The competitors in standard course triathlons, which is the format used for the Olympics, have to swim nearly a mile, bike 25 miles, and run 6.2 miles. The men’s gold medalist at the 2016 Olympics finished with a time of 1 hour 45 minutes. The Ironman triathlon is much longer: a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then you run an entire marathon (26.2 miles); the current world record for this distance is 7 hours 35 minutes.
The Quintuple Anvil Triathlon is five Ironman triathlons in five days, i.e. your basic total insanity.
Crushed by exhaustion, you may dream of a competitor’s head morphing into a Pokémon-like demon — and then open your eyes and still see it. The next day you will quit the race.
To fill your queasy stomach during your third 112-mile bike ride, you will discover the best way to eat a sausage-and-egg sandwich: shove it in your mouth and let it slowly dissolve.
After 500 miles on a bike, 10 in the water and more than 100 on foot, it will make perfect sense to grab a branch and a broomstick in a desperate bid to propel yourself — like a giant mutant insect — the last 31 miles. It will not be enough. You will collapse on the road.
Seasick, miles into the swim, you will vomit. Twice.
Neck cramps will attack so fiercely on the bike that your head will slump. You will go cross-eyed and nearly crash.
This reminds me of one of my favorite things I’ve ever posted, this story about ultra-endurance cyclist Jure Robic.
For one thing, Jure Robic sleeps 90 minutes or less a day when competing in ultracycling events lasting a week or more…and goes crazy, like actually insane, during the races because of it. Because he’s insane, his support crew makes all the decisions for him, an arrangement that allows Robic’s body to keep going even though his mind would have told him to quit long ago.
I’m also reminded of Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere skiing/walking to the South Pole and back, covering a distance of 1795 miles in 105 days. That’s 17 miles a day for more than three straight months. And just this morning, I was thinking my chair was a little uncomfortable.
Update: So get this: the the Quintuple Anvil Triathlon is a mere trifle compared to the Triple DECA Iron in which competitors do an Ironman triathlon every day for 30 days. ASDFADASGRETHRYJH!!! I cannot even start to think about beginning to even with this. (via @ben_lings)
Three years ago, Kayla Montgomery was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Faced with the prospect of being confined to a wheelchair someday, Montgomery, one of the slower runners on her high school cross country team, told her coach she was short on time and wanted to run faster. Now she’s one of the fastest runners in the country and perhaps the MS has something to do with it.
Kayla Montgomery, 18, was found to have multiple sclerosis three years ago. Defying most logic, she has gone on to become one of the fastest young distance runners in the country — one who cannot stay on her feet after crossing the finish line.
Because M.S. blocks nerve signals from Montgomery’s legs to her brain, particularly as her body temperature increases, she can move at steady speeds that cause other runners pain she cannot sense, creating the peculiar circumstance in which the symptoms of a disease might confer an athletic advantage.
But intense exercise can also trigger weakness and instability; as Montgomery goes numb in races, she can continue moving forward as if on autopilot, but any disruption, like stopping, makes her lose control.
“When I finish, it feels like there’s nothing underneath me,” Montgomery said. “I start out feeling normal and then my legs gradually go numb. I’ve trained myself to think about other things while I race, to get through. But when I break the motion, I can’t control them and I fall.”
Montgomery’s story reminds me of ultra-endurance racer Jure Robic, particularly this bit in a NY Times profile:
Researchers, however, have long noted a link between neurological disorders and athletic potential. In the late 1800’s, the pioneering French doctor Philippe Tissie observed that phobias and epilepsy could be beneficial for athletic training. A few decades later, the German surgeon August Bier measured the spontaneous long jump of a mentally disturbed patient, noting that it compared favorably to the existing world record. These types of exertions seemed to defy the notion of built-in muscular limits and, Bier noted, were made possible by “powerful mental stimuli and the simultaneous elimination of inhibitions.”
Questions about the muscle-centered model came up again in 1989 when Canadian researchers published the results of an experiment called Operation Everest II, in which athletes did heavy exercise in altitude chambers. The athletes reached exhaustion despite the fact that their lactic-acid concentrations remained comfortably low. Fatigue, it seemed, might be caused by something else.
In 1999, three physiologists from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cyclists to exhaustion during a 62-mile laboratory ride and measured, via electrodes, the percentage of leg muscles they were using at the fatigue limit. If standard theories were true, they reasoned, the body should recruit more muscle fibers as it approached exhaustion — a natural compensation for tired, weakening muscles.
Instead, the researchers observed the opposite result. As the riders approached complete fatigue, the percentage of active muscle fibers decreased, until they were using only about 30 percent. Even as the athletes felt they were giving their all, the reality was that more of their muscles were at rest. Was the brain purposely holding back the body?
“It was as if the brain was playing a trick on the body, to save it,” says Timothy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. “Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fatigue, it only feels like we’re going to die. The actual physiological risks that fatigue represents are essentially trivial.”
Update: While still in middle school, thirteen-year-old Amaris Tyynismaa is putting up some of the best distance running times in the country against high school competition. And she does it in spite of, or perhaps, because of battling with Tourette syndrome since she was a little girl.
Some athletes with TS attribute near-magical powers to their condition. Tim Howard, the goalkeeper of last year’s U.S. World Cup soccer team, says that TS has given him vision and reflexes that other players simply don’t have. Famed physician Oliver Sacks once wrote about a ping-pong player whose abnormal quickness and ability to knock back unreturnable shots, he believed, had to be connected to TS. One reason is that people with Tourette’s also tend to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Amaris included). They need to repeat behaviors-whether it’s preventing balls from going into the net or running improbably long distances-until they do it just right. “I’m not saying it’s a good thing to have,” Sacks told a reporter last year, “but if one has Tourette’s, there are advantages.” New research out of the University of Nottingham shows that the brains of TS patients are physically different from everyone else’s, transformed by years of operating under much greater than normal resistance and better at controlling the body.
Neurologists at the Tourette Syndrome Association aren’t quite ready to embrace a connection between TS and superior athleticism. They are more comfortable saying that people with TS often see their symptoms subside when they’re playing sports or otherwise engaged in something that focuses their attention away from the urge to tic.
Soccer quieted the noise in Amaris’ head. After taking up the game, she began to tic less off the field. She did better in school. She talked more. Actually, she talked a lot, like she does now. In her last game in England, she scored three goals and the other kids lifted her up on their shoulders and carried her around. She would have had a major problem with that just months before-too many germs-but she loved it.
Jure Robic, the world-class ultra-endurance cyclist I wrote about earlier this year, was killed in a traffic accident in his native Slovenia late last week. He died as he lived: on his bike. (thx, @ddewey and several others)
This story is so crazy I don’t even know where to start. For one thing, Jure Robic sleeps 90 minutes or less a day when competing in ultracycling events lasting a week or more…and goes crazy, like actually insane, during the races because of it. Because he’s insane, his support crew makes all the decisions for him, an arrangement that allows Robic’s body to keep going even though his mind would have told him to quit long ago.
His system is straightforward. During the race, Robic’s brain is allowed control over choice of music (usually a mix of traditional Slovene marches and Lenny Kravitz), food selection and bathroom breaks. The second brain [AKA his support team] dictates everything else, including rest times, meal times, food amounts and even average speed. Unless Robic asks, he is not informed of the remaining mileage or even how many days are left in the race. “It is best if he has no idea,” Stanovnik says. “He rides — that is all.”
During one race, Robic hallucinated that mujahedeen on horseback were pursuing him; his support team pretended to see them too and urged Robic to outrun them. Read the whole thing…this is an awesome and disturbing story. A recent episode of Radiolab on Limits has more info.