Steffi Steinberg made up plenty of time lost on the run to a misdirected off-course excursion to break the women’s race record at Ultraman Florida. The 36-year-old native of Germany’s Rhineland finished the 3-day, 321.6-mile stage triathlon in 24:55:13, which broke the race record set by Julie Shelley in 2014 by 32 minutes and 53 seconds. Steinberg’s performance time was also the 8th fastest women’s Ultraman time in history, led by Amber Monforte’s 24:07:11 set at the Ultraman World Championship at Kona in 2010.
Steffi, who with her husband Gerry runs Steinberg Coaching and Consulting in Bad Honnef, Germany, had never run longer than the marathon [3:34:56] at the end of the 2016 edition of Ironman Western Australia, where she finished 10th overall woman.
Slowtwitch What led you to take on the Ultraman distance and why?
Steffi: My husband Gerry Steinberg is an Ultra triathlete and he brought me to the idea to race the Ultra. In 2014 we were volunteering at Ultraman Florida and I was so inspired to try it once. I like also the three-day format of this competition.
Slowtwitch: What do you consider to be your best previous performances?
Steffi Steinberg: The answer is easy, it was the recent IM Western Australia considering the short preparation (broken toe shortly before Kona 2016 which led to a DNF after the swim), little running, and of course the achievement of a PB - 10th at 2016 Ironman Western Australia in 9:56:10.
ST: What do you know about the Ultraman World Champion women such as Hillary Biscay, Kate Bevilaqua, Amber Monforte, Shanna Armstrong?
Steffi: Except Amber Monforte, I knew all the amazing athletes by name and by their impressive history. Shanna is known by my husband via her husband Markus Joswig, who is also a German Ultraman.
ST: Tell us something about the people on your crew?
Steffi: There were only three supporters, my husband Gerry was crew chief with experience in Ultra racing (he was part of a 4-person team that set a RAAM course record of 6:13, his Ironman PR is 10:29 at Texas and double Ironman best is 23:44). Ruth Benner supported me already during the Tortour, a 1000 kilometer nonstop bike race around Switzerland. And Christiane Bauer is one of the athletes I coach with huge experience in nutrition. It was an ideal combination of knowledge and experience which contributed at least 50 percent to my success.
ST: What did you know about your 2017 women competitors before the race?
Steffi: To be honest? Nothing at all. I did not know anybody before. I checked some of the girls regarding their race experience and times, their strengths and weaknesses ;-) Equipped with this information, I could allocate my bullets on the race in an efficient manner.
ST: Tell us about Day 1 – your 3:16 swim behind Jamie Harris’ 3:04, and your 7:51:07 bike split 12 minutes better than Harris?
Steffi: I did not expect a 12 minute deficit on the swim, but was surprised how fast I could catch up on Jamie after km 80 without pacing too hard. This gave me lot of self-confidence for the second day.
ST: What surprised you about your Day 1 experience?
Steffi: I was surprised about the bike record on day one. The toughest moments on day one was the permanent disorientation on the swim due to the strong current and the feeling I was not creating any propulsion.
ST: On Day 2, your 8:58:59 split for the 171 mile course was 28 minutes better than Anderson and 1:07 better than Harris. How did you feel during it?
Steffi: I felt all the time very comfortable despite the frequent stops on the traffic lights, however they did not break my rhythm.
ST: How did the scenery on course strike you? How was the weather?
Steffi: Three major memories in my mind: the mystic fog in the morning, the long lasting red clays within a beautiful landscape and the lovely last kilometers of Windermere that reminded me of a fairyland.
ST: How well did you cope with nutritional issues? What was your crew’s aid stop routines?
Steffi: According to my VO2max tests [Steinberg’s VO2 max is 52.5 mml/min/kg] I knew exactly my requirements in terms of carbs and prepared my nutrition with liquids (gels). Gerry was familiar with the leapfrog support from RAAM and they stopped every 1-2 km on the run and 5-7km on the bike depending on the traffic situation and no feed zones.
ST: What was your toughest moment?
Steffi: I was struggling the last 2 km on the run, because due to extra miles (lost my way at mile 32 for 8 minutes) I did not know exactly at which mile I to expect the finish line.
ST: Anything made you laugh?
Steffi: To laugh? Not while racing, but afterwards, the crew told me all the stories which happened during the course of the race.
ST: You had a big lead. Were you still nervous about the coming double marathon?
Steffi: Yes of course. You know I never ran more than 42k and was very unsure what to expect on the run. Let’s say it was like grabbing in a lucky bag.
ST: What was your plan for the run?
Steffi: I started the first marathon in a conservative manner and was waiting to see how I would feel after 42k. After a 3:56 first marathon I felt super strong, so I decided to speed up a bit up to the moment when I was directed in the wrong way. This mishap cost me some minutes and motivation but I braced myself and proceeded to the finish line.
ST: What had been your longest training runs for this race?
Steffi: Beside the IM marathon in Australia I did a 30k run in South Africa in January, that's it. The other training runs were between 10k and 15k.
ST: What was your most anxious toughest moment on Day 3?
Steffi: Obviously the mishap when I was directed by a spectator into a wrong way at Harwood March Road at mile 32.8. I ran about 7 minutes in the wrong direction until my crew found me and took me back to the spot where I left the course. My plans to run under 8 hours for the double marathon were gone then.
ST: What did this victory and race record mean to you and to your crew?
Steffi: It was something special to race an Ultra and win it directly is fantastic and makes me very proud particularly for my crew which did an amazing job. A crew cannot win the race but a crew can lose this race. At the end the athlete is in the limelight and the crew gets hardly appreciated. Not in our case, I know how hard they were working and I dedicate my victory to my crew, without them I would not have won, definitely not.
ST: Will you race the Ultraman World Championship in Kona this November?
Steffi: Since I am already qualified and registered for the Ironman 70.3 Champs in Chattanooga and at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, I will be there in September. My wallet is too small for a second trip to Kona :-( My husband and I plan/dream to participate 2018 at the Ultraman Champs in Kona, if we get invited.
ST: What happened in the three days of Ultraman Florida that you could not have imagined beforehand?
Steffi: Race records and to play such a dominant role in the game ;-)
ST: Growing up, what were your sports of choice?
Steffi: I started with windsurfing when I was 20, and turned into the run when I was 23 after a serious back herniation.
ST: What led you to triathlon?
Steffi: My predilection for speed ;-) I used to ride motorcycles, so I added cycling to the run (my strongest leg) and the swim (my weakest split) was then the necessary evil. But I think I am pretty balanced in all three disciplines.
ST: How did you start your coaching business?
Steffi: After my first success in triathlon I was asked by many friends, "Steffi how did you do that?“ and I told them how to train, how to behave“ how to feed etc.
ST: What satisfaction do you get from coaching?
Steffi: Very soon, the idea was born to sell my know-how and to start-up my own business as coach. I run several qualifications at Germans institutes such as Fitness Coach and Ironman U certified Coach. In the meanwhile I run this business with my husband (holder of the German triathlon coaching license and IM U Coach) based on 4 pillars: online coaching, trainings camps, vo2max testing and food coaching. We made our passion to our profession ;-)
ST: What might this result mean to you personally and in your business?
Steffi: Certainly we hope that this result will lead to an increase of the awareness level in the ultra scene and consequently to new customers. For me personally? I could prove myself that I can not only be fast at a “normal” distance like Ironman (sub 10) but also in an Ultra racing. There is still the prejudice in Europe, that Ultras are not fast enough for Ironman and only the “slow“ Ironman competitors are running Ultra races.
ST: Would you welcome a battle with a famous triathlete if you race at Ultraman Hawaii?
Steffi: Yes of course, but as mentioned earlier not this year, my calendar was already full before Ultraman Florida and we have to earn the money for further long distance trips to overseas. Maybe next year, together with my husband would be nice. I would certainly appreciate a close battle with a famous triathlete, this would push me to max of my performance level.
Photos courtesy Steffi Steinberg