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Age-group profile: Shanda Hill’s ultra habit


— By Luke Yates

Shanda Hill recently completed a remarkable feat — the Vernon, B.C.-native became the first woman to complete a quintuple triathlon (the equivalent of five full distance races combines) at the Virginia Quintuple Anvil, and won the women’s race. Luke Yates asks Hill about her unusual prep for the event, her involvement in triathlon and more. 

TMC: How did you get into triathlon?

SH: In April of 2014 I was sitting at the kitchen table with a running friend of mine, and he said, “You should try triathlon.” I said, “Ok, what does that entail?” He told me, but what he didn’t bother to tell me was that there was any other distance than the actual full distance. He gave me Challenge Penticton’s website. I didn’t even have a bike and I went that night and signed up for the full distance. Three and a half months later, I did my first triathlon.

What was your sporting background before that?

For about 14 years I grew up with a background in BMX, which is a 30 second sprint.

What other races have you done since Challenge Penticton in 2014?

I’ve never done shorter [than full distance]. My second race was Challenge Penticton 2015. After that somebody told me about the the Oregon Double Anvil which was in July of this year, so that was my third race ever. My fourth race was Challenge Penticton again, so I’ve done Penticton three times. This Quintuple Anvil was my fifth triathlon ever.


Do you think you’ll ever try shorter races?

I’ve never contemplated it because I think my body does well with long distance. It seems to work well with my body. I’m 150 lbs on average and I’m 5’ 5. I’m not a flyweight girl. I’ve contemplated doing the longer distance, simply because of the high at the end of a race. I’ve approached it not having a background in triathlon and expecting to feel horrible when I finished. When I don’t feel horrible, I think to myself, “I could do something bigger, why not?”

What was the motivation to go even further and do the Quintuple Anvil?

I was so impressed with Steve Kirby, the organizer for the Anvil races, and the atmosphere at these races. It almost seemed like a family reunion kind of event with how welcoming they were. When we got to the end of the event, somebody mentioned, “Are you going to do any more races in his series?” I said, “What’s the next race?” And they said, “Well there’s a triple coming up in Virginia.” I’d never travelled with my bike before, so originally I had anticipated maybe doing the triple. When I found out there was a quintuple going on as well I thought it doesn’t make sense to go to a race and do the triple when there’s a quintuple being run. That’s how I ended up in Virginia doing the quintuple.

How do you prepare for a race like that?

I spend the majority of my summer — I have a summer and a winter job — outside landscaping. It’s a super aggressive, hardened-body type job. I know my body well and the last time I actually swam, biked or ran was Challenge Penticton at the end of August, before this actual race. I did next to nothing except work before the quintuple and I was very well rested. If I go out traditionally during the summer, I ride every two weeks, and I’ll ride a couple of hundred kilometres. I normally try to plan it into to a weekend where my parents are going to another destination and I’ll ride ahead of them. Then they’ll bring me home. I don’t generally swim, but I go to the gym and maintain my upper body strength so when I need to swim it’s not a problem. I do a lot of pull-ups and bench press as such. And with running, I generally don’t run at all except if I’m at a race. If I see there’s a half-marathon or a marathon going on, then I’ll go and run that. Other than that, I’m not a big runner. Not my gig other than races. I love racing. We’ve got to find out what’s right for each of us.

How long did each leg take you?

Roughly, about nine and a half hours for the swim. I have difficulty swimming in a straight line and that shows. I came out on the bike and had a really good run on the bike. Timewise, I was fourth overall of the men coming out of the bike and that was just over 56 hours. My run time was 47 hours and the course record was 50 something. So I broke the course record for the run.

Do you sleep at all during the race?

I slept a total of ten hours. I didn’t have a strategy because I’d never stayed up that long. I’ve never been up more than 38 hours before. That was a learning experience because the first two nights I only slept an hour each, but I tried to sleep for two. I laid there and I wasn’t tired enough to go to sleep, so I just laid there and thought about who was gaining on me with laps and that drove me nuts. So I learned to only go to sleep when I actually have to sleep.

What else did you take from the race?

Next time I would put some kind of lip chap and face balm on my face, so that I don’t come out chafed from the wind. But the most unique thing I came out of this with, was my inexperience but strong legs from BMX. All the other athletes got chafed but I came out with zero blisters and chafing and nobody believed be until I actually showed them. It’s because I spend 50% of my time standing and pedalling on the bike. So I guess I’ve got the strength in my legs and I just went with it because I didn’t know any better.

What did you eat during the race?

I’ve been vegetarian since the day I was born, mostly vegan for the first 17 years. The entire time, my dad was cooking up quinoa. I’ve never gone with quinoa before but it’s something I really enjoy. He cooked quinoa in vegetable bouillon so I didn’t have to take salt tablets. I just took a lot of vegetable broth and quinoa. I had bananas. I had soaked nuts. I had soaked fruit. Cans of peaches. Soaked oats. Towards the end when I didn’t want to chew any more I had soggy oat cereal.

Did you have low points and how did you get through them?

The toughest time was Thursday around 4AM [three days in]. Up until then I had a bit of irritation in my left quad. As it got colder into the morning, it was probably about five degrees, my quad muscle started getting really cold and it almost felt as though it was tearing. That was the hardest part. Other than that, everything was pretty good. It was that part and I was thinking, “I’m either gonna walk because it hurts bad enough, and this is going to be really crappy because it’s going to take forever to finish. Or I’m just going to dig really deep and just go.” It kind of reminded me of when I had my son, because the doctor doesn’t give you an option [to stop]. I thought, “If I can have a kid, I can do just about anything.” I just dug in deep. I just kept running and it hurt but after a while it just went numb. There wasn’t any point in the entire race where I wanted to quit. I stayed on top of my nutrition. I didn’t hit a point where I was low in salts or anything  so I was able to have the cognitive function, because I had the nutrients I needed.

How did it feel to finish?

Yes it’s done! The best feeling of finishing is where you set out to execute a plan and you follow through on that plan. I get the best feeling when you get to the end and you’ve crossed that one off. You didn’t get halfway. You’ve completed what you set out to do, and I love that feeling.

What’s next?

Maybe a deca….

That’s sounds unreal

I was hit in 2003 by a truck on my bike from behind. To go from there, being in the midst of all the injuries that I had, to get to this point here. If I can give anybody one bit of hope, that they might come out on the other side, then it’s worth it 100 per cent.