By Alix J. Shutello
Every fall, a group of kindred spirits come together at Lake Anna, Va., to compete in Double, Triple, and Quintuple Ironman-distance races. This year, my goal was to be at the race as much as possible so I could focus on the Quintuple; but as in previous years, I kept my eyes on some of the other athletes – many of whom I met at this very race venue.
The Quintuple, as it’s commonly known, is a week-long race (yes, a week!). The traditional form of the Quintuple is a continuous format, where athletes swim, bike and run the equivalent of five Ironman-distance races. One Ironman-distance race is a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run; athletes who complete the Quintuple swim 12 miles (19km), bike 560 miles (900 km) and run 131 miles (211 km).
On October 8, 2016, eighteen athletes from Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. entered Lake Anna on a beautiful autumn day under perfect conditions; the water was not too cold and the ambient temperature was in the 50s. Of the 18 competitors, 12 were racing a continuous Quintuple, versus those who completed consecutive Ironman-distance races each day for 5 days (1x5s). Those athletes completing the consecutive 1×5 Ironman-distance races, included Dolph Hoch IV and Christine “Kiwi” Couldrey.
Some claim that consecutive Quintuples are harder, arguing that it’s more demanding to complete an Ironman distance, sleep, get up and race, and repeat that for five days in a row, versus a continuous Quintuple where competitors keep going on little-to-no sleep, many times finishing in four days.
“The daily grind of doing consecutive Ironman-distance races is more difficult for mental and physical reasons,” explained Hoch. “Going to bed and getting up day after day knowing you need to complete another Ironman-distance is tough. So, there is the mental aspect of preparing to do this, plus the fact that your body starts to tighten up; so each day that you have to begin again, your body fights you more every time.”
Nonetheless, Couldrey and Hoch finished the quintuple over the five days. At the end of the week, the following
competitors profiles and finish times are listed below
David Jepson (first place male) 104:47:39
Johan Desmet 107:19:21
Michael Ward 115:21:10
Zach Franklin 117:44:24
Shanda Hill (first place female) 117:46:42
Erik Hanley 129:41:48
Al Manning 130:07:57
Mark Blore 130:29:52
Will Turner, DNF (Did Not Finish)
Jerome Libecki, DNF
Kay Scott, DNF
Angie Wise, DNF
Quintuple Winner, David Jepson
Jepson is a regular at Lake Anna, whether he’s competing or not; he and his wife Amanda visit each year as part of a traditional trip.
“Lake Anna is a really special place for us. We have been there seven times now, and the annual trip from Colorado has become something we really look forward to,” Jepson said.
Jepson, who completed the Double Anvil in 2014, eyed the quintuple for years, but injury and long recovery times held him back.
“I saw a number of folks I raced against move up and compete at longer distances, so I wanted to see if I could do it,” he said. “I have always had more trouble than others recovering from races, and I knew that would be a challenge. I’m not sure if that’s just because of my build, or if I’m just doing it wrong!”
Despite what he may have thought about his ability to compete, Jepson won the Quintuple in 104:47:39 (4.3 days)
Jepson, just three hours in front of Johan Desmet of Cummings, Ga.
Coming off the swim, Jepson held a comfortable lead; but during the bike portion, he suffered a common condition called Shermer’s neck, a common condition for long-distance cyclists where the neck muscles weaken over time and make it difficult for athletes to raise their heads.
“I have never had that issue with my neck before, and it was brutal. With every passing lap, I could see less and less. I lost a ton of time in the last 12 hours of the bike portion because I had to keep stopping to give my muscles a break. When I would try to lift my head, it took so much effort that I couldn’t see straight. The only workaround I could figure out was to turn my head to the side and just try to look as far out in front as I could. If I hadn’t been so close to the end of the bike, I would have had to stop for an extended period of time.”
This is why having a support crew is critical. “The last two laps of the bike were at night, and Amanda, my wife, actually drove behind me to light up the road. At that point, I couldn’t really see in front of me; I was relying on the fact that I’d ridden the same patch of road 99 times already, I kinda knew where I was going,” he said.
Shermer’s neck has potentially lingering effects; so not only did this condition slow Jepson’s progress on the bike, it also could have affected his running. Fortunately, he was well enough to run – but not without pain.
“I remember thinking to myself that once I got off the bike, my neck would be fine. My neck and back ached for probably the first 4 or 5 hours of the run, but then the muscles started to relax, as they were not really being used as much as they were on the bike,” he explained.
Jepson’s battle with Shermer’s neck almost cost him the first-place finish; he got out of the water two hours before Desmet, the second-place finisher, but lost six hours on the bike, where Desmet gained on him. Jepson pulled ahead again during the run, where Desmet slowed.
Reflecting on his achievement, Jepson was pleased to have overcome the challenge, but has no plans to repeat the performance. “Overall, I’d say it’s done, and that will definitely be the last quintuple for me. Kirby and his crew put on a great race, as you know; but 703 is just too far for me. I’ll stick to doubles and triples from here out!”
Of the race coverage, Jepson said, “I was really impressed with all the folks who came out to recover the race. The article in the NY Times took an unexpected angle, but I was appreciative of the fact they, Endurance Sports & Fitness Magazine and the film crew were there and interested in the races. Steve Kirby, the race director, has a passion for putting on an excellent race. The amount of dedication and time he invests for a relatively small event is
Shanda Hill of Canada is an enthusiastic runner with a lot of energy. At 34, she has completed a number of ultra races in the United States and in Canada. Growing up, she did not have a television at home; so when asked if she would like to try an Ironman, she signed up more or less sight-unseen. “I didn’t even own a bike when I signed up for my first Ironman,” she said.
Hill, who came in first female for the Quintuple, was in high spirits during the race. On the second to last day of the competition, Hill, three marathons in, was running strong; I caught up and ran with her for a couple laps.
Hill grew up in a relatively conservative household; her parents were very interested in utilizing natural products. Hill noted that she does not use ibuprofen or other painkillers unless she absolutely has to – and like many athletes competing in the Quintuple, her legs got quite sore with the completion of each lap.
Quintuple Competitor, Al Manning
I walked a few laps with Al Manning, (58) a veteran endurance athlete who’s competed at Lake Anna a couple of times. To Manning, eating efficiently on the bike is a high priority. In order to do so while keeping both hands on his handlebars, he created a makeshift “feed bag” which is retrofit to his bike.
Manning has competed in several ultra triathlons in his racing career, including a few ultramarathons. He has learned a lot from his many years of experience.
“I need to be able to keep both hands on my handlebars at all times,” Manning said. “This is why I created the feed bag, which rests over my handlebars so that when I take a slice of pizza or a hotdog, I can just lay it in the basket and eat it as I need to.”
Manning travels with two bikes; the second bike is to be used only in an emergency. “In the off-chance that I have a mechanical problem I cannot fix, I have the second bike here as a backup,” he said. “Oftentimes athletes have a lot of trouble with their bikes; and if they have serious mechanical problems, such as a chain breaking, they may need to wait up to an hour or more for somebody to come help them – and that will really set them back in the race.”
When it comes to food, Manning has a set regimen of what he likes and doesn’t like. “I have learned from experience,” he said, “there are some foods that you simply cannot buy in stores; you need to buy online.”
For Jerry Libecki III, completing the Quintuple was all about having a goal. It became an obsession.
“I followed Andy Weinburg, Frank Fumich and others who completed the Quintuple in previous years,” said Libecki “I decided to give it a try. “
Libecki is the epitome of many endurance athletes who’ve migrated to longer races.
“I’ve never signed up for a half or full marathon – I went straight to the 50k and 50-miler races,” he said.
After completing the swim, bike and four of the five marathons, Libecki had gone far enough.
“If I’d finished, it would have been great; but I am perfectly satisfied with the DNF,” said Libecki in a post-race interview.
Libecki now has his eye on the Deca Triathlon in Switzerland, a 100-mile stand-up paddleboard race and 350-mile marathon in the Arctic Circle.