Mike Coughlin takes the Ultraman World Championship
Guelph, Ont.’s Mike Coughlin captured the 2015 Ultraman World Championship, covering 515 km over three days (Nov. 27–29) on the Big Island of Hawaii. We caught up with Coughlin to find out about his big win and what it takes to compete at the Ultraman distance.
First of all, what’s your personal history with triathlon and how did it lead to competing at Ultraman?
After falling in love with triathlon at my first sprint event in 2001, I followed the typical agegrouper’s progression/obsession of pushing my limits in both distance and speed. I finished my first Ironman in 2003, qualified for Kona in 2006 and achieved second in my age group at the Canadian nationals (Olympic Distance) in 2009. More than results, however, what I have enjoyed the most about my time in triathlon has been the challenging training and racing experiences in beautiful locations with great people. Witnessing the 2005 Ultraman World Championships as a support crew member I realized I had found my race. I took several years before I felt ready to race Ultraman, and several more to figure out how to win it, but the journey has been incredible.
Take us through your world championship race. Did all go to plan?
One thing I have learned about Ultraman is that it never goes to plan. I did not swim as well as I expected and I exited the water behind my main competition on the bike. In retrospect, this was a blessing because I had the opportunity to pass them rather than just try to stay away. Passing people on the bike has a psychological impact, particularly in a race where there is a second bike ride on Day 2. I gambled with an aggressive pacing strategy to maximize the impact and set the tone for the weekend. It worked and although I was shattered at the Day 1 finish line, I had the fastest bike split by 28 minutes and a 21-minute lead. A big part of being successful in Ultraman is recovering well between stages. I’m told that I looked the most exhausted of all the top finishers at the end of Day 1, so I had my work cut out for me. My crew was incredible at putting me back together and making sure I kept eating and drinking all afternoon and evening. I even woke up in the middle of the night to eat. That set me up well for a fantastic Day 2 bike ride, where I was able to increase my lead despite getting two flat tires and a solid Day 3 run where I gave a bit of time back to my closest competition, but kept the lead overall to get the win.
What did you learn from your previous attempt at the Ultraman?
After my 2011 race, I took extensive notes while the experience was still fresh in my head and put them all to good use. Ultraman, and the Hawaii course in particular, is very cognitively demanding and being able to visualize the course and conditions is a huge help. I knew which sections of the course were decisive, as well as where I could relax a bit more.
Do you use a power meter or heart rate monitor?
I use a heart rate monitor, a power meter and a GPS watch in training and racing. At Ultraman, these tools helped me calibrate my racing strategy to be aggressive without being reckless and kept me motivated to maintain a strong effort to the end of each stage. One of the few mistakes I made during the weekend was not recharging my watch fully for Day 3 and having it die at the 58-km mark on the run.