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Blisters, chlorine burns and not much sleep: B.C. woman completes month-long ultra-triathlon

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Shanda Hill of Vernon, B.C., accomplished a physically and mentally punishing feat: Crossing the finish line of a double-deca triathlon. Overall, she swam 76 kilometres in a 50-metre pool; biked 3,600 km on a 7.2-km looped circuit; and ran 844 km on a 2.1-km loop – Nov 6, 2019

A shower. A simple, cleansing shower.

Followed by ice baths. Plenty of ice baths.

This week, Shanda Hill of Vernon, B.C., accomplished a physically and mentally punishing feat: crossing the finish line of a double-Deca triathlon.

While double-Deca triathlon doesn’t sound like much, how’s this for a layman’s translation: swimming, biking and running the equivalent distance of Vancouver to Ottawa.

In 26 days.

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To say it’s an amazing feat — completing 20 Ironman triathlon races in under a month — is an understatement.

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“I went straight back to the hotel and had a shower,” Hill told Global News from Leon, Mexico, of what she did after finishing the race on Thursday.

“When you’re out there, in the heat all day, and you’re really sweaty, it sounds so elaborate just to have a shower… it’s the best feeling in the world.”

The race started on Oct. 5 and ended Nov. 2, though Hill finished on Thursday.

In between, she swam 76 kilometres in a 50-metre pool; biked 3,600 km on a 7.2-km looped circuit; and ran 844 km on a 2.1-km loop.

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When the race began, there were 14 athletes. At the end, only eight finished: four men and four women.

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Hill placed second among the women and fifth overall.

Total elapsed time: 646 hours, 12 minutes and 20 seconds.

Average amount of hours of sleep per day: six.

“She’s superhuman,” said Richard Chippendale, who, along with wife Genny, owns Iron Heart Gym in Vernon, where Hill works out.

“We have a pegboard (at the gym). She just doesn’t climb the pegboard; she’ll add 45-pound weights and climb the pegboard.”

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Chippendale said Hill’s effort was “inhuman. Really, I think it takes a super-human to do something like that. You can’t train for that. The impact on the body… most people, their body would break down from just the sheer pounding that it would take.

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“It becomes mental more than anything, and she does not fail at anything she does. Everything she does is of excellence, and that’s her personality.”

According to Hill, she’s the first Canadian to ever finish a double-Deca event.

But doing so came at a physical price: the pool gave her chlorine burns and she has several blisters. However, Hill is upbeat despite the beating her body took.

“I’m feeling really good,” said Hill. “I have two to three ice baths a day, and that’s more effective than anything you could possibly do, for my body at least.

“My feet are starting to heal up, so things are looking up.”

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Besides, she added, she had worse blisters at a Deca triathlon in 2017.

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“I had blisters that were something out of a nightmare,” Hill recalled.

“So I always compare everything to the 2017 Deca, so I’m actually approaching this with a lot of gratitude that my feet are in as good as shape as they are.”

During this year’s event, Hill said she became ill, which made competing that much harder. The sickness eventually passed.

“I believe I got food poisoning, and when you’re losing fluids through both ends, it’s really hard on your body,” said Hill. “It dehydrates you really quickly, and it’s really hard to get up and get out of your tent and get moving when you don’t have any calories in you and you’re really depleted.”

That physical low point was also a high point for Hill. She wasn’t the only athlete struggling in Mexico; others were as well.

“It’s really touching, watching them pick themselves up when they’re having a hard time and getting back on track,” said Hill.

“That’s some of the glorious moments.”

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Another high point Hill noted was how two athletes who couldn’t compete in Mexico at varying times to help the competitors. One athlete, she said, was only in Leon for eight hours but dropped off medical supplies and food.

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“These are things I don’t think the general public will ever see in any other type of competition,” said Hill. “It’s an incredible sense of family.

“It’s more than just a competition, it’s more than what just looks to be general masochism. It’s an incredible, tight-knit group of people who really care very much about each other.”

While triathlon does have a family feel to it, athletes are there to compete. And Hill was no exception.

“It’s always in your mind because it’s still a competition,” she said. “You’re out there, doing your best.”

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With the race now over, Hill admitted to being amazed at the online support she’s receiving.

“It made me cry. And it still does,” she said. “I shut my computer off and went completely (offline) and left that up to my better half.

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“When I was told about the magnitude of the support, I just cried, I couldn’t believe it.

“When I first started triathlon and had such a passion for it, my only goal was that other people in Canada would be able to find out, because I grew up and I never even knew about ultra-triathlon.

“My goal was to have other people, other women find out about it and enjoy it.”

Hill will be returning to Vernon this week. On Sunday, Nov. 10, Iron Heart Gym will be holding a welcome home gathering for Hill. The event will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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