In July this year, 43-year-old Canadian Amy Robitaille took the overall win at Ultraman Canada, finishing in a stunning 24 hours, 47-minutes and 16 seconds. The three-day event included a 10K swim and 145K bike on day one, a further 275K bike on day two, and an 84.4K run on day three. Amy finished an impressive 50 minutes ahead of second-place finisher, former triathlon world champ Leanda Cave. In fact, four of the top 5 finishers were women – high-five!
An experienced marathon runner and an Ironman finisher, Amy is no stranger to sufferfests and last year set a new overall fastest known time (FKT) record running Ontario’s 70K Caledon Trailway. She’s also completed a virtual Everest on Zwift, which saw her ascend Alpe du Zwift repeatedly in a single ride to match the 8849m elevation of Everest.
You’ve won Ultraman Canada outright, completed a virtual Everest on Zwift, and set an overall FKT on the Caledon Trailway. What is it about ultra-endurance suffering that you enjoy?
I started running as a kid (cross-country in grade school), and there was something about running for longer distances that gave me this exhilarating feeling. I signed up for my first-ever road race when I was 20 years old, and it was a marathon! I was very much in over my head in both the training and the race, but crossing that finish line utterly exhausted (it was the longest I had ever run or dreamed of running), I felt this incredible sense of accomplishment. I have been chasing that high ever since. I did not start swimming and cycling until I was in my 30s when I wanted to add some possible cross-training activities into my life. I loved both. It was at my very first local triathlon that I realized that the endurance community is so welcoming. I was hooked.
Tell us about your virtual Everest on Zwift – had you Everested a climb before?
I had never done an outdoor Everest (it is definitely on my list, and if I hadn’t gone to Ultraman Canada this year, my plan was to do an Everesting attempt), but I was very intrigued by the prospect. In 2020 and 2021, I spent an incredible amount of time riding on Zwift, as so many of us in various stages of lockdowns did. I was coaxed by a friend into training and making plans for a v-Everesting. I love the planning that comes with this kind of thing. Fuelling, power targets, and even managing socializing (too much chatting on Discord while riding can get tiring!) were all part of the planning. Luckily, I love riding on the Alpe du Zwift, so that helped. I had an amazing day of riding. Fuel, effort, and even comfort in the saddle on a trainer went very well, and I finished within minutes of my goal time. My best friend made lemon squares for me as a reward, and they tasted so great when I finished!
Moving on to Ultraman Canada. You won the event outright, and from your IG account of the race, it seems you really enjoyed it! What were the high and low points?
The entire weekend felt like a celebration of the training and preparation that went into this race. Not just by me, but my entire crew (and family and friends in general). I felt so supported while I was out there.
On day one, during the ride, I had some stomach issues that were a bit crushing. It was definitely a low point, and it felt too early in a 3-day event to accept defeat. My crew was really there for me and helped me to problem solve in the moment. Using their optimism and expertise and fully trusting them when they told me what to drink, to breathe through it and to mentally push through was incredible. Although it is really fun to reflect on the points in the race that felt good, reflecting on the moments that I had to problem-solve when I was feeling down is just as amazing.
With that said, I did have many highs during the race. The last 60km of the day-two, 276km bike ride were my favourite kilometres I have ever ridden. It was in those kilometres that I realized I could achieve the women’s day-two course record. I felt like I was flying along with the support of my crew, and it felt amazing! Finishing almost 20 minutes under the women’s record validated all of the hard days of training for sure.
Ahead of the event, what did your training and prep look like across swim, bike, run? Did you have to change your ‘regular’ training much?)
I feel like the training for this event has been the accumulation of many years of consistent training. I really started to focus on this event about 12-18 months out, through several builds, with downtime as well. I did a great deal of biking in the summer of 2021, culminating in a simulation event at the end of that summer: 5km swim/100km ride, then 200km bike, and 50km run over 3 days.
I used my 70km FKT last fall, and the training for it, as a run-confidence booster. The most challenging preparation was certainly the swim training, with so many pool closures during the many lockdowns we experienced here. I was able to include 3 more simulation weekends into the spring of 2022, which helped in heat acclimation and fuelling practice with my crew. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had a solid year of training consistency without injury. A minor setback early spring due to getting covid (just like everyone else, I’m sure) was some forced rest that may have even helped me to come back even more focused and ready.
Day one included a long 10K lake swim. How did you fuel this part of the event?
I practised fuelling during the many simulations I did in preparation for the event, so I knew what to expect. I used gels (Spring energy gels did the trick) every 2km. This meant I took four gels through the 10km. My paddler knew my schedule, and he had more than enough options in the kayak in case I changed my mind. I just looked at my watch intermittently to see when the next fuel stop would be. I tried to make the stops as quick as possible while I treaded water, then back to swimming, it was!
Part of your running strategy was to run 2km and then walk 1 minute. Have you used this strategy before, and did you find it worked for you during the event?
I used the run/walk strategy during the marathon portion of my very first (and only) Ironman triathlon several years ago. I also used this strategy when running the 70km FKT, and I find that it helps me to properly fuel and take water whilst keeping my energy and heart rate consistent. I use uphills as opportunities for walk breaks and rarely walk during a downhill, so I try to be as organic as possible with the 2km/1min “schedule.” There was a lot of elevation gain at Ultraman Canada, so I definitely rolled with it when deciding when it was time to take a walk break.
It really worked out, and I felt it kept my energy consistent throughout the double marathon. I also love that using the run/walk keeps me in a mental space where I only look 2km ahead at any given time. It’s a great way to stay in the kilometre I’m in, instead of getting overwhelmed by the task of so much more distance to cover.
How often did you take on nutrition during your bike and run sections, and did you have any tummy issues?
On the bike, I drink Gruppo Nutrition Ride formula. I drink approximately one bottle every 70mins. This is about 300 calories. I also eat fig bars, Skratch bars, peanut butter sandwiches, etc. – whatever sounds appealing in the moment! As the race was very hot, I also took on salt tablets every 40 mins. During the run, I took salt tablets at the same rate, along with Endurance Tap gels every 35 mins.
During both the bike and run, I drank ice water as well. LOTS of water during the run. I stopped to pee three times… that’s a good thing, right?
I had stomach issues on day one of the bike, which was actually due to consuming too much of my drink too quickly. I had to drink water and let my stomach settle, but I was ok. I didn’t eat any solid food that day, though, as my stomach was a bit angry!
How does it feel to take the overall win and have another four women with you in the top five?
When I saw the start list with more women than usual, I was very excited (and intimidated… and not just by Leanda Cave)! I felt like the race was really cool to be a part of, as it seemed historically significant that so many women would be lining up. Little did I know that the women on the start line would be bringing their A-game to make up so much of the top Five! Incredible to be a part of. Every one of the women in this race has inspired me. I feel so lucky to share such a special race with these women and their crews.
Do you have any other crazy endurance endeavours in your sights this year, or are you enjoying your recovery?
I am definitely enjoying recovery! There may be space to squeeze in another small local FKT attempt this year, but we will see! Of course, I do hope to make my way to the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii in 2023.
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training, and who are you sponsored by right now?
For training, my goal is to use kit that stands up to lots of washing as it seems like it is never-ending! My favourite kit is bike bibs that have stretch in the back for quick pit stops that don’t require completely undressing out of the jersey! My favourite are the Peppermint Cycling bibs for this reason. I also wore a Peppermint Cycling Speed Suit for Ultraman, and it was great; very comfortable. Zero chafing! I am not sponsored by anyone for any gear or kit. This race was a self-sponsored mission. 😊
You can follow Amy’s training and racing via her social media: www.instagram.com/honesttriathlete.