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Ultraman World Champion 2016. Photos by Janine Kaye

Following Kate Bevilaqua’s Ultraman World Championship title earlier this month we received several inquires from athletes looking to take on this extreme event in 2017. Coach Bella Bayliss gives her insight into preparing for the 515km event – and how it differs from the standard Ironman distance:

Ultraman is 3 days of racing a lot kilometres! For those unaware the exact format is as follows:

  • Day one is a 10km ocean swim followed by a 145-km cross-country bike ride, with vertical climbs that total 6,000 feet.
  • Day two is a 276km bike ride with total vertical climbs of 4,000 feet.
  • Day three is an 84km double-marathon! Each stage must be completed within 12 hours or less (5.5 hours for the swim) and athletes who do not reach the finish lines within the time limits are disqualified!

I will start with the obvious. Preparing for an Ultraman event requires you to put some big days of training in! To be able to cope with an extremely long one day event like Ironman is one thing. To back it up not just once, but twice in the heat of Hawaii is another skill in itself and takes some serious work.

Out on the 10km swim.

When I started training Kate at the beginning of the year I doubted her fitness – however with solid, full-time Ironman training her fitness improved and she went on to gain five Top 5 results in 70.3 races in 2016, all in very hot, humid parts of the world (including the win at 70.3 Bintan). Some great training in the first part of the year. Then, in September, when we learnt that she officially had the World Ultraman spot we began to really focus on the distance!

For the first phase we built back to typical Ironman training.

Then in October we really ramped up the time on the bike with some big riding days. While the focus was going long, I didn’t want her to lose too much of her speed by giving her too many longer, slow miles. We still kept the hill reps and time trials on the bike, but the difference was we would back it up with a longer than usual second ride in the afternoon. We would also often combine two big riding days together, so that the body would not be in shock when backing up and riding 300km on Day 2 of the race.

We did have some big swims, however always maintaining her normal kind of intervals. And similarly on the run. It wasn’t only about running long, steady miles – but also keeping the intensity up. We left open the option of racing a 70.3 at the end of October, which was an incentive to keep the quality, however in the end we decided against any more races and concentrated solely on the Ultraman. Kate travelling to Hawaii for two weeks to prepare for the conditions before entering a 50km trail race back in mainland US.

421km of cycling in 2 days!

Kate put everything into her training, doing nothing else with her days apart from getting in the hours of work. Her patience, determination and positive attitude helped her to get some really bulky days done – and in the end the World Championship!

3 weeks out Kate was getting tired, but by then the hard work was done. Ahead of the race a friend’s wedding proved a welcome weekend break, then it was onto Hawaii while easing down the training as she got used to the conditions again and getting ready to start the race.

In the end it seemed we had the preparation just right: She led from the gun with a strong, fast swim. Strong biking saw her slowly but steadily pulling away from the competition and holding the run together when it began to get tough at 50km.

It’s important to note Kate is an athlete with over 10 years of long distance triathlon experience and we were able to get some great quality (intensity) sessions incorporated within the longer days. I think this is important for all Ultraman athletes. While it is tempting for an athlete with less experience going into their first Ultraman to just focus on ‘getting the miles’ with longer, steadier sessions – the quality sets you would still typically do ahead of shorter races shouldn’t be dropped. Ultraman training is as much mental as physical so variety in the training helps keeps things fun (and the motivation there) when trying to overcome so many hours!

Holding it together over the 84km double marathon.

Congratulations again Kate and all the best to those taking on the Ultraman challenge in the future. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

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