Ultraman Story: John Girmsey

Ultraman 2000
Aloha !

I’m back from Ultraman and if you read the Ultraman website all you know is that I DNF’d – meaning “did not finish”. But, what you don’t know from reading that is what happened…..and that I actually completed 98% of the course over the three days.

On day 1, I anticipated a 3-4 hour swim for the 6.2 miles. I was about 3 hours into the swim when I was REALLY hurting, feeling sick, and tiring and had to “empty” my stomach of a lot of fluids. The race boat came by and informed me that I was “about” half-way. Well, that told me what I already suspected – I was swimming, but not going anywhere…like swimming on a treadmill !. I kept watching a landmark on shore and it was not moving behind me, and was even getting ahead of me anytime I stopped. The current was just too strong against me and I gave up all hope. We reached the official boat again and I abandoned the swim at 3 * hours. My crew stayed out for another 1 * hours helping another swimmer and also slowly making there way through the current and ashore. I was no longer an “official competitor” at that point….but like all others that don’t meet cut-offs or abandon one day – are allowed to continue as “unofficial participants”. My crew and family had come to do the Ultraman, so I took off on the bike just before noon as I didn’t want to disappoint them or myself any further.

That 90 mile ride to the Volcanoes National Park was the absolute hardest 90 miles I have ever ridden. Even though I had almost 2 hours rest between coming out of the water and getting on my bike – the initial long climb took its toll and my legs were cramping and I was feeling really bad. I pulled over partway up the climb and stopped for at least 5+ minutes cooling down and getting my act together. I started sucking down a lot of salt packets after that to stop the cramps – but it took several hours before I had them under control again. It took 2 hours to complete the last 22 mile climb and at about mile 85 I had to stop and “empty” the stomach again ! With a mile to go we had to stop and put my headlight on because darkness was coming on fast. When I pulled into the finish it was pitch black winding through the park road and without the light I wouldn’t have been able to see where I was going. I was really spent at the end – and cold from the altitude (4000 feet) and rain that had started to fall. My crew bundled me up and we rushed to our cottage at the Park. Debi and Cleve had warm soup and pasta ready for dinner and it was GOOD !!

Day 2 started with a fast descent under beautiful clear skies. I absolutely flew through the first 90 miles travelling from the Volcano down to the coast and back up to Hilo town. I hit the 90 mile mark leaving out of Hilo to start the 35 mile climb to Waimea at about 4 hours. The winds were generally favorable the rest of the day and I finished day two and 171.2 miles in Hawi in 8 hours 55 minutes. Day two was certainly easier than day 1 !!!!

Day 3 started back in Hawi with a 52.4 mile double marathon back to the Old Kona airport – near where we started, to finish the journey of circling the Big Island. I wasn’t sure how the run was going to turn out, but expected to walk a fair amount in the last 15 or 20 miles. My only soreness that morning really was only the back of my left knee from the bike. We started the run after a ceremonial prayer with all participants in a circle holding hands. We took off at 6:00 a.m. and had darkness for the next 30-40 minutes. I made a couple “pit stops” in the first 15 miles or so – but was running fine until about 16 * miles when we started our climb up to the main highway which we would stay on for the remainder of the run. I walked a hundred yards or so and then jogged on up to the van at the corner. I stopped at the van and let the crew take over cooling me down with water and rubbing my legs etc. After a brief stop I pressed on and continued running “slow” according to the plan. I hit the 26.2 mile mark or half-way at 4 hours 26 minutes – not a blazing speed!! – but I had 26.2 more to go. Everything was going fine until about mile 30 when I hit complete “melt-down” and had to stop. We stopped for 10 minutes or so as again the crew worked on me for a while pouring water over me, sponging every thing, massaging my legs and keeping me shaded. Did I mention it was hot!! – we had been running through the black lava fields since mile 17 and would be all the way to the finish. I got going again and that was my “worst” time out there that day. The next 10 miles went by pretty well and the crew was just phenomenal in keeping me sponged, watered, fed and hydrated. Howard and Jon took turns running with me and keeping me company. For two “non-runners” – they were awesome !! They must have run 10 miles or more each – trading off. We didn’t speak much – but they knew almost instinctively what I needed and when I needed it. Randy was filming and keeping tabs on what I need from the van as I approached as they stopped about every * mile. I would hand signal water, or ice and he would have it ready and waiting. He also ran with me a few times…it was great ! I ran with zip-lock bags of ice in my hat for the last 30-35 miles and it proved to be a lifesaver I think. Keeping cool was imperative. We learned that trick from another crew we saw doing it. The last 6 miles or so got to be pretty difficult because we were through the baron areas and back towards town where anxiety and anticipation broke the mindless rhythm. By that time you start wondering about every rise and fall of the road and every landmark. We caught two runners in the last 3 miles or so that had gone out too fast early in the morning and were paying for it – our pace kept us pretty steady throughout the day and I finished the run at 9 hours 30 minutes. We estimated that I walked only about a * mile all day long and had only about 30 minutes stop time for “pit-stops” and rests. Debi, Cleve and Kyle were out on the course throughout the day and even Debi and Kyle ran with me carrying sponges and water a few times. They had made signs for me to keep me motivated and it was really a team effort. I was certainly relieved when it was over – and yes – I DNF’d the first day on the swim, but I believe I completed the Ultraman Challenge…..so I’ve got the shirt and plaque.

It was a real lifetime experience and that swim is bad enough in good conditions to make me think looong and hard about attempting it again….but I saw the Big Island like it can’t be seen from a car window at 60 miles an hour.

There were 34 starters, 7 dropped out during the swim, and 9 more did not make the first day cut-off on the bike, undoubtably – because they were in the water so long (they were pulled from the course at the 12 hours cut-off). So on day 2, only 18 official competitors were left – even though most all the rest of the participants started day 2 also. In the end there were 16 official finishers and I don’t know how many “participants”. It was a disappointing race for many who would have had no trouble completing the race if it weren’t for the ocean currents. But…..that is what this type event is all about – you against the elements and yourself – not really you against the other competitors.

My crew is already talking about next year…, are they crazy……?????????????

– John