Great Kate’s Ultra Recap
Going through an Ironman is tough enough. Kate Bevilaqua takes us on the ultimate triathlon journey – Ultraman.
Ultra520k Canada was something I had been looking forward to doing for a long time. Was I nervous? Yes. Was I scared? Yes, but I was so excited – like a kid at Christmas. It reminded me of your first Ironman or Half Ironman. Something so new and pure…and it did not disappoint!
Day One: 10km Swim / 150km Bike
Surprisingly I was able to sleep fine the night before. I think knowing that I was going to be doing this for three days in a strange way made me feel relaxed! It was a competition, but it wasn’t a competition because just getting through the events itself was going to be a victory. I just couldn’t wait to start and was wide awake and up by 5am, ready to begin the adventure ahead. Ruth, Mazzy, Jeff, Guy and I all crammed into the minivan and we were on our way to Skaha Lake. It was quite surreal! It had been nearly five years of talking to my close friends and family about wanting to do an Ultraman. I could not believe the day had FINALLY arrived! This was it! The time was now. It bought a smile to my face and also a tear to my eye. The lake looked amazing, so flat, like glass and clear as far as the eye could see. Lucky Guy had his binoculars with him because the first buoy was about 8km away! I had a bit of time before the start to give everyone a hug, take a deep breath and make my way into the water. Chatting and smiling with the other athletes I didn’t even realise the gun had gone as I was too busy socialising!
Very rarely during the entire swim did I think to myself “I have to swim 10km.” In the beginning all I was thinking about was 2km. At that point Guy was going to stop me for a drink of my GU Roctane. It was going to be a long three days and getting behind in my nutrition on day one in the first 30 minutes would not be ideal! He continued to stop me every 2km alternating with GU Electrolyte and a GU Gel. Guy was paddling to the right of me and providing plenty of entertainment with singing or funny faces. To the left of me the sun was slowly rising over the mountains and it was gorgeous! Every now and then I had a giggle to myself wondering if anything weird was going on knowing that Guy was wearing a nappy!
After the final turn I could see the shore and Ruth, Mazzy and Jeff were getting closer – I was excited! It was a fun swim and Guy had been AWESOME! My swim time of 2:37 hours was a new female course record. I won’t lie I was hoping to go a little faster than that, but felt better when Guy told me his Garmin read 10.5km.
Into the change tent, Ruth had my clothes ready to go, sun cream on, food in the back pocket, out the door to Mazzy who was waiting with my bike and it was time to ride.
The Day 1 Bike course was 150km including most of the Ironman Canada course. Relatively flat and fast to begin with. Then rolling and windy for the remainder of the ride before a nice 5 – 6km descent back into Okanagan Falls.
My crew were amazing and I would see them every 10km or less. I am used to being self sufficient during an Ironman so had plenty of nutrition with me to begin with. But soon found out with the temperatures rising into the high 90s (36 – 37 degrees Celsius) it was a much better option to be able to grab cold bottles of GU from them rather than drinking warm ones.
There was A LOT of climbing which I enjoyed most of the time! But didn’t get to see anyone else until over 100km into the ride. There was a long out and back section and it was the first chance I had to see what was going on behind me. Dustin had been riding extremely well and was closing fast. There was some more rolling hills to come and it was getting hotter and hotter. My crew continued to place themselves at the top of each climb so I could refuel and encourage me for the next effort. And then there it was, the sign for home and the 5km descent.
I was able to hold onto my lead after the swim (just!) and finish day one in the lead! It was straight to medical for testing, ice bath, massage, GU Recovery Drink, and then back to the apartment. The recovery continued with more food, recovery boots, another rub down and stretch from Super Ruth while the crew were unpacking and repacking the mini van for the next two days.
Mazzy had the incredible task of calculating all the calories I had consumed and expended during the day and working out the deficit. My goal at a minimum was to replace what I had used. Which was a lot more difficult than I had realised. Ideally it would be nice to load up again in preparation for what was coming the next day, but I learnt that was a lot easier said than done! I still went to bed with a full stomach after chicken, pesto pasta and a massive bowl of ice cream! I was ready for a long day in the saddle!
ULTRA520K Day 2 – 276kms (171.4miles) OUCH!
I awoke before my alarm and lay in bed for a while. Just watching Guy sleep away. Lucky for him he didn’t have to ride 276kms today! But at the same time, that brought a smile to my face! Day two was here. In my mind this was the day that was going to take the longest in regards to time. I looked over to my organised pile on the floor, making sure everything was there (although I had checked at least 10 times before going to bed the night before!) It was then all about food! My nutrition was going to be even more important today with such a long day in front of me and a double marathon tomorrow – it was crucial to stay on top of things! A big bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter and yoghurt was a great start and I continued to drink my GU and water as we made our way to the start line.
On arrival at the car park, everyone was there and you could feel the tension and excitement in the air. There were a little less nerves than day one, but there was still that unknown hovering around.
We all started together again, but had been seeded based on our overall times from day one, which meant I was starting side by side next to Dustin. As soon as we were off that all changed very quickly! I was given instructions by coach Jeff to ease into the ride today, it was a long day and ideally I need to save something for the second half of the ride. The first 70 – 80km is relatively flat and fast which made it easy to get caught up in feeling good and thinking “you’ve got this” but I held back. I held back enough that I wasn’t first rider. I let someone else set the pace, sat back and went with it.
It didn’t take long for us to spread out and then it was just Ross and I rolling along nicely. That was until half way back to Okanagan Falls, bang, he broke his aero bars – they completely snapped! This was bad for him and bad for me! Here we go again, I was on my own! This is what it’s supposed to be like right? Through town and beginning the amazing climb to Green Lake and what they call “the wall” – I was enjoying this and having fun! The scenery was incredible. There was lots of positive self-talk and motivation going on in my head. This was also a no feed zo
ne so my support crew were not allowed to stop anywhere along this section of road. The plan was for them to meet me at the other end for a quick refresh and refuel. It took a little bit longer than expected for us to regroup but in the end the timing was good. I took a quick stop, reloaded my bottles, more sun cream, more calories, Jeff checked my bike over and I was good to go again.
At this stage Dustin was cresting the last hill. Awesome, someone to ride again with! He was riding strong as it was beginning to heat up again. I had ice down my cycle top and drinking constantly. We continued through Yellow Lake and began the gradual descent into Keremeos. Unfortunately just before that time Dustin got a flat and had to spend a bit of time waiting for his support crew.
Once in Keremeos I was 150km into the ride. It was then a right hand turn into a head wind, and slightly uphill for the next 60km! At this stage I just put my head down, stayed aero and kept pushing. But it was getting dark in my little world! Dustin had his flat tyre fixed and came flying past! He was back in the game and looking great! I watched him fade into the distance. Just get to Princeton then you are nearly there! Keep peddling, keep peddling, keep eating, keep drinking – 5km at a time! What ever I could think of to keep me going!
At 214km I made the turn in Princeton to begin the out and back. Just over 60km to go! Come on you can do this, you just have to make it to the turn around then it is all slightly down hill from there. But I was struggling. There was a nasty head wind, again it was slightly uphill and rolling. My crew could tell and were stopping more frequently, caffeine, gels, electrolyte and so much positive reinforcement – they were amazing! It had been a long day for them as well but they were still doing everything they could for me. I was passed again just after the turn around, but at that stage all I was thinking about was staying focused and getting to the finish.
I began the ride home, I could feel the tail wind and it was a nice change. As my speed increased I went to change into my big chain ring and nothing happened. Oh well, I will just try again but no luck! It appeared that my Di2 and died! Even though I was certain I had fully charged it just a week before, obviously I had done something wrong and now I was spinning out of control trying to take advantage of the downhills and tail wind! I rode past the mini van at the next stop and gave them the great news “My Di2 is flat, can’t change into the Big Chain ring!” and kept riding! I think I then created chaos as they tried to work out what they could do to fix it!
But it was my AMAZING crew to the rescue! They stopped me up the road, Ruth had a power source, my Di2 charger was in the mini van, they quickly charged it enough to change it into the Big Chain ring then sent me on my way with important instructions “don’t change gears!” I took a deep breath, got in the aero position and rode. I was on my way! I didn’t hammer it and push hard to the end, I kept it steady, relaxed and reminded myself there was still another long day coming tomorrow. I kept drinking and eating, I yelled encouragement to athletes riding in the other direction. I reminded myself of where I was and what I was doing!
I crested the final hill and there was Mazzy, directing me to the finish line! Thank god, I was there; it was done and so was I! Another athlete came flying by me in the last few metres, but I didn’t care. This was about 3 days of racing and now I was more than a little scared about what lay in front of me Day 3.
My crew were all there waiting, they took my bike, helped me straight into the ice bath with a GU Recovery drink in my hard. I closed my eyes and put my head back.
From there it was a quick massage then into the mini van to pick up pizza and ice-cream on our way to the hotel. I lay in the front seat of the car and didn’t move! Once we had our rooms, I was instructed by Jeff to do nothing and eat! I was straight on the bed, in the recovery boots and eating pizza. I felt so bad as I watched Ruth, Mazzy, Jeff and Guy work away, emptying the mini van, wash bottles, refill bottles, repack car and get everything ready for day three. Meanwhile I just lay there and contemplated how on earth was I going to run 84km – the way I felt I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to get out of bed!
Everyone was exhausted so an early night was welcome. By just after 8pm, Guy and I were laying in bed and he could see the emotion and exhaustion in my eyes (and a few tears!). We had a little chat and he reminded me of how hard I had trained and that this was something I had always wanted to do. To get out there and enjoy it, that he was proud no matter what happened. I went to sleep with a smile on my face, tomorrow was a new day and anything was possible!
Day 3 began at 2.30am. The previous night after finishing in quite a fatigued and emotional state, Jeff had arranged with Guy for some midnight snacking! So at 2.30am I had a GU Recovery drink in my hand with a couple of pieces of pizza and some V8 Juice. As crazy as this sounds, looking back I honestly feel this small action was a lifesaver. It gave me the additional calories I needed to start the tough run with out such a def
icit from the previous two days efforts
I had no problems getting back to sleep for another few hours as I was so exhausted. At 5am I was up again and in the recovery boots for 30mins to get the legs ready for action. I wasn’t feeling the love for my normal breakfast but the 400 calorie apple pie sitting in the fridge was exciting me! At this stage anything goes and it was gone very quickly! By that stage Guy was awake and I had to tell him about the dream I had the night before. A friend of ours Rachel Corey from Boise was in my dream. A car tragically hit Rachel last year while training for the Hawaii Ironman. She was in a bad way and is still undergoing extensive rehab. Rachel is an extremely talented hard working athlete and one of the most positive people I have met. Even though she is going through so much Ultraman is something she would love to do! In my dream we were with a group of friends at a BBQ but it ended with her telling me how ready I was for the double marathon, I had trained hard and prepared for what was to come – “Do it for me
,” she said.
That really shook me up and brought me back to reality. I was excited again! It had been a tough two months, emotionally and physically, and I had prepared myself for this day. I had the best support crew anyone could ask for and I was ready. It was up to me now to get my head in the game and enjoy but focus on the task ahead.
We left the hotel for a quick ice stop at the gas station and headed to the run start. Just like any triathlon or competition, there was plenty of nervous energy in the air, but excitement at the same time. I continued to drink my GU Electrolyte and had some gel just before the start.
7am – Here we go!
The first 5km of the run was FUN! We all started together again and I did hold back! I ran along side by side with some of the other athletes, had a chat, found out more about them. Looked around and took in the incredible scenery and just kept smiling! It was cool, there was cloud cover, so after the last couple of really hot days we were in for some perfect running conditions. My support crew were there on the side of the road every 2km and I was grabbing water and GU at each of my aid stations.
Juan and Ross had gone off the front right from the start and with the nature of the course with rolling hills and lots of turns they were quickly out of sight. I didn’t care it was a long day, I had to focus on me and nothing else! Keep my pacing consistent, stay on top of my nutrition and take it 2km at a time.
Eventually the elastic band began to stretch within the group I was running with. I was able to maintain the pace we had started with, but they were beginning to slow down a bit. I kept going, I was on my own. Just me and the thoughts in my head and seeing my support crew every 10.30 – 11mins. My plan of attack was to try and run the first marathon (42.2km) on my own. You were allowed support and a pacer running along side you right from the start but I wanted to hold that off and save it as a treat for the second half. I would just have to see how it went.
I was having a gel every 30 minutes and continuing to take in my GU Roctane electrolyte drink. Every 10km it was a brief walk through my “aid station” then I was on my way again. I then began to hear the voice of Steve on the microphone, I was coming up to the half marathon mark. I could hear him giving splits and letting us know where others were in the field especially if it was going to affect the overall outcome. But I was switched off at the time. I gave a wave and a smile to those spectators around and then refocused 2km at a time.
Up and over the hill and I saw a support vehicle on the side of the road and it wasn’t mine! Unfortunately Ross had been sick over the course of the weekend and again he was unable to keep everything down! He was there with his support crew trying to find something that would give him the energy to continue on. I gave him words of encouragement as I went by but I had to keep on moving.
The run course was rolling hills, the second half they were long and steeper than the first. The beginning was 35km on road, the next 35km was on trail/fire road. The last 14km was back on the road but with some steep descents.
After passing Ross my small goal focus was always 2km, the big goal was getting to the trail/fire road. My crew was there waiting for me, there was a little celebration inside, but then it was back to the job and the next goal of completing the first marathon.
It is always a welcome sign when you can hear Steve’s voice, as it meant I was getting close to he half way point. Steve was talking away on the microphone and informing everyone listening to the live feed what was going on. The roads were otherwise very quite and lonely except for my crew and I. I ran past and gave him a wave and a smile. 42.2km done! Marathon number 1 done! Now it was time for marathon number 2. Okay Kate, this is where it starts, take a deep breath, refresh, regroup and stick to the plan. I had run a few 50km in training so I was confident about getting to that point. I was excited now about having members of my crew come for a little jog! Mostly Guy and Ruth were my pacers. Jeff was in charge of driving the mini van and Mazzy of nutrition. They rotated 2kms in and out, each time carrying with them some very cold, electrolyte drinks, gels and sponges or ice to put down my top. It was also time for the RedBull. Once I reached 50km it was time for my “walk through the aid station” and they had everything ready for me to choose from.
I knew in my head mentally 50 – 70km was the toughest in terms of terrain. The hills were bigger, I was exposed to the elements but I just had to continue to break it down 2km at a time. It was at this stage I was starting to get a little demanding and letting Ruth and Guy know that they could run side beside me but not in front or behind me and they could talk about anything else but running! Crazy but those were the things that were annoying me most at the time! I didn’t want to know how great I looked or that I was nearly there (because I wasn’t) and I didn’t want to know about keeping a high cadence, staying relaxed and strong. I was in my own little world and it didn’t involve any of that. Ruth and I chatted about bears, the absolutely stunning scenery and what was going on in the mini van during stops. Guy and I talked about my birthday (which was the next day) and what I wouldn’t be getting!
60km into the run and Steve drove by in his car – he was on his way to the finish line. He rolled down the window to pass on words of encouragement, and then proceeded to let me know the time gaps between myself and Jaun in front and Dustin behind (who had the overall lead after day 2). He then told me if I continued at the pace I was running I would create history. It would be the first time a female had won an Ultraman event outright in the 32-year history of the events (no pressure right?)
I turned to Guy who I was running with me at the time and was “wow”. Then a few seconds later it was “I can’t think about that right now babe”. I still had 24km of running to go, anything could happen. I just had to focus on 2km at a time, eating, drinking and staying mentally strong. The rest would take care of itself. I never had any concept of time while I was running. I didn’t realise how long I had been running for. As I mentioned it was always about 2km, or a 10km block so I could walk the aid station, or land marks. There was always a short-term goal then a medium goal to think about that would get me to the end goal.
It was exciting to finally make it back to the road at about the 70km mark. There was still 14km to go but I had run 70km already! In my mind this was supposed to be the fun part, mostly downhill, but it hurt! When I saw a sign indicating a 14% downhill I was feeling the pain before I even began the descent. I think I was running slower going down than I was going up. The quads were pounding. Ruth and Guy were still swapping in but I was not saying anything anymore. Cold sprite with ice blocks was giving me a pick up along with GU Chomps I was still consuming every km. At this stage the battery in my watch was done! So whoever was running next to me had to try and maintain the same pace for me. I was also asking Guy to let me know every time we had run 500m. I was preferring the much smaller goals by this stage.
Then finally there it was! Not the finish line, but the sign that said ‘3km to go’ and this was when the crew had to call the finish line to let them know I was coming! Ruth came and joined me for the final section and by then I was asking to know every time we had run 400m. With 2km to go I was thinking to myself “Five laps of the track that is all that is left” and was still drinking and eating. I was getting SO excited!
I made the last left hand turn and there was the rest of my crew, all waiting to join me so we could cross the finish line together.
It gives me goose bumps now just thinking about it and no words will ever be able to describe the emotions I was feeling. I saw the time on the clock and could not believe what I had done. I was able to immediately hug Ruth, Mazzy, Jeff and Guy in my sweaty, smelly and disgusting state but I don’t think they cared. We had done it!
Race director Steve was there to give me my finisher’s medal and I could not wipe the smile off my face. That day 3 was what dreams were made of. That day you know you have in you, but just never think it is possible until it happens!
At that stage I was just so happy and ecstatic to have finished the event and achieved my goals. I had no idea of my overall placing. I had to wait an additional 13 minutes to see if Dustin crossed the finish line within a certain time. If he didn’t, I had won.
As the clock slowly clicked over, Steve eventually made the announcement that I had officially won and made history! WOW! I didn’t know what to say or do! Everyone around was clapping and congratulating me. I was smiling, hugging, shaking hands and thanking them. Then I was on the phone and calling mum back in Perth so I could wake her up and give her the great news!
Looking back now, I appreciate more and more what I achieved. I have won Ironman and 70.3 competitions before, but the reality is that this was history! I have no doubt that another female will win an Ultra Distance event in the future and I hope it happens again soon. But to be the first – that’s pretty cool!
I hope my result and involvement in the sport will encourage so many more females to get out there and do it! You are capable of so much more that you think. You just have to get out there and do it – there is nothing to lose! Your family will always love you, your friends will always think you’re crazy but we only live once and too often we say to ourselves “one day”. There are no excuses now that there is Ultraman Australia and the opportunity to do it in your own backyard.
Text: Kate Bevilaqua
Images: Rick Kent