Ask a Coach: Why do athletes compete in Ultra distance triathlons?

By LifeSport Coach Chuck Kemeny

I have been around the Ultra Triathlon scene for almost a decade now.  I have been blessed to race them personally and to not only coach – but to also crew for athletes who compete in them.  In addition, I currently have the pleasure of serving as a race director for an Ultra distance race, Ultraman Florida.

Most athletes who seek to participate in an Ultra distance triathlon have typically raced at least one Ironman distance race. It used to be that athletes viewed the Ironman distance as the pinnacle of the triathlon distance, but over the years I have been observing more and more athletes looking to test themselves and push themselves further.  I personally stepped into the Ultra world to test my limits after being inspired by the struggle my mother-in-law had in dealing with Multiple Sclerosis. For me, being successful at the Ultra race scene required more mental strength, physical fitness, and a deeper nutrition knowledge than shorter distances. It required me to learn more about my body, how to optimize my recovery techniques, and how best to plan my pacing in order to maximize the performance for the duration of the race. It taught me that my strongest muscle and worst enemy is my mind – Ultra’s test this balance. That was my reason, but why do other athletes do it?

I am fortunate enough to be the race director of the Ultraman Florida triathlon. As part of the application process, all athletes must answer the question about why they are looking to compete. Here are some of the answers I received from athletes this year:

 *****Family. Pure and simple. I draw my energy from each of them.  In particular from my mother-in-law, Sophie. Sophie was a Holocaust survivor who gave everything to her family. She calls me her "other son”.  She watched me race Ironman Canada – and cheered, in the most endearing way with her Polish accent, "Go Baby Go!" And so I do.

 *****I want to participate in Ultraman Florida because it scares me. I feel that this is such a big mental, emotional and physical challenge that I hope to find new limits to what I see as possible for me.

 *****Why? Because I want to push my body and mind beyond any limit that I have ever considered possible. Witnessing the race for 4 years has transformed me from a guy that thought the athletes were insane to finally believing that I am with the proper training possibly just as insane. That thrills and terrifies me at the same time and I want to embrace that energy.

 *****I discovered Ultraman 4 years ago believing it was only for elite athletes. As I’ve paved my path towards wanting to become a more mature, responsible, and mentally stronger person, I’ve come to realize I am capable of becoming part of this incredible family of ultra-athletes. The community, the passion, the dedication, and the  heart driven passion to overcome one’s endeavors in such an insane  stage drives me to want to become part of this life-changing experience.

 *****I want to participate in Ultraman Florida because I feel this race is the embodiment of unity, courage and perseverance. This race will allow me to test my physical and emotional limits as well as overcome obstacles alongside my fellow triathletes who are doing the same. No person can remain in solitude during a challenge such as this. Not only does he/she have to tap into his/her soul for strength but they also need to rely on their crew for support. It takes a village.

 *****To see what I'm made of. To get in there and fight for an epic effort and experience. My why is really selfish but I know that my participating in this event would indeed inspire others!! I'm a school music teacher & group x instructor....any time I finish an event I see it inspires others. :)

 As you can see, athletes choose to step into the Ultra world for many reasons ranging from testing their limits, facing a fear, inspiring others, or dedicating their race to a loved one. Whatever their reason, they are out there celebrating their health and taking advantage of the opportunity they are given. Ultra racing has a way of creating a bond between athletes, crew, and race volunteers that I personally have not seen in other races. Those who experience it say it is something that they will remember forever. I know I will….


Chuck Kemeny is an Executive LifeSport coach. He has been coaching endurance sports and triathlon for over 11 years and has been a competitive athlete all his life. Coach Chuck has trained athletes with goals ranging from completing their first triathlon to qualifying for World Championships. He also specializes in coaching youth triathlon and swimming, sharing his love of sport with the next generation.

Contact Chuck to help reach your full potential in the wonder sport of triathlon.

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