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Becoming Ultra

Toni is a Team SFQ’er who four months ago was finally able to realize her goal of becoming an Ultraman! While balancing her daily life as a physician and athlete, she had to make time for the long hours of endurance training required to smash her goal and she got it done!

Here is her story!

Toni, We are over the moon with your accomplishment and in awe of your perseverance. What does your first official Ultraman finish mean to you?

 

Ultraman is a 3 day, staged endurance triathlon that covers 321.6 miles.

Day 1 consists of a 6.2 mile swim followed by a 92 mile bike ride.

Day 2 is a 171 mile bike ride.

Day 3 is a 52.4 mile run (double marathon).

Each stage must be completed in under 12 hours.

This Ultraman finish means the world to me!

My finish line feelings........Joy!!! Pure joy!!!

It was an exuberant culmination of all of the work that I had done over the past 3 plus years.

Crossing the final finish line on Day 3 with my crew surrounding me was priceless and that is an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything!

 

The start line of Day 1 with Nicole Black Benson, Chad Benson and Scott Shell.
 
The finish line on Day 3 with Chad Benson, Nicole Black Benson and Scott Shell.

 

Ultraman Florida this year was your third attempt at this race--less hardy souls might have given up on this lofty goal after these near misses given how much time and energy it requires. What kept you pressing on to accomplish this goal?

 

After my 1st attempt, I realized that this phase of my endurance journey was presenting challenges much different from anything that I had experienced in the past.

I committed myself to seeing this race through to the end and knew that I was in this for the long haul.

My 2nd attempt just solidified my determination to officially cross all 3 finish lines (Days 1, 2 and 3).

Not only did I owe it to myself, but also to my crew who had selflessly taken the time to support me.

This race was not just about me, but it was also about my entire team and support system.

In addition, I dedicated this race to my college / Army buddy, LTC Todd J. Clark of the 10th Mountain Division 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

He was killed in 2013 while serving overseas in Afghanistan.

I owed this race to him as well.

 
LTC Todd J. Clark

 

Can you tell us a bit about your first two ultraman attempts and what you changed leading into this year's event, or was it just a matter of chiseling away, year after year? 

 

Going into my 1st Ultraman, I really felt like I was prepared. Training had gone well and I was relatively injury free.

I had a solid nutrition plan that worked in training and had been refined and tested pre race. However; looking back, I didn’t have adequate nutrition backup plans.

I had supplemental “snack” plans but I needed a main backup plan that would sustain an Ultraman.

The way I had fueled during my previous Ironman races did not translate well for Ultraman.

To remedy this, I worked with a Nutritionist. Not only did we focus on race fueling, but also on eating nutritious day to day meals outside of racing.

 

Having improved on my race fueling, I felt good going into my 2nd Ultraman.

Day 1 went well and I felt strong going into Day 2.

Unfortunately, Day 2 was complicated by a mechanical followed by my missing a turn and going off course. By the time I got back on course, I was not able to make up the lost time to make the cutoff.

I was; however, able to complete the double marathon on Day 3.

 

My 2nd Ultraman outcome was disappointing to say the least, but my coach, crew and support team rallied around me and we returned for a successful and very satisfying 3rd Ultraman.

This was a long and hard fought battle, but when times get tough and things look bleak......Never, Never, Never give up!

 
Day 1 Swim
 
 
Day 1 Bike
 
 
Day 2 Bike
 
 
Day 3 Run with Scott Shell and Pedro Pereira Magnere.
 
Day 3 finish line with Chad Benson, Nicole Black Benson and Scott Shell.

 

 

You have a very demanding day job AND live in New York City--can you tell us about your work, and about how you navigate ultra training around that schedule and city living?

 

Being a physician requires quite a bit of work and long hours.

The key component that allowed me to optimize my ultra training was time management.

There were a lot of early morning (3 or 4 am) and late night (10 or 11 pm) training sessions.

I belong to a couple of gyms in the city and both have swimming pools.

If one gym was too crowded for me to train adequately (swim or run), I would go to the other gym.

This was especially important during the winter months as one of the biggest training challenges was training for a warm weather race during the winter in New York.

During the week, I would swim at the pool.

When time and weather permitted, I would do my Open Water Swims at Coney Island and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn.

For bike training, I would ride in Central Park during the week.

I did the majority of my long rides in New Jersey which is where most New York based cyclists and triathletes ride.

In the event of inclement weather, I would ride on my trainer.

As for the run, most of my time was spent in Central Park.

When the weather wouldn’t cooperate, I ran on the treadmill.

 

 

Tell us about this year's race! What were your toughest moments and what were the highlights? 

 

Throughout my entire Ultra journey, nutrition had been a challenge.

For years, I had been trying to figure out how each nutrition strategy would be optimized with it’s respective distance (Sprint, Olympic, Half Iron, Full Iron, Double Iron, Ultraman).

Having a solid nutrition plan is imperative for successful racing in general but even more so for this race.

 

The toughest moments for me were on Day 2 which consists of a 171 mile bike ride.

Riding 171 miles is tough enough, but then figuring out how to adequately fuel during the entire ride made it even more challenging.

I had to train my gut to tolerate and absorb solid food as opposed to just liquids or sports gels.

Initially, I would eat/drink and my stomach would cooperate and absorb everything.

However, as I got further into the ride, my absorption rate slowed, the food didn’t taste as good and nausea set in.

But with my Nutritionist’s guidance, my crew and I had the tools and backup fueling plan needed to make timely and appropriate adjustments.

My race fueling is still a work in progress, but now I have a solid foundation on which to work.

 

The highlight for me was each and every day that I was fortunate enough to finally officially cross the finish lines on Days 1, 2 and 3. Not only that, but I was able to do so surrounded by my crew, my Smash sisters and all of the other Ultraman athletes that were out there racing with me...............Priceless!

 

Day 3 finish line with Chad Benson, Nicole Black Benson and Scott Shell.

 

 
2020 Ultraman Ohana at the finish line on Day 3

 

 

The whole of TeamSFQ was tracking your race all weekend, willing you to that finish line! What was extra special was having first-hand updates on your progress from other teammates who were on course as part of support teams, AND following SFQ teammate Jess Zaiss, who was tackling her first ultraman there as well. How did being part of this sisterhood help shape your experience this year?

 

It was absolutely amazing having my Smash sisters out there with me! Not only was I reuniting with familiar teammates, but I also had the pleasure of meeting new teammates as well (unfortunately, I was not able to get pictures with my new teammates).

I knew I was never alone!

 

Having their presence out there before, during and after the race made my race experience exponentially more special.

Not only did they help to calm me and put me at ease before the race, but they were there motivating me and cheering me on during every stage. As talented athletes, they also served as my role models.

Having them as a part of my celebration throughout the race was awesome!

Team Smashfest Queen has been with me every step of the way and for that I am eternally grateful!

 

Me and Jessica Zaiss in the Ohana/Athlete Prayer Circle before the start of Day 1.
 
The start line of Day 1 with Jessica Deree, Jessica Zaiss, and Mary Knott.
 
Jessica Deree meeting me at the Day 1 finish line.
 
The start line of Day 3 with Jessica Deree.

 

What is next for you now that this huge goal has been accomplished--this season and beyond?

 

Because there is such uncertainty in today’s climate with the pandemic and so many races are being cancelled, I haven’t specifically decided on what I will be doing in the immediate future this season.

Presently, I am doing mostly virtual races, most recently being the Yeti Ultra 24 Hour Challenge and the Smashfest Mother’s Day Half Marathon.

As for the future, I am open for anything and expanding my horizon.





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