An Elite Fraternity: Tri Toppa Quint

An Elite Fraternity: Tri Toppa Quint

An Elite Fraternity: Tri Toppa Quint

By John Boel

A world championship race was held recently that''s so tough, only 25 people entered. It''s so long, you need to be a mathematician to fully comprehend it. It''s so outrageous, the training schedule borders on the insane.

And it just so happens, a local athlete finished seventh, with the fastest time ever for a U.S. citizen.

The prefix “tri” means three. “Quintuple” means five. So a quintuple triathlon is... well... let me explain it this way. You know that crazy race they dreamed up 26 years ago called the Ironman Triathlon, where the athletes train all year to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a 26-mile marathon, all in one day? Now, imagine multiplying all those distances by five. What you get is the World Championship Quintuple Iron Triathlon.

I know a guy who had quintuple heart bypass surgery once. I never knew a guy who could do a quintuple iron distance triathlon, until I met Todd Heady.

You don''t just decide one day to do something like this. Heady has done a couple of Ironman distance tris. Then he moved on to double iron triathlons, and he won those races.

Now I don''t know about you, but I just did my first Ironman. And if race officials had instructed me at the finish line to turn around and go back and do everything again, I might have committed a double murder. But Todd ponied up the $750 entry fee (nice to see it wasn''t five times the $400 dollar single Ironman fee, which is more than double the usual half-ironman fees, but I digress), then he started training. But how do you train for a race that will take days to complete, involving a 12-mile swim, 560-milebike and 131-mile run? This is the amazing part. Heady basically did an Ironman every weekend, all summer.

That''s right. Fridays he swam for at least two hours. Saturdays he biked over 100 miles. And on the Sabbath days, he kicked back and ran at least 20 miles. For a mid-week break, on Wednesdays, he would do a half-iron. Ironically enough, Heady says the key to his training regimen was “rest.”

The Race Begins

Where in the world do you host a race that covers over 700 miles? How about in one small spot in Mexico ? All the swimming is in a pool. All the biking and running are around the same park loop, just over a mile long. That''s right… around and around and around and around… 471 laps for the bike… and 111 laps for the run. So picture this whole thing taking place at someplace like the Seneca Park 1.2 mile loop.

The bad news with that situation is the obvious monotony. But the good news is your crew can keep an eye on you without having to travel all over the countryside.

“They had cooks on site the whole time,” Heady says. “Plenty of food for us. The medical staff was right there too.”

He started on a Sunday around lunchtime. Six and a half hours later he finished swimming 190 laps in a 50-meter pool.

Time to head out on the bike.

“I pretty much went through the bike without sleeping,” Heady says. “I took the lead on the bike. About halfway through it, I started having a serious pain in my knee. It got to the point where I could barely push down on the pedals.”

He made it through the 560-mile bike leg in just under 45 hours, which brings us to my biggest question: what is your sleep strategy in something like this?

“There were some French guys who barely slept at all. They basically slept while they were running. They were all over the road. They were pretty comical. The person who won it slept 20 minutes here and there. The person who came in second, from Brazil , if he stopped, he had like a pit crew. They massaged him and carried him to a hotel room and he slept two hours each day.”

Heady decided to sleep after finishing the bike, more than 50 hours now after starting the race. His knee was swollen so badly he couldn''t do anything anyway, so he iced it, took ibuprofen and slept for two and a half hours.

“Then I took off on the run,” he says. “I could not bend the knee at all but was able to run maybe 50 miles by swinging the leg around rather than bringing it straight through. But I was compensating so much that everything else went haywire. Then it became survival mode. My feet swelled up so bad, I had to cut the toes out of my shoes. Then I cut the sides out of my shoes. Only the heels and the section with the laces remained.”

And just think he only had about 80 more miles to run, or walk, or hobble.

The only thing worse than sleep deprivation may have been food deprivation. Remember, there are cooks on site, but Heady says the body can only absorb so much.

“We figure we burn about 35,000 calories doing this. Well, you can''t take that much in while you''re racing. Once you go this distance, the body starts to cannibalize. What happens is, your body starts eating away at the muscle and stuff. That''s what causes the swelling.”

Making it to the End

So let''s recap. Three days into this, Heady has not had three hours of sleep yet. He can''t bend his knee. His shoes consist of a heel and laces because his feet have swelled to the point where you can''t see his ankles. He''s been in serious pain for days. His body is eating itself up. And he''s one of the lucky ones.

“The worst are in the medical tent every couple hours getting treatment or IVs. You see world-class athletes crashed out on park benches because they can''t make it another half mile to their tent to fall asleep. But despite every set back or pain, only two of the 25 participants dropped out.”

After four days, 9 hours and 40 some minutes of this, Heady hobbled toward the finish line.

“At that point you''re thinking, this is the last time I have to go up this hill. This is the last time I''m going to see this. But it''s so ecstatic. It''s something you''ve set your mind to. You''ve trained so hard. Even though I didn''t do the time I planned on, it''s such an amazing accomplishment just to complete it.”

Is this the last time Heady will try something like this? Not hardly.

“Next year there is a Deca in France , and a 10 Ironman in 10 days in Mexico , so who knows what the future holds. It''s going to be a lot of fun finding out.”

Did you hear what he said? Deca means 10. I always thought the “decathlon” was the ultimate athletic test. I can''t wait to hear how the Deca Iron Triathlon goes. Now, let me get out my calculator and figure this out...

John Boel is a 41-time Emmy winning news anchor at WLKY-TV. He''s married, has two daughters, and is an avid runner and triathlete.

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