by Jo Baxas
What made you decide to do your first Ultraman?
The extreme difficulty of it, and my daughter Rita. Extreme endurance is hard. Overcoming, and achievement take time, dedication, long-term thinking and goal setting. There are no quick rewards, or shortcuts. You need to do the work, you need to believe in yourself, and you need to be both mentally and physically strong. These are values I would like to inspire in her.
I could try and tell her to do all these things that they are important in life, but at the end of the day kids don’t do what we tell them to, they do what they see us do. So I chose the Ultraman as a vehicle for that.
Crossing the finish line with her was very special to me, and I will cherish that moment forever.
How much harder is it than a regular distance Ironman?
I think that once you have the fitness level for an Iron distance event you’ll be able to finish an Ultraman. Having said that they are two very different races, and the Ultraman is much, much harder.
The bigger distances take a serious toll on the body, and you’re in competition mode for three whole days. Imagine how you feel after an Ironman, and now imagine going at it again the next day, and the next. It is a mental challenge as much as a physical one.
How is the training different, do you do longer distances?
I train longer on the bike, I run about the same, and I actually don’t swim that much. I’ve been working with the same coach for 3 years and we realized that I couldn’t add a lot more hours to my weekly training, so we got a bit creative. Instead of doing longer sessions, I start the main session of the day already tired. For example I run 1:30 before a 5-hour bike session on Saturday, and on Sunday, bike for 2 hours before a 3-hour long run. As the race gets closer I usually do double runs, and split the long run in two. One run in the morning after the bike, and one run at night. We also added some endurance swims in the endless pool, where I would just swim for an hour or two at constant pace, no intervals, no drills. Sometimes I follow that swim with a 2-hour bike.
For the longer distances of the Ultraman I feel my body needs more than swim, bike, run, so I pay a lot of attention to mobility work, self massage, and I do strength training and resistance stretching twice a week.
Other than that the training was very similar.
It must be tough to do an event over a few days, how do you make yourself get out of bed and go again?
Its very tough as you’re sore, tired and the bed feels so good, so a lot of it is mental. You get into the “zone” for 3 days, you have a job to do and you got out and do it. It’s actually great fun. Having the time to rest at night is awesome but you have to be smart about it and take real advantage of it. I use it to fuel up with real food, hydrate, do mobility work, massage, and get as much sleep as possible. It’s like cramming all your little recovery tricks into one 8 hour period.
It’s very important to know how your body reacts to race foods like caffeine, gels and others. You don’t want to spend the night in the bathroom, or have insomnia because you had a bunch of caffeinated gels during the day. I totally forgot about this in my first Ultraman and did not sleep a single minute on the first night of the race.
What’s the hardest part of Ultraman?
All of it is very hard. I’m not a fast swimmer, I’m not a fast cyclist and I’m definitely not a fast runner. So I suffer pretty much the whole way. I honestly think it is the hardest thing I’ve done, but if I have to pick the hardest part, I would say the run. To run a double marathon by itself is extremely hard, to run a double marathon after 2 days of extreme swimming and cycling is borderline insane. Having said that you do reach a point, in all three sports, when you’re in pain, you’re dead tired, you’re too cold, or too hot, and you just don’t care anymore. You don’t think about the wind, the rain, or how much more you have to climb, all your focus is on small goals you set along the way, like getting to the next turn, or catching the athlete in front of you. Those little victories will help push through the challenges, and keep your mind from negativity.
I joined because of the training camp in Miami. When I saw that I could spend a few days training with Chris I signed up immediately. At the time I did not know that it was a team, a community, but everyone was so nice and crazy I felt I would fit right in. Haven’t looked back since. Now I can’t go a day without compulsively checking Facebook for the news, race reports, advice, support and teasing that we have in our group.
What is the best thing about it?
It’s great to connect with like-minded people, and learn from them. I think the best thing is the community, and the best tool is the Facebook group. I don’t use the website that often, and I wish we had a mobile version of it. I also like the fact that Chris gets involved, comments on posts and makes an effort to be accessible.
I love the fact that we can get expert advice, camps and workouts, from the coaches and Chris, news from JoJo “the stalker”, and that more talent is being added all the time. I love it.
Who is your hero of triathlon – you don’t have to say Chris McCormack?
I don’t have to say Chris, but I will.
I love this sport, and I love the fact that it’s still at a stage where the Pros are so accessible to the weekend warriors like myself. We don’t have that in most sports. Knowing all too well the difficulty of preparing and racing in any triathlon I am in awe of anybody that can finish an Ironman in less than 9h, but having met Chris and see in person the dedication, work ethics and down to earth, no bullshit approach of his, leaves me with nothing but respect and admiration.
What’s next for you in racing?
I want to continue to do Ironmans and Ultramans, and maybe, just maybe some longer stuff.
What would you advise anyone who is thinking of doing one (not me clearly!)
Go for it, more than a race it’s a great adventure, and one you will remember for life. I would add that you should pick your support crew well, and spend time preparing together. The race is extremely hard for the athletes, and it’s no easier on the crews. They are as important as your legs if you want to finish this race. The Ultraman is a team sport.