Ultraman Florida

Okay. So my friend Jessica Deree and all of the other 36 competitors are crazy. Crazy awesome.

Ultraman Florida is a 3 day triathlon endurance event. Day 1: 6.2 mile swim, 93 mile bike. Day 2: 171 mile bike. Day 3: double marathon. 52.4 miles of running. {and more than likely, the only thing holding me back from applying for a race like this}

You have 12 hours each day to finish the day’s events. It’s no easy feat and takes a crap load of training, and an awesome crew to get you to the finish line. Yeah, and a lot of heart, sweat, lube, power, perseverance, planning, preparation, focus, food, fight, and so much more each day.

I had the honor of crewing for Jessica. She is one of our elite tri team ambassadors at Moment and I did her bike fit and helped her build a dream bike. {Frank the tank, not really tank-y at all; a BMC Timemachine 01, with Dura-Ace Di2 and the Zipp 808 carbon clincher wheelset. Sorry for the bike shop lingo.} She needed a last minute run pacer addition to her team and I’m still not quite sure why she asked me.

So, I started running in January. Had a solid month of training and I was back on the bike. Unfortunately my back went out in early Feb at work and I did all I could to treat it so I’d be good to go by race weekend. Luckily it worked.I arrived on Wednesday evening. Thursday is a brunch and crew briefing. The rest of the day was spent prepping, packing, organizing, and last minute shopping.

As a newbie to this little circle of ultra crazies and their crew, it was a humbling experience listening to the introductions. One person had done 24 ironmans, many Guinness book records {running 12 hours on a treadmill, what?!}, 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days, and a long list of endurance running events. I was baffled by the accomplishments but was almost immediately stunned by the camaraderie and love in the room. I received too many real hugs to count. None of those side hip, one armed Cali hugs. Real, Midwestern bear hugs. Ohana {Hawaiian for family} was preached quite a bit during the weekend, and it touches you in a way that can’t be explained. I guess I understood why Jess came back for a 2nd go round of crazy.

By the time Friday morning arrived the crew was assembled, suv was packed, and I was ready and excited to help her {and others} on the journey to that finish line on Sunday. I still hadn’t quite comprehended what was about to occur, but at least I knew the distances by this point.

{The crew during the swim. Chris was kayaking.}

It’s so funny. With Ironman, Ultraman, or really, any triathlon event, the majority of participants are most concerned with the swim. I could feel the tension, nerves, & anticipation on that first day with that looming 6.2 mile swim. Yet for her it was 1/9th of the event time wise. Watching everyone put on their wetsuits and circle up on the boat ramp with Sway the race director listening to the encouraging moment, it was surreal.

Selfishly, I was only concerned about Sunday. I know how to change a flat, repair a chain, fill a bottle. I knew Jess was going to kill the swim. I knew her bike was consistent. It was that darn run pacing haunting me, making me doubt I wouldn’t have enough. Making me worry I wouldn’t be a worthy crew member.

The countdown began as the sun was rising over the lake. Picture perfect memories. The triathlon swim start always gives me chills and most of the time a tear or two. They were off on a 6.2 mile journey around the lake.

 Jess’ husband Chris was her kayaker and did an amazing job getting her to the finish line as the first female. Unfortunately, her friend and teammate Marci had to be pulled from the water as she was hypothermic and spent 6 hours in the ER. She was leading the swim overall.

Jen and Joan did a great job getting her dried off and changed. I grabbed Frank and had his tires pumped, nutrition filled and gears correct for her start. She was off on her 93 mile journey to the day 1 finish.

Crewing is basically leap frogging with a car full of crazy people and nutrition + anything else that may be necessary for the athlete to assist in their finish. {minus performance enhancing drugs and motor bikes}. We would wait for 5-15 minutes, drive up the road and pass her, get out and wait for the exchanges. I filled the bottles she’d toss and hand them off the next time. Jenn would do the food {Gu or Uncrustable}, Joan and Jay would have the random crap {wipes, ice, salt, etc} and we’d all cheer too. Chris was the excellent driver on Day 1. Joan took over for Day 2&3 and Jay did an excellent job as navigator.

{what we do with a 2 min break}

The course on Day 1 was flat, but unfortunately windy. There was a bad stretch on a easterly busy highway past halfway that was pretty miserable for the athletes. We ate corn dogs at that point.

{yeah! corner coming off the headwind for now only a side wind}

She was crushing the day, faster than she anticipated. We slowed down to pass at one point and Chris was like, “we are going 20mph, she isn’t this fast!” She was. Finished day 1 as the fastest female finisher, beating the next woman by 15 minutes.

Change, massage, and then a car ride to the airport to drop off Chris. He had to be back to work on Sunday. And truthfully, he couldn’t bear to watch her go through the pain that she was in at points last year.

{the crew}

Lucky for us, she actually trained for this year.

Day 2 is a 171 mile bike ride through central Florida. Sounds pleasant, right? Um, no. 100 miles are okay. Then the hills start. Not quite Cali hills, but 4K of climbing over the last 71 miles makes for a tough day. Especially after riding nearly a century + the swim the day before

We fell into our leap frog routine and were killing the handoffs after the first day debacles. She was crushing and looking quite amazing on Mr. Frank. Staying aero, drinking like the Pavlov dog on her alarms, eating what we passed to her and being overall a compliant racer! The weather was better and nearly perfect, partly cloudy most of the day. You could see the struggle towards the end. It was hotter, hillier and the roads weren’t great {construction and traffic. Remember this is an open course and you have to follow all road signs/laws.}

{bottle hand off}
{Hardest point on the course. Sugarloaf hill. Chris is there in spirit.}

Yet, she finished the day as the first official female. Marci came back after her DNF as a participant on Day 2 finishing ahead of Jess and the woman who was 15 min behind was DQ’d for multiple reasons after many warnings. So Jess’s now leading by 2+ hours going into day 3 with another killer PR.

{day 2 bike finish – click to enlarge video}

The double marathon. I don’t even know what to say. The length alone is daunting.  And after two incredibly long days before is just unfathomable. Yet, everyone got out of bed, {the run starts an hour earlier in the dark!} tied their laces the same as everyone else, and made it to the start line.

Her coach is Chuck Kemeny. Ultraman Florida champion and record holder. Overall badass. He was crewing for Marci and they all ran together for the first 5 miles. Jess needed a different pace so Jenn jumped out and did her magic.

Oh, Jenn. MickeyD’s, gummy, Cheetos fueled Jenn. Badass marathoner with almost 100 under her belt. Multiple time Ironman. Comedian. Tall ass chica. She ran until mile 20 and I took over until the halfway point at 26.2. We had a nice chat around a lake, saw a 10 mile swim race and wished we were jumping in rather than running, chatted it up about Michael Phelps and his ASU curtain of distraction appearance. {google that amazingness}

I hopped back in to pace at the McDonalds before the 2nd clay road sector from hell. Jenn needed a cheeseburger break and Jess got her beloved hash brown. Quoted “omg that was so good I could marry it. Don’t tell Chris.” We hit the clay roads and the heat was getting ridiculous. We passed her college roommates who came out from their spa weekend to cheer her on around mile 33. Tears again, and it definitely put a boost in our step. The swap at 5 miles into my 2nd pacing section wasn’t as smooth and was probably the most stressful moment of the weekend. She needed a salt tab, arm coolers, and a cold sponge. We got hot arm coolers with nothing to cool them down with and all of a sudden she was wearing a wool coat.

She pulled through and Jenn got her through the rest of that sector. I changed her shoes + socks after the clay roads and she was still moving with intensity.

Jenn was a total rockstar and got her to mile 50, pulling off over 30 miles on the day. I got the opportunity to pace the last 2.4 and it was unbelievable. She was on the verge of puking even after a Zofran. She was refusing all fuel intake. I couldn’t decide between inspirational soft encouragement or come to Jesus hard football speak. So I’d switch between sentimental to serious. We were making it to that finish line and a sub 9:30 was in sights. Sub 28 hours total was also possible.

The entire team joined us for the last quarte mile and she started sobbing. I just kept thinking back to the day she asked me… to last week… to each day and every calorie we fed her… to her smile and graciousness that makes her, her. I had no business being there, but I was. And it was an honor to bring her in. I was lucky. She became an Ultraman champion.

Every day she said she couldn’t believe those were her times on the clock. We believed. It was her arms, her legs, her heart that got her to the line every day. And it was an unforgettable experience to watch her begin to believe in herself.

I will not forget this experience for the rest of my life. I can only hope to be asked to crew again and join this amazing family of athletes.

Now all I need to teach her to descend so she can gain the confidence for Ultraman Hawaii. 😉

{Your Ultraman Florida 2016 Champions Jessica Deree and Rob Gray}

 

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