One of the overarching reflections I have of racing Ultraman Canada 2019 can be summarised as, “Where did that performance output come from?!”
In one regard, I wouldn’t have extrapolated my prior data and experience to predict the achieved results. On the other hand, there are clues to be found in the methodology and mindset.
I entered the event believing in the possibility of achieving excellence. This is fundamental because without a positive mental attitude a low ceiling is already cemented into place. Removing perceived boundaries provides room for potential to express itself in extraordinary ways. Keep in mind, however, that grasping for unreasonable illusions is as dangerous as wallowing in self-limitations, i.e. it would be foolish to think I could swim like Alexander Berggren, push watts like Sebastian Kienle or run like Patrick Lange.
Much of current exercise training methodology is founded on our knowledge of energy system intensity. Methods of tracking structural health are currently invasive or impractical for the majority of athletes, although science may be on the cusp of providing correlative indications of internal tissue health. Even still, evolution may have provided us the ultimate tool; one that most of us look past—our own internal senses.
“Your body/brain really do know everything. Put as much time and effort into studying, thinking, exploring the nuances and subtleties of your body and senses as a person does on a 3-month mindfulness/meditation retreat and you’ll have a better tool than engineers, algorithm coders, machine learning or AI could ever develop in our lifetimes.”
~Exercise bio-energeticist, Shawn Bearden, Ph.D. (Science of Ultra)
Our body is taking in and processing uncountable amounts of data every second, something no wearable device can match. Because of medical issues that arose this year, the volume of physical training I did prior to Ultraman Canada was much less than planned. Instead, I spent a lot of time in spiritual inquiry which heightened my sensitivity to internal sensations and my ability to stay mindfully equanimous.
Mental and spiritual preparation, then, is the first clue to my ultra-performance. With training I can more clearly feel the messages of health, or unhealth, from connective tissues. Continually remaining in touch with the sensations in the body became so rewarding that I’m now experiencing a longing to be back out there “embracing the pain”, as crewmate Alex Banville invited me to do throughout Day 3, because it was a very potent mind-body connection. Save for a few occasions, I stayed present during the 27.6 hours of racing—when annoyed, when feeling energetic, while being elated, and in the grind.
The second clue to the results has its roots in patience: a slow burn burns the longest, and provides the most locomotive pressure/energy.
I don’t usually make my training data public because the specific numbers are only relevant to me. But I’m providing the basic metrics of my three days because they reveal the consistency required for playing the long-game of ultra-endurance.
In all three disciplines my plan was to set levels of energy expenditure for which I had a high degree of confidence in maintaining throughout each ‘session’. I based these on what I’d been able to consistently achieve over long durations in training. Many athletes don’t fully grasp that consistent, low-intensity training increases fitness by steadily building cumulative training load as each workout builds on the days, weeks and months that have come before it. Even though I hadn’t actually swam 10 km, biked 276 km or run 84 km I knew that the power and paces seen in training during chronic loading could be sustained over a longer time after a short taper period for recovery.
Inconsistent training or overuse of high-intensity raise acute training fatigue which increases injury and burnout risks and do not provide long-term benefits.
Throughout the Day 1 swim and Day 3 run I used intervals of movement and short rests to provide stable and maintainable ‘all day’ efforts. This type of plan requires patience in training and racing but the rewards are high. These ‘intervals’ also lay an infrastructure of routine that supplies the mind with stability in the midst of toil thereby mitigating over-stress and wasted energy.
I was last into the water but exited the lake in 5th, and then ended the Day 1 bike in 2nd place. I was 2nd at the start line of the Day 2 bike, 10th after 15 minutes, and by actually improving my power output through the ten hours I finished in 2nd place and with a time buffer for the last day. On Day 3 I started the run in 2nd place, was in 7th after 5km yet finished 3rd for the day and 2nd overall.
I share this not to blow my own horn but instead to show the power of patience and consistency. It’s not unlike the benefits of daily meditation that provide sustained and deeper levels of joy and capacity for clarity.
“You know there’s going to come a time when it gets really raw, when you’re going to ask yourself why you’re doing this. You’re going to have focus on who you want to be.”
The final piece of the puzzle relates to the quote above by my crew captain and best-mate: it’s something he said to me a couple of days before the race. Dan knows that my journey—this soulful sojourn—is a process of exploration and discovery. Who I want to be requires that I go through difficult challenges. I remained aware that demons could arise at any moment, and while I didn’t expect them to the extent that I self-manifested them, I was continually open to the invitation of being vulnerable, which is something I whole-heartedly, and welcomingly, embrace.
In summary, I had planned levels of output that I believed were achievable baring injury or exogenous uncontrollables. And I stayed present with my body and mind so that I could dig deep and be a constructive team member.
** I want to thank my crew Dan Berman & Alex Banville for their unequivocal care and hard work. It was most definitely a team achievement. And merci beaucoup to Altra Running and Zizu Optics for their support and outstanding products.