Gray wins the Ultraman World Championship

We get some insight from Rob Gray who went from runner-up in 2016 to Ultraman world champion in 2017 on his race, training and the people who helped him through the tough three days of racing.

| December 4, 2017 | PERSONALITY

Photo >Bob Babbitt

Originally from South Africa, Rob Gray now lives in Boulder, Colorado. He's burst onto the Ultraman scene over the last two years, winning Ultraman Florida last year, taking second at last year's Ultraman World Championship on the Big Island of Hawaii, and winning this year's race. We caught up with the champion after his big win: Was there anything that you learned from last year’s race that helped you this year?

Rob Gray: Yes - last year I did a poor job of pacing on the run, so that was a painful lesson. But this year I paced the double marathon very well. It gets really difficult after mile 40 and I held myself back the whole way until about 10 miles to go.

This was your third Ultraman event and second win. What do you think is the key to your success over this distance?

My physiology seems to be well suited to the long distances and the multi-day events. For example, my swim pace for Ultraman is the same as for Ironman. Also, with the bike being my strength, that lends itself to success in the Ultraman since so much time is spent on the bike.

Most people balk at the thought of training for a full distance race, let alone the Ultraman. How different is the training? (Could you maybe outline what a typical week might be?)

Most of my training weeks are less than 20 hours. I think I had two weeks of 23 hours in the lead up to this event. But most of my workouts were high quality with not much in the way of "junk miles". My longest bike ride was 6 hours and my longest run was 28 miles. All my swims are high intensity, done with the local Boulder masters groups.  

Your support crew is obviously an integral part of your success at an event like the Ultraman. Can you tell us a bit about the people who helped you in Kona and what exactly they do?

Ian Hersey is my crew captain who manages the overall crew functions. In addition he paced me for about 20 miles of the run. He really put himself on the line for me, we ran out of water near the end (I was not aware of that), so he had no fluids for about an hour so that I could have enough water. After the race he was in a really bad place with severe dehydration, but I was OK thanks to his sacrifice. Michael Bush was in charge of my nutrition, which is a key function in this race. It's very easy to miscalculate the numbers, and if that happens on any of the days, it can affect the rest of your race. He had a giant spreadsheet with all my calorie intake, making sure I was getting in at least 400 calories per hour on the bike and 250 calories per hour on the run. Cary Craig was doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes, like pouring bottles, getting food ready and taking video footage over the three days that we'll use after the fact. And then there are all the people around me that I would consider my "extended crew." My wife Michelle is there for the other 362 days of the year, making sure I am well set up to get the training done. My bike coach Matthew Bottrill, who makes me suffer beyond belief on a regular basis.  My mechanic Will Pennino, who is an absolute wizard with the setup, configuration and maintenance of the machines. And then I run twice a week with Darren de Reuck's running group in Boulder. It really is invaluable trying to keep up with Olympians Colleen de Reuck and Joanna Zeiger on those long tempo sessions. 

Will you be back to defend your title next year?

Absolutely. 2018 is going to be a fierce battle with 2016 winner Inaki de la Parra. There are also possibly a few other contenders who are really fantastic cyclists - that will make for a very interesting race.