[VIDEO] The Moment I Finished #Uberman & What I’m Most Proud of Accomplishing

This is the moment that I decided it was time to finish my Uberman experience and attempt to complete “The World’s Toughest Triathlon” – 84 hours from the time I slipped into the water at Catalina Island and swam nearly 24 miles to shore, after 140 miles of desert terrain on my bike, then persisting nearly 38 miles on foot from Badwater Basin along CA-160 towards Mt. Whitney – captured on video, and I’m delighted to share this moment with you:

I’ve chronicled each segment of my Uberman experience in detailed posts here:


I’ve thought about the experience many times since this moment captured above – from the decision on April 1 to start my training to this finish. Looking back, the seven months flew by, yet I know that each training day and week seemed endless at times. I wanted to see how far I could push myself and to know what enough felt like. And I found it, right there, in the middle of Death Valley with my closest friends and family at mile 37.72 of the run.

People have already asked me – “Will you do it again next year?” If I could hop into a time machine and be magically transported to the starting line, then yes. I love personal challenge. I just can’t do the training anymore – scheduling every moment of every day, negotiating time with myself and my family, finding good calories to consume six… seven… eight times a day, waking up at 5:00am to swim 5000 yards or do sets of deadlifts.

I’ll continue to do events – ultra-marathons seem most appealing because of the relatively low training burden and enjoyment of trail running.

Here’s what I’m most proud of accomplishing over these past seven months:

1 – Successful completing the Catalina Channel swim with the best time of any competitor.

This swim was beyond any single endurance event I’ve ever attempted, This include my three Ironman races. In those races, I knew that barring the catastrophe of a bike crash or some kind of freak injury, I would finish the event within the prescribed 17-hour time limit. The same with the 50-mile ultra-marathon I ran last year – I knew I’d finish, it was just a matter of what my finishing time would be.

For the Catalina Channel swim, my finishing time of 14 hours 25 minutes was exactly in the 14-15 hour range I predicted, and was the best of the competitors that attempted it. So technically, I was leading the race after the swim… 🙂

More so, that meant my training and personal expectations were exactly correct.

The Catalina Channel is one of the three marathon swims comprising the Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming. (The English Channel and circumnavigating Manhattan Island are the other two.)

For the Catalina Channel swim, I was very, very scared – scared of the distance, scared of the currents and tides, scared of getting lost at sea, scared of sharks and scared of being ill-prepared because of my training program choices. (More on this later.)

I was scared of not finishing – approaching shore only to get pulled because of body temperature or conditions. I’d read enough blog posts from experienced marathon swimmers who got as close as a mile did not complete the swim. These fears were very real and very true.

We could have packed up here and I would have been happy and excited with my accomplishment. Everything past the swim was just gravy for me.

A number of variables affected the probability of completing the swim:

  • The 4:00am start time. Most swimmers begin at midnight from Catalina to avoid typical late afternoon winds that create chop and a headwind. While I hit headwinds and current as expected, I was very lucky to have had an remarkably smooth first 15-16 miles for the swim. As I saw and felt conditions change with about six miles to go and the final 3-4 miles were extremely tough. [More details here in the Swim Segment chronicle.]
  • Currents. The swim route from Two Harbors to Rancho Palos Verdes is essentially south to north. The currents that day would be moving in a southeasterly direction, meaning that as the current and wind picked up later in the day, I would be swimming “uphill” into a current to reach our planned end point of Terranea Beach. Many swimmers report getting pushed south towards San Pedro because of these currents, forcing them to swim 3-4 miles longer than planned. We chose a straight line route with course corrections throughout the day to swim the shortest possible distance. Even taking this approach, the 21-mile course took me 23.76 miles to complete.
screenshot-2016-11-03-06-47-46

Current direction day of the swim. Source: http://www.sccoos.org/data/hfrnet/

  • Timing of low and high tides that day. On the day of the swim (October 19th), low tides were in the early morning as we started, high tides just past 12noon, and the next low tides again just past 7:00pm. This meant that I’d be reaching the midpoint at high tide and fighting the low tide waters getting shore at my expected finishing time.
  • Tidal flow relative to the moon phases, which affect the severity of the tide. Because we started just past a full moon phase, the tide heights relative to baseline range were high as two meters. Here’s a graph of the variance that day from NOAA:

2 – Being physically & mentally ready. Accomplishing any one of these endurance events on their own – the Catalina Channel swim, a 140+ mile bike ride or a 38-miles desert run – would be a huge personal accomplishment. I did each these in four days’ time and felt muscularly and mentally ready for each day. I owe that all to my programming, training and diet. The only adverse effect I experienced was the thrashing of my rotator cuffs, and I’m not sure any amount of training could have prevented this.

I not only trained very hard, I had the RIGHT training program. (Thanks to my awesome wife and Brian MacKenzie.)

ready-to-go-on-the-bike

I eschewed the typical long, slow distance (LSD) training (more on this in a later post…). Any one of these three segments – the swim, bike or run – would reasonably take six months of dedicated LSD training just to complete that one event. I was training to compete in all three in five days’ time, so LSD simply would not be feasible even if I training as a full-time athlete and had no job or family. More so, I believe that LSD without building muscle tissue strength and tolerance to the extreme physical tests would not have been enough.

After hitting a peak of LSD training in late July to build my endurance engine, I consciously switched to higher intensity, CrossFit-infused training for a month on my own, then followed a training program set up after spending a day training with Brian at my wife’s suggestion.

For context, just 15 months ago, I swam 2.5 miles roundtrip from Aquatic Park to Alcatraz and back. My Catalina swim was 23.76 miles – nearly ten times the distance, and across a challenging body of water and more than doubled my longest distance swim of 10.5 miles across Lake Tahoe.

Then completing the 144 mile bike ride, and then 13.5 hours later starting on the Badwater run mentally ready and excited to claim as much of the 135 miles course as possible. I sincerely felt that I was physically able to complete the entire run course, however long it might take me. To reach that mental and physical state is incredibly satisfying.

The 144 miles on the bike is 30 miles longer than any ride I’ve ever done. I hit the 37.72 mile mark on the run with PLENTY in the tank before stopping.

3 – Making good, rational decisions throughout Uberman to return home safely.

I need to give a huge amount of credit to my wife, Lena. Throughout the event, she allowed me to make decisions on my own even though after making these decisions, she was happy and relieved that I made them. A few examples:

  • Skipping Day 1 of the bike. Because of my physical condition coming out of the swim (shoulders and feet injuries), it would have been unsafe to spend 14-16 hours covering 200 miles on a bike. Not only that, it would not have been fun or joyful.
  • Ending the Day 2 bike segment at 144 miles instead of going the full 200 miles. We reached the peak at Town Pass well past sunset. Navigating the 10 mile descent would have been treacherous and irresponsible from a safety standpoint. While I felt strong and able to cover the last 56 miles, finishing when we did and giving myself an opportunity to start the run the next day relatively fresh was absolutely the right decision.
  • Riding on Pedro (my road bike) for a large chunk of the ride because of road conditions and descents, and because I felt far less strain and pain in my shoulders vs my TT bike (a.k.a. “George”).
  • Doing weigh-ins & doing urine checks during the run. While the heat wasn’t overbearing, I had a hard time forcing myself to eat and consume calories on the run. We did a couple of weigh-ins to make sure I was maintaining my weight. Tim to monitored my urine – color and frequency – to make sure that my mind’s desire to keep going was overriding my body’s operating system.
  • Finishing Uberman at mile 37.72 of the run. I felt completely satisfied and a sense of “enough” for perhaps the first time in my life.

There were a hundred ways to get hurt out there, or even encounter life-threatening situations. We minimized the risk at every turn with planning and discussion and decision-making.

4 – That my son stayed happy and safe. The kid is a trooper. Even his low points with patience and frustration barely scraped typical low points we might hit on any day of any given week. He found entertainment in counting cacti and determining which was the pointiest, throwing dirt on to the highway at rest stops, hiking and looking for rocks, sitting in The Beast and waving to me through the windows. Everyone stayed focused on him throughout the journey and his presence there gave me a sense of calm and perspective.

benajmin-happy

benjamin-desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the on the long drive home from Panamint Springs to Davos on Sunday, he chilled in The Beast with me for nine hours, never complaining or whining or going stir crazy.

I could have done this race alone with Lena and asked my family to stay back in Davis with Benjamin while I was out there. I wanted him there to see the desert and to make this a family adventure, not some crazy thing Scott does on the side.

5 – My team. (I’m saving the best for last here…)

From beginning to end, never did the team hit a point of outward frustration towards each other, the race, the demands of the expedition or me.

I give all of the credit to the team – Lena, Tbone, my in-laws (Nina & Paul), Tim and Benjamin for staying patient and accepting the challenge of supporting me not just on the course, but 24 x 7 throughout the entire event.

2016-10-22-17-37-56

The end of each day was always the most trying. Being out on the course is work, but you’re in the moment and thinking about what needs to happen next – when is the next feed, how many miles to go, where should we meet you next, what does Scott need at the next rest stop. These activities kept the crew focused on a task.

But… at the end of each day, there was a huge transaction cost going from the finishing point to the next morning:

  • Packing up The Beast and getting to the next hotel
  • Finding a place to park The Beast
  • Cleaning The Beast from the day and prepping for the next day
  • Checking into the hotel
  • Finding a place to eat
  • Tending for my injuries
  • Making sure our son is fed, bathed and comfortably to bed each night
  • Deciding who’s sleeping in the hotel and who’s sleeping in the camper
  • Building a plan the next day’s segment – who is getting up early with me to push me on to the course
  • … just to name a few…

I got a sense of what it might be like to be a professional athlete – a team of people that care for every aspect of your self and body. You saw me breakdown in the finishing video because at the end of the run, I felt the overwhelming love and support of everyone that helped me reach this point – from training to planning to executing Uberman. I felt, and always will feel, forever grateful for everyone that helped me along to way to take part in this endeavor.

__ __ __

If you want to read the details from each segment – the swim, bike, and run – I’ve chronicled each in detail here:

I hope you’ll read them, and understand if you don’t. Most of all, if you found this post or anyone of the posts I’ve done related to Uberman, please share them with a friend.

While I write these posts as much for myself to document and remember the adventure, I’m hopeful that somehow these posts will be useful to someone else considering the same type of adventure, or that they will motivate someone to take the next step towards their own adventure.

I’ll be posting over the coming weeks and months beyond these race reports – sharing a few ideas and experiences around:

  • Nutrition and diet plans during training and Uberman
  • Details about my training program
  • Planning & logistics (lists, checklists, mistakes made)
  • What I’d do differently: Uberman planning and execution
  • Stuff I’ll miss about Uberman
  • Stuff I won’t miss about Uberman
  • The Beast
  • Gratitude to everyone that cheered me on Facebook

Thanks for reading this far. I appreciate it. Please share this post if you found it valuable, or think it will be valuable to a friend.

I’ve also prepared a talk about my Uberman experience for companies, triathlon clubs and teams. Click here to learn more.

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