TURNER, Maine — By their nature, endurance marathons can be lonely events, with athletes competing in isolation running and cycling over miles of trails and roads.
So it’s understandable major world events escaped Turner native Kale Poland’s notice as he competed in last month’s grueling World Cup Ultratriathlon Challenge in Monterry, Mexico.
Poland, 30, was one of only two athletes this year participating in the event’s decatriathlon — a race that combines the elements of a traditional Ironman triathlon, times 10. He started the race on Oct. 21 and finished on Nov. 2.
In a traditional Ironman — or “ultradistance triathlon” — athletes swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 miles and run a full marathon of 26.2 miles.
In the World Cup Ultratriathlon Challenge, Poland swam 24 miles, cycled more than 1,100 miles and then ran 261 miles, almost nonstop, over 12 days.
“During the race it was like I was in a time warp,” Poland said from home in New Hampshire. “I crossed the finish line and then it was like, ‘Wow, look at all that’s gone on in the world while I was out on the track.’”
Among the things that fell under his radar was Hurricane Sandy and the aggressive campaigning leading up to last week’s elections.
“I was like, ‘there was a hurricane?’” he said. “And to be honest, I’m kind of glad I missed some of the election stuff.”
To put Poland’s achievement into perspective, what he did was to swim the equivalent distance of the English Channel, hop on his bicycle and ride up U.S. Route 1 from Tallahassee, Fla., to Boston and then run from Boston to Freeport.
The entire race was on a closed course, meaning he did the swim lap after lap in a pool and ran thousands of laps around a 1km course.
“I really had to keep my mental focus,” Poland said. “It was one lap at a time and I just kept focusing on three things: When am I going to eat again? The current lap and when do I get to sleep?”
Poland had help making those eating and sleeping decisions from his father and one-man crew Wes Poland.
“Having my dad there was everything,” Poland said. “I would go by him on a lap and yell out, ‘Next lap pizza or Powerade’ and on that next lap he’d hand it off to me.”
Not that eating was an excuse to stop racing. There is a photo of Poland riding his bicycle, a plate of food balanced on the handlebars.
“That race threw everything at me,” Poland, who successfully ran a quintuple triathlon in 2010, said. “Some afternoons it was pushing 100-degrees and there were sections of the course with new pavement and no shade so it was like being in a furnace.”
Then there were the cats — scores of feral cats left to their own devices to roam around the race course grounds.
“I spent a lot of time dodging cats on the bike,” Poland said. “One of the guys doing another race actually crashed into a tree trying to avoid one.”
After days pushing himself to his physical and mental limits, Poland said the felines became sort of a metaphor for the experience.
“During the run at around four or five in the morning I went by a mom cat with kittens and they were ripping open a bird [and] there were just feathers flying everywhere,” he said. “At the time I totally felt like that bird.”
The race did take its toll on Poland, who was hit with stomach trouble just one day into the swim.
“I had to spend some time out of the pool [and] I was sitting on the side of the pool at 2 a.m. and all I wanted to do was quit,” he said. “But it was the first day and you can’t quit the first day so I just dealt with it and kept going.”
His stomach eventually settled down and that, combined with two-hour naps, carried Poland over the finish line 12 days later with an official time of 296:20:38.
Simon Bourne, 49, of Great Britain completed the event about 20 hours earlier.
“I am the ninth American to finish this race,” Poland said. “Around the world less than five people under the age of 30 have done it.”
Poland celebrated his 30th birthday on Nov. 5, three days after crossing the finish line.
The race provided Poland with some extreme highs and lows, he said.
“When I hit 1,000 miles on the bike it really got to me for some reason and I started crying,” he said. “I had actually just biked four-digits and maybe I can start thinking about the finish.”
During the final run portion, Poland said at times his pace was little more than a stagger, but he perked up and ran the final six or seven miles flat out, crossing the finish line holding an American flag.
“When I finished it was like, Now what?” he said. “I just sat down and took off my shoes and kept looking up that road like I needed to do another lap.”
That finish, Poland said, shows that anyone can set and meet goals.
“Every barrier is mental,” he said. “You can get the physical issues fixed.”
While he was in Mexico, Poland’s family and friends kept tabs on him through the event’s website and on Facebook.
“Seeing all the posts and well wishes people sent was really a great boost,” he said. “It gave me a little more motivation.”
After being home for several days Poland was still catching up on sleep, waiting for feeling to come back in his feet and back to work at MC Cycle and Sport in Laconia, N.H., which also supplied a shiny new Litespeed racing bike for the event.
He’s also planning for the next race.
“They do what they call ‘An Ironman a day for 10 days,’” he said. “You run an Ironman triathlon every day for 10 days.”
He likes the sound of that one.
“It’s an easier format,” he said. “You get to break things up by just doing one [Ironman] a day.”