I haven’t done a blog entry for a while now and this race was a long time coming. It all started spring 2016 I suggested to Beth that I might want to try and do an Ultraman and had settled on Ultraman Florida with a target of racing in 2019 so in the spring of 2016 I reached out via email to the race organizer and offered to help at the 2017 Ultraman FL race.
In order to more effectively prepare I had planned on volunteering at the race at least once and even considered doing it more than once so that I could get a good handle on what it was all about. I’m really glad to have been a part of the race as staff and learned more than I could imagine by just being there helping out and doing what I could to give back to the race.
I also had planned on doing a number of other confidence boosters to better prepare and although not everything went to plan some things did go better than others and definitely had me ready to toe the line of Ultraman Florida 2019.
In the last 2 years I did more than I could have ever imagined possible 20 years ago when I started really running for fitness in my mid 20s. I did my first 50 mile trail race where I really learned how to suffer and still keep moving forward. I learned that it is possible to have a Ironman as a training race although still pretty crazy to think about. I learned that it’s easier to swim 13,000+ yards in a pool with others around you than it is to do it in open water (but having someone there with you the entire time taking care of you is wonderful.)
Life in general is about the journey and most importantly it’s about the experiences that you have along the way. To say that the journey to Ultraman Florida 2019 was an experience would be an understatement. I have met some amazing people that inspire me every day on Facebook and in real life.
Finishing the race is one thing. But the journey to the start and beyond that the people you meet and get to know along the way is what it is all about.
Ultraman Florida Day 1:
Day 1 – 10km – Swim:
In the few days leading up to the race there had been some concerns brought up by a few people about the temperature of the lake being a bit too cold but thankfully the water was almost perfect (at least in my opinion) having spent about 4.5 hours in the water I (and probably every one else) noticed that there was a layer of about 6 inches of “warm” water (from the sun) and then below that it got chilly pretty quickly. It wasn’t so cold that it was uncomfortable but it was noticeable.
I will admit that while I was generally confident that I could do the swim I am always a little nervous. I opted to have one of my crew in as my kayak escort in lieu of having Jen select someone for me. I did this for a few reason, because I had first hand experience crewing in a kayak for other swimmers I felt confident that I could successfully coach an experienced (or at least capable) kayaker through what I needed and what was needed to get me through the swim successfully. I also had confidence that Marcello being an engineer like myself would be able to adapt and adjust as needed.
The night before my wife went out with my crew to the local Walmart to get some additional food for the weekend along with getting something to decorate the kayak and texted everyone with ideas for decorating the kayak. She suggested a unicorn or a minion… I picked the minion because it’s a minion and I love minions they’re so much fun.
My fueling plan for the swim was to mostly rely on taking my drink of choice (Ginger Mapleaid) every 2000 to 2500 meters which thankfully was much easier on this course since the buoys were setup about that distance. As such when shortly after we turned at the first buoy and after we got away from it a bit we opted to take my first drink. I had also given Marcello a few Pacific Health Labs Gels (1 Key Lime and 1 Orange Creme) on the off chance that I wanted something more than the drink. I’m very glad I did because just past the half way mark I asked Marcello for my first gel and then just before the last turn buoy I requested a second gel. I also had 2 or 3 drinks of my Mapleaid and had water with my gels.
On to the swim:
We arrived early enough to setup my bike in transition and I had put together a bag with everything I needed after getting out of the water to reduce what I needed to think about after exiting the water. I walked around and exchanged my good lucks to each of the competitors that I knew and after the requisite photos I joined the athletes in the water and looked out into the lake to find my minion (balloon).
Got a few last minute hugs from the other athletes and a few more good lucks and the countdown to the 7 AM start began then off we went.
Everyone dove in the water and we all started swimming out towards our kayak escorts at this point I found it a bit more difficult to make out my minion (balloon) so as I was swimming out to him I started asking other kayakers if I was still on track. (I found out later that several of the other escorts were passing along to Marcello that I was on my way to him.
After I got next to him we quickly settled into a routine. I had him paddle (ever so slowly) to my right side as I swam as steadily as I could to the first turn buoy. The plan was to take my first bit of nutrition after the first buoy so I suggested near the turn that I would take it sometime from that buoy to the first sighting buoy.
Continuing on we made it to the second turn in what seemed like a reasonable time and turned towards the next buoy. At this point we encountered our first dilemma. I had requested/planned to have Marcello to my right side however after this turn the position he was typically settled he was right in the sun. I suggested he move to the left side but after a few strokes I realized this wouldn’t work since when I attempted to peek to my left side (vs the right side) it really threw off my balance and I could not swim like this as such after a few moments I suggested he fall in just behind me.
Once we settled I started noticing that the minion (Balloon) which at the start had sunk to the water was now floating above the water and realized that minions were apparently solar powered.
At some point along this leg I noticed that unlike earlier in the swim all of the other swimmers were far too my left and may have started swimming that way… after a quick discussion with Marcello he mentioned that there appeared to be a current and that we were on the line that we needed to be… there may have been a bit of grumbling on my part under water but after a bit I realized that I had asked him to be responsible as my eyes and I should (and did) trust his judgement.
After making the next turn buoy I decided I needed a bit more than my drink and when Marcello asked if I would like something else I asked for my Key Lime Accel Gel. I also got some motivation from my minion as he bounced around near the water a few times and attempted to give him a high five. I mean why not, right?
I was definitely feeling the fatigue and soreness in my arms and was thinking that perhaps I hadn’t have trained quite enough… although I guess it was too late to turn back now. As we approached the final turn buoy Marcello mentioned that we were almost to the final turn and all we needed to do was make the final turn before heading back to the finish line. For a bit there I was a bit confused as I somehow had gotten it into my head that there was still another turn after the next buoy… that was definitely a great thing to hear to say the least.
I made the final turn and after a short bit took a second gel (Orange Creme Accel) and according to Marcello after taking my gels I had a bit more of a pickup. Marcello asked if I wanted Beth to bring anything to have for me on the shore and I suggested a bottle of water to drink with my transition nutrition a Skratch Bar since I had forgotten to include that in my transition bag.
A bit after the final sighting buoy once I was close enough to shore to make it on my own Marcello split off from me and left me to complete the last bit to the swim finish on my own. I exited the water and got some cheering from Chuck at the mic to cross under for my official swim time and made the wobbly/wonky run up to and through the new UM FL finisher arch and had a bit of celebration (to Jen’s excitement!!!) and made my way to my wife to start the process of removing my wet-suit.
Swim Finish time: 4:32:11
(I must add that despite the extreme time in the water I think these are the best photos of me in a wet-suit that I have ever seen.)
Transition: I took a minute or so in transition (outside the changing building) to have a bit to eat and some water then after Marcello made it over took my tri bib shorts and made my way into the bathroom to change.
Putting on a trisuit when damp is always a bit of a challenge so I was glad to have some help for if nothing else some assistance in holding things.
As I’m changing Chris Holsner walks in and of course he makes some sort of comment about being able to see my penis (because I wouldn’t expect anything less from him.)
After a short exchange (with me agreeing wholeheartedly that he was certainly likely being truthful we exchanged some entertaining banter and I finished my task and returned outside to continue the process of dressing (putting on my top, socks, cycling shoes, helmet and cycling glasses.)
Head over to the bike get a quick picture with Marcello photo-bombing and then I was on my way.
Day 1 – 91 Mile – Bike:
I’ve never swam 10k and then gotten on a bike and I’m gonna be honest it showed on my first few miles on my bike. OK, more like my first 30 or so miles.
Being in the water for 4.5 hours apparently is harder to recover from than most other distances/times in the water.
There were a few problems I was experiencing:
- My arms were very fatigued and because of this my stability on the bike in aero especially was much less than normal.
- Because of being in a horizontal position (during the swim) while working I think played a factor in my sense of balance.
- Finally, I suspect that water intrusion during the long swim also affected my sense of balance.
All of these things in addition to the additional fatigue were making the bike already much more difficult than I was expecting and it made me dread the next 92 miles of riding.
Regardless the show must go on so I put my head down and got to work.
My fueling plan on the bike was a bit more well established than in the swim and it consists of drinking a bottle of Untapped Mapleaid (to start I had the Lemon Tea flavor) every 1.5 – 2 hours and usually that meant taking a swig every 15-20 minutes from a bottle behind my seat. I used to ride with a BTA bottle but with all the riding I was doing didn’t want to have to take the time to clean the bottle and opted to keep a simple bottle of water between my arms (to have with food) and keep one bottle behind my seat (I have 2 cages but only used one at at time during this race) because I knew I would have access to regular re-fueling with my crew every 5 or so miles (anywhere from 15-30 min pending road conditions.)
When I passed Dwana and Ultramama about 11 miles into the day 1 bike and I was still feeling like crap. She of course didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy pointing out that it was still early and that I had a lot to go still. (Love Dwana and Jim G. who are an amazing couple that took great care of me on day 2 of the December training camp). I of course acknowledged this and continued to bear down to keep moving after stopping safely at the stop sign.
Onward and forward I started bringing in solid food. The night before I had grabbed 2 different foods to carry on my person and had them in the back pocket of my jersey already so I had some choice.
I opted for a Skratch labs Ginger bread cookie as my first food and although it did try and crumble a bit I’m happy to say that all of it made it into my belly.
I had passed my crew a few times already but as of yet I hadn’t needed to exchange any bottles to it was so far all thumbs up and some cheering from the them and other crews that I was nearby.
The day one course was a bit of a combination of an out and back with some loops, and at least one actual out and back.
This was really nice because since it’s such a small group of people and many of them I had met before the race or had been exchanging stories and banter practically every athlete that passed me on their way back said something even going so far as calling me out by name. It really is a wonderful experience.
It is also great seeing my crew (all good friends) periodically as well and because Beth had listened I was happy to say that they almost always stopped at the crest of a hill which is the best place to exchange bottles or get food since it isn’t a problem stopping.
Also finally after about 20-30 miles (1.5 – 2 hours) I started to feel much better and finally got into a groove.
I should add that while I didn’t get far off course and I lay absolutely no blame on the course markings (since they were very clear) I did make one wrong turn before I got settled.
Thankfully, the day one ride went off without a hitch with no mechanical problems and everything going really well and I felt much better after getting settled into my groove and I was able to gradually work my way through the various athletes around me as the day went on settling around some athletes that I would spend a lot of time around all weekend.
I finished Day 1 the quickest of the three days with a bike of 5:50:29 (which includes transition) and a total time of 10:22:40 and a muted “Wahoo” to Jen when crossing the day one finish.
Total Time Day 1: 10:22:40
Ultraman Day 2 – 172 mile – Bike:
We allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit on day 2 since there wasn’t as much to get done and I set my alarm at 4:15 instead 4:00 am on Day 2. we made our way to the venue and setup the bike got in line for the bathroom in good spirits as I was feeling pretty good.
The day 2 bike course was different than it had been in past years. In previous years the early parts of the course were fairly flat and there are hills later in the course (it did have less elevation but all much of the climbing was later in the day) the new course this year had more climbing but much of that climbing was early in the day vs later in the day. We did have to climb up the Sugarloaf Mountain road twice although the second time we climbed up the back of the steep hill and got to descend Sugarloaf. (Those of you in Ohio and have been to Great Seal know that if they call something Sugarloaf it’s going to be a tough climb and it definitely is… although you can find similar hill in Ohio especially out in Zanesfield for practicing on the bike.)
Regardless, Day 2 started off without a hitch.
I was passing my crew periodically. I decided to start with a jacket and had planned on taking it off after it warmed up a bit. Because of the nature of the start it was a bit difficult to get spread out initially as there are several lights because after 5 miles we turn onto US 27 and spend the next several miles on this stretch.
After that we turn onto Dewey and into the first hills of the day. The course stays hilly for the next 60-70 miles after that and then settles into much flatter course with the back half being much flatter than the first half.
For the most part the first 40-50 miles of the day went without a hitch. The second time we were on Dewey I received a notification on my head unit that had me worried a bit.
I got a low battery warning. Now it turns out that this low battery warning was relatively innocuous. As it turns out my PowerTap P1 Pedal batteries were getting low and my right pedal level was critical. This however made me worry about a few other battery powered devices on my bike and I decided to do what I could to preserve especially my Di2 batteries.
I wouldn’t have had to do this had I planned better and had my charger in the car as I could have tossed a USB charger in my back pocket and plugged in my Di2 to charge it on the fly. That said at this time it still had power and was working as it should.
Nevertheless, there wasn’t much i could do about the pedals as they were at the moment still working and although I did have spare batteries in the car I didn’t see much point in changing them at this time.
My P1 pedals did finally give up the ghost just over half way through the ride at 90 or so miles and while I changed the battery I didn’t have any more power or cadence the rest of the day. (good thing although I pay some attention to my power and heart rate I also generally race by feel as much as I do by power and heart rate.
My crew also took great care of me throughout the days and this race could never be done in any way shape or form be done without the support of great people doing things to take care of me both on the course and back in the hotel every evening. I was truly blessed with a great crew of awesome people (and for what it’s worth I’m not crying you’re crying.)
Much to my dismay I did finally get a low battery notification from my Di2. Thankfully, I only got this notification with about 20-25 miles left. I was still feeling pretty good and I decided that knowing that the last part of the course was pretty flat that I was better suited to be in the large chain-ring and as such I made sure that through my shifting I would be sure to be stuck in the large ring for the last few miles.
With about 10 miles left in the day, with my feet killing me for being stuck in my cycling shoes (for most of the last 60-70 miles) I tried to shift my rear gear from the 6th position to the 5th position and alas it didn’t move.
For those of you that ride with Di2 the way it works is that when the battery is low. The first thing to that happens when the battery is low is that the front derailleur will stop functioning (as an indication of sorts to get back home) then the rear derailleur stops after a while and you have yourself a fixed gear bike. Good times.
Thankfully in this case I had planned well and although I was stuck in a gear based on the remaining 10 miles it was the best gear. There were a few stops and a few locations that wouldn’t be ideal most of the remaining ride would be the best all around gear.
I did make a bit of a joke when waiting at the last light to one of the volunteers and joked that I could use a bit of a push because of the gear I was stuck in at the time.
Thanks to my crew awesome crew who dressed up as minions when I crossed 100 miles (thanks for the brilliant smile) it was truly memorable the second day went as well as it could have and although I was slower than I wanted/planned in the first half I’m glad they kept it to themselves (don’t worry I was paying attention I noticed it as well.) I knew that I was likely to do the back half faster than the first.
In the end although the day could have gone better it really went about as good as it could have and I finished the second day just a bit slower than the first in 11:01:19 and got some justifiable chastising from Jen for my battery dying.
Bike Day 2 Time: 11:01:19
Total Cumulative Time: 21:23:59
Ultraman Florida – Day 3 – 52.4 mile – Run:
After not much sleep but with an awesome crew taking care of my every desire (well except for more sleep but that’s not their fault). We made our way to the race start and the day three preparation began. Unlike Day 1 & 2 the run day starts at 6:00 AM vs 7:00 AM. All things considered this morning I felt pretty good. My legs were not particularly sore and I felt like I could maybe do a double marathon.
I was nervous of course and it probably showed since I was chatting people up and making jokes with the other participants which was probably my way of relieving some stress.
After a prayer with all of the athletes in a circle led by Ultramama we all moved over to the trail and waited with baited breath for the countdown to the 6 o’clock start then off we went.
I will admit that I didn’t feel great but frankly that’s not unusual I often don’t feel good in a run until easily 5-6 miles. It’s one of the reasons that I like to run long because I know that regardless of how I feel in the beginning of the run at some point I’m bound to get in my groove.
At 1 mile I was joined by my first pacer, Vicci Jaffe, a Boston Qualified runner and just all around good person. We settled into a routine and after a few trials we figured out what I meant when I would ask for things. Best of all we were able to have conversations. I don’t remember everything we talked about but we discussed everything from my time going to my families cottage in Michigan (and how we lifted the cottage built in the 1920s 8 feet when we were repairing the foundation) to how she met her husband and the times I was out of the USA for extended periods of time.
The beginning of the course is much more hilly than the back part of the course but thankfully I despite my tired legs and the stacked fatigue from the previous two days I was able to maintain my desired paces.
It was great seeing my crew regularly and getting the food and drink that I needed. Before the sun came up Vicci and I were hoping that we might have some cloud cover but alas the moment the sun rose the layer of clouds that were in the sky disappeared and the skies were clear blue.
At the 10 mile mark I exchanged Vicci for my second crew member Marcello who would stick with me for the next 10 miles. The sun started to come up and although I had removed my shirt in the last few miles to keep cooler the next time I passed my crew vehicle I requested my De Soto Skin Cooler top. I wore this top the remainder of the day and I’m very glad I had it as it kept the sun off of me and I was almost certainly cooler than I would have been had I not worn it.
With Marcello our conversation was entirely different from Vicci. I asked him to tell me about what he was doing at work. See Marcello is an engineering professor who teaches at The Ohio State University. Being an engineer and enjoying technical things I was happy and interested to hear about some of the things he was up to at work. I’m especially intrigued by the electric moto racing that they he is planning to do and absolutely look forward to seeing his lab once it is setup.
We were also intrigued by a heat gun that someone had and brain stormed an idea for a customized race top that could be created by testing people running on a treadmill and a FLIR camera to determine where they generate the most heat so that we could more effectively create a custom stitched/patterned skin cooling top. We spent much of the first ten miles trying to brainstorm company names and decided that I would be the face of the company and he could be the silent partner. In the end we decided we just needed to hire a marketing firm to come up with a company name.
When I exchanged my wife at the 20 mile mark I was finally in groove and on track for just about a 5 hour marathon. I was happy that I didn’t need to be constantly watching my watch but was still feeling pretty good. The hardest part of the day was still to come.
At around 24 miles I we finally left behind the pavement and entered the long section clay roads. I had planned on changing my socks and shoes and sat down in the car for a Ginger Ale (my first but definitely not last soda of the day) and my crew went to work changing my socks and shoes just like a well oiled pit crew and applied a new layer of sunscreen on everything but my hands (oopsies, yes my hands got a bit of sun… honestly though my crew did an amazing job taking care of me.)
After taking off with my wife we started the long section of clay roads with my wife for the first 6 or so miles of clay. With my wife we mostly talked about what sort of things I discussed with Marcello and Vicci and honestly it worked out pretty well.
We really had a great routine going on I had two hats and 2 cooling towels. We had a cooler in the car specifically for the hat and towels every 1-2 miles we would pass the vehicle and had gotten into the routine of exchanging the hat and towel every time I passed the vehicle so that I could have a cool towel and a hat (with some ice in it.)
This routine worked really well to keep my head and core cool without getting me overly wet and most importantly it kept my feet and shorts generally pretty dry.
If I was to say that the clay roads were easy I would be lying. There was nothing easy about that section of the course. That said the best part of the run day was that although everyone was suffering unlike the bike days when we were nearby one another we could talk more easily and exchange some good lucks and congratulations with each other.
Once we got out of the clay we only had a half marathon remaining and I had just under 4 hours to finish a half marathon.
I was dreading the few miles after the clay because I knew that it was a pretty exposed section of the course and was not very interesting but thankfully Marcello was there carrying a zip-lock bag of ice and kept me company until he handed me off to Beth for the next five mile section. We also had some awesome conversations to include farting (of which there was a lot of going on… farting that is.) and how I met Beth, and how he met Stephanie his wife.
Thankfully the last part of the race was much flatter than the beginning and once we got into the neighborhoods in the last 10 or so miles of the race were much nicer and although I was getting passed by some people I started to think we could probably make this thing happen.
In this section I will say I had a great conversation with Vicci and learned about how she met her husband (and I do still owe her the story of how my parents met since I forgot to ask them before the race.) We also talked about the times I’ve been out of the country and how the first time Beth went out of the country she went to Ghana and that there was always a chance that I wouldn’t have been there.
I will say there was one thing that I was absolutely thrilled about and that was that on Wednesday when we were out at the store getting things for the weekend Beth asked if I wanted watermelon and she bought a bit container because pretty much salted watermelon was my go to nutrition when the heat came out later in the day intermixed with Cola, Ginger Ale and 1 Cranberry Red-bull with 10 kms left in the run.
I was also happy that in general my stomach stuck it out and let me eat throughout the day without too much trouble.
Everyone on my crew and all the volunteers did amazing and I seriously couldn’t have done any of this without them…
I had the ever so awesome Julian pass me with about 2 miles remaining and I could tell that he was suffering but an amazing job digging deep and getting to the finish.
As we got closer I opted or at least did my best to spread the three of us that were nearby one another Julian a minute or so in front of me and Type 1 Diabetic Athlete Chris Clark a minute or so behind me.
To say this was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done would not be a lie and I was thrilled to make it to the finish line. I picked up my crew in the last few hundred meters and took them with me across the line.
Day 3 Run Time: 11:28:28
Total Cumulative Time: 32:52:27
Total unique finishers of an Ultraman as of UMFL 2019: 859
Unique finisher #: 851
While I’ll probably never qualify for the Ironman World Championship I am now qualified for the Ultraman World Championship (anyone want to go to Hawaii with me?)
During the race I completed my longest bike ride ever at one time, 172 miles in 11:01:19
I also got a 50k and 50 mile PR of 6:11:59 and 10:58:24 and obviously a double marathon PR of 11:28:28.
If you skipped the rest of the report and jumped to here I hope you enjoy my final thoughts about this race weekend and life in general.
There is something seriously special about this race and I’m really glad I took on the challenge of doing Ultraman Florida. There was definitely a lot of training involved in this and and a lot of preparation but frankly the I couldn’t have done this race without all the help and support of everyone that helped me along the way.
There were many athletes that helped me with ideas and thoughts that I took to heart and was able to implement on race day.
At the 2018 UM FL Tom Tom suggested that I needed to race the first two days planning for the Run as that was really where the race started, Jamie Harris is who suggested that changing hats every time I passed the vehicle with an ice cold hat that was spot on and helped me stay cool in the heat of the day. The banter between athletes on the course was motivating and everyone out there was so very supportive of one another. It really is a huge family (Ohana).
My Coach Kirk Blackmon of Fit Aspire coaching based in Colorado has helped tremendously. While I don’t say nearly enough about him. Having a coach to help balance the three disciplines of doing a triathlon is tremendously helpful and something that I wouldn’t want to do on my own while balancing a full workload and family life. It is especially useful for long course training as there are times that I just don’t have time to think about what I should be doing next week let alone what I need to do to get to my next race successfully.
I am glad to have the bike rides with members of the Central Ohio Triathlon Club and especially the additional motivation from many of the members that shared my winter training sessions with the club. They really were motivating and it helped me finish them to know that hopefully I would help motivate someone else to do something amazing.
I can’t thank the Front Runner training group enough for being there to run with every Sunday morning that I opted to join them for a run (because sometimes I need to go out on my own but other times I need the company of others.) I really like Front Runner because the group is more like family than it is like a training group. I’m sorry that spent most of the last year (or maybe even two years) talking about Ultraman… who knows what I’ll talk about now that I’ve finished the race.
I especially am thankful for Vicci and Marcello who took time out of their lives to fly down to Florida and take care of me this weekend. When Ia asked them early last year they agree to do it and never backed down in their support of me all the way through to the end. I seriously could not have done this without them there taking care of me.
They cooked dinner, changed my shoes and socks, organized and took notes (thanks professor), and were there all weekend just to take care of my every whim and desire. It was truly a team effort to get me from the start line through to the finish. All the help (Kokua) they and every one else along the way gave me is something I could never asked for and am truly appreciative of what they have done for me.
Finally, I’m thankful for my amazing wife who has supported me throughout this entire endeavor from the moment I said that I might want to give it a try all the way through being the best crew chief I could ever have (except for maybe Alin Lupas, an umbrella really?) Seriously though I am always amazed at what she does and lets me do… she really is awesome and I am glad to have found her and to have her in my life. I love you with all my heart and couldn’t imagine my life without you by my side (Aloha).
Now, I know a lot of people have asked me what’s next and you know what I’m still not sure…. the remainder of this year is going to be pretty light. I am signed up for the Lifetime indoor tri double wave on April 7th (yes I signed up for this before Ultraman Florida and hopefully I’ll see some of you out there.) Beyond that I might sign up for Ohio 70.3 since it’s in my back yard (effectively) and is a great race where I can see a lot of people I know on the course.
Is there a chance I’ll do another Ultraman… I’m certainly not going to rule it out… I’d also like to do some other things perhaps maybe try and find/do a swim-run event (although I’m not sure there are any closer and I’d have to find the right swimming/running partner that has a similar swim speed and run pace.
I will go back and volunteer because I gotta go back and seem my family in FL and perhaps find some more family members in AZ.
Seriously, this was the most amazing experience and I look forward to where I go from here… Aloha, Ohana, Kokua… I truly know what that means now.