Ultraman Story: Erik Seedhouse
ULTRAMAN HAWAII – 1996
THE OTHER HAWAII
“Ultraman Hawaii is ultra-triathlon at its very best True nirvana.”
“Having competed in nearly 50 ultra events, I take the usual enthusiastic race information stating that, ‘this race is the toughest in the world,’ with a pinch of salt. Although some of the races that I have competed in have been demanding, none of them could be described as the ultimate… that is until I discovered Ultraman Hawaii.”
“It really is impossible to describe the experience of competing in this event. Even the support crews that follow each competitor every step of the way, can’t have an insight into what the athletes feel as they take on what really is the ultimate challenge in endurance sports today.”
“From my perspective, ultra-endurance is all about going on a journey that at the same time offers the athlete the opportunity to fully realize their potential. Circuit events (like the Decaman), although demanding, always fall short of fulfilling that crucial aspect. In Hawaii, the journey has to be the most spectacular of anywhere on the planet, the demands of the event the most challenging, and the course offering an athlete every opportunity to test themselves emotionally, mentally and physically.”
“As an event, I can not fault it. Ultraman Hawaii is ultra-triathlon at its very best True nirvana.” Day One- 10-km Swim, 145-km Bike
A few minutes before sunrise, with a water temperature approaching 24 degrees C, 15 athletes rendezvoused with their canoe-borne swim escorts and set off on the beginning of their three-day journey. As the unpredictable elements of open water swimming became more noticeable, it was Erik Seedhouse blazing a trail at the front. After only 1 hour 9 minutes, Seedhouse had passed the half-way point (5km) and was on his way back to the transition. Only current swim record holder John Nickles was anywhere near the World Ultraman Champion. At the 8-km mark, the northerly currents of the Big Island became more noticeable, leaving the athletes to depend heavily on their escorts for safe guidance back to the shore. With only 600m to go, Seedhouse was still leading the field, but a mistake by his canoe escort (which gained him about 10 seconds) cost the leader a one-minute time penalty. Seedhouse was first up the beach, but the record will show that Nickles was given the fastest swim split.
The first challenge of 145-km cycle was a brutal 330m climb within the first five kilometers. With the mercury now pushing 30°C, it was Nickles taking the initiative. Seedhouse dropped back. At the town of Captain Cook (480m elevation and 16km), the course leveled out and passed its way through coffee plantations, lush forests of native Ohia and Koa trees and the world’s largest Macadamia orchard (to the uninitiated, the Macadamia is a very expensive nut!). As the flora gave way to lava, a vicious head wind came into play- a constant 70kmph gale, gusting up to 100kmph. A grueling 32 km later, it was still Nickles out in front, followed by Seedhouse. Not too far behind was French lifeguard, Patric Vignal, and he was closing fast. Although Nickles was virtually untouchable out in front, Vignal’s charge was rewarded at the 96-km mark as he passed Seedhouse. As if the athletes hadn’t been tested enough during this initial day, the final 43 km of the bike involved a 1300m climb. The only good news (as far as the competitors were concerned) was that the wind had abated and the temperature had dropped to a more manageable 20°C. Nickles remained at the head of the field, eventually finishing his day over 30 minutes ahead of Vignal. Seedhouse had dug deep during the final stages of the day, finishing just under four minutes to his French rival.
Day Two- 275.6-km Bike After the scorching 35°C temperatures of day one, the athletes were greeted with heavy drizzle and a cooler 6:30 a.m. start for part two of their 420.6-km cycle. A welcome 44 km of downhill was quickly eaten up before the athletes leveled out for a long stretch of relatively flat terrain. The only glitch was a 16 km stretch of Highway 137, locally known as the “Red Road”- a truly diabolical and treacherous coast road strewn with potholes, rocks and gravel that reduced most of the riders to tears. To make conditions worse, inclement tide and surf conditions had reduced a section of this road to a temporary beach with the waters of the Pacific lapping against the rims of the athletes’ wheels! With the Red Road behind them, the athletes were now treated to a coastal highway that would match any scenery anywhere in the world.
By the end of an incredibly diverse day’s cycle, it was still Nickles out in front. He had now extended his overall lead to nearly 55 minutes. In second place was Vignal, 24 minutes ahead of Seedhouse. Although Nickles was “sitting pretty” with almost a 90-minute advantage over the Englishman, the final day was an 84-km run… Seedhouse’s favorite discipline. Mention should be made of the last finisher of the day, the incomparable Cowman A-Moo-Ha (aka Ken Shirk), the only competitor to have finished all 11 editions of Ultraman, and nearly all the Hawaii Ironman events.
Day Three- 84.4-km Run Another early start (6:00 a.m.) allowed the athletes to take advantage of the relatively cool morning conditions. Seedhouse, in a true champion’s style, rose to the occasion and started the day by putting over a minute into his rivals within the first mile. From then on in, the race turned into procession for the world’s number one ultra-triathlete: Ten miles in under 68 minutes, a half-marathon in 1:28, and the first of his back-to-back marathons in 2:57! Seedhouse was firing on all cylinders and, despite the temperature rising to over 34°C, he was able to reel off seven-minute miles, one after another. The rest of the field was in another race- in another time zone for that matter.
At this pace his victory was assured, and true to form, Seedhouse’s second marathon was executed with the same gutsy performance as his first- 5:57:36 was his final time for the 84 km, over 1 hour 10 minutes ahead of the second-placed runner, Kevin Murphy. The swim-bike machine, Nickles, crossed the line an incredible two-and-a-quarter hours behind Seedhouse, but he had held onto second overall, just under 10 minutes ahead of Vignal. Although Seedhouse’s run was stunning, the most impressive overall performance must go to seventh placed Vito Bialla. Two years ago, he was a cigar smoking yachtsman who had never run a step!
At the awards ceremony the following evening, all the athletes were invited to describe their experiences over the past three days. Although some came close, nobody was really able to explain the incredible “journey” that they had all just undertaken. Not that it mattered, because any finisher of this race, whether first or last, has the deep satisfaction of knowing that they have met one of the World’s toughest endurance events with personal excellence and victory.