06 Jul Ultraman Ann
Ever considered an competing in an Ultraman? As if an Ironman seems long enough, try Ultraman Australia… a three-day, 515 km annual endurance race. Ann Brinkamp was the fastest female in 2018, in fact she was 8th overall in a remarkable time of 24 hours and 12 minutes. We had a fascinating chat with Ann about what it really takes to achieve Ultraman success.
What exactly is Ultraman?
Ultraman is a three day event. Day one is a 10km swim followed by a 146km bike leg . Day two is a 274km bike, and then day three is a double marathon… 84km of running.
When did you decide to enter into the Ultra-man?
I have been following Ultraman races around the world for a few years, but it was never something I thought I could ever do. Not being a good swimmer, I always wondered how anyone can complete a 10km swim and then cycle 145km. It wasn’t until someone I knew entered Ultraman 2017 and I followed his journey more closely, that I started to ask myself if I could maybe do it one day. I remember New Years’ Day 2017, talking about goals for the year – as you do – and I guess that’s when I decided to apply for a spot in the 2018 event. Applications did not open until July that year and I got my race invitation in September.
What factors did you take into account when you made the decision?
The first big factor I thought about when I decided to apply was how to make it through a 10km swim. I knew I would have to invest a lot of time and energy to improve my swimming and in hindsight, Ultraman gave the motivation I never had to finally give swimming a proper go.
Another factor was how to train for a race like this and who to train with. There are a few coaches in Australia and around the world that have a track record in training athletes for Ultra-Events, but I decided to stick with my current coach Mike Gee. Having a coach who has known me quite a few years turned out to be one of the most important elements of preparing for the race. It not only helped to get fit & race-ready, it was a key factor for not getting injured or doing too much. There’s a lot to be said for having someone who can tell you when it’s time for a rest day or easy week. It also meant I could train with my usual training buddies, at least some of the time. The many hours I would potentially have to train solo were certainly another aspect I thought about a lot so having a few key sessions with company made a big difference mentally.
We understand that David Bryant- Catalyst Dietetics assisted you with your nutrition? What aspects of your nutrition did you seek advice… racing or day to day nutrition?
All of the above. Although the volume and structure of training wasn’t too different from an Ironman training block, I had a long build and a few long weeks. I wanted to understand, for example, how I can fuel properly to recover quickly after a long day on the ride to make sure I was ready to go again the next day. Nutrition during the long swims was another factor, as this is something I never had to consider before.
With a multi-day race you can’t rely on gels and energy bars so I wanted to understand how I could incorporate real food into my training and race nutrition. It was a big learning curve with some trial and error; David gave me some great ideas and different options which I could then fine-tune over the months before the race. I learnt to be adaptable and knowing which food or drink was good in certain situations. This came in handy during the race as some of my go-to-things during training didn’t work on the second day, so I (more importantly my crew) had to improvise, which they successfully did.
I was quite intimidated by the run on the third day, not knowing how I could start it feeling fresh and recovered. David gave me great strategy that allowed me to refuel after the 2 days on the bike and ensure I had running legs on Day 3. Although I trusted the plan and training, I have to admit I was surprised when I woke up that morning and felt great. It’s quite incredible what your body can adapt to und nutrition played a key role in this!
How far out from the event did you start planning?
I received my race invitation in September 2017 and from that day there wasn’t a single day I didn’t think about Ultraman. I have been very lucky and had an amazing support crew, so they did most of the planning, if not all of it. I could focus on my training, they did the rest.
Were all your nutritional needs throughout the race period meticulously calculated? How did you plan it all out?
In short – yes but no. I had a nutrition plan, but it wasn’t mapped to the last calorie or gram of salt. It is a long event so the flexibility requires certainly visible in the plan. I knew I would put my body in a totally situation so there were a lot of unknown factors, which meant I had to be flexible and my crew had to know this too. We were very strict regarding the nutrition the minute I stopped cycling on Day 1 and 2 and that made a huge difference. There is a short window of opportunity at the end of both days to refuel and we focussed on making the most of it to have every chance possible to start the next day fresh.
Do you know how much you consumed over the 3 days of racing?
No – there were a lot of bananas and pouches of baby food though! And it is fair to say that I was very happy to eat a bowl of salad after the race, I was done with carbs for a while!
Your ‘UltraAnn’ support team did the most amazing job. How long before the race did they have to start prepping? And when was their role finished?
They were amazing, and I couldn’t have done it without them. I was lucky to have a crew who are athletes and get the whole ‘swim-bike-run’ thing. They were involved from the get go and supported me during training – as swim buddies, post-training coffee catch ups, with countless pep talks, making me food… You name it, they did it. Around 6 weeks before the race, we had a crew meeting to go through some of the logistics and from there on they really took over and organised everything. All I had to do was pack my bag and get to the airport.
They were a well-oiled machine the entire time and I think there were a few other athletes who would have happily swapped their own crew for Team UltraAnn. Not only did they cover all bases, they were also hilarious and got me out of a few dark holes when things got tough. It was a full-on schedule for them; when I finished racing each day and put my legs up, their day was anything but over. They organised meals, packed the car, cleaned my bike and made sure we were ready to go again the next morning.
They were of course there on Day 4 for the post-race celebrations and the weeks after for cake and wine!
What is involved in crewing for an Ultra-man athlete? Do you have to practise with your team before the race?
Every team member took on a specific role and that was great. For example, the team captain had to call the shots and communicates with race organisers, someone else was responsible for all things food (crew and athlete), organising the car, medical, designated driver etc. They kept my family up-to-date during the race, they made me laugh all the time and they were an awesome cheer squad for every other athlete out on the course. They were also the people who knew what needed when I didn’t know myself or couldn’t make a decision, who kept me moving when I wanted to stop or sit down on the side of the road.
Although you receive a lot of information prior to the race, none of us really understood how much the crew does and how important they are. I relied on them for everything, in particular on Day 3. It got quite tough in the last 20km so they were running with me, making sure I ate and drank enough, kept me on course and tried to keep me positive and focussed. I still don’t know how they did it – they were unbelievable, and I hope I can repay the favour one day!
How much involvement did your coach have in the race nutrition side of things? Or was his role purely to get the body ready for the race?
Nutrition was part of the training plan; although he didn’t get involved in the details, it was always an element he considered. It was about putting training, nutrition, recovery, sleep, work and life into context to make sure we were heading in the right direction.
One thing I noticed about you was how you kept your speed (plenty of podiums and wins) during the local season, whilst training for the ultra. Is that normal? Or just unique to you?!
I don’t know to be honest. Mike included interval sessions during the entire program, that helped a lot.
Maybe it was also an element of stubbornness. Many people seem to think that once you start going long-distance, you lose all your speed. I wanted to know if I can do both. More importantly, racing the shorter distances during the season was a way to take off pressure, I didn’t want to have the big A race at the end of the season and nothing else. I initially had no expectations for the local races other than wanting to have fun and it’s great to race with your friends. After a few good results, I wanted to test myself and see if I can keep racing short distances all the way through. It was also a great way to learn to handle those pre-race nerves better!
You must really know how to look after your body as you don’t seem to have any injuries or loss of speed! Do you have any ‘recovery tips’?
That’s an interesting question as I don’t do as much of ‘recovery’ as I maybe should, or others do. It often was a matter of time and hard to fit in all the massages, physio, foam rolling, stretching etc I would have liked to do. A few things worked well for me though
- Listening to my body; when somethings feels wrong, stop and fix it straight away. It’s something I struggled with in the past, but this time around I couldn’t afford to lose weeks of training. Often 1 rest day or a massage is all it takes to address a niggle that can otherwise drag on for a lot longer.
- Getting enough sleep and not being afraid to miss an early morning session when I needed a few extra hours.
- Keep moving! My best recovery after a big ride was a walk with my dog. Much better than sitting on the couch for the rest of the day.
- Strength – for the first time ever, my training program included gym work and I think that made a huge difference.
- Bike fit – don’t expect to be comfortable on your bike for 8 hours if it’s set up for a sprint distance. I didn’t like the non-aero look of my TT initially after I had the set up adjusted but it made a huge difference to comfort and avoided lower back problems.
- I had to learn the hard way to eat and drink properly immediately after the long rides and runs.
Ann – we think you are absolutely amazing – congratulations on such a huge achievement.
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