March is Ultra month at Endurance Corner and due to my limited exposure in that area, I took the opportunity to reach out to a friend who I met through the sport so I could learn more about the distance and share my discoveries with the readers here.
Adam Peruta, a Syracuse native and professor at Ithaca College, has been involved in endurance sports for 5 years. He recently discovered a passion for the Ultra distance events, including the Ultraman, a grueling 3 day event that consists of a 6.2 mile swim and 90 mile bike on day 1, a 171.4 mile bike on day 2, and finally a double marathon, 52.4 miles on the third and final day.
The length of the event intrigues me, and I was curious as to how the prep differs from events the typical long course athlete is accustomed to. When I caught up with Adam, he was just finishing up a new experience on the Start-up Bus, which consists of 25 people on a bus, where the group splits into small teams to launch a new idea, from conception to life. In essence, it is three days without sleep, pitching ideas. What drew Adam to the bus is the same internal question that drove him to Ultraman: “I’ve never done this before; I wonder if I can I do this?” He completed Ultraman Canada in 2010, and when he crossed the line thought, “Why would ANYONE want to do that again?!” It was only a few days later when he received an invitation to back up his Canada performance with Ultraman Hawaii, just four short months later…. he said he instantly knew he wanted to do it…. why?? The same internal dialog that put him on the start up bus this past week…”I’ve never done this before, it’s a new experience; can I do it?”
It seems that is the central driving force for his decisions and race schedule; to constantly push his limits and discover whether he can achieve the goal. The aspect I was most interested in was his training, and how it differs from Ironman prep. His main point was that although it is 2.5 times the distance, you do not have to accomplish 2.5 times the training. Instead, based on his research, he “stacks” his training to help trick his body into thinking it’s doing more than it is. A typical stack for Adam looks like this:
Backing up consecutive days of the same sport with added recovery teaches his body to go long, and how to recover between long efforts, just like Ultraman. His biggest stack comes 4 weeks out from the main event:
Day 1: 10 k swim
Day 2: off
Day 3: 5 hour bike
Day 4: 6 hour bike
Day 5: 5 hour bike
Day 6: off
Day 7: off
Day 8: 2 hour run
Day 9: 4 hour run
Day 10: 3 hour run
3 days off
It’s the combination of back to back workouts in the same sport, big volume and built in recovery that prepares him for the race. Ultraman is 3 days of “backing it up” on a huge amount of work. He quickly points out that this is what works for him, and others in the Ultra community take a different approach. But as a finisher in every event he has started, this clearly works.
A big difference between Ironman and Ultraman is the logistics. Adam offered some key tips for first timers going through the process:
- Crew is key. Have someone with experience crewing, since the prepping and crewing is a race in itself. It is exhausting, and anything can happen! Having someone with the experience of how to roll through dramatic events can be crucial. Most importantly, the crew should know you very well!
- Planning is essential. Traveling from New York to Hawaii or Penticton is not easy for a race of this distance. Nutrition, gear, clothing, maps, etc…. Be prepared to prepare!
- Nutrition must be tested. Adam tested his nutrition before the main event by doing a 12 hour run. He tried everything to see how his body reacted to it during a race simulation. Based on that, he developed a plan; however, living in upstate New York while training for an event that occurs in November in Hawaii is tough! The big change in temperature and humidity between training and race day proved to be a challenge for Adam and he realized his nutrition wasn’t flowing early on. He had to adapt his plan on the fly, which is another important skill for this distance. When things aren’t working as planned, the plan must be adjusted mid-race. Having a crew that understands this element of racing long will help immensely.
Adam’s current goal is to continue his pursuit of long course racing, with an emphasis on getting faster. He said he is very proud of completing the Ultra distance, but would like to add a bit of speed to his race day ability. To do that, he is racing the LA Marathon and the Musselman Double (a great local race that consists of a sprint triathlon on Saturday and a Half Ironman Sunday). The distances are short compared to what Adam is used to, which will allow him to go faster over distances that are still relatively long.
The main point I took away from Adam is that whatever your goal entails, in any aspect of life: business, family and sport – commit to it. If unsure whether something can be accomplished, keep pushing; do whatever it takes to make it happen. Sounds like good advice! When I was first presented with the topic of Ultra events, I was unclear where to take it. Google was my first thought, then I realized real learning happens through experience. When you lack it, reach out to those that have it and allow them to share their knowledge. Always keep learning, and surround yourself with those who share your passion.