My previous two articles are a preparation for this one, with the first article indicating my journey to my first Ironman, showing ‘you’ can do it; and the second article telling how I ‘fell off the wagon’ in life, but made it to the finish line by stumbling across Coach Ray from Qwik Kiwi on the day. This article discusses ‘Finding Ultraman’, the journey, the desire, and the Support Crew headed by Coach Ray, and how this changed everything for me.
As indicated I fell off the wagon. I returned to alcohol struggling with a bad time in my life and became what I use to be before I got into Ironman. I was that cocky guy who thought, I’ve got it sussed with a couple of Ironman under my belt and could train whilst partying like no tomorrow, a mask to hide demons. As I mentioned in my last article, Coach Ray from Qwik Kiwi saw me at Ironman, knew me from the Army more to say a passing hi, but stayed on the Ironman course as a Coach to other athletes and returned to help me once his athletes had finished for the day. I knew something had to change.
I returned to my overseas posting with the Army after that Ironman. I had finished it, but was disappointed with myself, blaming no-one but myself, and added an extra two+ hours to my finish time. By chance I was stuck in Darwin Airport for four hours awaiting a connecting flight and wandered through the typical airport bookshop. I spotted a book in the sports section called ‘Finding Ultra’ by Rich Roll. I read the back cover and thought this is interesting, so I purchased it and threw it in my bag. I got it out a couple of days later and started reading ‘Finding Ultra’. I thought this is crazy if not impossible that everyday athletes, not pro’s, can actually do this. Ultraman is a 3 day event. Day 1 is a 10 km ocean swim followed by a 140 km cycle. Day 2 just to make sure your butt and legs are sore is a 280 km cycle and just to finish you off Day 3 is a double marathon.
This wasn’t just the intriguing part of Rich Roll’s book. It became a book I simply couldn’t put down. Rich talks about his life journey; a failed marriage before the honeymoon was over, battling alcohol, rehab, drink driving charges, eating crap food, trying to change his life, DNF (Did Not Finish) at his first Half Ironman, then Finding Ultra (Ultraman) and completely turning his life around to becoming voted one of the top fittest men in the world. I started to think that some parts I was reading in the book were about myself. I finished the book and thought if that doesn’t give me inspiration from returning to a path of self-destruction nothing does. I went to my fridge and opened it. I had one can of beer in the fridge, I pulled back the tab and poured it down the drain. I went to the local bars as I had a few tabs around the place and paid them all off telling the staff to not give me a tab again.
I contacted Ray Boardman and found his business Qwik Kiwi on the website. I sent him an email through work, explaining I had a few Ironman under my belt (of which he saw what state I was in at the recent one). I discussed Ultraman and said I want it and I want you on my compulsory Support Crew as my Coach. I told him vaguely (hiding a lot) about my battles and said I wouldn’t be offended if he thought I couldn’t do an Ultraman and I was the wrong fit for Qwik Kiwi. He couldn’t say yes quick enough, loving a challenge, but wanting to help me change my life.
I had also noticed in “Finding Ultra”, Rich Roll mentions in his acknowledgements a whole lot of athletes. One was Terenzo Bozzone, a New Zealand Ironman. I googled Terenzo’s website and emailed his Coach (Jon Ackland) and told him that I discovered Terenzo’s name in Rich Roll’s book “Finding Ultra” (in case they weren’t aware), and chucked in a paragraph about finishing with alcohol and Ultraman was a journey I wanted to take with the inspiration of the book. Thinking nothing more of it, just wanting to let Terenzo know he was mentioned in Rich’s book. Before I knew it, I received an email from Rich Roll, which Terenzo must of passed on, offering me full support with my journey – the measure of the man, I was ecstatic.
So after a year of training and waiting to see if I got accepted for Ultraman Australia, as you have to apply and they invite the athletes to compete with a maximum of 50 for each event, my support Crew of Coach Ray, Derrick McMillan and Scott Cordwell rocked up to Ultraman. I was wondering if I could do this. They weren’t as they had full faith.
Day 1 – My allocated safety kayaker was a no show. Coach Ray kept it from me and he scurried around the Noosa Surf Life Saving Club to see if he could grab a raft of some description and be the safety kayaker. Behind the scenes offcials were making frantic phone calls and Lily volunteered at last minute. She was 12 years old and I thought Coach Ray was having me on, thinking maybe her parents or an older sibling were going to be paddling for 10 kms. Lily said. “Lets go”, as we headed to the water. I was wondering if I got into trouble how would she help me. My thoughts were quickly gone as I noticed she knew what she was doing. The swimmers departed with the safety kayakers for each swimmer in a group. After a few minutes she found with me and stayed at either my 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock so I could see her constantly. She was my navigator and stopped me about every 20 minutes to give me a drink or food. I say about every 20 minutes because she didn’t have a watch. At one point I stopped and asked for a drink and she said “not for another 200 metres or the tide will drift you off course”. I thought whatever, but when I did stop in 200 metres the current was drifting me, but within the course area. She knew her stuff. When I finished I presented Lily a Taonga and a big hug. Coach Ray looked after me for the transition and Scott and Derrick helped Lily with her craft then joined us.
The 140 km cycle went relatively well with my Support Crew staying on the course constantly checking and navigating me as we leap frogged each other. I only saw one road-kill snake in my path hoping it was dead. I am sure at one point a checkpoint was outside a pub, so they went in and bought me a pie (and probably a refreshment for themselves lol).
Day 2 – 280 kms on a bike. I had never cycled that far in one go. Coach Ray had me close to it a couple of times with training. It wasn’t exactly a flat course with one massive loop, a few detours for excitement to keep me on my toes, or my butt out of the saddle with hills as the day wore on. The Support Crew would have fun and if I missed grabbing a boiled egg out of their hand as I cycled passed they would biff it at me lol. They did an amazing job and Coach Ray was monitoring my drink bottles on my bike, giving me a rev up if I slipped my drink discipline and needed to drink more. I hit a flat spot where I felt drained so they shoved a chicken drumstick in my hand which must of looked funny as I chewed on that when cycling and they switched me to flat coke.
Day 3 – This was the real test, a double marathon after already swimming 10 kms and cycling 420 kms in the previous 2 days. Out for a marathon then run back on the same course so we knew where the hills were – lovely! The Support Crew left me to it for the first few kilometres, then they rotated around either driving the Support Crew/Safety vehicle, running beside me to pace me, or shoving food and drink into me. The heat got to me and another Support Crew offered us ice cold wet towels. This worked great and showed what Ultraman was all about, but the water ran into my shoes which resulted in skin coming off as the pavement pounding continued. Support Crews helped Support Crews. Athletes helped athletes. One athlete even relayed to my Support Crew on Day 2 “get some coke or coffee into him, he’s hit a flat spot”. Another athlete told how the Technical Official rode up to her on his motorbike and asked if she was doing okay. Normally Technical Officials are watching us like prey at events to pounce with a penalty, but everyone was in it to get everyone to the finish line.
People at work, friends and almost strangers were following on-line. There were messages of support being passed from everywhere and Coach Ray was relaying them to me or writing them on the road with chalk for me to view when I went past. The smile of finishing has never left me. I won the Military and Emergency Services Division in my first Ultraman and returned a year later to defend my title. I didn’t win it the next year, but will return to Ultraman to regain my title (that’s how I sold it to myself and my wife to go back lol).
I made it to the finish line and knew I had changed everything for myself. I crashed out after Derrick helped me climb the 12 steps to get into our rented apartment.
As for alcohol, I haven’t touched a drop in the five years since I poured my last can down the drain. I still have that empty can in my garage and smile every time I look at it. Thanks to Rich Roll’s book ‘Finding Ultra’ I may have never gone down this path, and thanks to Coach Ray of Qwik Kiwi for having faith in me.
MAKE THAT CHANGE – Regards John Humphries (Aka UltraHumps).
Humps will be writing weekly as he continues his journey raising funds for the Fallen Hero’s Trust.
Read Humps’ article from last week here:
All his previous articles are stored here: