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In a world first John Mergler and Debi Hazelden will respectively attempt to complete 100 iron distance triathlons and 100 half iron distance triathlons in 100 days.

As you would expect this subject created quite a stir and some divided opinions on the forum. So I decided to see what the your questions were  and put them to John and Debi to find out the how, why and where of this amazing attempt.

So what exactly is it you plan on doing?

Debi: In Sydney Australia, I am doing 100 half ironman every day while John is doing 100 full Ironman's everyday for 100 days, raising funds for Red Cross. My weekly totals will be 14km swimming, 630km cycling, 147km running with a combined total of 190km swimming, 9,000km cycling, 2,100km running. John’s weekly totals will be 26.6km swimming, 1,260km cycling, 295.4km running with a combined total of 380km swimming, 18,000km cycling, 4,220km running.

Who came up with this idea and why?

Debi: We want to inspire others to do more than they think they can and push beyond boundaries. We like to raise money for charity and what better way to do it than doing what you love? I’d also like to inspire mums to keep fit and healthy.

John: I’ve been involved in endurance sport for many years, Ironman and endurance running are passions of mine. Inspired by Iron cowboy and the 50 in 50 I thought that was an amazing feat of endurance. Naturally being the competitive type I thought perhaps this is the challenge I’ve been looking for. Let’s double it, take a lot of the logistics out of it and do it in one location in Centennial Park, and the local pools in Sydney.

Why Red Cross as the charity of choice?

John: It would be selfish to do this for ourselves and we looked around for a great charity to support. We’ve done some great work with the Cancer Council and we felt we needed to create something that was helping people outside of Australia, who were in immediate crisis through no fault of their own. Red Cross shines a beacon for historically helping displaced people and people in crisis. We are proud to be raising funds for Red Cross.

Triathlon is often seen as a selfish sport and I see this is a way of paying back. Doing the ultimate challenge of 100 Ironman but doing it to raise money and awareness for something outside of our own sphere of influence. That’s’ why we are encouraging as many people who have signed up for Ironman Australia on May 7 to join Iron Century in some small way and fundraise as they train and get ready for the big race in Port Macquarie.

A lot of people around the world are doing it tough, way tougher than anyone attempting to do 100 Ironman, some people are condemned to a life of poverty and live in the most extreme conditions putting up with hardships, lack of food, no money, no contact with their family. Whereas we are putting ourselves up against it in a controlled environment for 100 days. It’s nothing in comparison to what these people are having to endure.

Debi: It was a no-brainer for me the Red Cross do such amazing work. I was in Christchurch for the Feb 2011 earthquake and saw first-hand how their support can make a major difference in peoples. I can get pretty emotional thinking back to this time. The Red Cross provide so much support that the general public wouldn’t think of. In times of a disaster like that they provided shelter, warmth by means of blankets or house insulation, hot meals, psychological, social support and counselling, they knock on doors to check people are ok and they even transported people to health appointments that couldn’t get there. It’s these things that help people get through disasters in a good mental and emotional state and come out the other side ok.

What is your background?

John: I’ve been doing Ironman since late ‘80s, travelling around the world doing iron distance races. I was on the very first Epic camp was one of the classics, a tour of the South Island with a bunch of awesome guys. Scott Mollina wrote in a blog after Epic Camp and I believe he got it right, that I prefer the training to the racing. I enjoy the friendship and fellowship of being out there with likeminded people and being out there for days. Racing is the icing on the cake but I thrive on the training side of it.

I’m lucky enough to have done many of the classic multi-sport races including the Nice International Triathlon, Embrun Man, Ultraman, Hawaii Ironman, Zofingen. I’ve won my age group in Hawaii and podiumed several times. I have a history of training long, it works for me.

Debi: I raced my first Ironman in Melbourne 2012, after that one I signed up to Cairns about 6 weeks later. I raced a few more Ironman including Hawaii after qualifying in Cairns 2014 with 10:18. Hawaii was amazing, such a fantastic atmosphere. Since then I slowly fell in love with the world of ultra-distance. Cycling the 3 Peaks Challenge a couple of times, Alpine Audax 320km, Fitz Extreme 255km, Ultraman Oz, ultra runs followed by Everesting on Watsons Bay hill where I met John!

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Have you gained any insights from Iron Cowboy?

John: His mental attitude, he is a legend in that respect. There is a bit controversy over the elliptical trainer which I don’t buy into at all. The guy sustained himself over 50 days with a great support crew and a great mental attitude. Travelling the distances he did and backing it up, starting in a remote location, organising different routes every day. His mental attitude and the support crew he put together is amazing. And we’ve learnt from that, we have a whole crew of people to support us, covering operations, logistics, babysitting, media. We have been very fortunate with all our sponsors they’ve given us product, advice and all sorts of support.

What about your relationship during this?

John: We sort of met in this environment. I heard about this girl Everesting (cycling the height of Mt Everest) and went out to check it out and ended up running 10 hill repeats while she cycled. A year later we got engaged on the same hill. There’s a love developed through endurance sport. This will be a whole new level though, a good test!

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What scares you the most about this journey?

John: The unexpected, we’ve trained and planned. It would be dealing with the unexpected and having contingency plans in place. Injury and lack of recovery are the two aspects that will need to be monitored and dealt with, yet again we are fortunate that we have a team of health care specialists and supporters that will manage the onset of injury and the support crew will deal with everything else so me can get maximum recovery each night.

What do you think will be the worst part (both mentally and physically) about attempting the feat?

John: Not getting enough sleep, if for some reason it runs over time one day or a couple of days. Stress levels. Lack of sleep and recovery. Where strain can come to a head each day is on the run. You’re a naked athlete in that you’re not supported by water, or a bike, you are fighting gravity all the time -- I’m a huge fan of Hokas. These shoes are incredibly cushioned, lightweight and performance oriented, and they’ll get us through the run everyday. I’ll be doing the majority of the marathons in the Hoka Clifton 3 which seems to work ideally with my gait and foot strike and allows me to keep me at the optimum cadence of 85-90.

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What training are you doing to prepare for the event?

Debi: Our training is all about building strength and endurance. The volume of training and the distances we’re doing isn’t much different to what we’d normally do. The main difference to training for a single Ironman is that we aren’t doing any speed work, just getting in some miles. Obviously having a 6 month old can make it tougher to train. John and I have turns while one cycles and the other runs with Ryder in the Thule pram while he sleeps. About 70% of my running is done with our 6 month old son Ryder which is good strength training. We did two full days back to back this week where John did two full Ironman and I did two half ironman which worked well. One lesson we learnt was to ensure we drink and eat enough, especially in this heat. Today it’s 40 degrees!

John: By almost eliminating intensity from the training, recovery is quicker and physical adaption is more effective. Consolidating efficiency in all disciplines is what’s necessary to execute Iron Century with the least physical impact to the body as possible. Training with the equipment and product we will be using during the 100 days is invaluable. Particularly the apparel that we will be wearing for hours on end, we are very lucky to have SCODY as our principal apparel partner who have provided multiple sets of swim, bike, run and triathlon kit that is sleek, fast and comfortable. Lake Cycling shoes beautifully crafted shoes, light comfortable, supple uppers and rigid carbon soles, just what you need for 5.5 hours in the cleats every day. To top it all off we are delighted to have the POC helmets and sunnies on our heads. So light and comfortable you don’t even know they are there. Oh and one other thing, they are super safe. And finally, the all-important bike for the 180km each day, a Ribble time trial bike specifically built through their online bike builder. Over the past few weeks I have been tweaking the ride position for comfort, speed and power. It just makes all those hours on the road that much easier.

Training has been building incrementally, we’ve got to watch not to be tempted to race people around the park, just keeping a lid on it. It’s all about being humble and building the aerobic engine. We’ve been working on distance and economy, playing around with back to back half ironman and full ironman. For example last week we did a trial on the course with all the equipment, Suunto and Quarq GPS data collection devices, SIS sports nutrition. . I did two full Ironman back to back, Debi did two half Ironman back to back. It was pretty flawless. We had a great time and pulled up really well the next day.

Triathletes are generally a pedantic lot when it comes to rules, what are the exact rules you will work to?

Debi: We are finalising all the arrangements. We will be swimming, biking and running outdoors, no indoor equipment, no endless pools, no indoor trainers or treadmills, no drafting on the cycle. The event will take place each day in public places and be open to public inspection. We will be using accurate GPS equipment and uploading this data to Strava for everyone to see along with a live tracker GPS via the Quark Qollector. Video footage will also be taken using Cycliq’s Fly 12 and Fly 6. We will have regular blood tests and we encourage any anti-doping agencies to test if they like. One Ironman rule John won’t be following is the covered torso Ironman rule! We may run a lap a day with our son Ryder in his Thule pram, if anyone contests this one I urge you to try pushing 20kg around and see how easy it is!

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Where is most of the event taking place, and would you welcome some support/ company?

Debi: 95 days of this will be in Sydney and the last few days in Port Macquarie. In Sydney we’ll be swimming at Prince Alfred Park Pool 6am on Tues, Thurs, Fri, Sat & Sun. On Mon and Wed we will either be at Victoria Park pool or go to the ocean with the plan to start the swim at 6am each day. Every day in the pool or the ocean we’ll have the Roka advantage, swimming in one of their wetsuits or shorts and having clear vision through their R1 goggles.

While we are in Sydney we’ll be cycling and running in Centennial Park every day. It’s a perfect circuit for us. The run is 3.7km, the ride 3.8km and we’ll have our support vehicle there to have as a base for nutrition throughout the day just like an aid station. It can get busy with kids, cyclists, and people roller blading on the weekend. Each day Debi will do 24 loops on the bike and 6 loops of the run, John will cycle 48 loops and run 12 loops.

Company? Yes! We’d love company on the bike and run. We can’t draft so any company on the bike would be riding beside us or behind but we would appreciate company. We are hoping to get people to be with John for the last couple of hours every day I think these are the hours he’ll most need it. This would be after work hours so hopefully it’ll work out that people could come run 2-3 laps with him in the evening. There is going to be a schedule where people can put their names down for a specific evening which will be posted on Facebook. We also ask that anyone who comes to support also donates a small amount to our Red Cross fundraising even if it’s $20 it all counts!

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How will they verify that they've fully completed all the Ironmans? Will there be live tracking or perhaps upload to Strava each day?

Debi: To track we are using Suunto GPS watches, the Quarq Qollector for live tracking and Cycliq video cameras. The Suunto watches track GPS, cadence and heart rate which will be uploaded to Strava each day. We’ll be using the Quarq Qollector to live track, it has a new link each day which will be posted on Facebook and the website and shows speed, distance and location.

Cycliq’s Fly6 and Fly12 video camera and light combinations will be used to film the event each day. It proved difficult to find a video camera that could do this length of footage. Cycliq’s cameras have phenomenal battery power compared to all other cameras, they can do up to 10 hours which is significantly more than any other. They are relatively new and are a step above all competitors. They were made especially for cyclists and have a strong safety DNA. Cyclists can continuously film their surroundings and capture compelling moments with their buddies, or use the footage for insurance or police purposes. Their video quality, battery power and features such as looping recording with time/date stamps allow for this.

I’ll have all the Strava feeds on the website and everything will be transparent and accessible. I’ll also be putting up the daily data on a blog on our website, graphs each day of HR, pace etc along with other measurements we are going to track for health like morning and evening weight, blood pressure, morning and evening HRs.

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What is the timing plan between the two - Will Debi plan to start the swim each day at the same time as John, or is the plan to spend most time together on the bike portion?

Debi: The plan is to go to the pool together, I will jump in half way through John’s swim. We will then both go to Centennial Park for the cycle and run legs. I’ll do my run leg straight after the cycle.

Given all the medical thinking on endurance sports being good only in moderation, with risk of heart damage if taken too far, do they have a medical expert supporting them and looking after their long-term health?
John: Iron Century has a medical team which will be monitoring performance and health. Regular blood tests will be taken. Health Space Clinics are also an event partner who will maintain Debi and I through the 100 days providing massage on a daily basis and physio and chiro when needed.

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Debi is taking on a pretty big event of her own, does she worry about/feel overshadowed by John's?

Debi: Not at all, doing a half ironman every day will not be easy. The distances total 14km of swimming, 630km of cycling and 147km of running every week for 14+ weeks. I need to keep an eye on the time, without going too fast, but to finish as fast as I can each day to be able to spend time with family, help organise the event and support John. It’s not plain sailing once my HIM is done.
This has been close to John’s heart for a long time and I’m here for him all the way. I’ll be here to support and help him in every way I can to help him succeed. He has a lot of love and support around him.

Often getting adequate sleep after an endurance event can be tricky, but needing sleep to back up is even trickier, how do you plan to ensure you get enough rest or handle sleep deprivation?

Debi: Sleep is a major part of our recovery strategy, how to get enough sleep along with fitting in everything else that needs to be done (massage, eat, meetings, data and video uploading, log books, social media, blogging, media) along with completing the Ironman each day. Foodora is a major help with our time efficiency, they will be delivering us dinner every night for the 100 days saving me food shopping, cooking and cleaning up every night. They are working with our nutritionist from Health Space and giving us a great selection of healthy options and of course the odd burger or pizza.

John: We are so blessed to have a team including an operations manager, logistics manager and other volunteers who are taking a lot of the everyday management out of my control and allow me to maximise my recovery time. Throughout our training we have been devising strategies to deal with broken sleep due to exercise. Cortisol the stress hormone and caffeine are the principal culprits so by reducing these we find sleep is much easier. The lower intensity that we are performing each day reduces the stress levels and having a regime of recovery that calms the body and mind goes a long way to be restful at night.

What is your nutrition and hydration plan?

Debi: I’ll be having a decent meal after the swim, Chobani, fruit and bircher muesli. I’ll be having SIS sports nutrition mainly, their recovery drink, electrolyte tables, electrolyte powders and they do some great bars which are softer than the norm which makes them very easy to eat on the bike, run and basically anytime. Along with a few Chobani oats and yoghurt pouches on the run.

John: Because I’m out there for so long each day I’ll be trying to eat as much healthy balanced real food as I can. I’ll be having a good breakfast after the swim of yoghurt, fruit and porridge and a decent lunch halfway through the bike. Throughout the day I’ll be having the SIS products and a few of the Chobani pouches on the run. At the end of each day Foodora have come on board to provide us with delicious and highly nutritious meals from an selection of the great restaurants they work with.

Do you have a plan B if there are adverse weather conditions?

John: We do it outside rain hail or shine.

Have you got any media on board?

Debi: We have regular updates in Australian Triathlete and 220 Triathlon magazine, Slowtwitch and IM Talk podcast throughout the 100 days. We’d appreciate Roxii sharing updates on Transitions on how we are going. The coverage is to boost donations to our Red Cross fundraising as we have a pretty big goal of $100,000 so any support is highly welcomed!

(Roxii: I will pin a topic on the forum for as long as the event is running) 

Are you worrying about times or just getting the distances done in a single day?

John: Doing the distances with an eye to the time, without going overboard to maximise recovery time.

What sort of times do you currently do for the standalone HIM and IM, and how do you think you will do time wise for number 100 at Port Mac?

John: I’ve done a range of times from 8:40 – 10:40 in Malaysia on a crazy hot humid day. That’s one hell of a race. On a good day I can still go between 9:20 – 9: 30. The trial in the park the other day I did 10:32 and 10:50, I’ve taken some learnings from that. I’ll probably slow it down a bit for the first 10-15 to really get maximum efficiency going. One of the issues is getting it done in the appropriate time to maximise recovery. It’s a very tight line and something we are very conscious of. As for Ironman Australia I have no idea. One thing is sure I won’t be under-trained!

Will your ipod be playing country or western on the run leg each day or what other “distractions” if any have you planned?

John: Radio, music, friends coming to support and cycle and run with me.

Will you be staying on site or will you be coming and going from home?

Debi: We’ll be coming home every evening. The pools and Park are on our doorstep.

You have a running pram sponsor on board as I believe you have recently had a baby, who will be looking after the baby while you are both doing their stuff and or how much time will they be spending on course with you?

Debi: Yes, we have a such a wonderful little son Ryder who his 6 months old. We are very lucky he’s slept through the night since he was about 12 weeks. John did a lot of research into the best running prams prior to Ryder being born, the Thule Glide was the first baby item we were looking into, which is no surprise! I’d say it’s the item we use the most, seriously couldn’t have done all this training without having a decent running pram.
Ryder is very lucky he has so many loved ones around. He’ll go to day care three mornings a week and on other days be looked after by family and close friends before I finish. I’ll bring Ryder down to the park to see John. I’d like Ryder to be involved as much as possible, to do a lap or two of the run each day. It’s obviously tougher running with the pram but I think it’s important he’s involved as he has been training in the leadup with us and he enjoys being pushed around the park.
My parents Jill and Charlie Hazelden are coming over from New Zealand for the duration of the event. Ryder’s godparents Susan and Jeffrey Cohn live very close and are both training for Port Mac 70.3 will be helping out some mornings. We also have a fantastic triathlon group with lots of people who love looking after little Ryder, we won’t be short on babysitters!

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John, you have said you would like to qualify for Kona at Port in IM no 100 if you get to no.100 injury free do you think you will still have the “fire in the belly” to “race” it rather than just complete it?

Debi: John always has “fire in the belly” he’s very competitive which I think is partly why he has won his age group at many Ironman across the years.

John: I love racing so if the body is willing the fire will be in the belly.

What plans do you have to "detox" post number 100?

Debi: There will be a big celebration in Port Macquarie when we finish. We have about 25 members of our triathlon group up there racing. We are thinking about getting married up at Port Macquarie a couple of days after the 100th day. If we make it through this!

John: Probably take a break and get married.

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How can we follow this?

You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook. We’ll also be doing two daily blogs, one will be a commentary from John and I and the other will be data and stats, these will both be on our website and shared on Facebook.

Facebook: @100ironman100days

Instagram: @ironcentury

Website: www.ironcentury.com.au

How can we donate?

You can donate through our Tri Charity page:

https://www.tricharity.com/fundraisers/IronCenturyTeam

We are also encouraging others to fundraise for us on their “Road to Ironman Australia” even if they just raise $100! We currently have 9 people in the fundraising team.

Start fundraising: https://www.tricharity.com/register/iron-century-2017

Big thanks to all our sponsors: 
Foodora, SCODY, Ribble Cycles, SIS, Hoka One One, Suunto, Roka, Thule, Cycliq, Lake Cycling, POC Sports, Quarq, Prince Alfred Park pool, Chobani, Kustom Caps

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