As racers gear up for this June’s Iron Team Relay on Nantucket, there’s at least one man who thinks it’s a day at the beach.
Simon Shurey has long been a fixture in the island’s tight-knit circle of elite athletes, but last February, he competed in a grueling race that set him apart from the pack. Known as an Ultra Ironman, the three-day competition includes 6.2 miles of swimming, 264 miles of biking, and over fifty miles of running. Most consider this an unfathomable feat of athleticism, but for Simon Shurey, it was just another challenge — set and met.
Shurey moved to Nantucket in 2008 from South Carolina to take a job as the food and beverage manager at the Wauwinet. A veteran endurance athlete, he ran several full marathons before signing up for his first triathlon. “That really ignited my spirit,” he told me over coffee on a raw, early spring morning. “I had signed up because, while I enjoyed doing marathons, I wanted to experience something different.”
Shurey joined the Nantucket Triathlon Club, relishing the camaraderie of training with like-minded athletes and made it a goal to improve his weakest leg of the three events, the swim. “My swim is still pretty bad,” he told me. “But the message here is that just because something is not good it shouldn’t stop you.” To this day, that is his biggest challenge.
His next challenge was a half-Ironman, then a full in Mont-Tremblant in 2013, followed by competitions in Lake Tahoe, Lake Placid, Florida and Wisconsin. By that point, he had identified nutrition as a top tier component of his training regimen. During long rides and runs, he experimented with different fuel sources, some powders, some energy bars — even potatoes and turkey wraps. Friend and ACKFresh founder Samantha Stillings custom-formulated Simon’s Beet Fatigue, beets being known to help oxidize the blood. On the technical end, Shurey’s basement became the hub for his late-night training sessions. He installed a bike trainer and hooked up to a program called Zwift, which fed a virtual course to his power meter, allowing him to simulate a race and measure his wattage and output.
In early 2015, Shurey was invited to crew for a friend at the Ultra Ironman in Orlando, Florida. His firsthand experience in the ranks was enough to convince him to apply for entry. “Everyone was telling me I should, and it kind of grows with you inside.” He got his invitation in May.
For the next eight months, Shurey’s commitment to lead a well-balanced life skewed singularly toward race preparation. He adhered to a strict training routine, put together his own crew and in mid-February, drove down to Orlando for the biggest race of his life. Registration and equipment checks kept Shurey and his crew — called Team Limey in a nod to his British heritage — preoccupied for the first day or so, but nerves started to settle in the afternoon before the race. “I was definitely starting to feel it,” he said. “We had about 12 hours to go. It was suddenly happening.”
Day one was a 6.2-mile swim, Shurey’s toughest leg. He started out well. The water temp was comfortable, but around mile four the current shifted, and he started to fatigue. “Things started to turn and suddenly I was not in a good place. But I said to myself, ‘you are in this, you have got to get through.’”
After hours in the water, Shurey finished the swim in 38th place, second to last. He took off on his bike with a goal of six hours to ride the required 93 miles. “My big challenge at that point was that I couldn’t get into aero position [because] my triceps were so banged up from the swim.” At the end of the day, he was in 30th place. Recovery consisted of two heaping plates of pasta with chicken and broccoli and use of a compression system to work the lactic acid out of his muscles.
Day two was 172 miles on the bike on an open course, meaning that racers had to obey all traffic signals and were pedaling on highways with eighteen-wheelers roaring by. At mile one hundred, Shurey was averaging about nineteen miles an hour and feeling strong. At the finish, he had moved up to 24th place. To reach his goal of completing the Ultra in sub-thirty hours, he had 9.5 hours to run the double marathon on day three. “Suddenly, my own self-belief was coming through.”
When Shurey finished 52.4 miles the next day he wasn’t alone. “My crew joined me for the last quarter-mile and we crossed the line together.” His total race time was 29 hours and 54 minutes. “I get emotional about it even now,” Shurey told me. “You doubt and question yourself, but then it’s wow, I did it; it’s mine. The journey is complete.”
So what’s next up for Simon Shurey? He has set his sights on the Ultra Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in 2017. It’s exhausting just to think about.
Inspired? The Nantucket Iron Team Relay takes place on Sunday, June 19th. Sign up at MentoringYouthNantucket.org.