Swimming, biking and "Running on Faith": a new book by uber ultraman Jason Lester
Posted Aug 25 2010 7:00am
Editor's Note:Our friend and Uber Ultraman Jason Lester has a new book out. Why is Jason an Uber Ultraman? Because he's completed more Ironman races in one week than most of us will ever finish in a lifetime. This is an except from his new book, "Running on Faith". You can purchase the book HERE .
I had already swum more than five miles in the warm waters of Hawaii’s Kailua Bay when I felt the first sting hit me. No big deal. A pinprick. I can take that. Bring it on. Then a few more. Hmm. This might not be good. I looked up at Bree Wee, my assistance kayaker (and a pro triathlete herself), who had been with me the whole way, and said as calmly as I could, “There’s jellyfish around here—let’s move out a bit!”
When you’re on a long-distance swim, as in the first stage of the Ultraman, your kayaker is your guide and needs to know the currents on top of the water as well as under the water. Bree knows the waters of Kailua Bay as well as anyone; this is why I’d asked her to be my eyes for this race. I couldn’t afford to waste precious energy on navigation; I just wanted to keep my head down and keep moving.
Since I only have one arm to use in swimming, I have to use my legs to provide the extra horsepower, and that costs energy. I relied on Bree to keep me swimming in the right direction and to keep my energy level up with lots of verbal encouragement. She would yell things like, “You’re doing great!” and “You look awesome!” from time to time. Bree is an angel.
The whole triathlon is like that. Even though you’re racing alone, you’re never really alone. In the Ultraman race, a support team of at least two people accompanies each athlete over the entire course. In the Ultraman there are no aid stations and very few fans because the course is way too big. The members of your support crew are your cheerleaders, your aid workers, and your eyes and ears. As the athlete, you are in control of telling them what you need, and they are there to provide for you, care for you, and push you.
They are drill sergeants, psychologists, and nurses with one goal: to keep you pushing toward the finish line while preventing you from killing yourself. They supplement the work of a coach who has been overseeing your training regimen for the past year and helping you develop your race strategy and fine-tune your technique in swimming, running, and cycling. This is all necessary because you’re racing against the best of the best on the international triathlon circuit.
More than fifty thousand athletes complete an Ironman triathlon somewhere in the world each year. About 1,800 compete in the Ironman World Championship alone. But only 36 triathletes compete each year in the Ultraman World Championship. These are some of the best-trained, most talented, and mentally toughest extreme athletes on the planet. I was honored simply to be competing in the same field with them.
But at that moment, I was more concerned with what I could feel—more and more jellyfish stings, like little electric shocks running up and down my body. The emergency boat had circled around to us and warned us that there was a school of jellyfish ahead. Several swimmers had been attacked already, and one swimmer had been pulled from the water. The officials on the boat told us to go farther out to sea in order to go around the jellies, but as I was swimming, I could look ahead and see hundreds of them moving toward me. With each stroke, I would swat the water to push a few jellyfish away so I could clear a path to swim. I was using my good arm to push them away and kicking harder with my legs so I could keep moving forward. The emergency boat was right behind me, almost as if the crew was waiting to haul me out. The stings became more frequent; despite my efforts, I was swimming right into the middle of the jellies.
Bree saw the trouble brewing. She shouted back, “I’m trying to get you out of here, but there are more and more.” She was swatting the water with her paddle to clear a path for me, but a kayaker up ahead told her to stop; the motion was actually attracting more jellies. Bree started to sound worried, and that worried me. The rescue boat pulled alongside us. “Bring your swimmer to the right a little more,” someone on board said. The race staff would try to help us and all the other support teams steer the athletes out of the cloud of poisonous jellies.
All of a sudden—boom! Thousands of stings were hitting me simultaneously—both legs, my good arm, my neck, all over. Frantically I tried to pull them off me. I screamed, “Bree, I’m getting bit!” I could feel tentacles on my legs and my neck, hundreds of them. I was starting to lose feeling in my left arm because of the venom. I felt like I was suffocating as the jellies hit me.
The rescue boat was behind me, and the officials aboard saw me starting to panic. Within seconds they were beside me. I screamed, “Get me in the boat, hurry, they are all over my neck!” They pulled me in, and I lay on a bench seat, quivering from the venom. Someone began to rub a salve all over me to neutralize it, which provided incredible relief. I could hear the driver of the boat on the radio saying, “Swimmer down! Swimmer down! We are on our way in! He’s out of the race! We’re bringing him in!” I could hear the boat start up, about to pull away toward shore.
Wait just a minute, I thought. Bringing me in? This isn’t the way this race is supposed to end, at mile five! Please don’t let this happen to me. I could see it if I was hurt or was not able to continue because I didn’t train properly, but I have been training for this race the past twelve months. This was my time, I put in the work. Is this it? All this went through my head in a few seconds, but it felt like hours…
That was when I heard a voice in my head say, “Get up and get back into the water, and you’re back in the race. Don’t lie down here anymore.” Bree must have seen my face because she shouted, “He’s fine! Look at me, Jason! You’re fine! You’re going to be fine!” Her words brought me back to myself. I knew what I had to do. Before the rescue staff could stop me, I jumped off the side of the boat—right back into the same pool of jellyfish—and started swimming again. Let me tell you, I never kicked or pulled so hard in my life as I did for that last mile. My adrenaline was through the roof. I didn’t know how fast or slow I was going; all I remember was kicking nonstop for the next hour…
Soon Bree yelled, “There’s the turn into the bay, Jason. We are almost there!” As I looked up I could see that we had passed my buddy Mike Rouse and his kayaker, and then I heard the voice of Steve King, the race announcer, say, “And here he is, folks, he just hit the turn buoy!” I headed for shore. I was back in the race.