Everything We Wanted to Know about Mary Knott's Ultraman Experience

Last week SMASH-Dimond superstar Mary Knott ticked off a major triathlon goal in completing her first Ultraman at Ultraman Australia. In the process, she took second overall amongst the women after leading the race for the first two days and breaking the bike course record on day two. Ultraman is a 3-day triathlon stage race broken down as follows: Day One: 6.2-mile swim + 90 mile bike. Day Two: 170-mile bike. Day Three: 52.4-mile run. We wanted to know ALL about her prep and just how hard this race really was so we had our TeamSFQ women come up with these interview questions! Enjoy!

First things first: how are you feeling now--are you in a wheelchair? Do you ever want to see you bike again? Did you win the award for best-looking tri/cycling kits?

I feel pretty good actually!  No, no wheelchair.  It felt better to be up and moving frequently post race because sitting around I stiffen up and then everything hurts.  I was a little slow and gimpy for a day or two, but nothing terrible.  That's the purpose of training, right?  To make sure you're prepared to handle the race. I DO want to see my bike again!  LOL!  Actually the roads in Australia were pretty nice.  My 140 miler in training was a lot harder for "the girl parts" to recover from.  My legs were fine.  Expected soreness but nothing that would take me off my bike for any extended period of time.  By the time I went for my first spin I was more than ready to get back on the bike.   100% YES!  I had so many comments on my kits, especially day 3 wearing Finding Kona, when I was not speeding by people and they could actually talk to me as I ran by.  By far my kits were easiest to spot, most colorful and most beautiful on course.  Not to mention most comfortable, most functional, and most aerodynamic.  :)   

When did you decide on this big, I would think, scary goal? Was it after qualifying for Kona, during Kona or after you completed that?

I actually have a running list of goals, things that I want to do one day.  Like, thru hike the Appalachian trail.  Run the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler.  And swim the SCAR Challenge.  After following Hillary's journey through the UM World Championships in 2013 I knew I wanted to do it "one day".  When the opportunity arose to crew for a teammate in 2014 I jumped on it.  Having crewed for friends running 100 milers I knew how valuable the crew experience is to understanding exactly what is involved in the event.  I wanted to be immersed in the culture of Ultraman and see exactly what it takes to get through it.   I put off applying for Ultraman because my goal of qualifying for Kona took every ounce of my focus and energy.  Once I qualified at IMAZ 2015, we started to look at options.  I applied for Ultraman Oz in July 2016, and was invited in August.  So the ball was rolling prior to actually competing in Kona.  It was good to have that on the calendar because the Ironman World Championships were so emotionally taxing on me -- in a good way-- it would have been difficult to come down from that with nothing to look forward to.  Ultraman was a perfect focus because it was way outside my comfort zone.  After 22 Ironman finishes, I needed something that scared me, excited me, and challenged me in a different way.

Roughly how many hours did you train per week in the lead-up to this event, and how did you balance life and training?

After IMAZ 2016 I took an off season and really rested mentally and physically.  I went part time at my job on January 1-- this was something I had planned to do when we opened Cadence Running Company, but the timing worked out well in January to afford me a little more time to train and maintain sanity.  By the second week of January my training load was around 20 hours per week.  At my peak I was maintaining 22-23 hours per week, with my biggest week hitting just under 26 hours.   I'll be honest, I probably don't require as much "balance" as the average triathlete.  I don't have kids, and my husband trains for Ironman-- so I don't feel guilty being completely selfish in my pursuits.  Maybe that sounds terrible, but it's who I am and I don't have any regrets.  The hardest part was meal prep and staying on top of everything around the house.  We had stacks of mail that would go unopened for weeks on end.  Thank God for auto- bill pay.

How much did you have to eat to support all that training?

#allthefood #fucktonofcalories  :)  These were two hashtags that were invented during the Ultraman pursuit!  LOL.  I have been working with my dietician from Own Nutrition (Katie) for about 18 months now.  We're pretty dialed in and I let her worry about what I'm eating.  I don't count calories, I don't worry about portion sizes.  I eat when I'm hungry, and a lot of times when I'm not hungry.  By the last few weeks of training I was so tired of eating that nothing sounded good.  I asked to have more smoothies on my plan at that time because I could just blend everything up and drink it down.  Chewing became so tiresome.   One cool thing was, as I remarked to Katie early this spring, I felt like my body had become a fueling/ hydrating machine.  Everything was clicking in training- I could eat pretty much anything and feel it working.  My energy levels were so stable.  She told me that she noticed this often with athletes who had reached the year mark.  The gut had time to heal, and develop into this efficient machine, that now whatever we put into it my body was utilizing and energizing me in a way I had never experienced.   I can't tell you how many big ass salads I ate to get to this point but it is so worth it!

How did you put in all those hours and miles without getting injured?

Well, that's part luck of the draw and part brilliant coaching on Hillary's behalf.  I am pretty sturdy.  I have a huge training base from the last 12 years that we could build from.  There is something to be said for consistency and I have really seen the benefits of that since joining Team HPB almost 4 years ago.  I was never the type of person that would train for an IM for 6 months, and then take the rest of the year off.  I was always training, always doing something.  Part of my training over the years has been strength training with my physical therapist.  I think that this is key to being able to keep doing what I love without interruption.  I realize that you can do all the right things and still get injured and this is where genetics come in-- I have a very average frame (I'm not small!) and a strong bone structure.  I'm solid.  I'm not going to break easily.   Hillary creates this amazing schedule whereby we train hard and break me down over days to weeks and then in just a day or two of recovery workouts I am able to absorb and adapt to the training.  I have said it a thousand times but she is absolutely brilliant with recovery.

Tell us : was your training all sunshine and butterflies? Did you love every second of it and nail all your sessions? What kept you going? Give it to us real!  

LMAO!!!  Uhhh, NO.  Not all sunshine and butterflies!!  There were so many days that I couldn't hit my target watts on the bike, and I was frustrated by my lack of running speed.  There was a fair amount of tears and a few pity parties.  But I have these days during IM training too.  Doesn't everyone??  I don't let these days affect my training because I feel like this is normal and as long as I'm seeing progress over time then the plan is working.  I can't be GREAT every day. The fear of surviving Ultraman kept me going.  As I said, this was a new goal, and one way outside my comfort zone.  I was motivated to give my best every day because ultimately that's what it takes to arrive at the start line completely prepared.  I don't skip workouts.  Ever.  Talking to other people I am starting to realize that that's actually a thing.  But for me, my training is what gives me confidence in my ability and if I didn't do it then I would start to doubt my ability to get to the finish line.  That's not how I roll.  I'm going to do the work, no matter how ugly it is, and I'm going to be 100% confident.   One really cool thing about Ultraman training is that at some point, even when I felt tired all the time, I felt SO STRONG.  It was the most bizarre, amazing feeling.  Like I could just go forever.  We called it my happy place.  Tired + Strong. 

How did the long travel to Australia affect you? I know sleep is a priority for you, so did you feel rested and adjusted to the time change before race day? And how was your sleep affected during the race?

Travel?  It didn't!!  So f-ing crazy, right?!?!  I talked to Coach Alyssa at camp in March and I asked her about this exact topic.  I had been doing some reading about how to adapt to time zone differences after long haul flights.  How to manage caffeine, and feast/ fast methods, etc.  She said to me:  If you survive the training, the travel will be no big deal.  You'll be ready for it and it won't be an issue.  I didn't understand exactly what she meant, but she was 100% accurate.   We left our house at 11 am on Tuesday morning, we had a long layover in LAX and got dinner, killed some time.  Our flight left LAX at 11 pm.  When we boarded our flight, I normally would have already been asleep for 3 hours.  Instead, I reset my watch to Australia time and stayed awake for 3 more hours until it was 8 pm there.  Then I covered my eyes, and put my headphones on and tried to rest as much as possible.  I didn't sleep well because you can't get super comfortable unless you're in 1st Class (we weren't).  At 4 am Australia time, I got up, at breakfast and stayed awake the rest of the flight. I felt a little dazed when we landed in Sydney at 7 am on Thursday, and we had a 5 hour drive to Port Macquarie.  We got there early afternoon and after a bite to eat I got to work building our bikes.  That afternoon I went for a jog, and a swim and then after dinner we went to bed at 7:30- 8 pm.  When I woke up the next morning I felt fantastic.  I woke up without an alarm at my normal time and was good to go.   My sleep did suffer once Ultraman started.  I was very nervous on Friday night-- before day 1.  So it was usual "night-before-race" anxiety and poor sleep.  I thought for sure I'd sleep fine after that because I wasn't nervous the rest of the time, but I think because I was eating so much sugar/ caffeine during the day I was restless all night long.  After the run my body was so sore I couldn't get comfortable and I moved to the couch in the middle of the night so I could prop my legs up.  But the next night-- I slept like the dead.

What are the most unusual things you ate during the race and what were your favorite fuel sources during the 26 hours of racing?

Hmmmm, unusual...  do girl scout cookies count as unusual?  :)  The goal with day 1 and 2 was to eat as much solid food as possible to set myself up for a good run, and not get burned out on gels/ liquids.  So there were a ton of Clif Bars, PB&Js.  When I got tired of those I begged for Pringles.  And on day two I ate 2 boxes of Savannah Smiles (GS Cookies).  I also had chicken noodle soup on the bike which was fantastic.  It was one of those dry soup packets you mix with water, and even though it was cold it tasted delicious.  I guess slurping noodles through a bike bottle is a little unusual.   I also had coke, Red Bull, and espresso poured over ice.

Which crew member (if any) did you come closest to strangling? What's the strangest thing a crew member did to help you though a down time?

No one.  I am fully aware that I am nothing without my crew.  And every single one of them was vital to my success.  I tried to appreciate them all the time.  I know I wasn't always easy, but I sincerely hope that they felt my gratitude every second.   In the second half of the run I was struggling a lot more and during those hours I asked more specifically for the pacers that could distract me.  I know I am my weakest with my husband and I'm not sure why that is.  But during one of his pacing stints I was like, I need Heidi.  So Heidi jumped in and made me laugh by swearing at me in her Boston accent.  It was a perfect distraction and the miles flew by.   Later, I asked Chris to take some extra miles with me.  We talked about current events and social issues and NOTHING pertaining to triathlon and it was exactly what I needed.    I retired from racing like 4 times during the marathon.  During one stretch Marsha and I planned our future career in craft-making.  You know like, arts and crafts?  Yeah, we were going to do that. We were going to sell our stuff in a shop and I was going to be 300 pounds and no one was going to believe that I had ever raced Ultraman.  There were some odd conversations out on course!  #whathappensatultramanstaysatultraman    

How many F bombs did you yell at Dan during the race? 

None.  And I asked him to confirm this to make sure I didn't forget.  When I got angry, I was frustrated with myself, not my team.  Yes, I was cranky during those times but it was more just whining, and not yelling.  There were a lot of 4 letter words, but not directed at anyone.  More just like, I'm so fucking done right now.

Do you stop to pee on the bike in an Ultraman?

No.  I don't stop to pee.  Ever.  If I have to pee, I pee.  I try not to pee on anyone else, but I would not recommend handling my bike or run shoes post race.  :)  I did stop to poop on the run.  But it was not diarrhea, so bonus for the gut still working after 3 days!!  #likeamachine 

What did you learn most about yourself both in training and during the race --besides the fact that you are a BAMF? 

I think I'm still processing this one, but I think most importantly I realize that I have not found my limit.  I am not happy with day 3 because I am capable of more, but overall I could not be more proud of how well my body handled this experience.  There was a point in training about 4 weeks out when I hit a bit of a wall and I was like, how the hell am I going to get to the starting line?  And I sucked in every workout for about 10 days and then I was fine again and handled my biggest weeks without drama.  So crazy.  The training is such that you can actually FEEL the adaptation process occurring.  Completely mind blowing.   I think during the race I was reminded how much I LOVE to race.  I had no expectation of setting a bike course record on day 2, but when I ended up in a back-and-forth battle with eventual overall winner (Deanna Fuller) my competitive drive kicked in and we pushed each other to our very best.  She pulled into the finish 20 seconds behind me after 170 miles and the feeling of absolute joy when we got off our bikes and hugged was palpable.  She is such a beautiful spirit and racing with her on day 2 was so much fun.  Hard, stressful, beautiful, painful, intense, amazing, rewarding.  This is racing, right?  This is why I un-retired the minute I crossed the finish line.  I can't imagine not doing this crazy sport called triathlon.





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