July 26, 2021

Into the Unknown: The Challenges of Xtreme Triathlons

With icy fjord swims, crew supported courses, and elevated mountain top finishes, Xtreme Triathlons are an adventurous take on the familiar swim, bike, and run race pattern. On today’s episode, join two TriDot athletes who have embraced, and conquered, numerous Xtreme Triathlons. The athletes share their most memorable experiences and lessons from racing through challenging elements. Learn how to prepare for harsh environments, the importance of your race crew, and how to mentally persevere through rough patches on race day.

TriDot Podcast .096 Into the Unknown:  The Challenges of Xtreme Triathlons Intro:  This is the TriDot podcast.  TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries.  Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain.  We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests.  Join the conversation and let’s improve together. Andrew Harley:  New episode of the TriDot podcast.  Thanks for joining us everybody.  Really cool show today.  I’m joined by two TriDot athletes who both have extensive experience in Xtreme Triathlon.  It’s not Ironman.  It’s not Xterra.  It’s Xtreme and it’s usually set in some of the most striking locations in the world that triathlon has to offer. So lots of great stories and insight to gain from these gentlemen today.  Our first athlete joining us today is Andrew Soderberg. Andrew is a TriDot Ambassador from Irvine, California.  He is an 11 time Ironman finisher well on his way to a legacy qualifying spot for Kona. He also regularly races tri’s on a tandem bike with his husband David.  Andrew has finished three Xtreme Triathlons and when he is not swimming, biking, and running he works full time as a AgriEntertainment Supervisor.  Andrew!  Welcome to the show. Andrew Soderberg:  Thank you for having me Andrew.  Long-time listener, first time guest.  Excited to be here. Andrew Harley:  Also joining us is TriDot athlete Jason Verbracken. Jason lives in San Diego, California where he works as a Pepsi sales rep.  He has been racing tri’s for five years, racking up nine Ironman, and four Xtreme Triathlon finish lines in his tri career.  While the rest of us are training for our more normal races, Jason is working towards BlackLake in Montenegro, over in Europe, which he is racing later this year and then I believe Jason you have Himilaya Man in 2020 in Nepal next year.  Is that correct? Jason Verbracken:  That is correct.  That’s my big one I’m really excited about.  Thanks for having me here today.  I really appreciate it. Andrew Harley:  Well, I’m Andrew the average triathlete.  Voice of the people and Captain of the middle of the pack.  As always we’ll roll through our warm up question, settle in for our main set conversation, and then wrap up with our cool down.  Lots of good stuff, let’s get to it! Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving. Andrew Harley:  Whether it’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, swimming the English Channel, or biking across your home country, there are numerous distance challenges related to our sports.  Guys, for our warm up question today…if you were to take on an endurance challenge of some kind, whether it’s a well-known one or one that you’re going to create from scratch yourself, what would you do and why?  Jason Verbracken, let’s go to you first on this. Jason:  Well Andrew, I always try to find the craziest, the one that scares me the most, gets my adrenaline pumping, gets me excited.  So my #1 that is on my list and very high up there is Uberman. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Uberman, but it’s a total of 556 miles, the swim is 21 miles.  You swim from Catalina Island to the shores of California and then you basically bike 400 miles from obviously the shores over to basically where the Badwater Run starts. Andrew Harley:  Okay, wow! Jason:  So you’ve got a 400 mile bike and there’s about 20,000 feet of elevation gain.  Then from there you run the 135 mile Badwater Course up to the top of Mt. Whitney. So 13,000 feet gain on the run. Andrew Harley:  So the rest of us, you know, we kind of do sprits and Olympics and half Ironman races to prepare ourselves for stepping up in distance to an Ironman.  You’re doing Xtreme Triathlons almost as a way to step up to the Uberman distance and Xtreme level.  Is that right? Jason:  That is correct.  It may be crazy, but that's just what gets my blood pumping and gets me excited. Andrew Harley:  Yep it is crazy.  No doubt.  Is that a multi-day event doing that kind of a distance? Jason:  Yes.  I may have all the stats down of what the fastest time is and I may already be calculating out what I would need to do, paces I would need to swim, bike, and run to break that record.  The record is five days and so many hours and minutes. Andrew Harley:  My man!  Well, I will gladly be rooting for you as you do that.  It sounds like a fun thing to cheer you on for.  It’s a little bit too far and a little bit too much elevation gain for my taste, but rooting you on.  Happy for you.  Andrew, what extreme challenge would you most want to take on? Andrew Soderberg:  Well, I think Jason and I are two of a kind because Uberman is like my end-all be-all race as well. Andrew Harley:  Is it!? Andrew Soderberg:  I do some swimming with a group here in Orange County and we had a couple of gals that were training to do the Catalina Strait Swim and I was like, “Man, I’ve got to get to that point if I ever want to do Uberman.”  Do that 21 mile swim across.  Other than an Uberman, I would love to do a solo RAAM, Race Across America.  I’d love to do that, but Uberman is kind of the end-all, be-all. Andrew Harley:  So Andrew, did you know– I mean you and Jason know each other and you guys have hung out a little bit.  Did you guys know that that for both of you was kind of the bucket list. Andrew Soderberg:  I did not.  I did not know that. Jason:  I had no clue he was going to say that. Andrew Soderberg:  But I guess I’ve got somebody to race for me to go do it right? Andrew Harley:  Yeah, no kidding!  If you guys pick the same year I’ll be more than happy to fly out and cheer you guys on and Sherpa and do whatever we can to help you towards that multi-day finish line.  My answer to this is not the Uberman going from Catalina Island to the top of Mt. Whitney. My answer, I actually– and this might be somewhat influenced by watching a lot of Tour de France lately, but I would love to go do one of the Haute Route Events.  There’s a company that puts on just kind of multi day cycling tours in Europe where you take on some of the mountain passes through the Pyrenees or through the Dolomites in Italy or through the Alps and they’ll put on three day, five day, seven day tours.  So you kind of get that Tour de France biking all day, every day for a few days in a row up and down these mountain pass kind of experience without having to be as good as those guys or as strong as those guys and I think it would be…coming from flat Texas, I’ve never gotten to climb mountains on a bike like that before.  I watch the tour every year.  I watch the big races in Italy and Spain and you see all those cyclists up there doing those cool mountain passes and I’ve just never gotten to do it before.  So that would be my pick.  I would love to fly to Europe and kind of take on one of those three or five day tours where I get to ride my bike in a really beautiful place, up some crazy climbs that I’ve never gotten to do before.  So that’s the answer for me.  We’re going to throw this question out on social media.  So make sure everybody that you are a part of the I AM TriDot Facebook group.  We have thousands of triathletes that are as crazy, or less crazy, or more crazy than the three of us who are going to have some great answers to this question.  So make sure you go find the post today asking you if you were to take on some sort of extreme distance challenge, which one would it be and why?  Can’t wait to hear your answers. Main set theme:  On to the main set.  Going in 3…2…1… TRIBIKE:  Today our main set is brought to you by TRIBIKE Transport.  If you are traveling for an upcoming race, let TRIBIKE Transport ensure that your bike gets there race-ready and stress-free.  TRIBIKE Transport is the original fully-assembled bike transport service for cyclists and triathletes.  I love traveling for a race and after registering, the first thing I do is book TRIBIKE Transport for my bike.  You start by using the easy online reservation form to guarantee space for your bike.  Then, about one week out from the race, you’ll drop off your bike fully-assembled at one of their conveniently-located partner shops.  Your bike will enjoy a smooth ride all the way to the race site where you will pick it up near T1 ready to race with your bike fit position untouched. Thousands of athletes have trusted their gear to TRIBIKE Transport and you can too.  Learn how by heading to TriBikeTransport.com and as a friend of the podcast, use coupon code TriDotPod for $25 off your next booking. Andrew Harley:  With icy fjord swims, crew supported courses, and elevated mountain top finish lines, Xtreme triathlons are an adventurous take on the familiar swim, bike, and run race pattern.  For some athletes they are a one and done bucket list experience, while others keep coming back for more.  Both of the guys joining me today have multiple Xtreme Tri’s on their resume, so we’ll hear plenty of stories, and learn from their experiences in the sport. So Jason, Andrew, before we get to the extreme stuff, you guys didn’t buy a bike and then go out and take on an Xtreme race the next day.  Let’s kind of hear your start in triathlon.  Andrew, how did you find tri? Andrew Soderberg:  So in 2012 I was probably about 60 pounds overweight. I actually was out in Los Angeles, I helped a friend move and I ended up at a Richard Simmons workout class.  And at the class Richard Simmons was super cool. He hung out with everybody, popped and answered questions.  He was asking me about my diet and I was of course very overweight and he all out slapped me and told me to get my diet in check.  It kind of was a wake-up call because I was a collegiate runner and I just kind of let everything go.  A friend of mine knew that I had run in college.  I swam in high school and I started biking in college because my college roommate was a cyclist for a local shop team, and a friend of mine asked me to do a triathlon with him.  So I said, “Sure.”  So I signed up for Galveston 70.3. Andrew Harley:  Okay. Andrew Soderberg:  So my first triathlon was Galveston 70.3 in April of 2013. Andrew Harley:  I certainly don’t think very many triathletes can say that they got their start in the sport because they were at a fitness class and got slapped by “THE” Richard Simmons.  Was it a pretty good slap across the face?  Is that where he gotcha? Andrew Soderberg:  He didn’t hold back.  He went straight across the face pretty hard. Andrew Harley:  Do you think that’s like just his go-to move when he’s talking to people at the end of class?  Does he like try to figure out, “Okay who am I going to slap today?” Andrew Soderberg:  He was a pretty saucy guy at the time.  It was a lot of fun.  It was all in good sport, so it was a lot of fun. Andrew Harley:  So Jason, I trust your triathlon journey did not involve being slapped by Richard Simmons.  Mine certainly didn’t.  That would be too much of a wild coincidence if both of you guys had that in common. So Jason, how did you get your start in the sport? Jason:  Well, I definitely didn’t get slapped by Richard Simmons.  I can promise you that.  It might have been a whole different outcome that Andrew had than Richard and I would have had if that would have happened.  But, mine was sitting around with some friends one night drinking, of course, and my buddy had just done a sprint triathlon and he was talking about it and bragging about it and as the night got on and the more adult beverages got consumed, it turned into me saying, “You didn’t do anything special.  I can beat you.”  So he was like, “Hey I know this race in like three months.”  So a bet was made of who was going to win and that was my– I literally went home and once I felt better I checked it out on the computer and found how to do a triathlon, what I needed, and basically just went to a 24-Hour Fitness every day and trained as hard as I could as fast as I could every single day until race day for three months straight.  And I ended up beating him. Andrew Harley:  Very good. Jason:  But after that– I didn’t invest anything really in it.  I didn’t buy a bike.  I borrowed a bike.  I borrowed bike shoes.  I borrowed a bike helmet.  I had a pair of old running shoes.  It was one and done.  It was over for me.  That was in 2012, that race.  So in 2016, I had always been going to the gym.  I’m kind of an active person, but not too active, and in 2016 I was like, “I really enjoyed doing that triathlon and I would like to change up my lifestyle.” So we were still really good friends and I said, “Hey I found this triathlon, let’s have a rematch.”  He was more than happy to rematch and this time I ended up buying a bike and started investing in it.  We raced in October of 2016 and I loved the challenge.  I loved everything about it.  I fell in love with the sport and so that was in October and I said, “How am I going to stay in this and really commit?”  November I signed up for IMAZ, Ironman Arizona, a month later after doing two sprint triathlons.  I signed up and said, “I’ve got a year to train.  I guess it’s time to get serious.” Andrew Harley:  Yeah.  So that’s I guess two more triathlons than some people do before jumping straight to their first Ironman.  Some people just go straight for it.  So at least you had that under your belt which is great.  Jason, where in that sequence did you find TriDot and start training with TriDot? Jason:  Literally after– I used that same program and technique for the rematch. My brain knew to get faster you’ve just got to train fast.  Hard every day.  I had no clue. I signed up for IMAZ and literally at the same time I stumbled– I was trying to read everything I could online, find everything.  I stumbled across TriDot and I liked everything how it was, everything was off of me, my times.  I had seen all the generic kind of plans on the internet.  Do this time for this long.  And I was like, “How is this going to help?  Everybody’s different.”  As soon as I saw TriDot I instantly was like, “Wow!  This program is for me.  It knows what’s going on.”  So I signed up, literally signed up for IMAZ and signed up for TriDot at almost the exact same time.  So I’ve been with TriDot since 2016. Andrew Harley: Alright, cool!  I think that’s super great to hear just kind of y’all’s backgrounds.  What I like about both of your backgrounds is everybody kind of starts in a similar place, right?  We all start in a place where we sign up for our first triathlon whether it’s because a celebrity fitness instructor slapped us, or because a friend of ours made us a bet around a drunken campfire.  We all sign up for one reason or another and we end up on that first sprint starting line.  Everybody’s tri journey kind of takes a different direction from there and there is no wrong direction.  There’s no bad direction.  There’s no direction that’s better than the others, but what’s cool about the two of you guys is that your tri journey has taken you into the extreme and these Xtreme triathlon races.  In the world of Xtreme Tri, there’s a handful of races to choose from.  There’s not dozens, hundreds, a lot like there are for more mainstream races.  Tell us, what are kind of the big ones and which ones have you guys done?  Andrew, let’s start with you. Andrew Soderberg:  So I think the big ones, of course Norseman is the mother of all Xtreme Tri’s. There’s Norseman.  There’s Alaskaman which was the first Xtreme Tri that I did. It was put on by Xtreme Endurance Events, Aaron Palaian.  He used to be out of Houston, but now he’s out of Michigan.  Fantastic races.  He also puts on Icelandman which I did.  He also put on Alohaman for one year.  I really think that Norseman is the big one, but Alaskaman was my first jump in.  It was really a– I saw an ad for it.  I think it was just an article.  I think it was on triathlete.com and I was like, “Man, that’s gotta hurt.  I want to do it.”  I just had to do it and when I saw when it was opening I was actually in Colorado Springs training for Ironman Boulder and we had seven people with computers open logged into my Apple account.  I was like, “I’m getting into this race.”  So everybody was just refreshing and as soon as it came live. I got in right away and a couple other people did too.  I said, “Nobody touch anything until I confirm that I got on the list.”  And I got in right away so I was very, very happy. Then the training started for it. It was just a little bit different animal.  I had done four fulls when I signed up for Alaskaman and I was already signed up for the next two.  My fifth one was Ironman Boulder 2016 which was my first race as a TriDot athlete. Then I did Ironman Maryland in October of 2016 which is where TriDot really started ticking. Andrew Harley:  So Andrew, your first extreme tri was Alaskaman. The latest one you did, I mean literally just days ago, you just finished Iceland Xtreme Triathlon for the second time. Which ones have you done in addition to Alaska and Iceland? Andrew Soderberg:  I’ve only done– I did Alaskaman in 2017, I did Iceland in 2019, and then I did Iceland again this year in 2020. Andrew Harley:  So Jason, which ones have you done? Jason:  I have done– Andrew and I are almost two peas in a pod. Andrew Harley:  Without even trying to be. Jason:  Yeah!  I mean, my first one was Alaskaman just like him, but he did it the first year.  I originally– as I was training for Ironman Arizona I saw the video of Andrew’s race and I don’t even know how I stumbled upon it and I saw this race in Alaska.  You know, running this mountain, in this freezing cold water, and the competitors coming out and they’re just shaking, and you need help changing their wetsuits.  I’m like– my jaw hit the ground and I was like, “What is this race?!”  And it was Alaskaman.  Again, this was August/Septemberish and Ironman Arizona was in November and I’m like, “Oh, I’m signing up for the next race.”  Then I was like, “Well, wait a second.  You haven’t even done one Ironman.”  Reality actually kind of slapped me in the face for once.  Usually, I’m just “Let’s sign up!  Let’s go!” But I was like, I hear so many stories of after you’ve done one Ironman you either love it or you’re never going to do another one in your life.  So I held of and I said, “You know what?  This isn’t for me right now.  Let me concentrate on my Ironman Arizona and then maybe…”  Because they only took 250 people and it was a lottery system.  So I’m like, “I’m not even entering.  I’m just going to wait until the following year in 2019 and go for it then.”  So I signed up for their newsletter and emails and after IMAZ all of a sudden beginning into the summer I got an email from them saying, “We have open spots. Some people that won the lottery didn’t take their spot.  So Monday morning at 8:00 a.m. we are going to just have open registration.”  I was just like Andrew.  I’m like, “This must be a sign from the Tri Gods telling me you need to go do Alaskaman.”  So at 7:55 I was on the computer, refresh, refresh, refresh, and boom.  It popped up, my registration, and I signed up and the rest is history as they say.  So yeah, I’ve done Alaskaman, I did Iceland Xtreme with Andrew the same year.  I’ve done Norseman and I did Alohaman. Andrew Harley:  Okay, and so some of the other ones out there, there’s Patagoniaman which is down in Argentina, Chile. Jason:  Yep. Andrew Harley:  Are we missing any?  I mean, you’re doing the one in Montenegro later this year. There’s the one in Nepal that you’re doing next year. Jason:  There’s about 18 of them total now. Andrew Harley:  Wow!  Very cool. I didn’t realize it was that extensive. Obviously in the normal tri scene there’s your sprints and your Olympics.  There’s your 70.3’s and your 140.6’s and they’re all kind of the same just on different courses.  So when we call these triathlons extreme, what is it that makes it extreme?  Is it more distance?  Is it more elevation gain?  Is it just the locations?  Tell us a little bit about what these courses are like and how these venues themselves make the races different and extreme. Jason:  I would say it’s a combination of all that stuff.  They’re all in these beautiful locations around the world. They’ve got them in Italy. They’ve got them in Switzerland, Nepal. They are all over in some of the most beautiful places I have ever laid eyes upon.  Most of them all have, like you said, they have the cold swim.  You can pretty much– except for Alohaman, every other race has a cold swim.  You’re going to be swimming in cold water. Andrew Harley:  When you say cold, how cold is it normally in these places? Jason:  55 and below I would say average. Andrew Soderberg: Alaskaman my first year it was in the low 50s and then we had to swim through glacial runoff so it dropped into the high 40s. Andrew Harley:  Wow! Andrew Soderberg:  You wouldn’t believe you could go numb a second time, but you get into that cold water and your hands have to go numb a second time.  When we came out of it and then there was another set of glacial runoff about a half mile up where you went numb a third time.  It was just a crazy experience to feel your body go numb multiple times while being in the same water for an hour and a half. Andrew Harley:  Yeah so when I ask the question, what is it about these that makes them extreme, I mean you’re kind of answering it right there Andrew. Just in the sense that in talking about the swim course you have to reference the glacial runoff.  There’s not any normal triathlon where glacial runoff is a factor on the swim course temperature.  So that’s part of what makes these so extreme.  Now I know Norseman is famous for jumping off the boat into the fjord and swimming back to shore.  Are most of the swim starts that way, or are they all a little different? Andrew Soderberg:  I think they’re all a little different. Jason:  Yeah, they all have their unique kind of start or like you said jumping off the boat.  Iceland has– literally their swim start you’re– when we did it, both Andrew and I did it, we walked for probably a couple hundred yards because the water was low that year.  We were like in a swim run going for a little while. Andrew Harley:  Okay. Andrew Soderberg:  Yeah, that year they changed the swim three days before the race because there were lion’s mane jellyfish I think they’re called. They’re the size of basketballs and there was thousands of them on the swim course and the race director was like, “This isn’t safe.”  So they switched the swim course three days before the race and ended up doing it in this lake right at the base of this amazing mountain and it was probably 200 or 300 yards where you were running in shin-deep water then all of a sudden it dropped off.  So we all had really fast swim times because we got to run for a few hundred yards of the swim. Andrew Harley:  So you get done with the swim, you go through transition which I assume looks similar to a normal transition.  Then you go out for the bike.  What are the bike courses normally like at these events? Jason:  Very– most of them have a lot of climbing.  You’re going to be doing I would say, almost all the extremes they have 9000+ on the bike of elevation gain. Andrew Harley: Wow! Jason:  You can expect any kind of weather.  You’re mostly biking through mountain passes and around mountains so you get sun, you get wind, you get sleet, you get rain. You have pretty much all the elements at times out there depending how the day goes. Andrew Soderberg:  Iceland first year 2019 was really, really rainy and cold.  The wind kicked up and it was just raining and cold.  It made it almost unbearable.  My hands got so cold that I couldn’t squeeze my brakes on the downhills. Andrew Harley:  Wow! Andrew Soderberg:  So it was just kind of freewheeling downhill at 35 to 40 miles an hour hoping for the best in the rain. Andrew Harley:  Wow! Jason:  That wind picked up and I had, no disks were allowed because they have a tendency– they knew the wind picks up around the bike course. So I had the deep-ish wheels because I’m all thinking I need the speed.  So that wind started, a steady crosswind.  It wasn’t gusts.  It was a steady crosswind and I was leaning on the bike.  I swear I was at a 45 degree angle biking straight on the road. I was like, “If this wind stops I am just going to fall over.”  That’s how far I felt– I literally could have put my hand down I think and touched the ground.  That’s how far I felt I was leaning just to stay going down the road.  It was crazy. Andrew Harley:  Any of the pictures I’ve seen of you guys just on social media where you’re racing these races, on the bike courses you’ve got your jackets, you’ve got gloves on, you’ve got kind of the winter riding gear on. So it makes sense that you’re talking about just the elevation gains and the winds and the rains.  So after taking on bike courses like that at these extreme tri’s, does a normal 112 mile Ironman course just seem like a walk in the park Andrew compared to these things? Andrew Soderberg:  112 mile bike course is never a walk in the park. Andrew Harley:  Okay, that’s good to know.  That’s comforting. Andrew Soderberg:  When it’s supported and you’ve got aid stations it just seems a lot more doable. Andrew Harley:  So you get off the bike and it’s time to go for a run. So is the run, is it always trail running, is it always climbing mountains?  What’s kind of the run terrain at these things? Jason:  You have a combination of both.  Usually sometimes there’s a little bit of running on the street, but then mostly you’re hitting a trail and you are, again, running up a mountain most of the time and then running back down.  I would say average on the runs it’s probably 3000 feet plus of gain on the run.  For Norseman, for example, you’re really the first– I think it’s 15 miles is literally on the road and flat, almost running downhill.  But then you’re basically running to the base of the mountain and the next thing you’re doing is, they call it Zombie Hill, which is taking you up to the ski resort.  So you’re on the road, but it’s the typical ski resort road where it’s just switchbacks all the way up and you’re going up that and then you get all of a sudden to a checkpoint and you’re actually on the mountain climbing to the top and it’s trails/rocks.  There’s little spray paint on rocks every so many hundred yards because you can’t even see the trail.  You just have to kind of follow these spray painted rocks that you find and you’re climbing.  At times your hands are in front of you climbing up different rocks depending on how steep it is at that moment.  So you get a little bit of everything on it. Andrew Harley:  So guys, you know, hearing just the courses that you’re taking on, hearing a little bit of what these races are like, I think of TriDot.  TriDot training is all about the data and it’s all about being able to quantify what you’ve done, what you’re about to do, and what you need to do to be prepared for the race you’re going to do.  How do you guys leverage TriDot to prepare for these more unconventional races? Andrew Soderberg:  So TriDot is very, very focused on a lot of things.  I know what my workout’s going to be or basically what my workout’s going to be every day, ever and it really focuses in on making you build that power.  You know you want to get fast before you go too far.  You want to get strong before you go too long and it really makes you focus on building that power, building that speed, and then kind of pushing it to go a little bit further.  I think one of the big things for me in my first, for Alaskaman was having a coach made all the difference. Andrew Harley: Wow yeah. Andrew Soderberg:  Like there’s all the different levels at TriDot and having a coach that was basically a mean coach.  Elizabeth James is my coach.  She’s been my coach since 2016 and she got the name “Mean Coach” when I was training for Alaskaman because she’d make me do long runs and then go spend an hour to two hours on a stair climber. Andrew Harley: Wow! Andrew Soderberg:  So go out and run 15 miles, now go do two hours on the stair climber.  She literally tuned in.  You have this mountain at the end of your run course, you need to be strong to climb that mountain.  So we did fantastic on the run.  Elizabeth and her husband, Charles were my pacers at Alaskaman and I believe we passed 58 people on the mountain in Alaska. Andrew Harley:  Wow! Andrew Soderberg:  So we did some work on the mountain and it was amazing because I was able to just focus so much on really getting strong to climb that mountain. Andrew Harley:  Yeah, no.  Very, very cool.  I know she, Elizabeth, on the podcast shared a story about taking a shot on the top of the mountain at the end of Alaskaman with one of her athletes.  That was with you, correct? Andrew Soderberg:  That was with me and that was one of the worst ideas I have ever had.  There was the three of us that ran, all did a shot, and then David didn’t run and did a shot. He was fine with his shot.  The rest of us were not happy with our shot. Andrew Harley:  Good for David!  Good for him.  So Jason, how about you?  How does TriDot help you get to the start line and finish line just of these insane events? Jason:  I use TriDot almost the exact same way I would use it if I was training for an Ironman.  When I did Alaskaman I didn’t have a coach.  I was– I’m a little independent sometimes and so I was like, “Hey, I trust TriDot.”  I know it’s going to get me there.  It got me there for my Ironman.  There’s a few different things, but I’m still going the same amount of miles.  Yes, I’ve got the elevation gain, but I used it– for my bike all I would do was really anytime I hit zone 3, zone 4 stuff for my workouts I just slowed my cadence down and took it as like I was climbing a hill.  So I was building the strength with the slow cadence in my legs as where Ironman Arizona it’s mainly flat.  You’re going to be at a higher spinning cadence.  You can push the power with the higher cadence.  I slowed my cadence so my legs were used to that climbing feeling. Then I did my runs the exact– whatever TriDot gave me I did them that way except towards the end I just started hitting the trails.  I’d run trails and make sure that they had…you know I would find roads that got close to the same kind of elevation I was going to be gaining for my race and I also started to do, like Andrew, I added– the only thing I added in different from TriDot was the stair climber.  Going and doing a run and like running straight to the gym…I’d drive to the gym, go for my run, then get back, throw a pack on, and go right to the stair climber to build that strength in my legs for the climb on the mountain.  Then when I did Norseman, I did Norseman and Iceland. They were seven days apart.  I did Iceland with Andrew in 2019 and as soon as I got done it was pack back up, flew over to Norway to do Norseman the following weekend.  For that I ended up– I talked to Cindy who got me Kurt Madden, the man, the myth, the legend as my coach and he helped me tweak– obviously running two extreme races seven days apart.  So now since then I’ve had him since it was 2018 after I did Ironman Arizona.  Again in 2018 after Ironman Arizona I got Kurt and he brought me up and added in little things here and there, but we still, I would say 95% of it is what TriDot gives me.  TriDot gives me everything you need to do your sprint, to do these extreme triathlons.  It’s there for you.  It’s got everything you need. Andrew Harley:  Jason, you just talked about flying from California to Iceland to Norway.  I mean, just between the crazy cool locations and just the plain crazy courses I’m sure both of you guys have plenty of wild stories to tell from these races.  So Jason, let’s start with you.  What is maybe your, let’s say your all-time favorite moment from an extreme tri and then what is maybe the wildest thing that’s happened to you on course while you were out there? Jason:  Okay, well I’ve got two all-time moments. Andrew Harley:  Okay, lay ‘em on us. Jason:  The first one is…it’s with Norseman.  You know I’ve watched every prior year’s video that they have of Norseman and when you get to the top of Gustapen there is this little concrete rock shed up on top, building, and it’s got these rock stairs right at the end and the finish line is up there.  You see the videos of the guys going up there, guys and girls, and they just reach those steps and break down.  It shows the whole view.  I swear you can see all of Norway from up there on a clear day. Andrew Harley:  Wow! Jason:  You get to a certain point where I knew I was going to make it to the top and I knew I was going to get the coveted– Extreme races don’t really have, they don’t have medals.  They have a finisher shirt and the shirt kind of shows how far you made it.  Sometimes you don’t make a cut off and they keep you from running that mountain so you’ll have like a white finisher shirt or like if you make it all the way to the top at Norseman you get the coveted black finisher shirt.  So I knew I was going to get the black finisher shirt.  I’m like, “Aww, no big deal.”  But as soon as I saw those steps and all the other people finishing, it all crossed my mind and it was just like, “Oh, my God!  This is the greatest feeling in the world.  I made it to the top of supposedly the most extreme race, one day race in triathlon.” Andrew Harley:  In the world. Jason:  Yeah.  I did it. So that was one.  My second one had to be Alohaman.  I had a decent swim.  I’m a mid-packer.  I’m never up in the front of these races competing.  I had a decent swim and I got out and my Sherpa was like, “Hey you’re in like 13th place right now.”  And I was like, “Oh, oh great!”  I had a quick transition so I think I might have passed a couple people and we get out on the bike and I’m going good and one guy passes me, a second guy passes me. I started to increase my power. I’m like this isn’t right.  But I was like, nope.  Stick to the plan.  Stick to the plan.  It was early on and that race was only– it was 109 miles, but literally we took off and got on the Queen K, right?  Yes, Queen K and we went right up the mountain there.  So it literally was from sea level and we went up 10,000 feet straight. Andrew Harley:  Wow.  Jeez! Jason:  So literally like 52 miles out and then 52 miles back.  So I was like, “Okay, plenty of time.”  And all of a sudden I passed that one biker back.  “Alright, going good.”  Then we were getting closer to the top and I pass that second biker and I’m like, “Alright.”  Getting closer to the top where we turn around and I’m like, “Alright, this is where I’m going to be able to see where I’m at.”  I keep going about one mile, I haven’t seen anybody.  Then all of a sudden about half a mile to turnaround I see a racer.  I’m like, “Oh, okay.  There’s the first one.  Now I’m going to see the rest of the pack.”  Well the next thing I know I’m at the turn around and I’m turning around and my Sherpa’s there and he’s like, “You’re in second!  You’re in second!” Andrew Harley:  Wow! Jason:  I just kind of nodded and then I started pedaling.  I’m like, “I think I’m in second place.”  Then the adrenaline hit me and I’m like, “Oh my gosh!  What is going on here?!”  And that moment is just clearly in my head.  That’s never happened.  It got me going and luckily I’m– I would say I’m not your average triathlete size person.  I’m 6-3, about 205 in weight.  So I knew the next– I had 10,000 feet of going straight down and I have no problem– Andrew Harley:  Going straight down. Jason:  –going straight down, yeah.  The road was as smooth as glass.  The wind was, I think we had a tailwind, and I just tucked in on my bike and went.  I ended up flying by the first place guy on the way down.  I think I hit 57 miles an hour.  The race director said they were next to me in the car and they couldn’t believe that I was going faster than the speed limit and they couldn’t keep up with me. So it was pretty amazing. Andrew Harley: Alright.  No, that’s super, super cool!  What would you say is like the wildest thing that’s happened to you during a race? Jason:  The wildest thing for me would have to be Alaskaman.  Alaska– they give us every pre-race meeting we had was bears. We had to wear a bear bell.  We had to have bear spray.  If there were animals on the trail during the race at all that didn’t want to move or something, the race would be stopped and you may not get to finish.  So all that’s in my head.  We’re probably two miles from the finish line, 15-16 hours in.  I’m exhausted.  It was record heat day.  I’m just dead.  My Sherpa and I, he goes, “Look!  There’s a bear and her two cubs!”  Right on the running trail.  So I thought– I have race brain going on, I’m like, “Oh my God.  They’re going to stop the race.  I’m not going to finish.”  I’m getting my bear spray out.  He’s literally packs off, he’s got his phone out, he’s taking video, and I’m like, “We’ve got to keep going!  They’re going to stop the race!  Don’t let them see that the bears are here.  We’ve got to go!”  And he was like, “What are you talking about!  We’re turning left 25 yards up.  These bears are the complete opposite way.”  But with race brain and tired, I literally was freaking out and thought my race was ending right there.  I was like, “Get your phone put away.  We gotta go!  This bear is not stopping my race.” Andrew Harley:  Alright.  Yeah, on a normal local sprint tri in Dallas Fort Worth, I don’t see any bears.  So yep, that’s definitely an extreme story.Andrew Soderberg, same question to you. What are some of the all-time favorite moments and what is your all time wildest moment? Andrew Soderberg:  All-time favorite moment– it’s kind of weird.  The swim in Alaska was so cool and I’m swimming along and for whatever reason I just stop, poke my head up, and I took my goggles off.  It was just this moment where I just took in everything that was around me.  It was worth the 30 seconds I spent there because everything was so calm and quiet.  The race started at 4 o’clock in the morning and there was something like magical. It’s like, “I’m really doing this.” It was a really cool moment for me to just soak it all in.  I was trying so hard that entire day– like on the run, on the bike, on the swim– that I wanted to just soak it all in.  There’s this moment, I can see it in my mind still, of what the mountains to my left looked like.  Out to the right was the Resurrection Bay.  There were swimmers in front of me, there were swimmers behind me and it was a super calm moment where I was like, “I’m really doing this.”  I kind of knew that it was a good thing and a bad thing because I knew I was hooked on the XTri’s.  It was just– It wasn’t like a washing machine like you get in Ironman events. There was 180 of us in the water and so we were spread out and there was just something so peaceful about that. Another really cool moment was on the run.  Not a lot of people will get to say this.  Elizabeth James was my pacer and her husband Charles was behind me.  At one point I told Elizabeth, I go, “You have to speed up or get out of my way.”  And it was like you created this monster by making me do all these hours on the stair climber.  I was like, “You have to speed up or get out of my way.”  And she was like, “Okay, we’ll speed up.”  I mean, no one’s going to tell Elizabeth move because she’s ridiculously fast.  It was just this moment where I was like, “You’re not going fast enough.”  That was the last seven miles of a ridiculous race and I just had it because all the time I put on the stair climber.  So it was kind of nice to be able to tell her to speed up for once.  It was really cool when we got to the top of that race, her and Charles just stopped and kind of looked at me like, “Hey you did this.  This is your finish line.”  I was like, “No, this is our finish line.” because we all kind of did it together.  So those were some really cool moments.  I got a really good picture of Elizabeth and I on the run with a glacier in the background. So we got some really cool memories from that race in Alaska. Andrew Harley:  It’s like a commercial for extreme tri, right? Just hearing that story and just knowing that extreme tri isn’t the lone wolf sport.  I mean, extreme tri is supported.  You have help getting to and from and getting your way through the course and just getting to encounter that kind of an atmosphere and that kind of a venue and the scenery with people that you know and love is just super cool. You just can’t beat it.  You’re borderline talking me into trying one of these things!  Borderline. Although I think I would much rather come Sherpa one of you guys instead and let you do all the hard stuff. Andrew Soderberg:  That’s kind of the beauty of the Iceland race. They actually have a half distance. Andrew Harley:  Okay, very cool. Andrew Soderberg:  So you don’t have to go to the full.  You can do the half distance at Iceland and get a little bit of a taste to really hook you on the full. Andrew Harley:  I mean, literally, my wife can tell you, Iceland is a bucket list place for me to go to anyway.  Since there’s a triathlon there, why not go and do the tri, right?  Why not go and do the race? Andrew Soderberg:  Exactly. Andrew Harley:  Let’s talk just a little bit about having a Sherpa and a crew for these things.  What role do they play for you throughout the entire race experience? Jason:  They are your everything.  Without them, you’re not going to finish.  We both talked with Alaskaman you get out of the water and you are so cold you’re not changing out of your wetsuit without help.  Your hands just aren’t working.  They literally are there stripping– you have your own private wetsuit stripper to say.  They are literally helping you put your socks on.  Get your shoes on.  A lot of these, I would say a majority of the extreme tri’s are point to point races so where you’re starting is not where you’re ending.  So once you’re on your bike and going, they're cleaning up your wetsuit.  They’re packing it up.  They’re getting in the car.  They’re starting to follow you.  They’re leapfrogging you making sure you’re okay.  Making sure you don’t have any problems.  If it starts raining hard you may need a jacket from them.  They have your nutrition.  They’re your lifeline.  Without them, you’re dead in the water basically.  You’re not going anywhere.  So I mean, not only is it a long day on you, it’s an extremely long day and they’re in every minute of it with you.  Their adrenaline is going just like you.  They’re probably having to do more because they’re thinking, “Alright, where’s he going to be?  Where do I need to be?”  Where you’re just head down and putting in the work where they’re trying to make sure that your day is perfect.  When you cross the finish line, like Andrew said, when you cross the finish line together it’s not just you crossing the finish line.  You’re with your team and it’s because of your team you all were able to make that finish and do something amazing together.  It’s a complete different feeling than in Ironman where you don’t need anybody there.  You can do the whole– I mean they’ve got your support.  They’ve got your aid stations.  You’ve got your special needs bags.  Everything’s taken care of for you.  You can go to that race all by yourself and be fine where your Sherpa, crew, friends, family, whoever it is, you are all one team doing it together. I think that’s one of the things that I love about it and it makes it so special that you get to share that with somebody else and have that camaraderie out there. Andrew Soderberg:  Yeah, it’s a super cool experience because they do everything for you.  I know my crew for Alaskaman, I didn’t want to yell at them when they would do stuff that was annoying me.  I was so excited to see them everytime that I got to them that I forgot to be like, “Hey you need to do this differently.”  For example, David was doing all of my bottles for me with my nutrition.  He was shaking them up and they were perfect, but it was the Camelback bottles that he didn’t open the lock on them.  So I had to open the little lock as I’m biking down the road.  Just little things that annoy me.  My dad– my mom and dad came with to Alaskaman and my dad was in charge of getting me solid foods.  I brought probably 50 Honey Stinger Waffles and my dad only gave me gingersnap waffles. I had like five flavors of waffles and he only gave me gingersnap waffles.  So I cannot eat gingersnap anything anymore because it just ruined it all for me. Andrew Harley:  That’s hilarious. Andrew Soderberg:  But, I mean without that crew you just can’t do it. They’re your everything.  I mean, they are literally your everything on the race course out there.  So having that crew is amazing.  I wish that I had taken a picture of the binder that Elizabeth James made for Alaskaman. Andrew Harley:  I bet it was very thorough. Andrew Soderberg:  It was so thorough and Charles was my helper in transition 1.  He and I had an agreement that he would help me take off everything except for my Speedo. He said I was on my own for that. Andrew Harley:  Okay, that’s fair. Andrew Soderberg:  It’s a fair agreement, but I came out of the water and my goggles hurt my face because my face was so cold, but my fingers wouldn’t bend to take off my goggles.  So I was trying to take these goggles off my face and it’s killing me and it was kind of funny because all these little things that you take for granted that you do in a normal race, you’re just not able to do for yourself. Andrew Harley:  Wow, that’s wild!  Yeah, I imagine for a lot of folks, they’re going to hear this episode and they’re going to be interested in traveling to one of these or doing one of these, but I mean some folks might be like me where they’re like, “Man I think Sherpaing one of these sounds like a lot of fun.”  So y’all might start getting messages to your inbox with people wanting to audition to be your next Sherpa.  We can turn a reality show out of that.  You guys know, I mean you listen to the podcast.  We’ve talked before.  I’m just a massive proponent of traveling for races and using races to experience different corners of the world.  For me that’s a hobby.  For you two it sounds like it’s more of a lifestyle.  What have you seen and enjoyed in the host cities and countries when you’ve visited these races? Andrew Soderberg:  Oh man!  For Alaska, I mean we got to go whitewater rafting, we got to do a ton of hiking.  We spent about a week after Alaskaman; six days after Alaskaman just exploring Alaska. I mean, Iceland you get to hike glaciers and we did the Golden Circle so we got to see waterfalls and geysers and– I’m kind of a museum nerd, so when we were in Reykjavik, both times I’ve been to Reykjavik we spent a chunk of three or four days just doing different museums, natural history museums and different cultural museums. Jason:  I think these races were made for you Andrew, because– like you said. I’m the same way.  I see these brand new places that I’ve always wanted to go to.  I get to race a triathlon there and then I get to explore these beautiful countries and see all these amazing sites.  Then when you’re in these– all the host cities I’ve been to with triathlons, everybody is just so nice and you’re out to a restaurant and of course you see somebody walking in with a pair of Hoka’s on and you’re like, “Oh, that must be another racer.” Andrew Harley:  Yep, you know what they’re about. Jason:  Yeah, yep, and most of them will have, we like to show what races we’ve been to so we’ll have some kind of triathlon shirt on most likely too.  Then the next thing you know, they’re pulling up a table and they’re from some other country and you’re exchanging stories and talking about the race and you’ve all of a sudden got these brand new friends that you get to share this experience with.  It’s very overwhelming.  It’s very–It’s flat out–  I think somebody like you saying how you like to travel, these races you would fall in love with. Andrew Soderberg:  At Iceland, one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at the end of a race, every racer because it was freezing cold was given a hand knitted wool blanket and a bowl of soup from an Icelandic Grandmother that had made these huge vats of stew. Andrew Harley:  Wow! Andrew Soderberg:  And I was like, that could be the coolest post-race meal ever. Andrew Harley:  You can’t top that, yeah. Andrew Soderberg:  I mean, this Icelandic Grandmother hands you a big bowl of stew and it was fantastic.  Then you wrap up in this hand knitted wool blanket. Andrew Harley: That just sounds– that sounds amazing.  It really, really does.  Well, last question for you guys before we transition to the cool down here.  We’ve heard a lot of your stories and I really hope that some people have their interest peaked in these events.  They are fantastic events to go check out and do.  My wife at this point, she’s like, “You know, Andrew, we can take a vacation without there being a race, right?”  And I’m like, “Why?  Why would I do that when there’s so many great races everywhere?”  So for anyone out there that’s interested in adding an extreme tri to their own race schedule.  You know, they’ve heard your stories and they want in.  What advice do you have for athletes looking to make the jump from normal tri to extreme tri?  What would you say Andrew? Andrew Soderberg:  I think one of the biggest things is to just go for it. Logistics seems so daunting at first and once you like just put yourself into it and start hammering out one step. Alright, how am I getting there? Where am I staying once I’m there? Who’s going to be my Sherpa?  It seems so daunting, but as you start ticking off all the boxes, it’s actually very, very simple and in a way it’s easier than doing a normal Ironman race because you don’t have to think about what’s there going to be on the course for me to eat because what’s on the course is what you bring with you.  It’s actually a lot easier once you just jump in and go for it.  So I would say if you’re interested in doing it, just go for it. The logistics, they figure themselves out.  You ask a question, you answer the question yourself.  You don’t rely a race director to be like, “Oh, we’re going to have this nutrition.”  You have everything yourself and just do it all yourself. Andrew Harley:  No, very cool.  Jason what would you say? Jason:  I would piggy back onto that and say the same.  You’ve just got to go for it especially after this last year we just had where things got canceled.  You know, you can always say, “Oh, I just don’t have the money right now.”  Or, “Yeah, you know I’m just not in good enough shape.”  “Oh, it’s on my bucket list.”  You ask them, “Well, when are you going to do that?”  “Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe three or five years.”  You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.  Obviously now as we’ve just seen.  What’s going to be next year?  Do these races.  If this is something you truly have passion for and you wanted to do it, you’ve got to go for it.  You seize that moment.  These races, most of them have been around a long time or maybe it’s a new one, but other races have where you can talk to somebody.  There’s other people who have done this that can help you if you’re needing the help.  You’ll figure it out as Andrew was saying.  You’ll start figuring the logistics part out of it, but you really have just got to take that leap and go for it.  You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.  You always are going to be, “Oh, I’m not in good enough shape. Maybe I should wait.”  Or “Maybe once this gets better or fixed, then I’ll start saving for it.”  No!  Go for it! Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down. Andrew Harley:  For our cooldown today I want to talk a bit with you guys about the Iron Cowboy.  Although not exactly an extreme triathlon, a recent extreme challenge in the triathlon world was his Conquer 100 Challenge where he set out to complete 100 full distance triathlons in 100 days.  I think he was universally cheered on by triathletes and fans alike and both of you guys spent some time with the Iron Cowboy completing a few days of the challenge alongside of him.  What was that experience like for you guys?  Jason, let’s hear from you. Jason:  Amazing.  Life changing.  It put my faith in humanity again.  It made me realize I’ve barely touched the surface of what I’m capable of doing.  I was supposed to go to Nepal when James was doing his stuff; it’s when I was training for Nepal.  Nepal literally got canceled a week before I was supposed to fly out.  So I had all this training going in so I was like, “I need to do something.  I’ve got to go join the Iron Cowboy.”  I thank God every day that my race in Nepal got canceled because I got to experience something that I don’t think we’ll ever see again most likely and I got to be part of it and I got to see him pushing through as much pain as I– I can’t even imagine the pain.  I was there around I think 60s, into the low 60s– 61, 62’s in there. I wasn’t there when he had even more pain towards the end, but seeing him just be able to shut off and keep going and the community supported him and other triathletes and cyclists– not even triathletes and cyclists– just people in his home town that came out because they got motivated from seeing his story and walked their first 5K and then it all of a sudden led into them running going their first half marathon with him or biking the first 100 miles that they’d never done.  What he did helped change everybodys way to think from just getting off the couch to even a seasoned athlete what they are capable of. It was truly, truly one of the best things I’ve ever got to go experience. Andrew Harley:  No, very cool.  That’s high praise and for good reason.  Andrew, what was it like for you being there with him? Andrew Soderberg:  I had a little bit different experience.  It was amazing, but I didn’t actually do any of the full days with him.  I was there supporting.  We were there days 62 through 68 and I was Sherpaing for Jason and Daniel.  So I would swim with them in the morning and then as soon as we were done swimming I would run out and get all their stuff ready for them to bike and then I was bike support and then I would do a little bit of the run with them in the evening.  But it was so incredibly cool.  That was the third time I had actually gotten to interact with the Iron Cowboy. Day 12 when he was in Dallas for his 50/50/50 my tri team hosted him in Dallas.  But it was just so cool to see this guy because he talks about how he was just James and then all of a sudden he turns it on and he’s the Iron Cowboy, and the Iron Cowboy is a bad dude and like he has this thousand yard stare. He’s so tough and it’s such a cool experience to get to see him out there doing it every single day and the community around him; his wife, his family, his Sherpas, the Wingmen. Everybody was so amazing.  Like Jason said it really did bring back your faith in humanity because everybody was there to see him succeed.  There’s always haters and he just doesn’t care. He’s just doing his thing.  Just head down, eyes forward, and just going. It was a really cool experience to get to see him do that and I was so, so extremely grateful that Jason had posted that he was looking for somebody to go with him and I was able to actually get to go with him. Jason:  Let me hop on there Andrew and just say how great our TriDot family is.  I met Andrew, just met this one time in Iceland.  You know, randomly in Iceland through TriDot and I literally– my friend here in San Diego.  He was actually my Sherpa for Nepal so he had been training also too.  We were going up to Utah to James’ together and I was like, “Hey if we’re really going to try to do more than one day together we’re going to need a Sherpa or somebody just in case something happens.”  So I just put a post on Facebook saying, “Somebody want to go on this crazy adventure with us?”  Andrew hit me up immediately and said, “I’m down to go.”  And I was like, “You know that you’re not going to get paid for this.  You’re basically going to be at our beckon call.  Anything we need, you’re going to be driving.”  I tried actually talking him out of it.  Like it’s not going to be fun for you.  It’s going to be a lot of work.  You sure you want to do this?  We’re planning to go for a whole week.  “Yes, yes, and yes.”  He was a fellow triathlete that we met for a few minutes and he’s family.  It was amazing.  It just shows how great our TriDot family really is. Andrew Harley:  Alright that’s it for today folks.  I want to thank athletes Andrew Soderberg and Jason Verbracken for sharing their stories with us today.  Shout out to TriBike Transport for partnering with us on today's episode.  As you get back to racing this year head to TriBikeTransport.com to get your bike to the starting line.  Have any triathlon questions or topics you want to hear us talk about?  Head to TriDot.com/Podcast to let us know what you’re thinking.  We’ll have a new show coming your way soon, until then, happy training. Outro: Thanks for joining us. Make sure to subscribe and share the TriDot podcast with your triathlon crew.  For more great tri content and community, connect with us on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.  Ready to optimize your training?  Head to TriDot.com and start your free trial today!  TriDot – the obvious and automatic choice for triathlon training.
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