A Long, Long Way to Ultraman, by Craig Sheckler

A philosophy of mine is that every once in a while you just have to do something that’s a little out there. As an endurance athlete, this means something that forces you out of your established comfort zone, compels you to confront your pre-conceived limits, and makes you truly LIVE life. Maybe even something that makes your fellow diehard endurance junkies shake their heads as if to say, “What the hell is wrong with you?” I’ve known what the next step in my own triathlon journey would be since August ‘96, when I attended an informational session about an absurdly long – yet immensely intriguing – race known as Ultraman. At the time, I was in Penticton, B.C., to compete in only my 2nd ultra-distance event ever, Ironman Canada. But I knew that one day I’d be ready to step it up.

And so on September 3-5, I will be competing in the inaugural Ultraman UK, a 3-day, 320 mile race held throughout Snowdonia National Park in Wales. Day 1 combines a 10K swim and 90 mile bike; Day 2 is a 171.4 mile bike; and Day 3 is a 52.4 mile double-marathon run. I feel honored to be among those racing, as participation is limited to only 35 individuals and is by invitation only. I’m also excited to compete in such a beautiful part of the world.

Bala Lake in Wales. Site of the very chilly 55-59°F swim leg.

This event is the newest addition to the short list of Ultraman races in the world: Ultraman Hawaii, the Championship, has been around since ’83; and Ultraman Canada began 10 years later in ’93.

The desire to do something extreme is only part of why I decided to take this on. I also wanted to return to that sense of wonderment I felt throughout my first iron-distance experience at the relatively small Great Floridian Triathlon in ‘95. Ultraman presents a similar opportunity…a new challenge among a small group of athletes, all working to achieve a goal in which, as an Ultraman motto states, “the pursuit of human excellence is the fundamental rule of the road”. Taking a leap of personal faith, not entirely sure of the outcome yet determined to see it through, apparently looks something like this:

Running toward my first iron-distance finish at the ’95 Great Floridian Triathlon. And yes, that’s a multi-colored Speedo and crop-top I’m wearing. Hey, it was the style back in the day.

As a full-time professional coach with Endurance Multisport, I’m fortunate to have the scheduling flexibility that allowed me to fit in the volume of training necessary to properly prep for an event of this nature. Time and stress management took on a new level of importance, as 9+ hour rides, 6+ hour runs, and 3+ hour swims were all on the workout menu within several 30-35 hour training weeks.

One of the L-O-N-G days in the saddle. Lower line shows ride time. This one was up and over, and up and over, etc., the IM Lake Placid course.

Support crews are a requirement for Ultraman competitors and I’m very lucky to have my crew staffed by two people I can wholeheartedly trust: my wife Erica Sheckler, who has crewed for me previously during ultramarathons and has a keen sense of what I may need even when I can’t verbalize it during a race; and Ian Mayhew, a UK tri coach who has extensive first-hand experience as both an Ultraman Canada and Ultraman Hawaii finisher. I’ll be relying on them each day.

A local pre-ride photo op with Erica – my wife, Ultraman support crew member, accomplished open water swimmer, and TriSports.com Champion all rolled into one.

Logistics for Ultraman are mind-boggling and make packing for a standard Ironman seem like you’re getting ready to do a neighborhood 5K fun run. You have to travel with everything you need for 3 consecutive days of racing and recovering, and since there’s no TriSports.com retail store in northern Wales, you have to bring backup equipment for everything you could conceivably need in case things go wrong, apparel for every possible weather condition in the Welsh mountains, a multitude of nutrition in anticipation of an ever-changing and ravenous appetite, and a wide array of personal care and medical supplies. Extra baggage fees are a given!

With less than a week before the race, my confidence is soaring because I know my fitness is higher than at any other point in my life, and I’ve made it through all my training without a single injury. After 19 years in the sport, and 15 years after first learning what Ultraman is, I’m heading to the start line. And as I do I’ll still be fighting back the nervousness of a newbie at this distance and approaching the adventure with respect and wide-eyed wonder for what is in store for me.

Ready to rock the red, white, and blue
of Team TriSports.com in the UK!