TURNER, Maine — The first thing Kale Poland did after swimming the 24-mile leg of the decatriathlon in the World Cup Ultratriathlon Challenge was take a shower.
“He spent 20-something hours in the pool and wanted more water,” his mother Belinda Poland said from her home in Turner Monday afternoon. “What he wanted was to get the chlorine off his body.”
Plenty of athletes have completed Ironman-type triathlons. A great many of them have gone on to compete in 10 or more of the endurance events.
Then there are elite athletes like Turner native Poland, 29, who on Sunday began a race equal to 10 Ironman-equivalent triathlons at once.
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 in Monterrey, Mexico, Poland is doing all that, times 10.
That’s right — over 10 days Poland will swim 24 miles, cycle more than 1,100 miles and then run 261 miles, almost nonstop.
Which, of course, begs the question: Why?
“I kind of started out thinking about doing an Ironman and that it would be the pinnacle of triathlons,” Poland said from his home in Laconia, N.H., before flying out with his father Wes Poland to Mexico on Friday. “When I finished [the triathlon] I was like, ‘Hey, I’m still alive, that wasn’t all that hard.’”
That was in 2008 and the next year Poland said he was surfing the Internet and stumbled across the Decatriathlon World Cup.
“I saw there was only one American doing it that year, so I followed him online,” Poland said. “When he was done, I emailed him to congratulate him [because] he was only the ninth American to ever finish it.”
Through that email exchange Poland learned of the Virginia Triple Ironman and decided to give it a try.
An injury prevented him from finishing that race, but not from signing up for and completing the 2010 World Cup Quintuple Iron Race, covering distances equal to five traditional Ironman races — a 12-mile swim, 560-mile bike ride and a 131-mile run.
“I finished and it was such a high that I knew I had to go on to the next event,” Poland said.
It took Poland five days to complete that race, sleeping only two hours out of every 24.
“The first night I overslept,” he said. “I slept right through my alarm and slept six hours [and] that put me way, way behind.”
Erratic sleeping, coupled with a lack of support crew, made what was a challenging race even more so for Poland.
“The other racers who had a crew had operations that ran really smoothly,” he said.
This year his father has what Poland calls the “thankless job” of acting as his crew.
“He’s pretty selfless,” Poland said of his father. “Crewing sucks [with] no sleep and moody athletes, but at least he gets to go to Mexico.”
Not that either man — or any of the athletes and their support staff — get to see much of the country during the event.
The entire race takes place within the Parque Espana in an indoor Olympic-size pool and 1 kilometer paved track.
That means Poland will swim hundreds of laps over 20 hours in a chlorinated pool before jumping on his bike to ride around the enclosed track 3,600 times.
Poland then hops off his bike, changes direction and rounds the track 422 times to get in the required distance and cross the finish line almost two weeks after starting.
“That chlorinated pool, that was a problem when I did the quint,” he said. “I came out of the water and had bad burns in my eyes where my goggles were.”
Such chemical burns are fairly common at the race, Poland said, and this time around he plans to use some sort of lubricant between his goggles and the sensitive areas around his eyes.
Participants in the Deca typically burn between 6,000 and 10,000 calories a day, making mealtimes important, albeit quick affairs.
“We eat whatever we can get down,” Poland said. “There is a kitchen on the site where people cook and the athletes can eat. It’s mostly beans, rice and some kind of mystery meat.”
After three or four days into the Quint, Poland said, he needed something other than that traditional Mexican fare.
“I needed some real food, so I asked a support guy from another team if I paid him, would he get me a pizza,” Poland said. “Luckily Mexico has Dominos.”
A photograph of Poland running on the racecourse, holding a pizza box in one hand and eating a slice with the other was featured in a European newspaper.
“I had been racing for 80 hours at that point,” he said. “I had this big goofy grin on my face the whole time I was eating that pizza.”
Given the monotony of the closed track, Poland said completing the race is as much mental as it is physical.
“On the [running] track your mind has to kind of be engaged to put one foot in front of the other,” he said. “On the bike it can be extremely hard to stay awake when you are super tired [and] when you have to know, is it a matter of taking in some caffeine and blasting through it or is it time to really take a rest.”
Having his father on hand, Poland said, will help, as the elder Poland can assess his son’s condition and offer nutrition and resting suggestions.
Even on a short, enclosed track, Poland said there will be some climbing challenges.
“In 2010 I remember going around and around and remember feeling, ‘Wow, this course is super flat,’” he said. “But there really is a slight rise and by the end of the race if seems like a monster hill.”
Little events add up over the course of days, Poland said, and can turn those little molehills into mountains.
“All the little things compound on each other and eventually you are fighting a mental breakdown hour after hour,” he said. “But I like that you go through stages of being, of consciousness.”
Poland talks of times during the earlier race he could not keep his eyes open or when his average speed on the bike dropped to 8 mph.
“But then two hours later something clicks inside and all of a sudden you are flying around that course,” he said. “How can your body do that? There is just that amazing link between the mind and the body.”
It’s pretty safe to say a person can’t overtrain for something like a decatriathlon.
A big part of Poland getting his mind and body ready for races like the ultratriathlon came from support and advice from Northern Physical Therapy and Rehab Services, LLC in Presque Isle.
“While I was training for the quint I was in their clinic three to four days a week and they would take care of my little injuries,” Poland said.
“I did a little bit of everything to train this time,” Poland said. “When it comes to the run, you just do it, and I know the bike ride will take the majority of the race and if I can get through that, I’ll deal with the run.”
As for the swim, “I’ll just put one stroke in front of the other for 15 or 20 hours.”
When he was training for the quintuple triathlon, Poland would finish his day job at Mojo Sports in Presque Isle, jump on his bike and ride to Bangor.
“On one of my favorite rides it was a full moon night and I got to see Katahdin in the moonlight,” he said. “It’s for experiences like that I do these crazy things — you see things in ways other people do not.”
These days Poland trains out of his current employer’s shop at MC Cycle and Sport in Laconia, N.H., which also supplied a shiny new Litespeed racing bike for the event.
And his prerace diet?
“I’m eating everything,” he said with a laugh.
Most of Poland’s fellow competitors are older, in their late 30s and early 50s.
“Nobody my age is doing this right now,” he said. “This is a largely eastern European and Scandinavian sport [and] those guys are like rock stars in their countries.”
Poland stepped out of the pool around noon on Monday, after taking only a two-hour nap break during the swim, Belinda Poland said, adding her son and husband have kept her updated by Twitter accounts, phone calls and postings on Facebook.
“He’s feeling good, and seems to be having fun,” she said. “But he’s going to get more tired as the race goes on.”
This is where Wes Poland comes in.
“My husband is all about timing and keeping [Kale] on track with nutrition and rest,” Belinda Poland said. “There will be a point in the race when [Kale] is not capable of making sound judgements.”
Poland knows he’s facing some tough competition.
“I have no illusions about going down and winning,” he said. “I’m almost 10 years away from keeping up with these guys, but it would be nice to have a competitive time.”
Training to reach that level does take its own toll physically, emotionally and socially.
“I get to this point that if I’m not training I am really antsy,” he said. “And that’s not good because then I’m not taking the time to just hang out and be with my family and friends.”
Poland has no predictions on his decatriathlon finish, other than one.
“I want to cross that line,” he said. “I don’t want to go down there and not finish.”
Poland’s race progress can be followed on the World Cup Ultratriathlon website at www.multisport.com.mx/deca12/.