McDonald, an old dog of 40 with seven Ironman wins, decided to learn some new tricks and took on the 10k swim, 57 mile bike leg, 171 mile bike leg and double marathon run in central Florida. Big Sexy is now the proud owner of the Ultraman Florida race record and punched his ticket to the Ultraman World Championship on Thanksgiving weekend.
Slowtwitch: Before the race started, did you do any special training?
Chris McDonald: I knew I was never really going to be able to “race” an Ultraman in my first crack at it so I just wanted to make sure I had the endurance base and mental ability to sit in a just uncomfortable situation for 7-plus hours three days in a row. For the cycling I logged about five 7.5 hour Zwift sessions and the swim was the only thing I really changed - once a week I logged a long straight swim in the wetsuit. I did struggle all through January with training as I had hernia surgery on Christmas Eve and couldn't swim for two weeks or bike or run for 7 days post-surgery.
ST: Why did you choose Florida?
Chris: To be honest I tried to apply directly to Hawaii a couple times and got the news that it was not going to happen unless I qualified. Florida was the obvious choice as it was the next race and pretty easy travel from Colorado.
ST: Anything special about the venue? The topography?
Chris: The race was pretty much centered around Clermont. I had never trained there before but I was really quite surprised at the topography and that we had 5700 feet of vertical in the first 80 miles on Saturday.
ST: The weather?
Chris: This was another thing that caught me slightly off guard! I know it’s Florida but it being mid-February I expected it to be quite a bit cooler than it was. Running on the clay road was pretty damn hot!!
ST: The race organization?
Chris: Honestly I cannot say enough about race director Chuck Kemeny and assistant RD Jen McVeay and the crew from Hawaii [Sheryl and Dave Cobb]! I have said for a couple years now that triathlon is losing participants to MOB events (mud, obstacle, beer) because it is losing the experience. It’s becoming very vanilla! Ultraman I think sees this and creates a HELL of an experience. You walk away with amazing memories, a bunch of new friends. Competitors help each other and you do really feel the Ohana!
ST: Which of your competitors did you fancy would give you the hardest time?
Chris: To be honest before the race I didn't look up anyone’s race résumé. I just wanted to go down and break the race up into 4 different events and do my thing. After Day One I could tell that Steven Keller was going to be the guy pushing me.
ST: Colombian Mario Bartolome took off like a streak and posted a 2:29:04 swim and you were next at 2:40:25. Who else was in the mix for the overall?
Chris: Right before the start they announced that Mario represented Spain at the 25km open water swim world champs so to hear I was only 11 minutes down I was pretty happy. Ignacio Lazarraga was a couple minutes back but that was all I knew at the time.
ST: With your cycling background, your Day One 3:56:22 92km bike split made up for your swim deficit. Steven Keller made up some time on everyone but you with a 4:01:18. Lazarraga’s 2:42:09 swim and 4:06:24 bike put him second, 12 minutes back after Day One. Satisfied?
Chris: I was reasonably satisfied. I had not done near enough swimming in training so it took me quite a while to get my cycling legs under me before I could push any kind of power on Day One.
ST: Your race-best 7:53:51 split for the 171-mile Day Two bike split increased your lead to 30 minutes over Lazarraga. Any near misses on the roads? Any niggles?
Chris: Day Two was a funny one as it started with about a 7 mile draft-legal stretch and Steven and I rolled along side by side chatting. Looking at the Day One results, I thought Steve would be great company on a long day. As we moved to the end of the draft legal zone, I could tell right away we had a close sitter. It was about 10 miles or so in and we were coming up on a traffic light and I could see the walk sign started to flash red. So I knew it was going to turn at some point. I am not really sure why, but I just stood up sprinted to make sure I made the green (turns out everyone did). But when I looked back I had a 50 meter gap and I thought “Well, close sitter is gone now so let’s just keep trucking!”
ST: Any moments of doubt and pain?
Chris: The only real low point for me was at mile 120 when I lost the use of my rear derailleur and I was stuck in the 54/17, which sounds like a good gear for what was the flat section of the course. Problem was by this stage it was super windy and 54/17 upwind meant about 60 cadence and 54/17 down wind meant about 110 cadence. I stopped three times to try to fix it but to no avail. Turns out the cable came loose in the lower junction box behind the bottom bracket.
ST: How well did your crew do to keep you going?
Chris: My crew was AMAZING!! They were on point with encouragement and everything I asked for nutrition wise. Mind you I think we had half a grocery store in the back of that minivan!
ST: Does 8 hours on the flats put a strain on your back or other parts of your body?
Chris: It really was not “flat” until about mile 90, and even then for Florida it did have some small lumps that you could stand and stretch the back.
ST: Your race-best 7:02:16 double marathon was 50 seconds better than Steven Keller and enough to bring you to the finish in 21:32:54 with a 55:46 margin of victory over Keller and 6 minutes better than race record holder Check Kemeny’s 2014 mark. What did this record mean to you?
Chris: This double marathon was interesting and by that I mean hitting the clay road at around mile 25ish and not getting off it till around mile 40 was BRUTAL. It may not have been that bad if the road was packed but it was very loose and sandy which sucked. Starting out day three I knew what I had to run to beat Chuck’s record, and I would be lying if I said it was not on my mind most of the day. Especially when Steven and I got caught at several red lights on the run that had us standing there for a couple minutes apiece.
ST: When you go to Ultraman Hawaii this year, you might have to run faster to win. Can you do it?
Chris: I do think I will head to Kona. Running fast I don’t think will be an issue at all. Just the nature of the course with there not being a bunch of traffic lights you have to stop at - it is all on a fast surface (read not sandy road). A couple of the guys who have raced Florida and Hawaii said the run in Florida is a lot more difficult that the run in Hawaii.
ST: How does the atmosphere of Ultraman compare to other tough classics like Savageman, World’s Toughest?
Chris: All I can say is, arrive strangers and leave a family!
ST: Were you at all nervous about the distance?
Chris: If anything it would have been the 10k open water swim. We can swim long distances in the pool to train our arms and lats, but until you swim 10k in open water we don’t really know how your back is going to hold up and that is what I was nervous about.
YOUR NICKNAME AND YOUR BETTER HALF
ST: Tell us the long version of how you came to be called The Big Sexy?
Chris: I think this one has been told but the shorter version is I was running fast quarters on the track in Leysin in Switzerland with Andrew Johns and I managed to hold Andrew for one... yes one, and [coach] Brett [Sutton] was saying “Easy big fella.” I asked him not to call me “big fella” as I was always the fat kid growing up and can’t stand it. He replied, “Well I am gonna call you ‘Big Sexy.’”
ST: Why did Big Sexy stick?
Chris: I think it stuck as it is cool and if you know me it is very, very much a piss take and something I don’t even feel comfortable saying.
ST: It seems your coaching combine is also known as your nickname. Has the name been instrumental in its growth?
Chris: A decade ago is just about when I met me wife. I had a vision and she was able to help me bring it to life. I wanted to bring the fun and the experience back into triathlon and I pitched Team BSR to her. She is the real reason the team came to life and, I believe, helped change the way people train and race in triathlon.
ST: How did you meet your wife?
Chris: We met at the Vegas Rock and Roll marathon.
ST: What is the better nickname – “The Big Sexy” or your wife’s “La Fabulosa?”
Chris: La Fabulosa obviously! Anyone who has met Erika will tell you she is the life blood of everything I do and I could not do any of it without her, and of course she is simply “the fabulous one.”
ST: La Fabulosa is well known for her culinary gifts. How instrumental has that been in your continuing to earn your own nickname?
Chris: Ha ha! I sometimes hear people say, “Man I am struggling to maintain weight.” I laugh and say, “Come to our place for a week and I can fix that!”
ST: What is your favorite item on La Fabulosa’s menu?
Chris: The homemade lasagna and her beef roast dinner she makes with Certified Piedmontese.
ST: You were born in Oz, spent time working and training in Kiwi Land, and have done some time training in Boulder, Germany and Switzerland. Which land captures your heart?b Where is the best place to train?
Chris: I love all places but I think the training in Switzerland was the absolute best of everything.
ST: What were the key things you learned from each of your famous coaches – Scott Molina and Brett Sutton?
Chris: Consistency, consistency! Training needs to be measured in weeks, months and years, not weeks, sessions and hours. Don’t sweat missing one session. Look at the total yearly volume.
ST: What led you into the den of aerobic iniquity known as triathlon?
Chris: The fact that my older brother did IM Australia on a dare and Scott Molina was introduced to me by a mutual friend and became a very close friend, training partner and coach.
ST: You were a bit late to come to triathlon. And after you established a business in New Zealand, how long before you quit the business and became a full time professional triathlete?
Chris: I raced as an amateur for four years, and after winning the 25/29 AG at IMNZ I just thought I might be able to get by on triathlon for a couple years to see the world.
ST: What performance of yours led you to believe you have the talent to make a go of swim-bike-run?
Chris: It was Ironman New Zealand in 2004. I won the AG but finished 7th overall and spent a large part of the day in the mix.
ST: While you have won several Ironman races, which was your favorite and most satisfying victory?
Chris: Two stand out. My first win in Louisville and my win at IM Lake Tahoe. No one expected me to win in Tahoe with a very strong field and a super hard course with over 7,000 feet of climbing.
Chris McDonald's Ultraman equipment
Bike - Ventum 1
Groupset - Shimano ultegra
Pedals - Shimano ultegra
Power meter - Pioneer
Wheels - Reynolds
Tires - GP 4000
Saddle - JOF 55
Aerobars - 51 Speedshop
Helmet - Kask
Cycling shoes - Lake custom
Run shoes - Newton Distance S
Wetsuit - Zone 3
Goggles - Zone 3