Ironman to Ultra and Back
- 13 Aug 2020
Team INFINIT Pro Switches Gears and Takes to the Trails for His First Ultramarathon Amid Triathlon Race Season Cancellations
“It hasn’t been easy to keep motivated during the 2020 triathlon apocalypse — Races are being pulled right from under our feet and while I’m staying motivated, it’s no secret that others are having a hard time coping. I decided to look at our current situation as an adventure and that’s how I ended up fully committing to my first Ultra Marathon.”
A Four Week Challenge
About 3 months ago (April 2020), my best friend mentioned he would be taking on the Tushars Mountain Run — A 100k race with nearly 21,000 feet of vertical ascent, that covers some of the most majestic terrain in Utah on August 1st. At the time, I still had hopes of racing IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder that day, so I laughingly said “good luck with that.”
Seriously, the stats on this ultramarathon sounded daunting! So how the hell did I get roped into this event after brushing it off?
Well, in the back of my mind I thought “this could be a cool back-up plan if Boulder 70.3 is cancelled.” Of course, it was cancelled, and suddenly the new challenge became a potential reality.
At the beginning of the year, if you would have asked me what the likelihood is that I would run an Ultra Marathon of this caliber, the odds would have been the same as “can I walk to the moon?” However 2 days post-race and two toenails less, I did that shit!
Yep, that’s right. I went from an IRONMAN to an Ultra-Marathoner during the 2020 pandemic. Go figure.
I’ve always been inspired by beautiful landscapes and hard races. This passion has led me to race in amazing places like the Patagonman XTRI, IRONMAN Austria, IRONMAN Switzerland, and even the Everest cycling challenge here in Utah.
Give me some beautiful views and a good challenge and I’ll get it done. Over the years I’ve even found myself taking on a huge love for gravel riding and mountain biking so I figured, why not trail running?
Preparing for a Whole New Ballgame
Once I finally made the decision to commit to this 100k, I called up my buddy who was racing it for help. I knew this training was going to be different than what I was used to, so I headed North to train in the Tushar Mountains — With a friendly altitude of ~10,000 feet, training up there made the hefty weight of a new challenge on my shoulders seem a bit lighter.
There were many other reasons why training at a high altitude seemed like the right move for me:
- I could run or (attempt to) mountain bike nearly all of the single-track sections.
- The environment could help me adapt to a lack of oxygen over time.
- The weather was 30 degrees cooler than I was used to and would help me prepare for race day temperatures.
- I felt a deep connection with the mountains and was able to fully immersed myself in this new training regimen.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though, about two weeks out from race day I strained my hip. At the time, I had only banked 4 or 5 long trail runs, with a max distance of 23 miles, so I was a little hesitant to push all the way to my 30-mile pre-race goal.
Regardless, I knew this event would boil down to mental toughness, something that endurance athletes think we have nailed down… until we get punched (more on this later).
My goal was to finish the race somewhere between 16-18 hours, a pretty elite range for a newbie. I knew I would need to have my nutrition in check to finish in this time frame without bonking or cramping.
I searched around and got myself a stellar hydration vest so I would always have nutrition on hand and I obviously stocked up on tons of my INFINIT Custom Blend for both training and race day. Throughout my training, I found that, for whatever reason, I did not have to shovel in calories like I thought I would need to… I was quite efficient at the lower effort. The joys of custom nutrition!
Although my nutrition needs were met, that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt, because it definitely did. I quickly found out that my joints and muscles were NOT used to the relentless ups, downs, and challenging terrain! I was still biking, running, and swimming 25-30 hours a week, so I knew I could handle the volume of the 100k but was definitely feeling the effects of the new training.
Looking back, I thought I knew and could handle pain…but my training was only touching about 20% of what was to come.
Race day is always so exciting for me! There was a whole week of preparation, full of more sleep, rest, and great meals. I followed my standard Pre-IRONMAN rituals and enjoyed the pre-race jitters.
I’ve always loved competing in running events, all you need are shoes — Forget about equipment failure, just lace up those foot-pillows and get busy!
The Tushars Mountain Run race course is essentially a lollipop, with a very heart-breaking out and back unique to the 100k race distance. There are four major ascents with the highest peaking at 12,100 ft, which means there is a LOT of downhill running... or in my case, stumbling.
Thankfully, aid stations were about 2-3 hours apart depending on my speed and there were plenty of natural streams along the way to rehydrate from. Additionally, my wife Karen and our dogs were crewing for me, so I saw them 3 times throughout the race which gave me a great boost of support.
I went off in wave #1 at 4:45 in the morning, armed with my 3D lighting system from Ultraspire and INFINIT Nutrition Custom Blends.
Due to COVID-19, our send offs were staggered in 20-person waves every 5 minutes, we also wore masks at aid stations and volunteers didn’t make any physical contact with our gear.
It was dark and cool at the start, so my group and I started off logging some faster miles. The leaders went off like champagne corks and I decided I would “start slow, and then... go slower”.
I was running with some very talented ultra-runners who set the example on how to move quickly on very steep terrain, what an experience! I quickly realized that if I were to take this sport seriously, I would need to perfect my power hike technique with trekking poles.
After around 30 miles of chatting, climbing, tripping and fueling… the fun was over. A part of the course I had only looked at from afar slapped my straight in the jaw — “Copper Belt”.
This exposed, shale cliff portion broke me. I had my phone with me and was so mentally drained that I texted my wife “pick me up at the bottom of this climb because I’m done”. Luckily, there is no cell service up that high… so I wasn’t able to quit. I had to keep going.
I was making good time (sub 14-hour pace) when I was gapped by a seasoned Ultramarathon master. It got into my head and I started overthinking just how much more I had to go before the finish. I knew I couldn’t quit, and while I internally jumped through my mental hurdles… I just kept moving my body forward.
I kept hydrating and sighing my woes away. The miles came and went, the views more and more majestic at every summit. My last 8 miles were strong, the sun was setting and I turned on my “get this sh*t done” pace. Still slow, but determined.
Finally, I finished within my goal window at almost 17 hours… #nailedit
I am proud of my 21st place finish and I have soaring respect for this hardcore sport. I’ve been told this course at 100k is on par with a 100 miler when it comes to difficulty. I’m an endurance athlete and I embrace all levels of suffering… but whew!
Having worked through extreme Ultramarathon obstacles, navigating non-existent triathlon schedules, and enjoying some adventure, I couldn’t be happier. This season, while incredibly odd, has been a great awakening for me. Not only am I traveling less, earning loads of fitness, and making new goals, but I’m setting up my next 10 years of racing.
I’ve been going full-gas for nearly 8 years in the sport of triathlon. I came from nothing in terms of a sports background and I had a LOT to earn. Now I’ve had some success and this mandatory “reset” means I can push beyond what I previously thought possible and chip away at becoming one of the best triathletes in the world. I have the team, the means, and the right sponsors to help me along. I LIVE for this adventurous lifestyle. I’m terribly thankful, beyond all measures.
There were two books that I read before this ultramarathon that helped me prepare. I would definitely recommend them to anyone who is considering tackling an ultramarathon in the future:
- Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance by Adharan
- Finn and North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek.
This season I’ve missed racing 5 half Ironman events and will likely see more fall, but I’ll keep training, fueling, and exploring my physical limits. Coming up next, I’m going to race the first-ever gravel-bike/trail run triathlon…which I’m inventing in 2 weeks. Stay tuned and join me on the ride!
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About the Author
Nick Chase is a Team INFINIT Athlete, U.S. Air Force veteran, professional triathlete, ultrarunner, coach, and husband. He’s been training with INFINIT for 5 years and looks forward to tackling new challenges with us in the next five.