It’s one thing to sign up for a sprint or Olympic triathlon, and quite another to do an Ironman — let alone five Ironman-distance tris in five consecutive days. Everyone knows an Ironman, especially the world championships in Kona every October, is the mother of all tris. So what does that make the Quintuple Anvil Triathlon, where athletes attempt to complete five Ironman-length distances in a row? Owner and race director Steve Kirby says it’s about discovering what you’re made of. For most participants, the answer is “iron” in the shape of an anvil.
“This race is about pushing yourself beyond what you thought possible. There isn’t any reward money involved in this sport. It’s just about you, the course, the other racers and what you can do,” says Kirby, who oversees the Double, Triple and Quintuple Anvil Triathlon series in Florida, Oregon and Virginia.
Participants can tackle this ultra-endeavor in one of two ways:
- The continuous course lets you knock out each sport one at a time (12-mile swim, 560-mile bike, 131-mile run).
- The single distance means you do one triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) each day for five straight days.
“For the continuous, once the race begins, the clock starts, and you have 132 hours to finish. If you take a break, the clock keeps ticking. Same for the single-distance racers, however, they have 24 hours to finish each day,” Kirby explains. “It is in your best interest to finish sooner rather than later so you can clean up, eat so that your body absorbs it overnight and get a good night’s rest before starting the next day at 7 a.m.”
Last October, the Quintuple Anvil, which cost $1,285 to enter, drew nine men and three women to do the continuous course, and three men and three women for the one-a-day. Both courses were staged in and around Lake Anna at the 2,300-acre eponymous state park in Virginia. That’s 18 total participants whose ages ranged from mid-30s–mid-60s. Among the participants on the continuous course, was Erik Hanley, a 30-something engineer and college tutor from Fort Collins, Colorado, who had competed in two back-to-back Double Anvils at that point (and another this March), and was ready to go farther.
MapMyRun caught up with Hanley to get inside the head of a Quintuple Anvil athlete and understand what it takes to do the seemingly impossible:
Q: What does the course look like?
Hanley: It’s loops in and around the lake. That’s actually a running joke for us. I’d look at my friend Johan “Taz” Demet from Belgium and ask, “How many of these do we have to do?” And we didn’t know. Sometimes it’s better not to know how many loops you have left. It’s 30 loops for the swim, 101 for the bike and 75 for the run. You never want to hear you have 90-something to go.
Q: So you’re saying you didn’t sleep much that week?
Hanley: You do what you can. You don’t get any good sleep, but you do get rest, and that’s important. You put your body through so much. We all have overuse injuries — like neck pain from the bike position or knee pain from pedaling — from all the repetitive motions. I didn’t run this thing competitively like other participants. For me, it was like, ‘Can I do this?’ I took breaks, so that I could make sure that I finished. That’s how I played it.
Q: Were you completely on your own out there or did you have support?
Hanley: Normally, when people do the Double, Triple or Quintuple Anvil, they bring a village. One of my friends, Joey, has a triathlon club in Florida, so when he races in his home state, he brings 17–20 people to support him.
It’s hard for me to ask people to take off work to crew me. It’s also not any easy race to spectate because it’s so long. The good news is that I’ve met people through these races, like [fellow participant] Mark Blore and Dolph Hoch from Idaho, who were in the same situation as me. We didn’t have family or friends to help us, so we were like, “You know what, we’re going to help each other.”
Mark had the SUV so he was like, “Hey Erik, when you want to crash for some time, you can use my SUV.” When Mark felt sick the second and third night, I was like, “OK, Mark, what do you need?” Although I was on four hours of rest, I tried to help him, asking questions like, “How are you on your electrolytes?” We were clueless, but we were there for each other.
Q: Who are these super-human people who sign up for this?
Hanley: When you talk to these people, you learn they’ve all done fantastic things, including endurance events all over the world. You ask them what was the hardest one, and they’ll tell you, they’re all hard in a different way. There’s a commonality among all of us: We’re all competitors. Meaning we’re all there for the same reason. We want to challenge ourselves. We want to become a better person. These are events where to do just that. In general, these people have achieved a lot in their lives. They’re go-getters. That’s the type of person who would sign up for this.
Q: How did you specifically get into this?
Hanley: I started with marathons in college, and then I picked up cycling. Eventually, a friend said, “Hey, you are like an Ironman.” So I did an Ironman. Then, I learned about the Anvil race series, and I started doing the Double and was like, “What’s next?” Then I did the Triple, and afterward was like, “What’s next?” I have one of those personalities where when you finish a race, you’re always thinking, “What else is there?” So the person who’s constantly pushing their limits is who signs up for this race. We want to get everything we can out of life. There’s a hunger to keep going and going.
Q: Is the Quintuple Anvil dangerous?
Hanley: Let me put it this way, I’ve done more dangerous things than the Quintuple. I’ve done 200-mile ultras in the mountains, where you do a marathon from one station to another station and so on. You are not in a controlled environment. You can come across bears and other threats in nature. You’re braving the elements and trying to stay hydrated.
The Quintuple Anvil is in a somewhat controlled environment. You’re just doing loops. You see other racers, who can help you if something goes wrong. You’re not stuck in the middle of nowhere. The elements are still at play, however; it can get cold and the water can get choppy on windy days. There’s always staff available to help if needed.
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Q: But it must be so painful. How many toenails did you lose?
Hanley: Only two! I’m used to losing toe-nails — I’m a runner. You expect to get blisters and know how to take care of them. My knees, shins and neck hurt, too, but I was grateful that I didn’t have any problems that could end my race.
What I found harder to overcome than the pain was the mental restlessness. I don’t want to call it boring, but when you have 100 laps to go, it can get very tiresome for the mind. There’s just nothing to do mentally other than tell yourself to keep going. So I distracted myself with jokes for other Quintuple athletes. For example, whenever I passed someone on the course, I’d have a one-liner for them. Like with Shanda Hill from Canada — the only female to finish — I had this pick-up line on the bike. I was just like, “So, do you come here often?” I must have said it to her 100 times. It always got a smile.
Q: Please tell me a romance ensued?!
Hanley: Oh, no, no, no … we’re friends.
Q: So how did you train for this thing?
Hanley: I had just completed a 200-mile ultra-marathon in mid-August, so when I signed up for the Quintuple Anvil in October, I only had about seven weeks to recover and train. For two or three of those weeks, I literally put in 40 hours of training a week. I already had a strong fitness base because of that August race, plus I bike commute 20 miles round trip five days a week. So I just had to add more to my existing routine, like biking another 10–20 miles at night and hour runs twice a day, slowly increasing mileage. I’d also swim an hour and a half a few times a week.
I’m an exception because most people who want to sign up for this, are like, ‘I’m gonna do this,’ and start training a year in advance. I was like, ‘Oh, this is my lifestyle, and it would be interesting.’
Q: How did it feel to finish?
Hanley: I did it in 129 hours and 41 minutes. I finished two hours before the cutoff time of 132. Steve has everyone carry the American flag when they finish, so I felt very proud. Immediately afterward, I grabbed some food, a sweater and then asked, “Who’s still out there?” When I found out it was Mark, I went to meet him on the run to cheer him on. I had to make sure he finished. At the end, Mark, Dolph and I all came together like the three amigos. It was great.
Q: What’s next after the Quintuple Anvil?
Hanley: The Deca Ironman. That’s 10 Ironman-distance triathlons in 10 days.
Q: What’s your advice to people considering registering for the Double, Triple or Quintuple Triathlon?
Hanley: Volunteer or crew someone before you do it. That way, you’ll get a good idea of what it’s all about. You can learn so much seeing what happens and chatting with people there.