Sorry but it’s a Ultra Long Race So it’s a Ultra Long Race Report
Race Report Siberman 515 Ultra Triathlon 2019
The WHY and the ME?
Why would you swim 10km, cycle 420km and run 84km in the middle of Siberia? I am not sure that there is a good answer to that question but to find out your own physical and mental limits maybe is as good as it gets.
As somebody with no sport background, a formerly a-pack-a-day smoker (I quit in June 2016) and party guy who got drunk to unconsciousness more than once a week living in Shanghai and Moscow enjoying the night life to the fullest I have already achieved more than I have ever dreamed of since starting sport (and triathlon directly) in Summer 2015 with close to zero base fitness. My first ever race was the Challenge Half Distance in Phuket where I finished in 6h18min, a year later I finished my first Ironman (Taiwan) in 11h20min, went sub 5h for an Ironman 70.3 race and qualified for the 70.3 Worlds in Australia. In 2017 I achieved the first sub 10h Ironman in my hometown Frankfurt (9h38min) and another year later in 2018 I qualified as 3rd in my age group for Hawaii World Champs at the Ironman Maastricht (9h22min). The feedback I received from people around me, inspiring them starting up sport (even my dad did his first triathlon now age 67) and the amazing triathlon community wherever I was just kept pushing me further, I wanted to prove and show that nothing is impossible that you don’t have to have the athletic background and a 500 dollar/month coach, only eating superfood with a crazy strict diet or the latest and best/expensive equipment to achieve great things in this sport – I still ride my first TT bike, a 3 year old Cervelo P3 that has almost 30.000km in its frame, mechanical group-set and multiple scratches and dents, I still swim with my first wetsuit, now full holes and patches (well with my mediocre swim technique it doesn’t really matter). Most important is that you enjoy doing what you do, then you can go faster and harder in your training sessions, you need to be able to embrace the pain in the hard sessions, because if you only train slow you’ll never get fast. You need to have the right mindset and then you will be able to turn former limits into challenges that you want to face and overcome. And I just really want to know how far I can get, what is my limit? All I know now after this race is that I haven’t found it yet.
The Race – Siberman 515
I heard about the Siberman race from Rinat a Russian friend, living in Dubai and IRONSTAR race organizer while I was looking for a new challenge in 2019 when we met again racing the double spring triathlon in Moscow last year August. I got in touch with Nikolay the Siberman515 race director and I agreed to sign up as their first European athlete. The race is by invitation/application only so a small group of 10-15 people. Working full time, I knew that getting the volume in was going to be hard especially living in the desert in Dubai but I committed to it and made it my A-Race for this year which meant a lot of early morning sessions – and with early I mean 2-3am early.
The race is located in the area around Abakan, Siberia which is 400km south of Krasnoyarsk close to the boarder of Mongolia and Russia. Hot summers and cold winters, mostly dry climate and beautiful endless open landscapes with rolling hills. The race setup is identical to the Ultraman Race Series – split over three days. The 10km swim takes place in an artificial lake, 4 loops each 2.5km followed by a 146km bike with 900m elevation on Day 1. The second day is the big bike day with 276km of cycling and 1500m elevation before your legs will get crushed on day 3, the run day. 84km of running in a private forest with some muscle and calve smashing ups and downs over a semi-technical trail. It is a 7km loop with all facilities and a restaurant with kitchen at the end so great for both participants and support team.
Support team is essential for the race as there are no aid stations in the race so you need to be self sufficient as team for nutrition, hydration and spare parts. I had a good friend of mine from Russia (Irina) and my dad (Heinz) with me. It is also mandatory to have one Russian speaking in the team to be the contact for the race organization and in case of emergency. We rented a car in Krasnoyarsk which got big stickers front and back to increase safety and make the following traffic aware of me cycling ahead.
I am not following any training plan or have a coach who tells me what to do, I just do what I feel like and use trainingpeaks to follow up progress, form and fatigue and that at least got me to Kona. My training usually during the year includes 60%-80 of cycling (~ 8-10h per week – out of which 60-80% are on my road bikes) 20-35% of running ( ~3-5h) and basically no swimming (20-30min per week average if at all) I literally mean no swimming, the 10km swim would be more than 10% of my yearly swimming (past 12 months less than 100km). I also do not do any strength work or stretching, plus I do not follow any diet, I try to look after not eating too much unhealthy or fast food and rarely drink extensively but if I want a beer, I will have one.
I do not recommend anybody to copy paste what I do, I just say what works for me and I also know what I need to improve (strength training, swim technique and swim volume at first)
4 months before the race my critical training load (100=1h max effort) CTL was down to around 100 my lowest over 12months though still relatively high as it means around 1,5h of medium intensity sport avg. per day. I set my target CTL before taper at around 145-150, which was pretty much my peak fitness after a training camp in Thailand in January and so I ramped up the volume to 400-600km cycling, 60-90km of running as I knew, that run volume will be essential for survival, and a for me incredible 2-4km swimming per week (totally around 1000-1200 tss per week) At a CTL of 142 four weeks prior ( I planned a 2-3 week taper) to the race unfortunately I got sick during a business trip to Cairo and had to rest for a full week. I then managed one more high-volume week (1100tss) before reducing the load and going for a two-week taper. I managed to get my form to around 50 at start day and my CTL at 120 around 10 points below my goal but still feeling good and ready to race
Day 0 – Briefing and Goal Setting
Race briefing was Wednesday evening with the race being held from Thursday till Saturday. We all got our car stickers, some great Siberian Felt Boots and all info needed from the organizers, I understood part of it, but Ira thankfully helped me and my dad with translation. Right after the briefing Mikhail who filmed (and did awesome over the days) asked me about my goal as being one of only three international athletes I was a bit in focus ….. and I had looked at the Ironman times from the others and knew that I would have a chance to get a good result if all goes well, but being my first Ultra, you never know…. I said “top three would be great but I am happy to just finish” on which he replied that there is only so few participants, so naively I answered without thinking “Okay, I want to win” damn it – there it was out on camera, #nopressure
The plan was to swim at around 2:00min pace, have short breaks every loop, then to cycle at around 35kph at 220-230 watts both days and then run a 6:00min pace. So much the theory (which I knew would place me close to the top summing up to around 24hours) but now it was time to put it into practice.
Knowing that I perform well in Ironman purely on gel (High 5) I decided to go for the same strategy in the Ultra as we had the overnight breaks where I get some good solid food for breakfast and dinner every day. I got the new Protein Berry Sports Drink powder from High 5 which contains both carbs and proteins for during the competition, excellent for long distance racing as you will have quite some easy efforts where your muscles can recover a bit. Plan was to drink around 1-1.5l per hour plus taking in 2 gels. Resulting in approx. 16-20 gels per day plus 8-10l of sports+protein drink.
For the swim I used a speedo shorts, long version. Zone 3 goggles with Aquaspehere backups, bodyglide gel to avoid rubbing and my old Huub wetsuit.
For the bike I have a Cervelo P3 2016 model which I bought in November 2015. Continental GP 4000/5000 tires (didn’t have any puncture) at 80psi. A Castelli Speed Tri Suit, Met Drone Wide Body and Giro Vanquish Helmets (depending on conditions) and comfy Northwave Tri Shoes.
For the run I use Nike running shorts and top (new ultralight material), Nike Pegasus Trail and Merrell Trail running shoes plus Compressport headbands.
Day 1 – 10km Swim and 146km bike
We all left the hotel in a convoy at 07:00am and got to the start line well ahead of time, racked the bikes, gave all instructions to my support team – I placed them on both sides of the lake with drinks and gels, as my plan was that I have a sip of drink after half a loop (1300m) and then 2 gels every loop so I wont get onto the bike empty.
Before the start I gave a short interview to Kavkas TV the local channel and I told them that I will just be happy to finish with a smile, nothing else #takebacksomepressure 😊
The gun went of and I started smooth, first kms went by relatively well, at around 1h20min I passed the Ironman distance of 3900m and half way through the race I at least realized that I will be able to survive the swim. As expected my right shoulder started to hurt badly, a result of me being only able to breathe to the left plus lifting my head way to much out of the water when gasping for air so I have to push down hard with my right arm every time I breathe, but as I experience that issues every swim, I was mentally prepared, chewed on my teeth and went through it.
I exited the water after 3,5h only with a relatively small gap of a couple of minutes to the leading athletes so I knew immediately I will have a chance to get them soon after getting on the bike. The transition took pretty long (10min) which looking back at it I could have easily cut in half with a bit better preparation and focus.
Onto the bike I started pushing relatively hard – going at 260watts for the first hour as I wanted to catch the guys in the lead as soon as possible and ass them with good speed. The support cars need to use the leapfrog method, so driving ahead of you, get out of the car and then you can stop and fuel, I asked Ira and Heinz to work as being a normal bike aid station, so just hold out the bottle at the side of the road so I did not have to stop as I had all my gels in my frame bottle, so only needed to replenish drinks and I know that nothing kills your average speed more than stopping, even for a minute. I caught the leader at around 30km and by the turnaround of the day at 76km I had a 12 min lead which increased to 40min at the finish of day one which was on top of a hill. I hoped most people will take the hill easy so I went hard on it to secure a good additional time gap on the last couple of hundred meters – which worked out well.
After the finish in the hotel during dinner and the day after during breakfast I got a lot of curious looks and concerned compliments from the rest of the guys due to my unexpectedly fast bike split and both myself and my support crew was asked that they were concerned I went out too hard or I wouldn’t be able to bike or run well afterwards – they didn’t know me (and my love for cycling – yet. 😊
Day 1 Stats:
Total time 7hours 52minutes and 17 seconds
Swim 10km : 3h30min total time 2:00min pace/100m
Bike: 4h20min incl. 10min transition - 235 Watt Normalized Power – 35kp/h average speed – no stop
Day 2 – 276km Cycling 1500m Elevation
This was my day, I knew that I can go relatively hard over a very long time, doing some 300km rides before solo on my TT (a 300km race around Taihu Lake in China, 325km around Ijsselmeer in Netherlands or my 5x50km loop ride in the Qudra desert in Dubai in recent times), so right from the start I went to the front and made sure nobody can follow, I averaged around 40kph for the beginning of the ride at similar power to the day before and I had a good gap to the next ride already after 5km. After 30km I suddenly saw a guy only some minutes behind me on a climb and I put the hammer down and went hard (over 270 watt avg for 30min) for a while until I didn’t see him any more (top tip – never do that in a Ultra) which I felt in my legs for the rest of the day, but it was good for my mind.
After 100km I got the info from the organizers that I have a 20minute gap to the 2nd place rider which satisfied me big time and I pulled back a bit on the power sticking to my planned 220-230 watts average still keeping the pace high and well above 35kph. At the turnaround of the day at 160km I had to stop as I wanted to change my helmet from my TT one to the aero road helmet providing more cooling as it was bloody hot in the sun and there was more uphill on the road back. I also had to tighten my left aerobar as it almost fell off thanks to the Russian road surface the screw was totally loosened. After around 5min break and fixing the mechanical issue I was back on the bike measuring the time until I see the first rider – and only 10min later there he was, damn, still only 20minutes, and I wanted to get at least 1 hour buffer before getting onto the run, so I went back into diesel mode and kept grinding to increase the gap a bit more. Unfortunately I had to stop two more times, once for a toilet break and another times to tighten now my right aero bar which came completely loose, these roads were really brutal, you can’t not pay attention for a second, there are potholes were you can hide yourself in and very sharp and bumpy sections you need to slalom ride around. I paid attention that I stayed below 70.3 IM effort on the hills (300 watt) so I wont hit the point where I would build up too much lactic acid in the muscles but I also needed to keep pushing over 230 watt to increase the gap as that guy was obviously riding at my pace when the gap stayed the same between 100km and 160km mark.
I went on and on, controlled on the uphill and steady fast on the downhill, fueled according to plan and got a good amount of fluids in as well so I managed get to the finish line not feeling totally empty again in under 8 hours and there came the surprise, the guy who was riding behind me, wasn’t the 2nd place overall, it was a relay team and I still manage to increase the gap in the last 100km to almost 60minutes on them, plus the gap to the 2nd in the ranking had increased form 20min at the 100km mark to exactly 2hours by the time he finished.
Now I was leading by 2h40min and I knew I had a very very realistic chance to win and more than that, suddenly people started talking about the course record set by Alex Sidorenko in 2017.
I would need to stay under 8h52min on the run to break his record of 24h36min – as I was over 1h faster than him on the bike on day 2 but he is a extremely good runner and finished the 84km in 7h flat, insanely good. But I knew it was within reach, I also knew that it would be a cherry on the cake, most important for me was now to win, to bring home my first ever title in a race, and that in my first Ultra, just the thought of it made me shiver, it was crazy.
Day 2 Stats:
Total Time: 7hours 52minutes 4seconds
276km length, 1500m elevation, 236 watt Normalized Power – 36kph avg speed – 10min total stops
Day 3 – 84km Trail and Forest Run
Here it was, the all or nothing day. We arrived at the recreation area, prepared our tables with food, covered our self in mosquito spray and off we went. I decided to start running in the Nike Pegasus as I did most of my training runs in the past weeks in them and was very happy with them but, after two loops I had to change to the Merrells, the Nikes didn’t gave me enough hold in the front of the shoe and due to the uneven surface I was hitting and rubbing the side of my feet and toes on the shoe – it wasn’t planed to do by fortunately I was prepared. The Merrells don’t have as much damping but after using them in my first ever Ultra Run the Mt. Sana 60km in UAE over brutal rocks and wadis without a single blister I knew they were up for the job, especially due to the soft forest soil I wasn’t so afraid about the lack of damping.
Every loop I changed my small running bottle to a full one (500ml with protein sports drink) and I took 1-2 gels to fuel myself. First half marathon went through smoothly (1h57min) resulting in running through the marathon mark just under 4hs, fully according to my plan and I know got more and more aware of the chance that the record is within possibility. I even realized that with a 8h16min run I would stay under 24hs which would have been amazing, but maybe another time. After the 7th loop the problems started and I felt a pain in my right leg, shin splints, most of you who run a a lot know it, its painful, not so painful you have to stop but painful enough to cause big discomfort and slows you down. I started to built in walking breaks, run 2kms in under 7minutes pace, then walk for the amount of time to fil up to 7min pace. Example, I run 2kms in 6:30pace and then walk for 1minute, as I do not stop my overall pace still stays below 7minutes which would be needed to secure a good gap to the record.
I started to mix up some nutrition, taking caffeine gels now, an alcohol free hefeweizen and some chicken bouillon as I was sick and tired of sugary gels, my stomach fortunately held up superbly.
With 3 loops and one-half marathon to go Nikolay came to me while fueling and said he had a message for me from Alexander Sidorenko – If I will beat his time he will present me a free Ironman Slot for any Ironman Race around the world – “Wow” awesome that he followed the race and what a push of motivation for me, I told I want to break the record by 20minutes, it may sounded arrogant but at that moment it was kicking myself in the ass to keep the pace up as I had to secure at all cost to get onto the last lap with a good buffer, I didn’t want to miss this chance now.
2 loops to go, 14km, the pain was now really bad, my stride length was down to less than 1m (I have 1,4-1,5 in a 10km race) and my run was more of a shuffle, but I kept strictly to my run/walk tactic, not more or less walking, as 1km walking costs you endless time you’ll never catch up again at this point.
1 loop to go, last caffeine gel, keep the body straight, looking at the ground, focus, step by step, torture now, giving a shout out and thanks to the volunteers around the course, saying spasibo and good bye and then it was in sight. The finish line, Irina, my dad, the other support guys and organizers waiting for me with the banner, and they planned the German national anthem, what a moment, with tears in the eyes I finished, hardly having any energy left for any emotions but I made it in 24h22min, 16 minutes ahead of the old course record, over 4hours ahead of 2nd athlete and only 12,5% behind the current world record on that distance. With that time, I would have finished in the top 5 in most Ultra Triathlon races – so if you can’t go fast – you gotta go long.
Day 3 stats – 8hours 38minutes 20seconds
84km running, trail, 600m elevation
First Marathon 3h59min54seconds
8h27min moving time – 10min total stops for nutrition
Post Race Thoughts
First of all I need to say thank you to Irina and my dad, Heinz, my support, they had to put up with some shouting from me when anything didn’t go exactly as I planned or wanted as I have no filter when I am racing and very thin nerves and patience, thanks for your awesome support over the days and before. I also want to thank all those who commented and posted in social media I read all it and it kept me going. Special thanks also to Juergen and Gregers, the two coaches that I worked with previously, I learned a lot from both of you and tried to incorporate most of it in my everyday training (except the swim 😊 ). Another big shout out to the global and local triathlon and cycling community that I have been riding and training with in the past years in Dubai, Shanghai, Sydney, Vietnam, Moscow, The Hague and of course Phuket, Thailand keep up good work and supporting each other. Last but not least all the participants, support teams and organizers – what an epic achievement of all of them, everybody finished, no DNF, and some had to battle brutal conditions, thunderstorms hail and rains storms, keep it up and see you around somewhere.
Of course, sport wise this is by far my biggest achievement, ahead of both qualifying and racing the Ironman World Champs as well as climbing up the Mauna Kea by bike (100km uphill 4205m). But I would maybe even say it is more, I would maybe say this has been so far the biggest achievement in my life, but also one that required the most compromises, social life, private life, all is centered around the sport anyway when you do triathlon in a somewhat serious level but it gets even worse when doing an Ultra – worth it – absolutely but now it is time to get back to normal life again, focus on my work and opening the new IKEA Store in Dubai, going out, seeing friends, doing a real vacation, still doing sports but maybe I will delete my training peaks account for a couple of months before hitting the pain again.
Hmmmm, good question. So far this year I have the 70.3 World Championships coming up in Nice, France, but that is just for fun and to see people from around the world I haven’t seen for a while, I will also take on the KOM Challenge cycling race in Taiwan in October (90km uphill race from 0-3275m) but that is it so far, couple of shorter races in winter here in Dubai and then will see what’s up for 2020. I would love to do the Taupo New Zealand race next year where the 70.3 Worlds are taking place, besides that I am signed up for Ironman Frankfurt and Challenge Roth (two full IM within 7 days) and will attempt my first sub9h Ironman finish (I guess in the first of the two) – but who knows, maybe, just maybe there will be another Ultra as it seems the distance suits me (damn I wish I would be fast enough to be a short course athlete 😊)
If anybody wants to know anything more, feel free to get in touch, I am happy to share whatever I know and whatever worked for me
Volker – a.k.a. The Vascular Viking @ IMTalk Podcast