Ultraman racing isn't a triathlon in the normal sense of the sport as it puts an unusual spin on the competition of swim-bike-run. Rather than complete all three disciplines in one day, Ultraman athletes cover 320 miles (515km) during three days of racing.
Arnaud Selukov took part in his first Ultraman in 2016 and duly won it, before he finished 3rd at the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii in 2017. We spoke to Arnaud to find out what it takes to go long after he returned to Kona and finished 4th at the World Champs in 2019...
Hi Arnaud, you've got a strong background in long-distance triathlon racing and have recorded a sub-9 hour time for IRONMAN. So what inspired you to go even longer with Ultraman? And what's your favourite race?
Well that’s a good question, I guess I just need to prove to myself that I'm not done yet despite being on the wrong side of 50 (Arnaud is a youthful 51).
I also love the smaller field, the fact you know all of the competitors and that supporting each other is part of the game.
It's hard to name a favourite race because it’s like naming your favourite child! They're all special in a different way, but there's something about the Ultraman World Championships as you experience its different climates and conditions when circumnavigating the Big Island in Hawaii.
On the second day of the 2019 race, I was coming down Waimea in a pretty mad crosswind and I was asking for my windbreaker because I was freezing, but 10 miles later I was asking for ice to cool me down. This is what Ultraman is all about.
Kona is renowned for its extreme conditions, so how do you prepare for heading over there for a unique race like the Ultraman?
It’s a three-day event so the big difference is that every evening you have a break, you can eat real food, get a massage and prepare again for the next day. It's an advantage in terms of recovery, even though my race pace is very similar to my typical IRONMAN effort level.
Having completed a few Ultraman races now, how did you approach fuelling for a race that features a 12-hour cut-off at the end of each day?
Ultraman is basically a food contest! I'll be racing for 8-10 hours a day at IRONMAN effort for three days straight so I have to be on top of my nutrition.
I'm vegan and I have a pretty good knowledge of my body. The last thing you want is to upset your stomach on Day 1 and not being able to fuel properly for Days 2 and 3.
Day 1 - features a 6.2-mile (10km) swim followed by a 90-mile (144.8km) bike leg
During the swim, I use diluted gels in plain water based on 3 hours of effort (so around 1000/1200 calories).
The bike ride on Day 1 is fuelled exclusively by sports drinks, then the game is eating as soon as you're done and eating again for dinner, and again before going to bed.
Day 2 - consists of a 171.4m (276km) bike leg
Day 2 is usually 140km on sport nutrition, then I switch to real food (rice, avocados, wraps, dates etc.) because it’s easier on the stomach and does help me to be ready for the following day.
Day 3 - features a double-marathon, starting at 6am
Day 3 is not easy in Kona as when we start it's dark and cold, but two hours later we're roasting on the Queen K. So, my nutrition will depend on the conditions, but typically it's going to be gels during the first marathon and after that you can’t really take any more of them, so I switch to Snickers bars and rice or whatever I feel like eating.
At this point, it's worth getting comment on hydration and nutrition from ultra-endurance legend and coach, Chris Hauth, who has trained multiple Ultraman finishers...
Nutrition is fairly simply because there aren't any aid stations, so you have your crew out on the course with you and you'll have all of your own food and drink. Fuelling for a 150-mile bike ride on Day 2 is about staying hydrated and having energy to effectively get through it. Since there is little racing going on, it's just a steady flow of fuelling.
Most of this should have been practiced, simulated and adjusted in training, so there are few unknowns when you come to the event. Of course, you can still add variety in case things need to change and it's important to be quite flexible to give yourself options.
It's also important for a multi-day race like this to understand that you get to refuel at the end of each day, so quality nutrition can dramatically help for the next day.
And what about hydration?
Hydration becomes the primary factor in a place like Hawaii. Having said that, some of the route of Ultraman Hawaii is in cooler locations, so knowing how your body’s needs change in different conditions is important.
For long days like Ultraman or any ultra endurance event, you need to be ready to switch things up despite what your training has told you.
It's all about finding what you effectively absorb and which products allow you to continue drinking (or eating).
In the ultra-endurance world we can’t force things; whether fuel or hydration, since we are talking 20-40-60 hours of activity.
For example, maybe don’t plan to go 9 hours only on PH 1000. Instead, have water, alternate with PH, and know how PH 1000 in the first 2-3 hours might affect your ability to absorb effectively in the last 2-3 hours of Day 2 on the bike.
This is crucial in ultra-endurance events because what you do in the current moment of the race plays out in many hours from now, so decisions early on are always impacting the harder miles later in the day.
Thanks Chris. Let's head back to our chat with Arnaud - how did you fit your hydration requirements into your race?
Hydration is key for me and one of my biggest fears is getting dehydrated - it happened once at IRONMAN in Kona where I lost 8kg and I peed blood for two days, so no thank you.
I have a very high sweat rate of 3 litres per hour in Kona IRONMAN conditions on the run and I lose around 1200mg of sodium per litre.
So, what I do is I preload with PH 1500 the day before the race and then I am on PH 1500 during the event (I alternate between sachets and tabs), as well as using PH 1000 before and after to replenish.
And what does your recovery after each day of racing look like? I imagine there's plenty of sleep?
Eat, sleep if you can, eat more. Did I say eat?
How did it feel when you crossed the finish line on the third and final day?
That was a pretty amazing feeling. My watch says we went through the first marathon in 3 hours 32 minutes, but then the fatigue from my season caught up like a train hitting me and I just wanted to get to the end, lie down in the sand and disappear into oblivion.
Erm, sounds "amazing"... So, what would be your best piece of advice for someone thinking of taking on an Ultraman or ultra race for the first time?
Get a coach with ultra experience and they can help you with the training, the mental side, the gears, equipment, and strategy with your support crew. Without the relevant knowledge, it's possible to screw these things up pretty badly.
And finally, you're now offering Sweat Testing as a service through your 859 Coaching set-up - why were you interested in becoming a Sweat Test Centre?
I've lived in Asia for 12 years and experienced myself how you feel when you neglect your hydration. It’s not pretty, especially when you train and race in temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius [95 Fahrenheit] and 90% humidity all year, and so you learn about the importance of your hydration the hard way.
In today’s triathlon world, we see people willing to spend thousands on a power meter or wheels, but reluctant to invest in a Sweat Test or their nutrition.
I don’t get it and I'm trying to change it one step at a time by raising awareness.
Thanks to Arnaud, who offers Sweat Testing in France. If you're interested in booking a Sweat Test with Arnaud, contact him directly via email - firstname.lastname@example.org or give him a call on +33 (0) 771106974.