in the Bay Area when I was hosting demo rides at his local bike shop, Cognition Cyclery. He lead a group of guys, some Dimond owners and some test riders, on a popular training loop from the shop. We maintained a lot of communication from then on, especially because Rob loves him some technology. He was constantly upgrading parts of his bike which kept him in touch with us frequently. Rob also raced Ironman Arizona that year (2015) which was my first Ironman. We hung out a bit that week and he was a big supporter of my first full. He gave me some especially positive vibes when he ran past me on the run course (his second lap, my first!). Our friendship really strengthened during the week of Ultraman Florida.

Give us a little insight into Rob since we don't really know him.  How did it come about that he was racing UMFL?  

Rob is a pretty impressive dude. He wasn’t always a stud athlete. He was born with underdeveloped lungs, and I recently learned that at one point in his life he stacked up at his current height of 6’1” and a whopping 127 lbs. Growing up in South Africa provided him ample learning opportunities. He got into tech and became quite adept in the world of programming and software utility. That lead him into a startup tech company before working for Microsoft and now Google. His career transplanted him to London for a few years, then the Bay Area. He now resides in lovely Boulder, Colorado.

Rob shares a lot of the common traits in elite Ironman triathletes. He trains and he trains hard. Perhaps his greatest attribute, though, is his mind. He is a student in all that he does. He has gotten very good at the science of triathlon, from training and fitness, recovery strategies, nutrition, metabolic efficiency, etc. He’s also gotten pretty good at optimizing his equipment with a keen understanding of aerodynamics, weight, storage optimization, biomechanic efficiency, etc. If you’ve got product questions, he’s probably got some insight to offer you!

Ultraman Florida is actually just an antecedent to Rob’s primary goal of racing Ultraman World Championships. Upon the impending doom of his 40th birthday this year, Rob wanted to take his endurance sports game to a new level. He had raced well in Ironman, raced Kona a bunch of times, and kind of mastered the distance in a way, if anybody ever actually does that. Ultraman was a new beast and he wanted to conquer it. He decided that the most sure-fire way to get into the Ultraman World Championship race was to compete in another Ultraman, pad his resume so to speak. That’s how Ultraman Florida became a reality.

What is his personality like, outside of ultraman?  How would you describe him?

He really is as cool as they come. He is a very bright, curious and driven person. He is equally kind and pleasant to be around. For every bit of fierce competitiveness he exhibits during training and racing, he exhibits the same amount of friendliness and camaraderie outside of it. He is always willing and eager to share valuable learning experiences with others. He’s been instrumental in helping me grow as an athlete and as a person.

There is something about the Big Island. It’s simultaneously intimidating and nurturing.

Paint us the picture of how you came to be a crew member for FL.

Upon the inception of the idea of racing Ultraman Florida, Rob began assembling his crew. There are lots of strategies one might employ in selecting a crew. Your crew is so important to racing Ultraman. You need generally reliable, dependable and competent people. Beyond that, you need some specific qualities. Bicycle mechanic skills are a must! Ethan and I both have those, so he was in good hands there. Additionally, I was driving the Dimond Van back then, which housed 5 demo bikes and a litany of spare parts and tools, specific to the Dimond, including one Dimond that was setup almost identical to Rob’s bike (same size frame and same aerobar, making it a good fit). This bike was perfect for bringing along as a backup bike, which is encouraged for Ultraman in the event of a catastrophic mechanical issue on your primary bike. (More to come on this point!)

The other important role of a crew is run pacing on day three. This was especially important for Rob at Ultraman Florida, because he had never run anywhere near as long as the double marathon in the race. So as something of an athlete myself, I was able to provide some value as a run pacer, too.

Did you know anything about Ultraman before FL?  What expectations did you have prior to flying in for the week?

The only thing I actually knew about Ultraman before Rob asked me to be on his crew was that Ultraman was a stupid-long distance triathlon and that Hillary Biscay was a World Champion! I really had no clue what I was in for until I did my own investigation after agreeing to be on his crew.

My expectations were fairly accurate. Ethan and I drove the Dimond Van down to Florida from Iowa, so we had plenty of time to gameplan and prepare for the race and the lead up to it. As Dimond employees at the time, we made ABSOLUTELY SURE* that his bike was dialed. And damn, did it look good!

Basically, we were there to make Rob’s week as easy as possible. We ran errands with/for him, took care of the bike, helped prepare meals and race day nutrition, organized the crew vehicle, helped navigate travel logistics, etc.

What were you told would be expected of you?  What did you actually do?  

My expectations were pretty much in line with what I ended up actually doing. As I mentioned, I was expected to take care of all things bike related. This involved preparing both Rob’s “A” bike and his spare bike, which was my bike, one of the demo bikes from the Dimond Van. We dialed in the fit to match his “A” bike and made sure we had the right pedals, bottle cages, etc. Perhaps the biggest difference between what was expected and what actually happened was that we ACTUALLY USED THE SPARE BIKE!

Fairly early on day two, maybe 50 miles in if I remember correctly, Rob yelled to us as he passed our vehicle that his aerobar pad fell off a ways back. He kept going without it and we prepared to replace it with the aerobar pad from the spare bike. We stopped him shortly after and got started on the pad swap, only to discover that the threads in the basebar where the pad mounted had been stripped. This meant that no bolt was going to hold in a new pad. He either had to ride the rest of the race with one pad or ride the spare bike. We sent him ahead again with one pad and told him we’d prepare to do a bike swap at our next pass. It is such a hard call to make, because it costs precious time and there is no replacement for the bike the you do ALL of your riding on. The sweet spot on the saddle, for example, doesn’t exist until you’ve put at least a thousand miles on a bike, right?!

Anyways, we pulled off the bike swap relatively quickly, all in all about five minutes. Transferring nutrition, garmin, wheels (we opted to move Rob’s disc wheel from his “A” bike to the spare bike while we were at it), etc. All was well, except for the spare bike did not have a power meter on it, so Rob was racing old school.

I tend to think that if you are the kind of athlete who has decided to compete in this race and committed to it, then you already have the emotional capacity to undertake such a thing.

Like, for real... what actually is involved in CREWING for ultraman?  

Crewing I think is best defined as “doing absolutely anything and everything possible in the interest of getting your athlete to the finish line as efficiently as possible.” As an individual you probably bring one or two specific skills to the team that are key skills and the reason you are there, but you end up doing so much more than that. The nature of the race being three stages over three days means there is a lot of time before, in between and after each race where your athlete needs help. Whatever it is that he or she needs at any moment, his or her crew does. It’s quite simple looking back on it, actually! Just help in any and every way possible.

And be honest, did Rob have any idea what he really needed prior to the start of the race?  Or was it kinda of making it up as you go along?  Had he ever crewed for UM prior to signing up?

Rob might have been the most well-prepared first-timer. He is a strategist, and a cunning one at that. He had no prior experience with Ultraman to my knowledge, other than one of his good friends from Boulder had done the race the year before. That was probably quite helpful, but I think Rob’s personality and racing style would have been enough to come up with a pretty good general idea of what he needed. That said, we DEFINITELY learned as the race went on what he was going to need. More this, less that.

How was the experience different from what you expected?  

I didn’t expect to have SO MUCH FUN! As a crew member, it feels like you will be sort of a witness to what your athlete is doing and you will occasionally get involved by handing him a bottle on the bike, but man, you are there every step of the way. Don’t get me wrong, Rob did the real work, but it was so involved it really felt like a team race. I didn’t really know about the Ultraman Ohana until arriving there, nor did I know that crew members were absolutely 100% part of the Ohana. It seemed like Steve King mentioned my name as well as Ethan’s and Kevin’s on the race coverage mic as much as he did Rob’s!

How soon after FL did Rob sign up for UMWC?  And how soon were you asked to be on crew?

Rob’s plan was always to sign up for UMWC. He originally only wanted to do that race, but knew that his odds of getting picked would go up tremendously if he had an UM under his belt. I think he officially signed up that Spring, and having won Florida he was a virtual shoe-in for the WC race. He asked me to crew for him again shortly after that. Sometime in June if I remember correctly.

How did your preparation/ expectations change since you were now a seasoned pro at the crewing thing?

I definitely checked all of the bolts a little more closely this time! Haha! Not a whole lot changed, to be honest. Having been through it once I was definitely a little more relaxed and moving through the week was a lot less stressful despite the increased stakes of the World Championships. The second time around I was a little more involved with Rob’s strategy. We went over the maps, the ideal feed zones, the timing of key nutrition intake, when to push, when to conserve, etc. That was a lot of fun for me. Ultimately, having done one before, and with the same athlete at that, made crewing a much more manageable task.

“doing absolutely anything and everything possible in the interest of getting your athlete to the finish line as efficiently as possible.”

How did the execution in WC differ from FL?  Did Rob make any drastic changes to the plan or was it business as usual?

Definitely not business as usual. Rob was grossly undertrained for Ultraman Florida. He basically did Ironman training with a few longer runs. He also did it over the winter in Boulder, which meant almost everything was indoors. This time around he was much more prepared physically and mentally. LOTS more running in his build training, lots more attention to the ever-important physiological/nutritional/hydrational factors. He did some really cool stuff with CU Boulder testing his glycogen stores before and after some big simulation workouts to help him determine what he would need to eat and drink between each stage.

Rob’s training was quite a bit different, as it was much more of a proper Ultraman training block. However, I think his race plan was similar, which was ultimately to swim fast (Rob has an uncanny ability to hold him IM swim pace for as long as he needs to. He actually set a 3.8k swim PR in the UMWC race!), and bike hard, especially in the second half of each leg which is his greatest opportunity to put time in on the competition. Then allows the ultrarunners to do their thing on Sunday and keep his pace where it needs to be to maintain the lead by the end. Hawai’i is a funny place, though, and as you know in Hawai’i you stick to your race plans until your body can’t do it anymore, then you adjust.

Did the rest of the crew change for WC?  Or was it the same group?

Different crew. I was the only member for both of Rob’s UM races. For the UMWC it was just Ian Hersey and I on the official crew. Rob’s parents both made the journey all the way from South Africa, too, so they were there and were very helpful through race week. Ian has crewed the UMWC twice before, so he was a great addition to the team. He’s also now a resident of the island and he and his wife are something of Hawai’i buffs. was so involved it really felt like a team race...

Was it difficult to crew with only 2 people?  Did his family help out with driving, etc?  Or they were just there as cheerleaders?  

It wasn’t much more difficult with two compared to three. I think three first time crew members is great, but Ian and I were able to adequately do our job with just the two of us. Again, both of us having crew experience and Ian having really great crew experience having crewed the same course twice before.

You are only allowed one official crew vehicle, so Ian and I did all the driving during the race with the official crew vehicle. That is, all nutrition and hydration and all supplies, tools, parts, gear, etc. were all managed by Ian and I out of the official crew vehicle. [His parents] were very helpful, though, in between stages with an extra vehicle hauling all of our other “stuff” around the island. We stayed at different places each night, so there was lots to haul!

As crew captain, what was your responsibility?  Is there anything that stands out that you have responsibility for over other crew members?  Did you ever have to use your Captain status and pull rank when decision making?  

This is a great question. I’ve always been the type of leader who promotes a good “team effort” attitude. I tend to think that the best leaders cultivate teams that have no real, official leader and that they work as a unit at all times. This was the case for almost every aspect of the week. Technically, as crew captain I had to be there for the race check in, the briefings, check in and check out for each stage, I would have to report bike changes, etc. Most of this is just a formality, though, because someone has to do it and they prefer it be the same person each time so confusion is minimized.

There was ONE TIME when I pulled out my captain card! One of the biggest challenges the crew faces is simply the logistics of the whole week. You have to be at tons of different places at tons of different times. On the evening of day 2, we were gameplanning for the morning of day 3, double marathon day, final day. I don’t even remember the specifics, but we were deciding on a time to leave in the morning in order to get to the start with time to check in, warm up, eat a little, drink a little, give Rob a monster pep talk, etc.

Now, I run on Lombardi time (I’m a Bears fan, but Lombardi was undeniably successful, and most of my family on my mother’s side are from Green Bay, so it works for me), where on time is late and 15 minutes early is on time. ESPECIALLY when you consider how our Ultraman Florida day three morning went! I was in charge of driving for that race and Ethan was crew captain. I had all the important times and places neatly organized, and we were operating very well on my Lombardi time clock. About half way to the race start of day 3 in Florida, someone in the car (I won’t say who!) INSISTED that we were going the wrong way and that we needed to turn around. I was certain that we were going the right way, it was my job after all. However, I obliged to the higher ranking officer and turned around as instructed. Not long after that, it became clear that we were in fact now going the wrong way and that I had us on the right track in the first place. SO, we turned around and I went full Ricky Bobby on em to get us to the start line on time. We made it there with less than 5 minutes to the starting gun. Not an ideal way to start such a long day, especially for Rob.

SO, as crew captain for UMWC, the only time I had to pull the captain card was in determining what time we were to leave in the morning. The debate was over what amounted to a total of about 15 minutes. THE LOMBARDI CONSTANT. I don’t even remember the times we were discussing, but the argument was going so waffly, “oh we won’t need any more than 30 minutes to get there, if we leave at 5:00 that’s plenty of time.” “I don’t know, I’d rather be there a little early than a little late. Chris, what are your thoughts? You are the team captain after all.” Okay, I technically didn’t even pull the captain card, it was presented to me by Rob himself, but I simply said, “We’re leaving at 4:45 am.”

It felt strange, because that’s not my style, but it worked out well!

What trials did you run into in FL or WC?  Were there any moments when you had to improvise, think on your feet, problem solve on the go?  

Definitely the bike swap in Florida was a big one. Otherwise, the rest of Florida and Hawai’i were fairly manageable. I think Rob being really well prepared for Hawai’i made it a pretty smooth sailing race from a crew standpoint. In Florida, everything was a first for us, so there were more things we had to get used to, like replacing bottles of nutrition and hydration on the go in a safe, swift, systematic way. We had to improvise a bit on the run in Florida, too, in dealing with Rob’s core temperature. It was hot and humid, and we had a tough time keeping him cool. None other than TJ Tollakson, who was down in Clermont for his own personal training camp with Jesse Kropelnicki and QT2, came through with a neat contraption of panty hose and ice cubes that did the job for a good portion of the run. No doubt a little creativity can be a good trait in a crew member.

I run on Lombardi time, where on time is late and 15 minutes early is on time.

Was there anything that you hadn't planned for logistically that you felt later you wished you had known before?  Travel, hotel arrangements, car rental, etc.

This is a good question for Hawai’i. Because the race is point to point and eventually circumnavigates the entire island, which meant that we stayed in different places each night. This time around, we booked hotels for each night and moved all of our stuff each day. In hindsight, I think we would do this a little differently. We’d probably keep one place rented all week and leave the bulk of our stuff there and only bring what we need for one or two nights with us each day.

How did the UMWC experience differ from the UMFL experience, taking into consideration Ohana, Kokua, and Aloha?

There is something about the Big Island. It’s simultaneously intimidating and nurturing. The day two bike course is one of the most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ever seen. You cannot help but feel like you are doing something special when you are there.

Do you think the physical toll or the emotional toll is hardest?  Do you think the emotional toll is only present because of the physical toll or are there other underlying factors?  You are aware that being a girl, there will be an emotional toll on me in OZ, right?!?  I mean, I hope it's emotional in a good way...

Haha! Emotions are a huge part of this race. There are dark moments, undoubtedly. The goal is to minimize them and to make sure you get to the finish line where you aren’t allowed to experience anything but good emotions! Different athletes will feel differently about the emotional toll vs. the physical toll. I tend to think that if you are the kind of athlete who has decided to compete in this race and committed to it, then you already have the emotional capacity to undertake such a thing. I think the physical toll is actually harder to prepare for. You simply cannot simulate the state your body will be in until you are in it. I also think that because it is a stage race and you do not have to do any running directly off of the bike that you are able to compete at a higher intensity than you might in a long distance triathlon, like Ironman, for example. Because of this, you end up putting your body through an unreal amount of stress and fatigue throughout the three days.

Do you feel like Rob fully utilized your skills, expertise and knowledge during your crewing ventures?  Did he rely on the crew for moral support or just calories/ hydration?

Yeah, I think Rob got the most out of me. Calories and hydration are sort of first on the list of priorities, but for the most part we stick to a pretty simple plan for that stuff. Next is keeping Rob in a good mood and keeping his head in the game. It can be easy to “lose it” a little bit here and there. The long swim is disorienting and we all know how hours 6+ feel on the bike. A little bit of craziness and overtly positive mojo can go a long way. Also, when possible, it’s helpful to get splits on the next in front or behind you. Again, the Ultraman race is so much different than Ironman, primarily because you’d hardly know it was going on unless you were involved. Anything to keep the mind in the race and ideally in a positive mood is what you want.

I’ve found that the moral support really comes through on the run. That’s when it really hurts, and that’s when the most is on the line. Rob dug pretty deep into the well in Florida to squeeze out the win, and the last 10 or so miles were very interesting. I ran the last 6 with him and I said some pretty ridiculous things to keep him focused and pumped to win. He really had no business running as well as he did, given his training volume, but boy did he get every mile out of his body that day.

Be trustworthy at all times.

Was there anything that you witnessed happening among another team where you thought to yourself, I'm glad that's not us?

Yeah, there were a couple occasions in both of my Ultraman experiences where I felt fortunate to not be in a position that another team was in. In Hawai’i one of the competitors on the run was cramping and dehydrated and their crew went as far as to ask us for some magnesium. We searched our equipment, but we didn’t have anything that wasn’t already built into Rob’s nutrition plan (i.e., donating it would compromise Rob’s race). The moral of the “glad that’s not us” type of story is that preparation is everything.

In Florida, the most surprising thing I saw, and perhaps the most impressive, was one athlete running the entire double marathon by himself, with seemingly very little nutrition intake, or at least infrequent nutrition intake. Compared to Rob, who had a runner escort, holding his nutrition and hydration from about mile 6 or 7 until the end. That wasn’t a “glad that’s not us” moment necessarily, but more of a “glad that’s not Rob” kind of thing.
No doubt everyone has their own way of doing things, and perhaps [the other athlete] prefers the solidarity of running alone.

Were there any disagreements amongst the crew?  And not like fighting, but like I think this is best and you think this is best and we can't agree.  And how did you solve those disagreements?

For the most part this has not been a problem being on Rob’s crews at all. Rob is usually pretty prepared with his own race plan and we are there to help him execute that plan. We did have a semi last minute change in the race plan that involved when to take in caffeine. Equipment discussions are often like this, too. These were never major issues. We were good about considering pros/cons, and deciding what would be best well in advance so that on race day we knew exactly what the plan was.

What are you most excited about for UMOZ?  

Oh man, I am so excited about going down unda!!!! My sister actually just flew yesterday with her girlfriend to spend the holiday break there. I’ve developed quite a hankering for travel and exploration, and this will undoubtedly satisfy a big need of mine. Beyond the sheer thrill of exploring a new place, I am incredibly excited about being a part of this awesome journey with you, Mary. You’ve inspired me throughout my own endurance sports career, and it will be a very special privilege for me to bear witness to your awesomeness in Australia.

Is there anything specific you are excited about bringing to the group based on your past experiences?  Is there anything that you feel strongly, "we need to do XYZ!"?

I haven’t tapped into some mystical Ultraman crew knowledge that I can share with you. Every athlete is different, so some of the specific things I have learned may not apply to you necessarily. What I am excited about bringing to the group is a sense of calm and confidence. I can bear the burden of a lot of the logistics and take a big load off of your shoulders, and keep your body and mind in the right place throughout the week. I mean, I was a psychology major after all ;)

Are there any unique challenges that you foresee with UMOZ?  

No, not really. As long as we are all able to get a healthy dose, but not too much, of all things Aussie, then we should be fine. I think perhaps the biggest challenge for you, and thus, for us, will be to get time adjusted as smoothly as possible. Energy levels are crucial to UM racing, and such a long trip out there will pose an additional challenge. We could talk about ways to prepare you for that even before the flight!

How do I rank on a scale of 1-10 in the HOT-CRAZY Matrix and how will this affect your ability to crew successfully?  OK, just kidding.  But I'm still laughing about that one...

Okay, you would totally be a unicorn, but anyone who has even entertained the idea of doing an Ultraman is at least a 6 or 7 crazy!

As the more emotional gender, do you think there will be any different challenges or opportunities crewing for a female?

Hmm… interesting question. Hard to say. There are definitely some things I wouldn’t say to you that I said to Rob in some of the dark moments to hype him up. I would probably choose slightly different words when addressing a female in those moments.

As crew, do you have any advice for me?  Any advice for your fellow crew members?  

LEAN ON US! You should do everything in your power to worry about nothing and be happy and excited about your race days. Let us do all of this boring, tedious, stressful, exhausting stuff. You don’t got time for that! Fellow crew members, embrace every moment. It is FUN! And it is a special experience for you and your athlete. Be trustworthy at all times. The athlete needs to know and fully believe that we will come through when they need us to most. You should try to embrace every moment, too, Mary. Your mind will wander, and eventually turn to mush towards the end of each day, but you do not want to be deprived of the memories of the race course.

You know me pretty well I would say.  Is there anything you see as being particularly challenging for me, in racing UM?  And on the flip side, is there anything you look at and say, oh, this is no problem?  

I can think of way more things about you that make you very well-equipped to race this distance. You are tough as shit. You can swim like a mahfcka, and you aren’t afraid to find a new level of pain. You do 10k swims on your birthday, and all of your training friends’ birthdays! Also, you might have the most appropriate coach in the world for this race.

Perhaps the biggest challenge I foresee for you specifically is what I alluded to in the previous question. Let go of as much responsibility as you can. You are very much in charge of your own life, and you will want to be in charge of lots of aspects of UM racing, too. Try to delegate EVERYTHING to one of us. Keep your mind free of the little stuff, we can handle all of that.

What do you hope to gain from your 3rd UM crewing experience?  I mean, aside from an all expenses paid trip to Australia of course.  

I’m really excited to go on this journey with you. My friendship with Rob has evolved quite a lot through UM, and I am excited for our friendship to do the same. If I should get a chance to go toe-to-toe with a kangaroo, that would be pretty dope, too.

Any other questions that I didn't ask that I should have?  :-)  

You should have asked me, “Do you think we’re going to win this thing?!” Because I would have said, “I wouldn’t have agreed to do it if I didn’t think you were going to win!!!!!”

Do YOU ever want to race Ultraman?

No. No. One thousand times, No.

Oh, and last question:  Will you be my crew captain?

Yes, I will be your crew captain. It will be an honor and I appreciate you putting your trust in me.

Well, that's all for now!  Tackling this Q & A with Chris got me pumped up to start my Ultraman training.  Worked out perfectly coming off of the off season!  I have never met Rob, but I admit to stalking him through his Florida and Hawaii prep.  Ultraman fascinates me, the mental as much as the physical and it was amazing to follow his journey.  He WON Florida and finished 3rd at the World Championships!  If you'd like to read more about Rob's story you can find everything you need on his website.

If you'd like to relive MY experience crewing for Ultraman, click HERE.

Thank you, Chris, for letting me pick your brain and indulging me with such detailed answers!  So excited for the next few months!