March 8, 2020

Dede Griesbauer: Breaking into Ultraman & Not Overthinking It

Two weeks ago, veteran Ironman racer, Dede Griesbauer smashed the Ultraman World Record in Clermont, FL at the age of 49. Finishing the three day race with a total time of 22:48:31. An accomplished triathlete with a fifteen year career, we talk to Dede about breaking into Ultraman, how she’s staying strong in her forties and perhaps most importantly, how she gets in all the calories to fuel such an epic race.

By: Taylor Mahan-Rudolph

Every Ironman racer has one question: how did you stay fueled for such a long race? What is your secret sauce for being able to eat for so many hours of racing?

Dede: Fueling was going to be one of my biggest challenges for certain. It was hard to exactly replicate in training both the conditions and the support I’d have on race day.  It’s hard to go out for a 7 hour ride in Boulder in December and get the volume of fluids and calories in that would be required in Ultraman.

I started with a trip to the CU Sports Performance Center for metabolic testing to determine fueling demands, sweat rate, and things like that.  We did that back in August and found that I was WAY under-fueling, even in Ironman.

That said, even though I knew how many calories I needed to get in, doing it on a solo ride in weather that was 30-40 degrees colder than what I’d face on race day was a challenge.

My entire nutrition plan was based around my INFINIT Nutrition custom blend.  I had 2 formulas differing only in flavor and that one had caffeine and the other did not.  INFINIT served as my exclusive calorie source on day 1. 

Day 2 was entirely different; nearly twice as long on the bike and at a slightly lower intensity.  I’d talked to some other Ultraman finishers (Jordan Bryden, Hillary Biscay and Chris McDonald) and all of them said that incorporating some solid food into the plan would be an excellent strategy to keep my stomach as “normal” as possible going into day 3. 

From the very start of the bike on day 2, my stomach was not happy.  Every time I drank, I “un-drank” so to speak.  Jordan (who was on my crew) and Julie triaged and changed the nutrition plan immediately.  I went to solid foods, which was stressful because it was something I was NOT used to doing.  But almost immediately, my stomach settled and we were able to carry on. 

I finished out day 2 with a blend of INFINIT, solid foods (bars, muffins one of my crew had made, chews and some gels).  Essentially anything and everything I could get down and keep down, I stuck with until my palate changed.

The run was back to a simple strategy using INFINIT and some secret treats that my crew member Katie Kyme cooked up.

Jordan Bryden

At age 49, you are not only incredibly aerobically fit breaking the World Record but you also look ridiculously strong in all the race photos. Tell us about your strength training routine and how it played a role in your race preparation.

Dede: For nearly 6 years, I worked constantly with Amy Unrein at Rally Sport.  We were in the gym 3x a week with the focus being on lifting heavy as well as focusing on mobility, agility, and stability. 

Amy started nursing school at the start of the year and I started working with Kevin Purvis, also at Rally Sport.  I was worried about the change, especially so close to the race.  Kevin’s program was very different than what I was used to with Amy.  He had me doing circuit type training with long 7-9 minute circuits that we’d repeat 3 and 4 times over in a session.  Each circuit had a heavy lift to load, then an endurance component of pushing a sled endlessly or some other such ridiculousness and then finished with something that forced me to stabilize; loaded walking on a balance beam, or single leg work.  I guess the theory is that you build fatigue then force stability.  It’s the stabilizers that are the first to go in the double marathon, so if we could teach them to hang in there a little longer, we’d be better off.

Kevin’s strategy worked.  I showed up 1) healthy and 2) fit and strong in ways I’d never been before. 

Kevin trains Jordan Bryden, the Ultraman World Champion, as well, so knew I was in good hands.

Did you struggle to sleep at all after the three days of racing? How much did you sleep each night during the race?

I actually slept really well.  Usually before Ironman, I don’t sleep at all; nervous energy.  With this event, however, being across 3 days, I knew I had to control that adrenaline somehow.  I was in bed each night by 7.  Asleep by 7:30.  We were up at 4:45 both on Friday and Saturday.  Sunday was an hour earlier. 

How did Ultraman training differ from Ironman training? Did you enjoy the process of training for something new?

Dede: I’d say about 90% of the training was exactly the same as Ironman (though way earlier in the year, of course!).  We added a few things to be more “Ultraman specific”.  A weekly longer swim of 8-10km, and more back-to-back long rides on Friday/Saturday to replicate the pattern in the race.  Running was hard, as I didn’t really run all that far in training.  I had an Achilles injury in August after IM Whistler and we needed to be smart.  I used the AlterG a lot and we did a LOT of hiking.  Sometimes hikes combined with long runs.  Sometimes just long hikes.  Boulder has no shortage of great places to hike and we managed to get Piper and Charley (my dogs) pretty fit in the process as well!

We know from Dr. Stacy Sims that how we feel during and recover from training can be different at different times of the month. This also changes for women in their 40s. Do you feel your hormones affect your training at all?

Dede: Hah.  You might have to ask my husband that!  For me, I think it’s a blessing and a curse that I am not very “self-aware”.  I don’t notice subtleties like that.  I rather bulldoze thru training regardless and don’t give other “sensations” of how something feels the time of day.  Sometimes that is great because I don’t get caught up in overthinking too many sessions.  On the downside, I might do myself harm in not paying more attention to the subtle details.

You have two yellow labs, Piper & Charley, that you feature prominently on social media. Do you train with your dogs at all on easy runs or do you guys mainly hang out outside of training?

Dede: The only time Piper runs is when I pull out the running harness.  She runs away.  I actually spent 20 minutes one day trying to get her to come running with me.  Charley, on the other hand, loves to run.  She came with me on a few easy runs.  And as I said, I did a fair amount of hiking as well and they both loved that.  They logged a lot of miles and got super fit.  Now we are all in recovery mode.  

Dede Griesbauer looks out over the water before an ultraman
Jordan Bryden

Who was in your crew? How did you select them?

Dede: My crew was the freaking bomb!  I had the best crew ever.  Truly.  My husband Dave was my crew chief.  He drove the vehicle and did a lot of the logistics; packing the van each day, unpacking, etc.  Julie Dibens was head coach, also known as the coach of my head.  I’ve been working with Julie for a lot of years now and she is good at reading body language, can see changes in body position in how I am carrying myself and can either correct or just encourage as I’m starting to fall apart.  Julie was key in helping me triage when nutrition went sideways and also on the run when she could tell I was struggling.  She’d jump in as pacer and talk me down or just talk me thru a rough patch.  Jordan Bryden was also on my crew.  His experience with Ultraman was also a huge asset to me.  Jordan is a very chillaxed guy.  Very calming.  He, too, was key in helping me triage some nutrition problems and did a lot of the pacing for me on the run.  He’s really mellow and always made me feel like he had a plan.  “Here, we’re going to eat some of this.” So I ate.  “I need you to get this whole bottle down in the next 2 miles.”  So I did.  He was a rockstar.  Then I had Katie Kyme.  Katie is a fellow pro and JDCrew member.  Katie is an excellent cook and her primary role was chief food officer.  Katie cooked all the meals for me and for the crew.  She also tracked my calories each day of the race to make sure we weren’t falling behind.  Katie also helped calm me down while running.  She talked me off a few ledges out there.  My strength coach Kevin Purvis came in just on Day 3 and did a lot of run pacing as well.  Kevin is eternally positive and his positivity is infectious, even at mile 37 of a double marathon.  Kris McFarland was also on the crew.  She did massage and was on hand if any niggle popped up.  She’s trained as an athletic trainer as well, so if things started to go sideways physically in terms of injury, she could triage.  Everyone played a really important role and made it “easy”, but also made it super fun.

How did you stay mentally engaged during the race?

Dede: I was surprisingly really engaged for the whole thing.  Not once did I think about results. That is what was so refreshing about doing something totally new and different.  I had zero expectation.  I also had the fear of God in me.  I was totally intimidated by this undertaking, so having a clear race plan and strategy from the start really helped.  I focused on nothing but execution; pacing, fueling, form.  Pacing, fueling, form.  For all but the last 12 miles or so of the run, I somehow also managed to maintain a sense of humor as well.  That’s always a big one for me.

Not every race goes to plan. Did you encounter any disasters or bad patches during the race?

Dede: The swim was sort of a disaster because of the conditions.  We started out and it was super calm.  Not a hint of wind and the lake looked like glass.  About 2km in, it started to rain.  By 4km, it was pouring.  A front blew thru and by the time we got to 5km, I couldn’t see shore at all.  I couldn’t site buoys and at times, I couldn’t even see Julie in the kayak.  Several kayaks tipped and one athlete had to abandon because her kayak tipped so frequently, it filled with water and started to sink.  I’d hoped we’ve have been able to practice with the kayaks pre-race, but they were only available race morning.  Julie was a total champion paddler and managed really well in really hard conditions.  My last glimpse of Julie when I got on my bike was her shivering like mad.  Poor thing.  That front came in and the temperature dropped and she nearly froze to death.  In the last few hundred meters of the swim, I picked my head up and said, “Well, we didn’t die.”

Day 2, as I said, got off to a rough start with my stomach not cooperating.  I stayed positive and they kept asking, “What do you need?”  All I could say was “I need to stop throwing up!”  They triaged, and we were back on track in no time. 

Day 3 was good as well until, really, the last 10km.  The last 12 was hard, but the last 10km was a death march.  Again, I give credit to my crew; Katie and Dave at that point, who paced the closing miles of the run.  Someone had said after, “Katie didn’t run that far.”  The truth was, though I felt like I was with Katie as long as I had been with Jordan or Kevin.  Those closing miles went by so slowly, Katie may have only run 5 miles or so, but it felt like decades out there!

Generally speaking, I think things went super well because my crew was so top shelf.  They were the true heroes of this event.  No question.

Ultraman occurs over three separate days. Was there any day that you were dreading or worried about the most before the race? What was the hardest day of racing?

Dede: Since the time I hit “enter” on Active.com to sign up for this ridiculousness, I was worried about day 3.  I knew I could swim 10km open water.  And I knew I could ride that far.  But I’d never run a step further than a marathon so running a DOUBLE marathon, coming off an Achilles injury in August kept me up nights.

Going into Day 3, I was making jokes about how awful it could be and Juile, again, came thru with the winning mantra for the day.  “You are an excellent slow runner.”  It sounds funny, but it’s true.  I’m not a very fast runner, but I’m a very good slow runner.  Safe to say, I didn’t miss my calling as an ITU athlete.  

Tell us about your future racing plans for 2020. Will we see you back on an Ironman startline or is there another Ultraman in your future?

Dede: So far, I have no official plans.  My only focus for this week and next is on recovery.  Keeping my body moving, but not doing too much too soon.  I do plan to race some Ironman races in 2020.  As for another Ultraman?  That’s still in the TBD column.  I really enjoyed this Ultraman experience.  It was all I hoped it would be and more, and not because of the performance or the records.  It was the experience with my crew, with the other athletes and their crews and with race organizers and volunteers that made this event so spectacular.  Maybe one day… I’ll be back.  But for now?  I’m just trying to soak it all in.

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