Last month, Team SFQ’er Jess Deree not only won overall but set the women’s record for the Double Anvil, a double iron-distance triathlon, in 24 hours and 56 minutes. Jess is a surgeon so needless to say, she’s been a bit busy since the race and we are so thrilled that she took the time to answer our questions about all the gory details of racing triathlon for 24 hours straight! Enjoy!
Jess, we are in awe of your recent record-setting win at the Double Anvil!! This race is beyond comprehension for most; can you explain the distances and format of this event for those who are unfamiliar?
The Double Anvil is part of the USA UltraTriathlon Association, an organization dedicated to races beyond the Ironman distance. For the Double Anvil, it is a continuous race. The 4.8 mile swim consists of 12 laps of an out and back lake swim marked by buoys, a 224 mile bike of 37 (plus a little extra) laps of a 6 mile out and back course, and a 52.4 mile run on a 1 mile loop. The total distance is 281.2 miles, equal to 2 Ironmans. The time cut off is 36 hours, once the race begins, the clock continues even if you decide to rest, go to the bathroom, eat, etc.
Did you find this format monotonous ? How did it compare from a mental difficulty standpoint to longer course?
I actually really love loop courses and it did not feel monotonous at all, it actually felt more and more familiar as the race elapsed so I had small little areas on the course to look forward to like certain trees and signs. There were also great volunteers to chat with and all the athletes would wave to each other and were very encouraging. For the bike since it was a six mile loop, you cycle through the crew area every 20 minutes. When you his this area it was like a nascar pit crew, I would dump water on myself, grab food, and tell them what I wanted to eat for the next lap all without stopping. It was pretty fun. Since you were on the bike for quite a while, I would hit my lap button every time I came through the electronic counter and then my goal would be to try and get within 30 seconds of the last lap I did. It became kind of a mental game for me to pass the time. I never unclipped from my bike for the entire 224 miles but I did have to make about 5-6 non rolling stops to put more bike lube on. I would definitely have to say that the hardest mental part was sitting on that bike seat for 12+ hours. I really really wanted to get off.
On the run, since it was a one mile loop, I saw my crew even 10 minutes or so, and I had a music playlist they were blasting through a speaker which really helped. The run also gave me the opportunity to run and chat with other athletes to pass the time. Mentally I would say the 2 hours before dawn were the hardest because that's when I started to get tired and just needed the sun to come up since I was at miles 30-40. You have to try really hard not to think about the fact that there is still 12-20 miles to go because those thoughts can break your spirit. I was also not allowed to sit in any chair during the run; I sat on a cooler twice for about a minute each time to change my sneakers. If you sit in a comfy chair during one of these races, you will never get out! LOL
How did you prepare mentally and physically for this kind of challenge?
My physical training was not much different from Ironman training as far as the set of a standard week, it was just that everything was longer in duration and lower in intensity. My long swims would be about 8000 years rather than 5000, it was usually split into 1000 yard sections, my other swims were about 4000 yards. This helped me mentally get ready for the loop course.
My long bikes would be 150 miles - all trainer mind you- at race wattage without breaks, my three "short rides" during the week were 2-3 hours. So if anyone else has done 150 on the trainer, you know this mentally will drive you crazy but you just have to commit to sitting there all day. I think my max week I biked 18 hours, most of it before or after work.
I actually had a knee injury that bothered me most of training so I backed off on the run mileage quite a bit to let it heal. This was very hard for me because I really wanted to get long runs done but my coached pulled them all off the schedule, so mentally that was very hard on me. My longest run going in was only 15 miles (eek) and that was only once. All the rest were between 8 and 12 and they were almost all set up as walk-runs. Luckily by race day I didn't have any knee issues so the plan worked.
What were your toughest moments during the race? Did you have times when you weren’t sure you’d make it?
I had two very tough moments during the race:
The first was at mile 40 of the bike. It was about 85 degrees already and one of my bottles tasted very dilute so I am not sure what had happened to it. I almost instantly bonked and started hallucinating. I could see little candy cartoon M and Ms in the road like the ones on the commercials and was afraid I was going to run them over. Seriously!! I then realized I still had 180 miles of biking left and started thinking I could never finish and wanted to quit. I told my pit crew and they made me take a salt tablet "every 10 minutes until they (The M and Ms) were gone". It took 4 salt tabs but I was feeling great by the time I saw them on the next loop. They then modified my sodium intake schedule and all was good for the rest of the race. I think I took a total of 45 salt tabs for the race if that gives you any perspective.
My other tough moment at about 9 miles into the run: I really started having abdominal cramps and could not take in any more solid food but I still had a long way to go. I can usually eat like a garbage disposal during the run so I didn't know what I was going to do. My coach and crew did a great job of watching fluid and sodium levels and getting me through the entire run only on ginger ale, salt tabs, chewable tums, coca cola, and chicken broth with pretzels soaked in it so they weren't solid anymore. Mind you I hate pretzels but it was working so I went with it.
You were going for 24 hours straight— we are in awe!! Did you struggle at all staying awake for that long?
Hah, no that part was easy. When I was a surgical resident in training, it was before the work hour restrictions so I would work up to 100 hours a week with very little sleep. I would stay up 24-36 hours at least once a week, and the longest I stayed awake was 40 hours. So I am very aware of how truly awful staying awake that long feels on the body -- mentally I had an edge on everyone else in that regard. That being said, the hour before dawn always sucks but once the sun comes up there is a renewed energy in everyone which helps.
What were the highlights of your day?
Highlights! So so many!!!
1. We snuck in right under the corona virus cancellations because the race started on Friday and meetings of under 250 people were still allowed! Woohoo. we were advised that the athletes were not allowed to blow snot rockets on their bikes though. LOL
2. My coach was not going to be able to make it but he surprised me and showed up at about mile 50 of the bike and crewed the rest of the race! It was awesome to have him there because he was able to adapt my nutrition on the fly and didn't really respond to any of my complaining.
3. Realizing I was going to beat all the boys!!!
4. Realizing I had a shot at the female course record and being able to pick up the pace in the last 10 miles of the run and smashing it.
5. Meeting so many new friends on the course.
This massive triumph came after a super tough 2019 for you personally. How did you get through it and keep on trucking, only to emerge stronger than ever?
Yeah 2018-2019 really sucked. My marriage ended, one of my best friends died of cancer at the age of 40, I had to move out and buy a new home, I had fallen and destroyed 3 ligaments in my ankle and could not exercise for 3 months--all of that and realizing I wasn't going to see my sweet labrador everyday, I was pretty much devastated. I just realized I had to keep showing up every day even though a lot of these days were filled with tears, anger and frustration. My work was quite therapeutic and I also spent a lot of time with a therapist just working on myself. The process took a really long time and it can't be rushed. The ladies on our team, including Hillary, were nothing short of amazing. Hillary was there for me when I broke down at the SuperFrog (70.3) finish line when had just attended funeral services for my friend the day before the race and my race fell to pieces at the end. Also, I really felt like our TeamSFQ Facebook page and group of ladies was a safe space for me to vent what I was going through. I received so so many texts and calls from people I knew well on the team and some I only knew through Facebook. I can't thank the Smash family enough for all the support.
After realizing how strong I had gotten, it was at that point I could really focus on training with a renewed spirit. The Double Anvil had been on my radar for a while but I knew it was meant for me to do at this point in my life. I think that had a lot to do with the success of the day, just thinking back on what I had been through and how much happier a place I am in my life right now.
How did your body feel afterwards?? Tell us about the pain and soreness please :)
OK. Everything hurts and I'm dying crossed my mind a few times! I was so swollen, especially my hands that they were basically useless for 24 hours and everyone had to do everything for me. I also had a very weird soreness in all the bones of my ribcage and sternum. I get this after ironman sometimes but nothing to the degree like I had it after this race.
The soreness was so so bad, even trying to sit to pee was a huge task. I had trouble sleeping because every time I moved it was painful but I was so tired at the same time. I lost both big toenails. The chafing and post race shower brought a couple tears. Putting on full body compression was a major undertaking to say the least. After about 24 hours I just started doing small walking laps about 30 seconds each in the air BNB in the morning and that helped reduce the pain a lot. I had to pack and take my bike apart since I was flying the following day and that took me about 5-6 hours with breaks for fatigue. The crew member that was supposed to help had to leave a day early due to COVID so I had to drive myself to the airport and handle my suitcase and bike all by myself. That was a little rough for sure. Luckily my plane was pretty much empty so I got to lay across the seats for the cross country flight home greatly decreased the additional swellingI usually get. It took me about 7 days to feel like normal person again and at that point I started doing walks in the neighborhood and some stretch out swims.
We know you have other big things on tap this year— can you give us a preview?
I know COVID has put everyone's schedules on hold but luckily for me I wasn't registered for another race until June. I plan to "race" IM CDA 70.3 but it's more of a trip to see my deceased friend's family who live in Couer d'Alene, so I'm not really focused on my time or performance at all. I am signed up for IMCHOO as a "warmup" for the big race of the year which is Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii in November. I have some unfinished business there I need to take care of ;) I am hopeful things will be back to normal in the world by November but if not I will keep on truckin!