Shall I become an ultrarunner? Looking ahead: 2021 and beyond
This year presented me with an unexpected but very pleasant problem: I accidentally discovered that I'm a natural at ultrarunning. The problem is that I love triathlon, I love the balance of the three sports and I don't want to give up cycling and swimming, my dreams of podiuming the ITU Worlds and going to Kona. The good news is, as it turns out, I don't need to!
After my first 24h ultra race, which was only a bucket list item for me that I had originally planned to just tick it off and move on, I got thinking. I ran the 2nd best Canadian result ever, broke the course record and the Canadian soil record and became the No. 1 selection for the 24h World Championship for Team Canada. So I obviously have a gift for longer distances in running. I only train about half as many hours as most ultrarunners and a lot of that is biking and swimming, not even running, yet, I can perform at a high level in this format.
After this discovery I was definitely going to pursue ultrarunning somehow. I had a discussion with my triathlon coach, Allen Stanfield of Team MPI and decided that we plan a 3-year transition to ultrarunning, still keeping triathlon in the background and with the eventual plan of transferring back to triathlon once I've had enough of just running.
Luckily though I had another two ultras this year and that changed our approach. Two months after the 24h race I ran a 48h race and broke the Canadian record. Although it was a very successful race, I realized that I felt better about my training going into the 24h than going into the 48h. The difference was that when I went into the 24h race, I was coming off triathlon training and only put in a 3-week block of ultra-specific training while by the time we hit the 48h race I was doing ultra-specific training for 3 months. What happened was that I lost all the speed we built up for the triathlon and didn't gain much by upping the run volume since I have this endurance naturally in me.
This made us completely re-think the strategy, realizing that basically triathlon training works better for me for ultra races than ultra training does! It also works better for my family giving me a better life balance. It means that I don't need to chose, we don't need to transition, we just need to keep doing what we have been doing, focusing on Ironman training and making Ironman races a priority and we can simply throw in the ultra races along the way. The only one thing we need to be mindful of is the longer recovery time from these ultras.
This makes me extremely happy. I really didn't want to give up triathlons and my triathlon dreams even though my performance is nowhere near at the level of my ultra performance.
So here is what the plan for next year looks like. Everything is very dependent on what races end up going ahead and which don't, I will just go with the flow and do the races that are not cancelled.
My "A" race, the most important one in 2021 will be the ITU Long-Course World Championship in Holland in September and my goal is to podium my age group. Very challenging but doable.
Another priority will be Ironman Malaysia in October where I'm hoping to qualify for the Ironman Kona World Championship 2022.
Then come the ultras to be thrown into the year, which is the 24h World Championship in May in Romania if it goes ahead and a 6-day ultra sometime during the year when I can fit it in. If the WC goes ahead then my only option for the 6-day is April, the Sri Chinmoy 6-day in New York, which hasn't even been announced yet, but if it doesn't happen, then I will go for one at the end of the year, November-December time frame. If the 24h Worlds get cancelled, then there are two other 6-day races in May that I can pick from. I will most likely throw in a few more ultras towards the end of the season, November-December if the 6-day doesn't get pushed over to those months. I would like to try myself in the Backyard format again.
I also have a 70.3 Triathlon (Ohio in July) transferred from last year, which we will most likely just take as a test day to see how close I can get to that 5h mark in a half Ironman distance. I won't take a 70.3 World Championship slot for 2022 even if I could. I have other plans.
And I think we will just keep this approach for the coming years if it works. That would make me very happy!