The Ultraman Florida champs

Back in 1983, there was only one Ultraman – the classic World Championship event held in the three days after Thanksgiving in Kona, Hawaii. Now, three decades later, there is a growing list of sanctioned qualifying Ultraman events around the planet with very different courses – each with their unique challenges. The latest edition was held in central Florida last weekend and, no matter the differences in courses, an Ultraman rookie surpassed the men’s record time set in Kona in 1998 by Holger Spiegel by 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

Chuck Kemeny of Tallahassee Florida, a 38-year-old Associate Director of Infrastructure and Operations at Florida State University, a triathlon coach and winner of the September 2010 Virginia Double Anvil double Ironman-distance event, aced his Ultraman debut in a time of 21:38:32. While outsiders may be forgiven for assuming that the new Ultraman Florida course would be the Ultra equivalent of the speedway that is Ironman Florida, Mr. Kemeny has a few observations about the surprising challenges of this central Florida course.

Julie Shelley, the head of IT at HSBC Australia and a 6-time Ironman World Championship qualifier who was 3rd in her 35-39 Ironman age group rankings, won the women’s division with the 6th-fastest women’s worldwide Ultraman time of 25:33:05. Shelley had an excellent coach – 2013 Ultraman World Championship women’s winner Hillary Biscay.

The winners answered Slowtwitch questions via email.


Slowtwitch: What led you to compete at Ultraman Florida?

Chuck Kemeny: I was supposed to compete in Ultraman Hawaii in 2012, but was unable to get the time off of work. While at the 2013 Ironman World Championships with some of the athletes I coach, I knew I had to get back to my attempt at Ultraman Hawaii. I contacted [Ultraman race directors] Jane Bockus and Sheryl Cobb inquiring about a slot into the 2014 race when they pointed me to Ultraman Florida. It was late October when I found out that I was accepted into this race.

ST: What did you know about Ultraman before you did this race?

Chuck: I met Nick Mallet [Ultraman and Ironman veteran from Australia] at the 2010 Double Anvil race. He explained the differences between the two race formats and really piqued my interest.

ST: Any previous Ultra experience?

Chuck: Not Ultraman specifically. I did compete in the September 2010 Virginia Double Anvil events (single day - 4.8 mile swim, 224 mile bike, 52.4 mile run). [Kemeny won in a time of 25:06:421 with splits of: Swim 1:58, Bike 10:51:09 and Run 11:55:16].

ST: What did you think about the Florida course?

Chuck: I actually went into the race thinking it would be flat and fast. I was very wrong. I have lived in Tallahassee for 9 years and knew our state had pockets of hills, but I had never visited the Clermont area where we were going to be riding and running at Ultraman.

ST: What were some of those tough sections?

The race definitely had challenges along the way.

The water was 64 degrees which brings challenges in and of itself. And there was more chop in the swim than I expected as there were motor boats on the water creating wake. I heard a few of the kayakers flipped due to the wakes.

The Day 1 bike course was long (93 miles, 3 more than the standard Ultraman distance) and wasn't a cakewalk. We had sustained winds of 15-20 mph and gusts upward of 25-30 mph. Day 2 had wind, rain, fog, and a listed 6,500 feet of climbing on a 45 mile stretch starting at mile 100 [1,400 feet less than the Ultraman Hawaii Day 2 bike course] The riders in the front on day 2 had rain and wet roads for the climbing section of the race. This translated into some slow descents to keep from falling. Additionally, Ultraman Florida had a number of traffic lights to contend with on both bike days. That made it particularly hard to get into a rhythm.

Day 3 was no walk in the park. It was nothing but rolling hills. The weather was less than ideal as well, as it reached 91 degrees and 100% humidity during the run.

ST: Tell us about your duel with Inaki Barreras? Things were pretty close on the first day - so when and how did you start putting time on him?

Chuck: Inaki did keep the pressure on during Day 1. Day 2 we were riding in close proximity when we rolled up to some wet railroad tracks. Inaki went down and I nearly followed suit. I was lucky enough to land a foot on the ground to help balance myself. I stopped to make sure he was OK. Once he said he was, I rode ahead to inform his crew. I came across them half a mile to a mile up the road and sent them back to aid him. In the meantime, I rode in circles waiting for either Inaki or his crew to come by to let me know he was OK.

His crew came by a little while later to let me know that he was back up and riding. It was at that point that I went and just kept riding until the finish. Inaki lost some additional time due to chain issues on one of the climbs.

Day 3 had us running close to each other through 40 miles. It was at that point that I pulled ahead to take the lead on day 3.

ST: What was the swim like in that lake?

Chuck: The swim wasn't too bad considering the distance. The water was 64 degrees which brings challenges in and of itself. There was more chop than I expected as there were motor boats on the water creating wake. I heard a few of the kayakers flipped due to the wake.

ST: Congratulations on setting a men's worldwide Ultraman race record. Can you comment on a comparison of your split times with those of the Ultraman Hawaii race record holder Holger Spiegel, who ran his race in 1998?

Day 1

10k Swim - Kemeny 2:22:12 Spiegel 2:30:17
90 mile Bike -- Kemeny 4:11:25 Spiegel 5:15:53

Day 2

171.4 mile bike -- Kemeny 8:01:17 Spiegel 7:35:50
Day 3

52.4-mile run – Kemeny 7:03:38 Spiegel 6:19:22
TOTAL: Kemeny 21:38:32 Spiegel 21:41:22.

Chuck: You really cannot compare one race to another due to weather conditions let alone one course to the next. I can speak to the Ultraman Florida course as I have raced it. I cannot speak to the Ultraman Hawaii course. I can tell you what others have told me who have raced both courses. They said that the rolling hills of the Florida run course were much harder than Hawaii. They also said that the number of traffic lights in Florida made it more difficult to settle into a rhythm. It was also said that the Florida bike course was no joke and anything but flat. Looking at raw numbers without taking into account the complete picture does not yield an accurate comparison. Winds, rain, heat, humidity levels – each of these conditions varies year to year and each makes for a different race.

ST: What about this race surprised you?

Chuck: The number of hills, traffic lights, amount of rain, and wind caught me off guard. Plus I had only ridden outside once in over a year prior to arriving at the race. It is hard to simulate a cross wind, rain, or even traffic lights while riding the Computrainer. I normally would have been outside more often, but in addition to attending my three children’s sporting events, I spent the past year building a house and had to maximize my time which meant some very early morning trainer rides.

ST: What were your toughest moments of this three day race?

Chuck: Being disciplined was probably the hardest thing. It is hard to climb hills and then have to ride the brakes due to the rain while going down the other side. I would have loved nothing more than to be able to fly down the downhill and pick up some momentum going into the next climb. But after seeing Inaki go down earlier on day 2, I opted to ride very conservatively on all the wet downhills to make sure I finished the day safely.

ST: Did you get lost at any point?

Chuck: Yes, three of us leading on Day 2 all went off course and added a couple miles to our ride.

ST: Did this race make you feel like: A - Never again! Or B -- Can't wait to do it again?

Chuck: I had the race of a lifetime where everything just seemed to go right. Combine that with clocking the fastest Ultraman time ever and I was content to walk away. However, at the moment I am talking to sponsors about the 2014 Ultraman World Championships. Time will tell what is next as I feel that I have my best race yet to come.

ST: What was your best preparation for this race?

I did the best I could. I had less than 4 months to train for it as I took time off of cycling and running to train exclusively for the 2013 Pan American Masters Swimming Championships. They were taking place 4 hours from my home, so I figured I would probably never get a shot to compete in them again.

ST: What could you have done better?

Chuck: I could have used a few more months of preparation for this race. I went into it with a goal of finishing to get a slot into the Ultraman World Championships. What happened during the race was completely unexpected. I know I was not at my peak cycling abilities and did not have the miles on my run legs I would have liked.

ST: How did you celebrate?

Chuck: I enjoyed the celebration dinner with the athletes and volunteers. Beyond that, I am already back at work and settling into the daily routine.

ST: How sore were you at the end?

Chuck: I felt great at the end of the race. I seemed to feel better and better as the run went on. But about an hour afterwards when the adrenaline wore off? Let's just say I am still working on walking normal. :)


Shelley combined a 2:52:06 10k swim and a 4:43:42 93-mile bike on Day 1, a 9:11:31 for the 171.4 mile bike on Day 2, and an 8:45:07 split for the 52.4-mile Day 3 run for a 25:33:05 finish.

ST: What led you to compete at Ultraman Florida?

Julie Shelley: My coach, Hillary Biscay has raced in the past so I first heard about the event from her. When we talked about the race she encouraged me to give it a try. Since I qualified for Kona so early this season in Ironman Western Australia. it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try something new.

ST: What did you know about Ultraman before you did this race?

Julie: Very little. To be honest, it just seemed like an awesome challenge that I wanted to try.

ST: What did you think of the course?

Julie: I have to say one of the best parts was the swim start on Day 1. It was in one of the race directors’ back yard! The lake was gorgeous, super clean and super clear. The water temp was 65 and perfect for a long swim. Normally the swim start of any triathlon is super stressful for me, but this experience was so different. With only 32 entries, it was really calm and civilized. The bike course on Day 1 was flat and lonely -- I wasn't used to not seeing anyone on the roads while I race. There were a few points that I got nervous I was on the wrong road because I was all alone. I was prepared for the bike on Day 2, but I wasn't prepared for the torrential downpour and fog. It was really scary in the early parts of the ride. We knew there would be 45 miles of hills starting at mile 105 and I will tell you the course did not disappoint. It was a nice break from riding in aero position.

What I was not prepared for were the hills on Day 3. I knew the run course overlapped with some of the bike course, but I wasn't prepared for all of the hills. I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I've done Ironman Florida twice and for some reason expected this run to be similar.

ST: Tell us about the second place finisher Merideth Terrenova. While you beat her by 2 hours and 10 minutes overall, she outran you 8:31:34 to 8:45:07.

Julie: Meeting Meredith was one of the highlights of the weekend. She and I clicked from the moment we met at the race briefing. I knew she was an accomplished ultra distance runner, so going into this event my goal was to put as much time as I could into the other women on Days 1 and 2. I was happy to only finish 14 minutes behind her on the run.

ST: What did this victory mean to you?

Julie: It's exciting to come to an event that you've trained so hard for, but know so little about and achieve this success. I didn't know how my body would hold up, or whether I'd be able to hit my watts and target pace across the three days. I appreciate all of the guidance that I received from my coach Hillary [Biscay]. As the current world champion she has a ton of experience that really helped.

ST: Tell us about your crew?

Julie: I have been living out of the US since 2007 [she was born in Elmhurst, Illinois], so Ultraman Florida gave me a great excuse to get home and catch up with friends. I was lucky enough to have three of my closest friends (Jeff, Natalie and Heather) join me in Florida and support me for the three days. None of us had Ultraman experience, but I knew I was in good hands because all of them are accomplished athletes and have each completed multiple Ironman events, run Boston marathons and the two girls have raced in Kona before as well.

ST: If you have not done an Ultraman previously, what about this race surprised you?

Julie: The spirit of community and family was incredible. On Day 2 I got a flat at mile 85 which was un-repairable. I was unable to get in touch with my support crew immediately, so another athlete's support crew stopped and gave me their spare rear wheel and let me continue racing and assured me they would take care of getting in touch with my crew and having the wheel repaired. Across all three days even though there were only 32 athletes and no spectators other than the support crews and volunteers, we were always being cheered, by name, from everyone. It was great to be back to a grass roots race where there was more camaraderie between athletes. I love Ironman, but this was a really nice change of pace.

ST: What were your toughest points of this three day race?

Julie: It was really strange to be alone for the entire Day 1. When I crossed the stage finish line and my crew asked how I was feeling, my response was, ‘I'm really happy to see you!!’ My longest run during training was 50K, so when we got past that point on Day 3 it was uncharted territory. I wasn't sure what to expect but it was sunny, hot and hilly, and I really just wanted to finish. It was really hard at the end of each day having to get your mind around another long day of racing and getting organized to do it all over again, when I really just wanted to relax and think about anything other than more racing.

ST: What was your best preparation for this race?

Julie: I think swimming 10K one time a week for the 8 weeks leading up to the race was a great confidence booster. Hillary really upped my volume to prepare for this race and I think having weekends of 100 mile rides on Saturday and 140 miles (all by myself) on Sunday really helped. I knew I could handle a race, because it's always better racing with other people.

ST: What could you have done better?

Julie: I should have arrived in Florida earlier and had more time to get organized. I was running around like crazy in the days leading up to the event, and I was really stressed going into the start of the race. More volume would always be better, but I'm healthy and haven't been injured so I'm really happy about that. I'm not sure it would be possible to maintain my current job and add more volume. I was training in the ballpark of 30 hours a week leading up to this event. I think we learned a lot about how to organize the crew and I hope that Jeff, Natalie and Heather will be with me for my next Ultraman race.

ST: How did you celebrate?

Julie: Unfortunately we didn't have that much time to celebrate. The feeling at the finish line was fantastic but we all had to fly home pretty quickly after the race.

ST: How sore were you at the end?

Julie: I wasn't as sore as I thought I would be. To be honest, I felt terrible after 19.5 hours of flying to get back to Australia. I felt like I had been hit by a truck when my flight touched down in Sydney, but I've quickly bounced back. I've already been back in the pool and on my bike and have my first jog tomorrow. So we'll see how it goes. I had a few blisters on my feet, but did my best to manage little things like chafing, sunburn, etc.