My 2012 training focused on USAT Age Group National Championships, 18 August. Olympic Distance is not my forté, but the opportunity to “race fast” alongside the best athletes at that distance was compelling. I emphasized strength and (my particular “area of opportunity”) speed.
Well... In July, after another great Musselman Half-Iron, I dreamed up the 2012 Triple Ultra Challenge. Could I train minimally and effectively for a trio of ultra distance triathlons? Beginning 19 August – the day after Age Group Nationals – I would have just 20 days to prepare for the first event. And that would be...
08-09 September: Shawangunk Double
- Day 1: American Zofingen Long Course Duathlon (AZ) has a slogan: “Crushing dreams since 2005”: 84 miles of road cycling with 8-9,000 feet of climbing and grades to 14%, plus 20 miles of trail running with 2,400 feet of climbing. As a 5M run/84M bike/15Mrun, this is arguably the most difficult duathlon in North America.
- Day 2: Survival of the Shawangunks (SOS) is unique in the world of multisport: 30 miles of road cycling, 19 miles of trail running, 2.1 miles of mountain lake swimming. This event is sequenced as a bike/run/swim/run/swim/run/swim/run. And here’s the catch: Once off the bike, athletes are traversing through wilderness preserve, and must carry all swim and run gear to the finish.
The “Shawangunk Double” is my own creation. I have dreamed of doing these two events on consecutive days since I first lived in the area. These are world-class events held in the same beautiful mountainous region just west of the Hudson River Valley. Since AZ is actually held in May, I would do that event self-supported, the day before the actual SOS race.
After an eleven-day interim:
20-22 September: Inaugural Zendurance Ultra Tri Camp
I would accompany my friend Bob Posey for this 3-day self-supported introduction to multi-day “staged” triathlon – a scaled down version of Ultraman, which I completed in 2006. This would be Bob’s first multi-day ultra event. My role would be to do the event alongside of him. (Without drafting!)
- Day 1: 6.2-mile swim, 90-mile bike: Staging in western Massachusetts, we would swim in Stockbridge Bowl and cycle through the mountains, with 6970 feet of climbing.
- Day 2: 141-mile bike: Three loops of a 47-mile course along the quiet, pastoral roads of southwestern MA, with 9210 feet of climbing.
- Day 3: 31-mile trail run: 10 loops of a 3.1-mile trail loop, with 350 feet of climbing for each loop.
And then, after another 11-day interim:
05-07 October: Virginia Triple Iron
Days 1-3: 7.2 mile swim, 336 mile bike, 78.2 mile run. This event is non-stop, with a 60-hour time limit. It’s conducted on a short lap course – 18 back-and-forth laps for the swim, 67 for the bike, 39 for the run. It is held in Lake Anna State Park.
Crazy, Stupid, or Just Plain Arrogant?
At 55 years young, I was not so arrogant to be certain that I would succeed at completing the 2012 Triple Ultra Challenge. This was a daunting, radical undertaking for me. I was facing a lot of uncertainty in setting this goal.
It’s vital to push the envelope in life – to live in the question, and not rush to the comfort and security of answers. I’ll bet you are familiar with uncertainty. Remember lining up for the start of your first triathlon or running race? How about your first Ironman? Remember how uncertain you felt? And remember how alive you felt?
We live in a culture that associates uncertainty with fear. We invest ridiculous amounts of money and energy attempting to create security and certainty in our lives. However, in life, nothing is certain. Our capacity to embrace uncertainty and to disengage from the fears – this is vital to living functional, rich, and rewarding lives.
The “Comfort of Volume”
Many of us train far more than we need to. Why? Because it gives us psychological comfort. Here’s an example from my own experience: When I lived in Kona, I qualified for Hawaii Ironman (as a local resident) – just 6 months after my first triathlon.
I had 5 more months to get body and mind “Iron-ready”. I was scared. Training frequently on the Ironman course, I was familiar with the most brutal conditions that Pele can deliver – especially the winds on the bike course. Every single morning, I awoke with the same nagging unanswered question: “Can I do this?”
I responded to the uncertainty with fear: I put in excessive hours swimming, biking and running – lots of long workouts. I wanted to convince myself everyday that I would succeed on race day. Perhaps if I accumulated enough miles, I might feel certain and secure before race day.
I rode the entire bike course every Saturday – and sometimes more – just to reassure myself that I would be able to go the entire 140.6 miles in October. It didn’t matter how tired I felt – the fear was greater than the fatigue. That is, until...
No, I didn’t crash my bike. It was worse than that. I crashed my endocrine system. Just 35 days before the race, I woke up on a Sunday morning and I honestly felt like I was going to die. I laid in bed and cried. Now I faced an even greater fear than a DNF – a fear we all have to address. Mortality.
I want to be clear: It wasn’t the training that almost killed me. It was the way I responded to the uncertainty I felt. I responded with fear. That’s what almost killed me.
Well, in that last 35 days, I recovered just enough to make the starting line, and trained just enough to make the finish line. It was not an enjoyable process! Never again! I began to cultivate a new relationship with uncertainty – opportunity. The first fruit of that transformation was my first book: “Zendurance, A Spiritual Fitness Guide for Endurance Athletes”.
Now, 14 years later, in 2012, I was using the insights and wisdom I have gained along the “zendurance path” for the Triple Ultra. And I felt no fear. Now I know the secret to going longer or faster than I ever have before.
And here it is: Just execute the next stroke, the next stride perfectly. And when you have completed that stroke or stride perfectly, execute the stroke, the next stride perfectly. It’s that simple.
An Ironman is not 140.6 miles – at least not until you have finished it. It is just one perfect stroke/stride, and then another. That’s true for a novice’s first triathlon, and it’s true for the Ironman World Champions. (And by the way, a triple iron is not 421.8 miles, its just one perfect stride, one perfect stroke...)
Mind IN Matter:
I coined the word “zendurance” just after that first Hawaii Ironman. “Zen” means meditation – the practice of mindfulness. And “endurance” means sustainability – going the distance gracefully.
To execute each and every stroke and stride perfectly, your mind must be silent so it can listen to your body speak. This is the essence of “kinetic intelligence”. Every cell in your body is intelligent. Perfect strides and strokes arise from your body’s intelligence. A significant element of your body’s intelligence is your...
“Proprio - what? Proprioception is your body’s perception of balance – it’s orientation to gravity. Nobel Prize winner Dr. Roger W. Sperry conducted research showing that ninety percent of the neural activity in your brain is devoted to maintaining your balance.
Imagine that... 90%! That leaves just 10% for texting and driving. (No wonder it’s dangerous to text and drive – you only have 10% of your brains neural activity to work with.) It’s this 90% that can really help you to go farther and faster in triathlon... If you develop the skills to use it.
Proprioception is the most significant element of my craft as an endurance athlete. Proprioception is what enabled me to succeed in the 2012 Triple Ultra Challenge – on minimal training. How minimal?
Less is More
During the summer, I trained 11-15 hours per week. That included 2-3 hours per week of functional strength training – an effective way to develop proprioception. It did not include the 40 minutes every morning that I devote to T’ai Chi – the most important part of my proprioceptive training.
The day after Age Group Nationals, I radically ramped up my training. Between 19 August and 29 September, my weekly training totals ranged from 17-33 hours per week. (Note that these some of these weekly totals also included the first and second events of the Triple Ultra. I calculate 7-day totals Sunday through Saturday.)
I was able to absorb this radical increase in volume (at age 55) without injury because I executed each stroke and stride mindfully. My well-developed proprioceptive ability was the key.The Finale
The finale was, of course, the Virginia Triple Iron. With breaks, my time was 56:39:53. My total volume for that week: 62 hours, 15 minutes. Because I executed every stroke and stride of the 2012 Triple Ultra Challenge mindfully I rebounded quickly. I trained for and gracefully finished a marathon 2 days after Thanksgiving.
I’m not an animal. I’m not superhuman. And I’m not a hero. I just enjoy moving gracefully and mindfully – whether I’m racing for speed at Age Group Nationals, or cruising for endurance at the Triple Iron.
And a Triple Iron is still “small change” in the ultra tri world: There are Quintuples, Deca’s – even Double Deca Irons. (That’s 48 miles of swimming, 2240 miles of biking, 262 miles of running.)
Distance is relative. Grace, efficiency and mindfulness are the common denominators of success and enjoyment at all distances.
For More Info
I thoroughly documented the Triple Ultra experience in an e-Book to offer aspiring athletes some insight into training and “racing” multi-day ultra-distance triathlons. The e-Book details my training, approach, nutrition, and the experience of each event. It’s available exclusively through this website (use the "2012 Triple Ultra" button in the column on the left) for just $4.99.