An Evening with Deca & Triple Deca Ironmen
Last Monday evening, Enrico Varella organized a sharing session with Singapore’s only Deca-Ironman Dr Kua Harn Wei, and Triple-Deca-Ironman Wayne Kurtz at the Hotel Bayview. Phenomenal athletes; who’s achievements put alot of these triathlons to shame – ‘World’s Most Extreme Triathlons‘
For those not familiar with Ultra Triathlons from the IUTA, a Deca Ironman (or Deca Ultra, which I should use for copyright issues) is an event which composed of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle & 26.2 mile (marathon) run, every day for 10 days. A Triple Deca is for 30 days. So not only are we talking here about fitness but sleep deprivation, mental conditioning, calorie deficiency and planning. Its a monster race!
Before I look at the two evenings talks, I just wanted to mention the audience that was in the room, esteemed athletes in themselves:
Dex Tai who completed three Ironman triathlons over three weekends in Europe
Kor Hong Fatt – Oldest Singaporean marathoner to complete Boston Marathon
Wilson Low, adventure-racing coach who completed all world champions over the Ironman, half-Ironman, and X-Terra distances
Teryn Tham, who is one of the few females to have completed 12 Ironman triathlons
Tan Eng Boon, ultra-marathoner who completed a race in Nepal
Harn Wei began the evening by touching on his background – an academic from the National University of Singapore – and eased the excitement in the crowd to more of a; “Ok this guy is just a normal guy, not some freak Olympic athlete, but how the hell do you still do this thing?!?”. The triathlete spoke on how he had always disliked sports until the team when he served in the National Service, only learning to swim (and almost drowning previously) by teaching himself at 19.
The athlete elaborated on the classification of the different ultra distances and then the general training structures for any triathlete to take on these feats – stressing that although (of course) fitness/distance in the legs is important, it is about training the body & mind to cope with repetition. To survive these huge distance, Harn Wei educated us on training your capacity for mental stimulation, [Different triathletes have distinct methods] i.e.
– ‘Associative’ – that is associated with the task at hand eg. correct swim strokes, heart rate
vs. ‘Dissociative’ – that which is not associated eg. picturing the finish line.
He stressed the importance of ‘positive self talk’, both as a reminder – confidence in ability and how the race is going – and reflective – ‘I’ve controlled my pace in the swim, I am in a good position to do a solid run’. Furthermore, and one of the
stand out remarks of the evening for me, was his tip on using ultra races as a way of striving towards ‘completeness’; that is don’t just focus on training but look at it from a life experience. To put this into context he mentioned the example of Yiannis Kouros, a Greek ultra marathon runner who holds every men’s outdoor road world record form 100 to 1,000 miles, who is an accomplished poet and musician. When asked what was his secret the runner replies “when other people get tired they stop, I don’t. I take over my body with my mind I tell it that it’s not tired and it listens.” Harn Wei commented on the fact that Yiannis uses perfume to stimulate his mind when he is 36, 48 hours in a race (your body is so tired at that stage, that senses like taste buds are numb, let alone you thinking straight).
The Deca Ironman summed up by paying tribute to a famous ultra community logic – “When you do find your limit, you redefine them!’, which set up our Triple Deca Ironman speaker – an event which asked ‘What are the limits?’ – quite nicely.
Wayne Kurtz is not a full time athlete. He is in fact “a serial entrepreneur and astute business opportunist with an eye for the extraordinary and unique, from commodities to real estate to financial planning”. But while he is flying all over the world on business he manages to get in 12-16 hours of hard training to compete in endurance events worldwide. He has completed over 100 ultra marathons and is planning to do the RAAM next year; but on top of all of this ‘extra curriculum’ activity, he has founded Racetwitch.com – an online resource for the worldwide endurance racing community to evaluate and search for specific endurance related races in 12 specific disciplines.
Probably his biggest endurance ‘achievement’ to date is the Triple Deca Ultra – although he did remark that his hardest test of stamina was 48 hours on a treadmill for charity followed by a local marathon; at which point I felt quite guilty for taking the weekend off.
As Wayne described in his presentation opening, the Triple Deca was arranged on 23rd Oct 2013 in Brescia (Italy), after an athlete posed the question in the aftermath of the Deca – “What is the limit?”. A consequence of this off-hand comment, was 413 hours (average) of brutal racing for the 8 finishers of the Triple Deca [I should note that Wayne mentioned 50 triathletes began the event, with even some getting injured & coming back to a Deca. Its remarkable that journalists may mention the 8 finishers but other racers were still putting out 10 Ironmans!].
It is mind-boggling what these competitors went through, I am not just talking about distance. The 72 miles of swimming was all done in a 25 m pool, while the bike leg (112miles each day) was held on 5 different courses [over the period of competition] with laps of 30 to 96 – do the math, some days that is 2km laps! Oh and the run? That was a 1km loop. 1km people!
It was incredibly interesting to hear Wayne’s stories – carrying tubs of ice cream for the whole marathon just to get the calories in, dodging crazy Italian drivers (luckily no-one was critically hurt), competitors losing 20lbs in weight (apparently after race 5 the Ironmen were getting faster, because their bodies were just getting fitter) as well as tears on the final day. I won’t take this opportunity to list more on the presentation content. The evening was a gripping tale of sheer determination, embracing adversity, mental dissociation and comradery. Find a talk by him or alternatively look up his new book ‘Stronger than Iron‘ (which is at the printing presses I am told) and I, for one, will be ordering it when it comes out. I think you will find enough motivational passages in that story to inspire you for any marathon, Ironman or even an ultra event.
If you want to take the Ironman Triathlon challenge, check out this training guide
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