When I was training for my first Ironman, I thought I had reached the pinnacle of endurance events. I was particularly confident that I was near the top of the pyramid when I reached the point of training where I did the longest run (which was 18 miles) before my coach had me start to dial it down as I moved toward taper.
At the time, I was training in Georgia and my long run was done on a path that connected with a paved road called the Silver Comet Trail. I did a route that was three miles, so that I could always be relatively close to the restroom and my car.
It was during that long run that I noticed an individual who was there when I started my run and who was still going when I finished. She wore a camelback pack and had a very relaxed compact running style. Two things became clear as I slogged through my workout. First, she was doing the same route as I was and second, she was moving faster than me. Actually, there were three things. She was also a much more efficient runner. She seemed to glide down the trail with easy little pitter pat steps, while I more or less tried to pound the trail into submission with thumping, Clydesdale stomps (kids, don’t try this at home).
Our courses eventually synced up to the point where I could ask her what she was training for and when she responded, I didn’t recognize the race. It contained the word “Ultra” but that word didn’t register with me at the time.
It was only after my Ironman that I learned that anything with the word “Ultra” in it is in a completely different universe. The distances absolutely boggle the mind. You see, Ultra distances start where the name brand events end. A Marathon finishes at 26.2 miles and the shortest Ultra Run races are usually 31.06 miles (50K) and go up from there. Ironman ends at 140.6 miles and Ultras start at double that distance!
The numbers seem so big to me that they are almost incomprehensible in the context of a race and I deeply regret not asking more questions about her journey. It would have been wonderful to understand the mindset required to make it through an Ultra. I mean, how do you get your head around that kind of distance? What do you eat? How do you prepare? But, unfortunately, I was so focused on my own training that I missed the chance.
Well, fast forward to today and the universe has given me a gift. An opportunity to ask all those questions I missed several years ago. That’s because our very own Kate Bevilaqua has decided to do an Ultra herself. It’s the Ultra 520 Canada and consists of a 10K Swim, a 425.6K Bike, and an 84.4K Run. Folks, those are not typos. Like I said, the numbers are staggeringly large, but the good news is that this time, we get the chance to ask all those questions! So, here’s our Q&A with Coeur athlete Kate Bevilaqua:
Coeur: Kate, thank you for taking the time to correspond with us prior to the race. I’ve gotta ask…what made you decide to try an Ultra?
Kate: It has been something I had been thinking about for at least 5 years now. All of my closest friends and family knew it was on the bucket list but "when" it was going to happen was the question…..not even I knew the answer to that! There always seemed to be a clash with my race schedule and what I wanted to achieve in the year so I kept on putting it off. Then this year…certain things happened, plans changed and Ultra520k fit into the equation nicely. It was on!! AAGGGHHH!!!
Coeur: So, how is the training different for an Ultra than an Ironman?
Kate: It was definitely a big learning experience for me. The end of May I competed in Ironman Lanzarote, then had a one week holiday in Venice in with Guy and my parents.
Unfortunately after that Guy and I were sick (post Ironman blues and all the travel!) plus an unexpected return trip to Australia and the start to my Ultraman training was delayed by a few weeks. Once back in Boise and sitting down with coach Jeff Shilt we had a two month plan in place and the fun began.
Originally I was stressing out thinking that was not long enough, I am not going to be ready! But honestly I soon realized that I personally would only have been able to maintain the training for that long.
I had a lot to learn…the biggest difference in my training was obviously volume…but I also had to SLOW down!! I learned that lesson the hard way during a long run. I definitely began too fast as if it was only a 2 hour run, forgetting I was actually running 4 hours! Let’s just say that last hour was a death march! I have had to learn to pace myself better.
I have also never eaten so much during a training program! Sure I have my normal Ironman race nutrition, but that is not going to cut it for Ultraman. The best piece of advice I received from the Queen and World Champion herself Hillary Biscay was to eat up!! Anyone who has done an Ironman will understand that feeling you have the next day, when you wake up and are so hungry from the race the day before. You eat all day trying to replace those calories. During an Ultraman event you can't afford to do that….because it a 3 day event! You need to be fueled up and ready to go the next day again. Not starting on empty!! During training after a few big back to back days I was getting up in the middle of the night making a toasted sandwich because I was so hungry!
Coeur: What are you most nervous about?
Kate: Honestly I am nervous about it all! The unknown…..but that is exactly the thing that excites me at the same time! I have not covered any of the complete distances in training. My longest swim has been 9km (about 5.6miles) the longest single ride I completed was 150 mile (although I did a few long back to back rides) and early in June I did a 50km Trail race which took me just over 5 hours (and I couldn't walk for nearly 3 days after it!). But I am sure it is like an Ironman or Ultra event, once you get to a certain point, it is all mental. We give up mentally first, when the body is capable of so much more! I am so lucky to have an awesome support crew with me! They are like family and know me so well. I know with them by my side I will be able to have a great day!
Coeur: Do you think you'll be doing more Ultras in the future?
Kate: I might have to answer this one next week :-) It depends how it all goes! I can imagine if you asked me that question as soon as I finish I would say absolutely no way! If you gave me a week, I would probably respond with "yes….I would like to try it again!" How many times have you crossed the finish line at an Ironman and said to yourself that you were never doing that again!! But a few days later, looking at that finisher’s medal, you forget all the painful parts of the day and only remember the great ones and that finish line!
Coeur: Can you describe the Ultra Community? Are they different than the Ironman Community?
I haven't had much experience with the Ultra community. Having only completed a couple of 50k Trail events (which just fit into the Ultra category!!) this is really my first exposure to it all. Last month Guy and I travelled to Challis, in the middle of nowhere in Idaho. We drove the mini-van and like everyone else, slept in the back of it at the local oval next to the race start. There was a pasta dinner the night before, breakfast on before the race, and the sense of comradery and community was extremely positive and great to be a part of. I am anticipating this will be exactly like that, but after three days of swimming/biking and running! We will all have something very special to share at the end.
Coeur: What is your nutrition plan for the race?
Kate: Pretty simple…eat and drink A LOT!! Within reason off course! The first day will be very similar to Ironman. Guy will paddle for me while I swim the 6.2miles with a plan of stopping every few km's for some GU and a gel or 2 along the way. Onto the bike for just short of 100miles and I will again stick to my Ironman plan with my GU Roctane Electrolyte, gels and chomps. I will also include a bar or 2 plus a banana. As I am not running off the bike I can take in more calories which will help with the consecutive days. Day 2 and 3 I expect will be different and the car will be packed with lots of other options to cover the cravings and calories required. I have cookies, chocolate bars, salted chips, bagels, coke, mountain dew, red bull all just in case! I will also be going at a slower pace than Ironman, so again my body will be able to absorb more calories…I experimented with many different things during training. It is time to put the plan into action and see how it goes!
Coeur: Kate, thank you so much and have a great race. We’ll be cheering for you!