In the year before her 40th birthday, Kate Bevilaqua will have checked two important boxes off her bucket list: Over Thanksgiving weekend she won the three-day, 321 mile Ultraman World Championship women’s crown. And this May she will marry her Ultraman crew chief Guy Crawford aka Captain Awesome at home in Australia.
Slowtwitch: After three Ironman victories and multiple podiums at half Ironman contests, what led you to Ultraman?
Kate Bevilaqua: Ultraman has been on my radar for at least 6 years! Every Thanksgiving weekend I would follow the Ultraman World Championship online and remind Guy that one day I want to do that. At the end of 2014 we finally decided we could fit it into my year while still racing Ironman and 70.3s. August 2015 was a perfect time as I wasn’t racing another Ironman till later in the year and I think Guy was getting sick of me going on about it. I raced Ultra520 Canada in August 2015 and followed that up with Ultraman Hawaii this year.
ST: Why were you fated for Ultraman?
Kate: The physical side of things was developed over the last 15 years of training. I’ve always been good at going steady for long periods of time and backing up long training days. I lack top end speed but, as the saying goes, “I’m a diesel engine.” The mental strength is the toughest part. Guy would say I’m really quite stubborn. Once I set my mind to Ultraman I knew I’d finish.
ST: What did you feel about placing first overall including the men at Canada?
Kate: If you had seen me at the end of Day 2 you would not have thought I would survive the double marathon. I certainly didn’t! I was extremely fatigued and told Guy, ‘I don’t think I can do it!’ This worked in my favor as I started the run conservatively and was able to finish strong. We joke that I got more media for that than any of my Ironman titles (which is the truth) and I’m very proud to have won one for the ladies!
ST: What did your sponsors think of your new challenge?
Kate: My sponsors have been fantastic and very supportive. The owners of Rolf Prima Wheels Brian Roddy and his wife Carrie recently raced RAAM and do a number of Ultra events themselves. Ceepo has a large group of athletes competing on their bikes in the Ultraman scene. And Coeur Sports were more excited than I was! Hopefully through them and what I have achieved in Ultra events more women will take the challenge. I also had great support from GU, Profile Design, Blueseventy, Rotor, Computrainer, Challenge Tyres, ISM, Ryders Eyewear and Mizuno Running.
b>ST: Where did you go for advice?
Kate: I read a lot on the internet. Before Canada I had a quick chat with Hillary Biscay in Coeur d’Alene. In 2015 I sat down with coach Jeff Shilt and we came up with a 2 month plan leading into the race. This year I’ve been working with Bella Bayliss. We had a similar approach but made a few changes to prepare me for the Big Island.
ST: How much did Hillary Biscay’s 3rd overall in 2010 and 1st woman in 2013 inspire you?
Kate: I think both of her performances were inspiring and encouraging! But I was under no illusion - I knew it was going to hurt....a lot...and that definitely scared me! But life is about getting out of your comfort zone.
ST: What were some of the highlights – and disappointments - of your career?
Kate: Definitely my three Ironman victories and two 70.3 victories. Just typing now I can see every one of them - the finish line, the feelings of achievement, the crowds, the suffering. I cherish them all because you never know if it will happen again and those titles make me proud. My win at Ironman Western Australia 2010 would be a highlight and a disappointment. Yes I won.....but crawling across the line and passing out at the finish line was not how I had imagined it would be! I would have really liked to enjoy that finish line - seen family and friends in the crowd and soaking it all up!
ST: Were you attracted by the Ultraman philosophy of Ohana (family), Aloha (love) and Kokua (help)?
Kate: The Ultraman philosophy is summed up extremely well in those three words and that’s why athletes go back for more. Once you have been there as an athlete, support crew or volunteer you are part of the family. It’s something no pictures or words can describe.
ST: In addition to your Ultraman prep, you managed to squeeze in another 70.3 win – at Bintan – three months before the Kona Ultraman. What did that tell you?
Kate: At that stage there had been no preparation for Ultraman. I won Bintan 70.3 then flew to Brisbane for 70.3 Worlds but unfortunately I became quite sick, did not start and took a few weeks to recover. Then I got the Ultraman invitation.
Any victory is amazing and Bintan 70.3 is a tough hot and humid race. It is tough to be a professional athlete, particularly triathlon. You make sacrifices. You move around all the time, you don’t earn a lot. It may look glamorous from the outside.... but that’s not always the case! Pros sleep on floors and couches, living from race to race. A podium feels like you have earned the right to compete against the best and the decision you made to give up that regular job was worth it!
ST: Tell us about your crew.
Kate: Crewing is hard! Tiring, demanding and nonstop! I could not have done it without mine!
Last year Jeff Shilt and Marian Brennan were on my crew in Canada. Unfortunately they weren’t able to make it to Hawaii. I was extremely lucky that my great friend Janine Kaye made the trip. Janine is an Ironman athlete and is one of our awesome coaches at GKEndurance. Her job was meal preparation, calorie counting, preparing bottles of GU and nutrition for each day plus driving and aid station handoffs!
I am very lucky to have Ruth Chang on my crew both years for physio, massage, post-race recovery and run pacer. I was having issues with a quad all three days and Ruth handled treatment, needles and extra massages. After all that.... she still wants to be my Maid of Honor!!
Then there is Guy..... I am starting to feel emotional writing about him! I made some
sacrifices to do this race....but he makes just as many if not more! He put up with months of me being tired, hungry, not wanting to cook dinner and telling him, “I don’t care if you only have to ride 4 hours....I need you for 8!”
ST: What did your scouting trip at Kona reveal?
Kate: Guy and I were in Kona for Ironman in October. This was a great opportunity to swim the course. I also rode Day 1 to Volcano and spent a lot of time running on the Queen K.
ST: How do the Canada and Kona courses compare?
Kate: They both have a lot of climbing on bike and run. Canada you swim in the lake, Kona the ocean. The Day 1 Bike in Canada was really hot but not windy with some decent climbing. The Kona Day 1 Bike was not that hot but super windy with the last 45km climbing from sea level to 4000 feet into a headwind. Canada Day 2 bike had a decent headwind at the end. Kona Day 2 we started in the rain descending into Hilo. Then two major climbs first to Waimea and then up and over the Kohalas. Day 3 run in Canada is half road, half gravel with rolling hills and some decent climbs. At Kona you start the run in the dark, downhill from Hawi to Kawaihae and lots of climbing to the finish. Just like Ironman, it was hot with a headwind back to town!
ST: On Day 1, you had a second-best overall 2:31:58 swim – 2 minutes back of Rob Gray and 6 minutes ahead of your main competition Tara Norton. Then you charged 90 miles on the bike and finished with a 12 minute lead on Norton. Satisfied?
Kate: I have competed against Tara many times and she has always been a strong cyclist. I expected her to pass me during Stage 1. She got close but I held her off.
ST: How tough were the Day 1 winds?
Kate: I am not going to lie. Those were some of the strongest winds I have ever ridden in and I was just waiting to end up over a guardrail. Halfway through the ride, my crew swapped out my front wheel and I felt a lot more comfortable dealing with the crosswinds.
ST: Day 2 you had an 8:17:57 bike split and finished 28 minutes ahead of Norton. Were you confident in your lead?
Kate: It was definitely bigger than I expected and unfortunately Tara experienced some issues with her Di2 which didn’t help. But there was still a double marathon to run and a lot can happen!
ST: Any moments of doubt and pain on the run?
Kate: I went out too hard and paid the price. There were many moments of doubt and a lot more pain on the run for me this year.
ST: How surprised were you that Tara took 10 and a half hours to finish her run?
Kate: I was surprised because I know she is definitely capable of a great run. I learned she had issues to deal with and full credit to her for being mentally tough and finishing.
ST: How much pride in winning the Ultraman World Championship?
Kate: I was absolutely exhausted. Over the last few kilometers I felt every step through my entire body but I had Guy by my side keeping me moving. I love that I could finish the race with my crew. The victory is ours to share and it was emotional for all of us. My parents were also at the finish line plus family friends Peter and Chris.
ST: Are you proud of your 6th-best ever women’s Ultraman bike split and the 6th-best women’s Hawaii Ultraman overall time?
Kate: The months of training and preparing for an Ultraman are massive. Making it to the start line healthy, dealing with three consecutive days of competition with so many variables makes me proud. I wish I had gone faster.... particularly Day 3... [7:59:35]. I can run much better. But as we tell our GKEndurance athletes....if you can walk away and know you gave it your absolute best, that’s victory!
ST: You were first overall including the men at ULTRA520 Canada and 6th overall including the men in Hawaii. Your times were not that far apart – 24:16:27 at Canada and 24:44:04 in Hawaii. What made the difference?
Kate: Different races, different courses, different conditions, different expectations, different preparations, different mental approach. I am extremely proud of both outcomes - first female to win an Ultraman outright and winning the Ultraman World Championship. If you go by time Canada was better. But Hawaii is the World Championship. I’ll let your readers be the judge!
ST: Guy, what do you think about Kate’s race?
Guy Crawford: If your partner decides to do Ultraman, best you move out of the house. Living under a bridge will probably seem quite appealing after living with someone preparing for an Ultraman. Haha.
I think the crew did a good job of getting Kate to the line each day in the best shape possible. There are always highs and lows and high stress moments. We were well prepared this time and had a bit of luck. I realized that Ultraman was not made for me halfway through the last day. I’ve had some pretty dark moments during marathons, so running a double on the Queen K would have been “emotional.” I’ll leave theses super awesome and super crazy events for Kate. I’m happy to be her trusty sidekick.
ST: You and Guy will have a big celebration soon. Congratulations!
Kate: YAH!! I am so excited!!! Guy and I are getting married in May. I have no idea what it will be like but I know that I am the luckiest girl in the world! Those of you who know Guy (aka Captain Awesome) know that he is a gentle giant with the biggest heart. He will make you cry laughing and give you a big hug to tell you how special you are (or just because he enjoys making you feel awkward). I do know it is going to be a week of celebrations with so many of our friends and family from around the world all in one place!