LACONIA — "Overall I would definitely do it again," Kale Poland of MC Cycle & Sport told the interviewer from WCSH-TV of Portland, Maine, just days after becoming just the fourth man to finish the Peak 500 Ultra Marathon.
The event, which began on May 22, consists of hiking 50 circuits of a rugged 10-mile course up and down Joe's Mountain in Pittsfield, Vermont in less than 10 days.
Poland, whose business card reads "Kale like the veggie, Poland like the country," said that since "entering a triple triathlon on a whim, I've always had a passion for this kind of thing." In 2012, he finished the Deca Triathlon in Mexico, completing 10 triathlons in 10 days by swimming 24 miles, running 262 miles and cycling 1,120 miles.
"You can't really prepare for this physically," Poland remarked. "You have to be inside your own head and suffer. It's a mental game."
The Peak 500 Marathon is run on property owned by Joe DeSena, a Wall Street investor and endurance athlete who created "The Death Race," a 24-hour competition over obstacles and the more popular, less demanding "The Spartan Race," also run over obstacles. Poland said that 50 times around the course on Joe's Mountain is the equivalent of climbing the 29,029 feet to the summit of Mount Everest four-and-a-half times. Since the Peak 500 Marathon began five years ago only four competitors have finished, two this year.
"It's pretty bare bones event," Poland said. This year there were five entrants, three of whom failed to finish. "The attrition rate is huge. You're on your feet between 18 and 20 hours a day and you never get a full night's sleep."
Poland found himself competing against Nick "Storm Trooper" Bautista, who after dropping out on his first try spent the year in planning and preparation. An account of the event, written by Margaret Schlachter for the blog "Dirt In Your Skirt," noted that he plotted his strategy, prescribed his diet, rationed his sleep and equipped himself to the teeth with the latest gear. "He looked like he was going into battle," Poland recalled. With assistance from a pair of pacers, he never wavered from his plan. Schlachter likened him to a machine.
With a small Jansport backpack, Poland arrived alone with a pair of Sketchers that he abandoned for sneakers from Walmart midway through the event and an assortment of food that would turn a nutritionist pale . "Nothing healthy," he confessed," but lots of dense caloric intake. I don't think you can eat enough." And he had no plan. "It's too much to think about all at once," Poland explained. "You just take it day-by-day."
But, Poland did attract a crew of supporters. "The locals just helped me out," he said. "I had no idea who these people were. Now they're my best friends." He said that there was always someone to bring him food or Red Bull when he needed it. "Without their help I would have had a hard time finishing," he confessed.
Although it rained heavily the first two days, Poland recalled that "after the first 100 miles I thought 'this is great.'" He said that first two nights he slept about four hours, but then three, then two until he was resting an hour every 20 miles. "When I got sloppy and staggering," he said, "I slept."
Poland said that he covered the last 350 miles "absolutely, completely solo" and found himself hallucinating on the last two laps around the course. "It's definitely a mental thing," he said. He finished in time to enjoy the barbecue set out for contestants in shorter races and to welcome Bautista, who arrived a few hours later.
Poland estimated that he shed at least 10 pounds. "My ring doesn't fit on my finger, my legs are smaller and my clothes fit differently," he said. At the same time, his feet are much the worse for wear. Not a week has passed since the event and he is still wearing sandals on his swollen feet and taking anti-biotics to chase an infection. "Right now I'm just recovering," he smiled. "But, it was a confidence builder."
Poland said that he is eying the Appalachian Trail, expecting to go from one end to the other in about 45 days, as well as the Long Trail, 275 miles through Vermont, which will take less than a week. "There's something about covering a large amount of mileage," he remarked.