Day 1 of Ultraman Canada consisted of a 6.2 mile swim and then 90 miles of the bike leg. This stage was inarguably the hardest physical thing I've done. The heat is brutal up here and being from Chicago where it has barely cracked 90 degrees this summer, I just wasn't acclimated to the heat. Though my body generally adapts quickly, in retrospect, I probably should have sat in a sauna for an hour or two per day for a week or two.
The swim started out with ideal conditions: warm, glass-like water and 70 degrees air temp at start time. I figured I'd only take about 3:30:00 to 3:45:00 to finish the swim but it ended up taking me just over four hours. I knew after about 4 miles to the swim that I under-budgeted how much nutrition I would need and with heat this intense it could easily cause me problems later. On top of that, the temperature was rising quickly and it was over 90 by 9:30am. Given that we were all in wetsuits (primarily for extra buoyancy which means lower exertion) , our bodies were sweating more than normal and therefore require even more caloric intake. After the swim, at the time, I was generally pleased with how it went: the swim was smooth, no current, and I got out feeling fresh enough to think 90 miles on the bike in under 8 hours--even in the extreme heat--should be a piece of cake. But in retrospect, I would quickly learn that I did not utilize a better plan for nutrition. I consumed about 1,000 calories and probably should have consumed about 2,000 given the high temperature. But I must deal...
On to the bike. When I got out of the water, it was scorching hot with clear, sunny blue skies and unfortunately, the course didn't provide any shade. I felt weak right from the start but often times when you feel like this, you can just work through it and quickly snap out of it. But after 10 miles...nothing. 20 miles...nothing. 40 miles...I'm now seriously concerned that I won't even make the 12hr cutoff time if I can't figure out a way to increase my already-unacceptable pace.
The temp finally leveled out at 104 degrees after peaking at 106 which means, on the blacktop it was probably at least 110-115. To complicate matters, I had several vomiting episodes on my bike. I was embarrassed. I felt like if I couldn't finish in the allotted time and got a DNF (did not finish) I'd be letting down E2C supporters and those who have believed in me and my cause. I was now furious.
My crew asked me if I wanted to throw in the towel. I said, "No, we are going to get this done. Let's roll." and we took off and started hitting the tough climbs on the course. I began re-assessing everything I believed in, especially my personal philosophy that each of us have no limits to what we can do in life. It was being put to the test right here, right now; and this was supposed to be the "easy" day of the three. Time to step up and dig deep, very deep and earn a new level of mental toughness.
I started by looking at my jersey. I had a promotion recently where all donors could have their message printed on the jersey I wore for the cycling days. The donors mostly consisted of friends who believe in me and people who find what I'm doing to be inspirational. Certain people had messages I thought to be quite touching in honor of loved ones who passed away from cancer. I wasn't going to let them down by having to go back to them saying I just wasn't cut out for the challenge. That was all I could think about and I found a reignited fire inside and just put my head down and started hammering. My crew, Paul and Bob, started putting ice cold towels around my neck at regular intervals. They were already doing a great job but I think when they saw me pull through some of the weakest, most demeaning moments I have had as an athlete, they kicked their effort up several notches as well. They became my biggest fans which gave me even more energy. We finished with about 30 minutes to spare and we're moving to Day 2's 170mi bike leg tomorrow--which is regarded as the hardest day of the three.
So with that, here is a preview of Day 2. This stage is a 170 mile bike featuring flats for the first 60 miles and then working up into the Canadian Cascade Mountain Range and then into more flats that are generally quite windy. After roughly 60 miles we will begin an extremely steep climb in the Canadian Cascades called "The Wall." This climb is about a mile long and the elevation gain is about 1,600ft so it is quite steep. My goal overnight will be to rebound from today and start feeling fresh. I plan to use the cool morning temperatures to ride a bit harder, but not too hard, in the beginning in order to cover as much ground as possible before the heat gets intense and the winds start picking up. I plan to bounce back strong from yesterday's difficult experience and get the job done, but I fully expect the days ahead to continue to reveal a new level of character and mental toughness in my life.
Lastly, thank you very much to those of you who have been so interested in hearing about Endure to Cure. It's inspiring to me to read the great feedback we're getting!
No Limits, Jay
About Jason Sissel
Jason Sissel is an endurance athlete and philanthropist. For all media, speaking, or sponsorship/partnership inquiries, please contact us.