2008 Race Reports

Kipling’s Ultraman

Written by: Timothy Carlson
Date: Tue Dec 02 2008

Rudyard Kipling said it all: ” If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two Impostors just the same; Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”

KAILUA-KONA- Hawaii – Lieutenant Colonel Tony O’Keefe is in charge of 1,054 cadets at Canada’s version of West Point. It is his job to prepare men and women to go into battle in the world of terrorist ambushes, in the very cruel lands that Rudyard Kipling wrote about, and act with the highest levels of integrity when life and death are separated by a rusty razor’s edge.
And so on the field of play on the Big Island of Hawaii in a rigorous three-day aerobic adventure called Ultraman, O’Keefe keeps his cool whether things are going well or poorly. “At age 47, sure it hurts,” says O’Keefe, who if not for a few grey hairs, could pass for 20 years younger. “I’m getting older. It’s great to be racing against top professionals, but I never take anything for granted.”
O’Keefe won the first day’s 10k swim and 90 mile bike. But he knew better than to gloat. “This thing can backfire and end up in a disaster,” said O’Keefe. “All these guys are stronger athletes. My strength is mental.” On Sunday, the third day of this post Thanksgiving, 320-mile triathletic circumnavigation of Hawaii, O’Keefe let three men go early in the morning on the double marathon heading south from Hawi to Kailua along the Queen K Highway made famous in October’s single day Ironman. A lesser man might have overreached and tried to stay with the blazing trio headed for a 2:57 first marathon, but O’Keefe knew his best day from four years ago was a pair of 3:12s. And a lesser man might have looked at his three straight runner-up finishes from 2002 through 2004 and lost his head in pursuit of vain glory. A lesser man might even have been bitter that a deployment to Sarajevo cost him training and a more immediate rematch with Ultraman, just as his peak athletic years were slipping away. A lesser man might even have wasted adrenaline worrying about the footsteps of 1996 champion Erik Seedhouse, just three years younger and one of two men to break 6 hours during the Ultraman double marathon, stalking him from behind.

But instead, Tony O’Keefe followed the famous maxim of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry: “A man’s got to know his limitations,” and kept his own counsel, running a conservative downhill first half marathon – 1 hour 30 minutes to the leaders’ 1:26. Knowing the reality of the battlefield, O’Keefe said, “Things can always get worse.”

Erik Seedhouse is a scientist who works for the Canadian Forces Environmental Medicine. Part of his job is to figure out ways for astronauts to stay healthy and alive on a future mission to Mars. He also was examining the ethical and moral issues involved in such a risky endeavor.

From 1996 through 1998, Seedhouse was an Ultra star, winning the Monterrey Mexico Deca-Ironman test and taking the 1996 Ultraman with a closing 5:57 double marathon. Then, in 1999, he retired from professional sports at age 35. “When you’re a professional, it really takes it out of you,” he says. “There’s the psychological pressure of being one injury away from oblivion. And being in a fringe sport, where you have to fight tooth and nail for all your sponsorships, you have to be your own manager, your own coach, and your own PR person. That’s a huge amount of pressure.”
Nine years later, he relented to the urging of his old support crew and entered Ultraman thinking the pressure might be off and he could enjoy the beauty of the island and the camaraderie of the Ultraman family led by race director Jane Bockus. Still a proud man, he was leery. “You can’t go from a professional to an also ran. It’s very very difficult.”
So that is why in February he took his bike out of the mothballs that had been protecting the machinery for nearly a decade and hit the pool and the trails. As a scientist intimately familiar with the limitations of human physiology, Seedhouse knew that at age 44 – with no racing for a decade, it would be hard to recalibrate. “This spring, I won the Canadian Forces half marathon in 1:19, which have me an indication that my running was OK. But that’s just one fourth of the Ultraman distance. And you have to save your legs through 261 miles of biking and 15,000 feet of climbing.”

So when he teed it up, Seedhouse felt the inner pressure building again. “My mind is still calibrated to 10 years ago,” he said. “It’s very difficult to restrain yourself. This is my first Ultra distance event in 10 years, it is hard to gauge how quickly to go out.” So it sounded overly modest when he said the fastest he could run would be 7 hours. But to himself, he said, “My goal is 7 hours 30 minutes.”
True to his plan, Seedhouse ran the 13.1 miles in 1:47:27 – 21 minutes slower than the leaders. He finished the first marathon in 3:48:30, 51 minutes back of the two leaders. Then he hit a dark spot where he had to walk a few sections, something he’d never done as a pro.

At age 36, Peter Kotland had never retired from his sport. He’d just never gone back to Ultraman after his epochal 5:33:57 double marathon run and the victory – at least as a competitor. Kotland had gone back to crew for one modest age grouper, then returned to crew for one spectacular athlete he was coaching – four-time winner Shanna Armstrong of Texas.
During his Ultraman hiatus, Kotland said it took him year to recover from the physical strain of that shining run. “I could not sleep for three days after the race,” he recalls. If prodded, he will admit he had aggravated his Achilles running so far so fast on asphalt. Armstrong says, “Peter shredded his Achilles.” Kotland says “It bothered me for 4-5 years, but it’s been fine since then.” Perhaps that explains his modest record at the four or five Ironmans he has done since. He finished Ironman Hawaii in 8:28 one fast year at Hawaii, and another year at Kona took third place in overall age group behind Troy Jacobson. At Ironman California he took third overall behind Chris Legh in 2000, 5th at Ironman Lake Placid in 1999, 4th at Ironman Florida in 2001 another 5th at Ironman Wisconsin. This summer, he took 9th at Ironman Louisville and then, suffering an eardrum infection incurred in dirty water at a local South Carolina race, suffered through a painful outing at Ironman Florida and barely made it to the Ultraman start with the help of antibiotics.

When Ultraman 2008 started, Kotland was back from the future. On day one, adverse currents made everyone push harder to get through to the finish at Keauhou Bay. Kotland made it in 3:19:58 – 25 minutes slower than his 1997 time. “I think I got dehydrated on the swim, and made it worse when I pushed on the bike,” he said. He finished with the fourth-best time of 5:18:03 – six minutes slower than 1997. Rewarded with tailwinds on Day 2’s 171.4 mile bike leg, Kotland hung with Alexandre Ribeiro for 140 miles, then finished off with a fourth-best-ever 7:29:27 leg, 43 minutes faster than 1997. He was 12 minutes ahead of his old pace, but Kotland the scientist knew better than to give in to false hopes for a reprise and a possible course record.
“On that first day, I started to get dehydrated on the swim and cramped up,” he said. “And went even deeper into debt pushing hard on the bike. The first day seemed OK because when we finished at Volcanoes it was cooler so I didn’t think it bothered me. But the second day, it got hot on the ride and I started to have stomach issues after the ride. I just think once you start to get dehydrated in a stage race, you can’t catch up.”
Still, he retained his natural optimism starting the fateful run.
“I let the guys go because I thought they were going a little fast and I need some time to get warmed up,” he recalls. While Ribeiro and Miro Kregar ran the first 10 miles at 6:03 pace, Kotland joined them about Mile 8. While the downhill from Hawi makes it easy to go fast, the pounding on the legs is like a high interest loan. Still, Kotland was not cruising when he joined the duo. “Good morning Peter!” said a cheerful Ribeiro. Come run with us!” till, the Brazilian noted that the legendary 5:33:57 Man was struggling. “I could hear Peter breathing hard,” said Ribeiro. “That couldn’t be good.”

So Kotland dropped off 3:51 by Mile 13.1,and held steady through the first marathon, where Kregar and Ribeiro finished in 2:57:54 to Kotland’s 3:02:10, with O’Keefe another 9 minutes back. In his mind, Kotland felt comfortable. “I run like a diesel – my second marathon is faster than my first.”
Based on past results, his rivals could not maintain the pace – Kregar’s best Ultraman run was 6:27:58 last year. Ribeiro’s was 6:38:53 last year. After Day 2, Kotland was 31 minutes back of Ribeiro, 21 minutes back of O’Keefe, and 16 minutes ahead of Kregar. “I thought I’d catch them,” said Kotland. While it had become increasingly unlikely he could surpass the obviously superbly fit and on-form Brazilian for the overall, a 6-hour run looked doable for a healthy Kotland.
In the first few miles of the second marathon, Kotland whittled the margin to 3:15. Then, at Mile 30, reality hit. “The lights went out,” said Kotland. “It was the accumulation of the first two days. It was extreme dehydration and it went from my stomach to my legs. My crew tried every trick in the book, to get me going – they gave me more electrolytes, changed it up with some gels, and tried Alka-Seltzer to settle my stomach. But there is only so much you can do.”
Walking much of the way, Kotland struggled mightily to the end. “At that point, I think I pushed the hardest in my life,” said Kotland. I gave it all I had. One hundred percent. Including my heart and soul.”

Somehow he managed to hit the line with a run of 7:33:20. Almost precisely two hours slower than his 2008 moment, but no less glorious by the Ultraman yardstick. “Everybody knows there is no worldwide fame of it,” said Kotland. “Who even dares to come here and attempt to do this race has a huge inner strength. When you get one of those hard days, you just have to dig so deep. I think that’s why you don’t see people not finish Ultraman.”

Indeed, Suzy Degazon, one-armed Jason Lester, Marty Raymond, and Scott Gower all suffered painful jellyfish stings and soldiered on. Kelly Duhig of Australia was hit harder and required medical attention and had to drop out.
As it worked out, Alexandre Ribeiro had the race of his life and came within eight minutes of Holger Spiegel’s 1998 course record. With the overall race in hand, he let Miro Kregar race ahead with 10km to go to claim the best run of the day. Kregar had to be happy. His 6:14:16 run beat his personal best by 13 minutes and was the fifth fastest in the race’s history. “It was my best race ever – at age 43! I think I won it training on the hills near Rio de Janeiro – Teresopolis, Itaipava, Petropolis. Some days I train 11 hours there.” O’Keefe took great satisfaction in his fourth straight second place finish – “My cadets now know I did a job. Second place? It’s a delightful confirmation!” That last minute sprint away from his running partner was not an unfriendly abandonment after 45 miles of good company. The surge gave Kregar a 3-minute advantage on Kotland for a podium slot. And if he had run harder, O’Keefe was just another 3 minutes ahead in second place. Ribeiro’s 6:15:32 run was a PR by 23 minutes and a crowning achievement made possible, he says, by peace of mind.
“I have two ex-wives now,” he says. “Only this year there is peace. Now I take full responsibility for my son Kailani, who was on my crew, and my two other children. I work hard coaching 100 athletes, teaching spin classes, and guiding other triathletes. I take full responsibility for my family and my sport – I paid for myself and my crew and my son to come here to the race I love.”

Even when he lay on a bench at the finish line for two hours, ice packs on his neck, legs, and torso, Kotland was discouraged. “Some people take victory and they learn from it a lot, said Kotland. “But I usually take the defeats to motivate me even more. That’s my personality. That’s what makes me stronger. I will look at this race and figure out what went wrong and I will be back next year motivated to have a great race.”

Women’s winner Shanna Armstrong might have been disappointed when two-time Ultraman winner Monica Fernandes pulled out with the flu. But instead, she and Peter Mueller romped through the run cracking jokes, trading gossip, and goofing on friends like Josef Ajram, humming the theme from “Jaws” when they passed him on the run.
“Some people think only competition can motivate you,” said the 34-year-old Armstrong. “It’s the good energy that gets me to the finish line, not trying to jack me up by telling me that somebody’s two minutes back or two minutes ahead. No! We’re all family. I need positive stuff. Not people saying we’re going to get you!”
Armstrong says it’s not the thrill of victory that brings her back every year – it’s the Ultraman family. “I know some day somebody is going to show up and beat me. I’m ready for that. But no matter what, I’m coming back for 20 dadgum years. I’ll be a wrinkled old prune, but they’ll never get rid of me.”


Alexandre Ribeiro wins his 3rd, Shanna Armstrong her 5th Ultraman Hawaii 

Written by: Timothy Carlson
Date: Mon Dec 01 2008

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Alexandre Ribeiro of Brazil won his third Ultraman title and Shanna Armstrong of Texas won a record fifth Ultraman women’s crown with fast runs to consolidate leads they established on the first two days of competition in the 24th edition of the 320-mile, three-day triathlon stage race held on the Big island of Hawaii.

Ribeiro and third place overall Miro Kregar of Slovenia broke free from the specter of 1997 Ultraman champion Peter Kotland and his record 5:33:57 double marathon, set 11 years ago, at the half-marathon mark. The duo finished the first marathon in 2:57, establishing a 3-minute lead on a struggling Kotland. Kregar then went on to record the 5th fastest run in Ultraman history, 6:14:16, with Ribeiro following with the 6th fastest Ultraman double marathon in 6:15:32.

Kotland blew sky-high at Mile 32, gutting out a painful but honorable 7:33:20 run to take fourth place overall, just three minutes behind Kregar.

Ribeiro, following Ultraman wins in 2003 and 2005, finished in a PR of 21:49:38, the third fastest in Ultraman’s 24-event history, 8 minutes 16 seconds behind Holger Spiegel’s 1998 event record. Tony O’Keefe, the race leader after Day 1, and second place after Day 2, closed with a fourth-best 6:46:58 marathon to finish in 22:31:54 and take his fourth Ultraman runner-up result.

Armstrong, who scored the second fastest Day 2 bike split Saturday, ran a PR 8:17:13 double marathon, the 5th-fastest women’s run in Ultraman history, breaking her Ultraman overall finish PR by 18 minutes and scoring the second-fastest women’s overall finish ever in 26:25:03. Suzy Degazon of Puerto Rico finished with a 10:01:57 run to take second women’s finish in 31:23:52. First time Ultraman starter Catherine Paulson finished with an 11:15:10 run to take third woman in 33:01:34.

24th Ultraman World Championship
November 28-30, 2008
The Big Island, Hawaii
S 6.2 mi/ B 90 mi./ B 171.4 mi./ R 52.4 mi.

Final Results


1. Andre Ribeiro (BRA) Swim 3:12:00 (7) Bike 1&2 12:22:06 (1) Run 6:15:32 (2) 21:49:38
2. Tony O’Keefe (CAN) Swim 3:04:06 (6) Bike 1&2 12:40:40 (3) Run 6:46:58 (4) 22:31:51
3. Miro Kregar (SLO) Swim 3:19:53 (16) Bike 1&2 13:06:00 (5) Run 6:14:16 (1) 22:35:24
4. Peter Kotland (CZE) Swim 3:19:53 (12) Bike 1&2 12:45:30 (4) Run 7:33:20 (5) 23:38:48
5. Carlos Conceicao (BRA) Swim 3:29:27 (14) Bike 1&2 14:11:42 (9) Run 6:46:28 (3) 24:27:17
6. Erik Seedhouse (CAN) Swim 2:55:53 (3) Bike 13:37:16 (7)) Run 8:03:59 (7) 24:37:08
7. Josef Ajram (ESP) Swim 3:35:03 (16) Bike 12:31:50 (2) Run 8:33:45 (11) 24:40:38
8. Scott Gower (USA) Swim 3:03:39 (5) Bike 1&2 13:56:03 (8)Run 8:24:46 (10) 25:24:28
9. Peter Mueller (SUI) Swim 3:14:33 (10) Bike 1&2 14:33:18 (10) Run 8:17:14 (9) 26:05:05
10. Richard Roll (USA) Swim 2:41:28 (2) Bike 1&2 14: 51:42 (12) Run 9:00:32 (15) 26:33:42


1. Shanna Armstrong (USA) Swim 3:02:44 (1) Bike 1&2 15:05:06 (1) Run 8:17:13 (1) 26:25:03
2. Suzy Degazon (USA) Swim 4:59:08 (3) Bike 1&2 16:22:47 (2) Run 10:01:57 (2) 31:23:52
3. Catherine Paulson (USA) Swim 4:37:33 (2) Bike 1&2 16:52:33 (3) Run 11:16:11 (3) 32:48:22
DNF Leslie Holton (USA) Swim 5:46:58 (4) Bike 1 DNF Run 11:48:12 (4) :


Alexandre Ribeiro, Shanna Armstrong blaze bike to lead Ultraman after Day 2

Written by: Timothy Carlson
Date: Sat Nov 29 2008

HAWI, Hawaii – Alexandre Ribeiro and Shanna Armstrong parlayed near-record bike legs to take second day leads at the 24th Ultraman World Championship Saturday in Hawaii.

Two-time Ultraman Hawaii champion Ribeiro of Brazil emerged from a four-man bike breakaway on a 3,000-foot climb to Waimea to seize the overall lead on the second day of the 320-mile, three-day, stage race triathlon that circumnavigates the Big Island of Hawaii on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Ribeiro’s 7:20:41 split on the 171.4-mile second day course from Volcanoes National Monument through Hilo and over the Kohala Mountains to Hawi was the second-fastest time ever for the Ultraman Hawaii second day bike – just 28 seconds shy of 2000 winner Uros Velepec’s stage record.

Buoyed by a dry ride from the rain forest of Volcanoes, mild temperatures through Hilo, and a tailwind up the 3,564-foot climb to Waimea and over the Kohalas, Ribeiro, three-time Ultraman runner-up Tony O’Keefe, 1997 winner Peter Kotland and up-and-coming 2007 Ultraman 7th-place finisher Josef Ajram of Spain teamed up on a high speed assault on the race.

Once the first serious climb of the day started, first day leader O’Keefe was the first to fall back. Then Ajram, a 30-year-old stockbroker who finished 24th of 800 entries in this year’s six day Marathon des Sables, and who set the fastest first day bike split here at Ultraman, also fell off the torrid pace set by Ribeiro and Kotland. Just two miles into the first climb, Ribeiro took the lead, which grew from 15 to 30 to 45 seconds and then 2 minutes by Waimea. After climbing the spine of the windswept Kohalas like a mountain goat, Ribeiro charged the steep downhill into the finish like Formula 1 countryman Ayrton Senna and arrived in Hawi with an 8 minute 46 second advantage on the day over Kotland’s ride. Ajram arrived 2 minutes 24 seconds later, with O’Keefe another 4 minutes 37 seconds back with the fourth fastest split of the day.

With the ominous double marathon from Hawi to Kailua-Kona looming on the final day, Ribeiro holds a 10 minute 50 second lead over O’Keefe, and a 31 minute 22 second margin over the dangerous Peter Kotland, who ran an astounding 5:33:57 double marathon to win the 1997 event. Ajram, an enthusiastic newcomer to the Ultraman world, lies 4th, just 65 seconds back of Kotland, with Slovenia’s Miro Kregar another 14 minutes 35 seconds back of Ajram in 5th. Erik Seedhouse, the 1996 winner and the only other man to break 6 hours on the Ultraman Hawaii double marathon, raced an undistinguished 7th-best 8:15:58 bike to hold 6th overall, one hour behind Ribeiro.
Kotland, who is returning to Ultraman after an 11-year absence, seemed cool and calm facing his 31-minute deficit to the obviously on-form Ribeiro. “You obviously go as hard as you can, but I didn’t want to go over my anaerobic threshold (162 HR), or it would take all of the starch out of my legs for tomorrow,” said Kotland, who estimated he might run as fast as 5:45 and felt he could guarantee a sub 6-hour effort if all goes well. If so, Ribeiro has his work cut out for him, since his Ultraman PR run is 6:38:50 finishing second last year to three-time Ultraman champion Jonas Colting of Sweden. “I have been training hard for this race and I think I can run faster,” said Ribeiro. “But my strategy will be to stay behind the good runners – Peter Kotland, Tony O’Keefe (6:34:07 best at the 2004 Ultraman) Miro Kregar (6:27:58 PR last year) and Erik Seedhouse (5:57:36 PR in 1996) and see how things are going before I make a move.”

Sunday’s finale will answer several questions: Can Kotland at age 36 come close to his miracle run of 1997? Has Ribeiro’s fitness increased at age 43 to shut the door on a resurgent Kotland? Can Tony O’Keefe summon another PR run to take another runner-up Ultraman finish at age 47? Has Josef Ajram come of age at 30 to summon a 6:30 run it would take to make the podium? Can Erik Seedhouse overcome his slow bikes – a result of a 9-year hiatus from two-wheel training – with a back-to-the-future sub 6-hour run to make a charge at the win? Or, on the order of miracles, could Alexandre Ribeiro summon a 6:07 run to break Holger Spiegel’s 1998 course record? Could Peter Kotland conjure up a 5:36 run to do the same?

In the women’s race, four-time Ultraman winner and 2006 RAAM solo champion Shanna Armstrong of Lubbock, Texas rode a blazing 8:59:36 for the 171.4 mile bike leg – just 4 minutes and 7 seconds slower than Monica Fernandes’ 2000 split record. Combined with her 9:08:14 first day total, Armstrong’s two-day total of 18:07:50 gives her a 3 hour 14 minute 5 second lead over Puerto Rico Suzy Degazon going into the final day. Ultraman rookie Katie Poulson lies just 11 minutes 17 seconds behind the 11-year Ultraman veteran Degazon, who cannot lose focus on the anvil-hot Queen K tomorrow


In typical Ultraman fashion, the slings and arrows of outrageous aerobic calamities hit the race again this year, albeit in moderate fashion. On day one, Australian Kelly Duhig was hit by jellyfish stings and withdrew to seek treatment at a Kona hospital. Also hit, for the second time, was Suzy Degazon, who continued through the pain to finish Day One and Two in line for her fifth runner-up Ultraman finish. In a not unusual first-timer’s confusion, Brazilian Beto Lopes Dias missed a turnoff after 50 miles and inadvertently cut off 9.1 miles of the bike course. In a forgiving but fair judgment call, race director Jane Bockus calculated the 9-miles at the slowest estimated rate of 12 miles per hour and doubled that. So, Lopes Dias remains in 17th place of 33 remaining contenders.


Tony O’Keefe and Shanna Armstrong lead Ultraman Day One Written by: Timothy Carlson
Date: Fri Nov 28 2008

VOLCANOES NATIONAL MONUMENT, Hawaii – Lieutenant Colonel Tony O’Keefe, the Director of the Royal Canadian Military College, made a statement Friday that he wasn’t satisfied with his three straight runner-up finishes from 2002 to 2004 and led a tough field of veterans after the first day of the Ultraman World Championship.

O’Keefe combined a 6th best 10 kilometer swim of 3:04:06 and a third-best 90-mile bike for a first day total of 8:08:21 that led runner-up Alexandre Ribeiro of Brazil by 5 minutes 4 seconds on a cool and vog-filled day.

“I think I’m a little older than the rest of the guys today,” said O’Keefe, who is 47, while close Ultraman rivals like 2nd place Ribeiro is 43, 3rd place Seedhouse is 44, and 5th place Miro Kregar of Slovenia is 46. “And I’m just a little stronger mentally, not physically, than before. I think I’ve developed a good attitude. No matter what goes on, I don’t get down on myself.”

Erik Seedhouse, the 1996 champion and a scientist with the Canadian space program who was coming back from a 9 year retirement from his pro triathlon career, combined a third-best 2:55:53 swim, a sixth-best 5:21:18 bike for a third-best 8:17:11 finish that left him 3 minutes and 46 seconds behind Ribeiro.

“I never touched my bike for nine years until I picked it up this spring,” said Seedhouse. “I was pretty pleased with myself. I was right in the groove all day. I was in the big ring two-thirds of the way up the last 4,000-foot climb. At the end, I let Ribeiro go because I didn’t want to blow.” Seedhouse, who won the 1996 edition of Ultraman with a second-best-ever 5:57 double marathon on the last day, said that getting back in competitive shape took a lot of dedication he wanted to honor on race day. “I tried to suck it up as much as possible,” said Seedhouse. “When things got tough, I reminded myself of all the miserable training sessions I went through up in Canada – I rode through a complete whiteout in a snowstorm May 20. And two weeks ago I was cycling in a snowstorm with a wind chill of minus six degrees. I tried to use all those memories as fuel every single pedal stroke of that climb.”

O’Keefe lauded Ribeiro, who outdueled the Canadian for the 2003 Ultraman victory, for pushing him Friday. “Alexandre is an inspiration to me. He’s a gentleman and a model athlete and does everything with a lot of class.”

“Yes I beat him in 2003,” said Ribeiro. “But the next year he came back to Ultraman and raced second to Jonas Colting but he ran the same time I did to beat him. I think he’s still getting better.”

Staying calmly in the shadows you find when you start out in 6th place on day one of Ultraman was the man igniting the big prerace speculation. Peter Kotland at 36 is still a decade younger than Friday’s leading rivals. But 11 years ago he became the stuff of legend when he ran an astonishingly fast 5:33:57 double marathon (2:46 pace) to win the Ultraman. On Friday Kotland seemed to cruise to a 12th-best 3:19:58 swim, 25 minutes slower than he swam in 1996, then biked a 4th best 5:18:03, six minutes slower than his 1997 first day ride, for an overall first day time of 8:38:01. The man from the Czech Republic who now calls Moore, South Carolina home wasn’t fazed a bit.

“Halfway through the swim, I got cramps in my feet and calves,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do but slow down and try to relax. Once I got on the bike, I felt really good. I felt really strong the whole way, but I kept my heart rate in check because tomorrow (a 171.4 mile bike with 7,600 feet of climbing) is a big day and I didn’t want to kill my legs.” Despite his 31-minute deficit after day one, Kotland was actually encouraged. “Back in 1997, I was 45 minutes behind John Nickles after Day 1, and 48 minutes back after Day 2. If my legs stay strong Saturday, I feel confident I can run under 6 hours and I think that would give me a good shot to win.”

Shanna Armstrong, the Lubbock, Texas ultra endurance star, made a definitive move toward an unprecedented 5th Ultraman women’s title with a first day finishing time of 9:08:14, which gave her a 2 hour 16 minute 8 seconds lead over her closest pursuer, 11-time Ultraman Hawaii competitor Suzy Degazon of Puerto Rico. While Degazon set a fast PR last year, adverse currents that slowed everyone on the swim made things even more uncomfortable and the result was a disastrous 4:59:18 swim, which left her third woman and 21 minutes behind Ultraman rookie Katie Paulson. Degazon took back second place with a 6:25:14 bike that put her 5inutes 31 seconds ahead of Paulson.

Peter Kotland, Shanna Armstrong favored in 24th Ultraman World Championship new

Written by: Timothy Carlson
Date: Thu Nov 27 2008

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Some call it a race. Others call it an elaborate way to work off Thanksgiving turkey. Some say it’s the best way to time travel back to the origins of the sport.

Ultraman was born in 1983 as a sacred triathletic circumnavigation of Hawaii’s Big Island. In a post-Thanksgiving celebration, acolytes of extreme aerobic obsession begin at dawn Friday with a 10km swim from Kailua Pier to Keauhou Bay. Then they hop on their bikes and ride 90 miles south, culminating with a 4,000-foot climb from sea level up to Volcanoes National Monument. Day two is a 171.4-mile bike from Volcanoes, through Hilo, up a 3,000-foot hill to Waimea and the Parker Ranch, then up and over the spine of the 3,400-foot Kohalas and down to Hawi. Day three is a double marathon on the Queen K Highway from Hawi to the old airport at Kailua-Kona. When it’s over, contestants have covered 320 miles, 12 climate zones, and dipped into reserves of strength and character they might never reach anywhere else on earth.

Unlike the booming Ironman crowd, Ultraman is an intimate time travel trip to the way things were at the beginning of our sport. Race director Jane Bockus, who nurses this event like a precious child, limits the entrants to 35 persons selected as much for character and spirit as for talent and draws entrants from all continents. Each entrant must have their own support crew with van, just like the original Ironman events, thus leading to the limited fields that travel on the scenic, narrow Big Island highways.

Past winners include stars like Scott Molina, Gordo Byrn and Jonas Colting. But the heart of Ultraman consists of a special caravan of mostly anonymous ultra distance gypsies who bond and spread the aloha spirit through their aerobic pilgrimage.

Still, despite all the aloha, ohana and kokua that Ultraman emanates, and the absolute lack of prize money, Ultraman has more often than you’d suspect broken out into a furious battle. In 2006, Jeff Landauer whipped Navy SEAL David Goggins by 10 minutes. In 1999, Canada’s Tracy Preston held off a furious charge by Cecilia Ramos by a razor-thin for Ultraman margin of 45 seconds. In 2004, ITU long distance World Championship silver medalist Jonas Colting was so zonked by his first double marathon he missed breaking Holger Spiegel’s 1998 course record by 27 seconds. And, in the ultimate victory of chivalry over the competitive killer instinct, Woody Woodruff stopped during the 1986 Ultraman to give a prolonged kiss to Ironman Hawaii race director Valerie Silk and lost the win by five seconds.

This year, with the withdrawal of 2-time Ultraman champion Monica Fernandez due to the flu, undefeated four-time Ultraman women’s champion Shanna Armstrong of Lubbock Texas, is a heavy favorite to add another notch to her Ultraman title belt. In contrast, with the absence of three-time champion Jonas Colting of Sweden, the men’s contest seems wide open. The most intriguing aspect to the battle is the return of two legendary champions after a decade’s absence.

Peter Kotland, born in the Czech Republic, honed in his youth as a cross country skier, and a pro triathlete for 12 years, achieved cult status in 1997 by closing the three-day Ultraman with an astounding 5:33:57 double marathon. That’s back-to-back 2:46:58 marathons, a pace good enough to win the world famous Comrades’ Marathon in South Africa and unheard of at the end of two and a half Ironmans. Now, at age 36, Kotland is back and thinks he can break the Ultraman race record of 21:41:22 set in 1998 by Holger Spiegel — if conditions are right.

Erik Seedhouse of Great Britain, the 1996 champion, the only other man besides Kotland to break the 6-hour mark for the final day’s double marathon, is also back. Eight years older than Kotland and retired from pro triathlon since 1999, Seedhouse has more modest goals – breaking 7 hours for the run.