My training leading up to Arizona was pretty intense. I managed to get a good month and a half of outdoor riding in before I got inside and literally turned up the heat. I felt amazing in most of my sessions up to the race, having some of my fastest long runs and rides. My power output was pretty consistent, even when we moved inside with the heat turned up to acclimatize my poor Canadian body. Most of my running sessions showed improvement, so I was pretty confident that if everything went well, I would easily run a PR at this race. Well this all took a turn for the worst about 3 weeks out from the race. Sessions were getting harder, and my body wasn’t responding to the sessions as well as it had been. I was struggling through most of the workouts, still having some good ones, but feeling like the bad ones outweighed the good. As for my poor family- I apologize for being a tired and SUPER grumpy person to be around. It is easy to shake this all off as the beginning of taper after a solid couple months of Ironman training. I realize now that I have some time to sit down and reflect on the all of this, that there were many warning signs my body was giving me that I didn’t necessarily ignore, but that I didn’t really think anything of. For example: After completing my indoor rides in the heat, particularly the long ones, I would spend the rest of the day craving any kind of junk food I could think of. Anything salty I could get my hands on. I brushed this off as just an increase in training volume and my body wanting more calories. This was probably the case as well, as I felt like I could eat the whole refrigerator!, but the thing I should have acknowledged was how much more I was sweating in the heat, and how much sodium and electrolyte I was losing. I am a VERY heavy, salty sweater to begin with, so put me in hot conditions on the trainer, and I pretty much needed Nixon’s kiddie pool under me to hold the massive sweat puddle. I was still able to complete solid 4 hour rides in this condition, followed by a brick at above race-pace effort. I was tired, but didn’t feel horrible. I expected to be tired after this many weeks at 18-21hrs of training on top of motherly duties…lol. Running around after a four year old should count for something in the training schedule!! The thing is… these sessions were only half the amount of time of and Ironman race. 4.5 hours in these conditions is much different than 9+ hours. It is inevitable that you will be dehydrated at the end of an Ironman race, it is determining the level of dehydration your body can get to while having a minimal impact on your race. That being said, there is NO formula that works for everyone. A 16 hour Ironman athlete will usually be less dehydrated than an 8 hour athlete (assuming both hydrated properly), as the level of exertion is so different. The slower athlete will be able to hydrate much more as the body should be able to digest nutrition and fluids easier. The 8 hour athlete has way more stress on the digestive system at that effort and pace, and therefore cannot digest as much. That being said, my level of dehydration in these training sessions would be less half of what they would be in an Iron distance race. So while I thought I was hydrating enough, I am now sure I was not. And by hydrating, I mean both fluid and electrolyte replacement. When I was about 35km into the run at this race, my hands looked like skeletons with blue veins popping out everywhere, and my rings were almost falling off! Normally in the heat (it wasn’t that hot, but still a warm day), my hands would be slightly swollen.
Now when it comes to hydration and race day fueling, there are SO many things to consider and figure out. Some people may only loose .5L of fluid/hr and not much sodium, while some athletes may lose 2+L/hr. Sodium lose can range from 200mg-1200+mg/hr as well. Taking these numbers into consideration, that is a HUGE range! I know that I am on the higher end of the range, so consuming only one bottle (600-750ml) and 650mg sodium an hour probably isn’t barely putting a dent into my losses. I can manage this loss for 4-5hours, but 9-10 hours puts me into a deficit that severely impacts my performance. This theory has proven true three times now, while I was just chalking it down to plain nutrition. I figured I was hydrating enough as I was consuming the “max 750ml/hr” that I had always been told was the maximum the body could absorb. I am not saying that this is not true…and it is an excellent guideline for most, but we are all individual. It is a very fine line between water, salt, simple sugars and complex sugars, and finding that balance is pure science….not to mention throwing in external factors like heat and humidity. So in my case, just consuming more water is NOT the answer if I don’t have the proper amount of electrolyte, and trying to gain more energy from consuming more calories won’t work if my gut is shut down and nothing is making it past my stomach. Sweat rate testing and analysis is now something on my radar. And I mean more than just the typical before and after weigh in. Which, if this is something you avoid simply because you don’t like to step on the scale, then I strongly encourage you to get over that, and do a naked weigh in before and after your workouts that last longer than an hour to give you a rough idea of how much you are losing, especially if you are a heavy sweater. A loss of 2.2Lbs is equivalent to 1L of fluid. Now, that being said, DO NOT try to replace the entire amount that you are losing during exercise/racing. If you are losing 2L/hr, you CANNOT replace that volume of fluid. This is far more than the body can absorb, and hyponatremia can become a factor very quickly if you are consuming this out of balance with electrolyte. The key is balancing the dehydration factor. You WILL be dehydrated at the end of the race- it is 100% impossible to replace everything that you are losing- it’s just slowing down the dehydration rate enough so that when you do finish, you are not at an impaired state.
Alright… enough science and lecturing! I won’t bore you to death with a long recap of Arizona, as I already gave a short and sweet lowdown of how the race went. Needless to say, I think my splits pretty much tell the story themselves
A 1:03:53 swim was NOT what I thought I would come out of the water in (16th). While swimming is the weakest of the three for me, I have spent a good chunk of time in the pool, and felt I was improving. It started out great, was on a group of feet for the first bit, and then lost them. Apparently when I lost them, I also lost complete focus. My mind was already in bike-land figuring out how much time I would have to make up on the top girls.
The bike was fun and fast just as everyone had told me it would be! I think my split says it all: 4:43:57. Third fastest of the day, and only by a small margin. As much as I just wanted to “grow wings and fly”, I forced myself to stick to the planJ I was able to make up 12 spots, coming off the bike in 4th.
I felt awesome going out onto the run, and quickly settled into a pace that made my sub 3:10 goal very attainable. I ran in 3rd for the first 18km of the run, which was awesome! I don’t usually make too much of passing people or getting passed this early into the run… there is still lots of time for anything to happen. By the halfway point, my thirst factor became too much to handle and I made a stupid decision to take in way too much fluid through a couple aid stations. I was getting dizzy, had a bad headache, and now I had a stomach cramp from hell from too much liquid in my belly. I suffered through a couple kms, trying to stretch and breathe it out, but the cramp was too much to handle. I had to make a decision. I either walked or rid my stomach of what was in it. I chose the ladder of the two. My body was obviously already in severe deficit, so now it was survival mode. Emptying my stomach helped to the point that the cramp was manageable. I resisted the urge to consume every cup that was handed to me, and only took in coke and chewed on ice cubes. I only had 15km or so to go. All I had to do was survive (without damaging my body too much of course). I had fallen into 5th at this point, and was soon passed by 6th. Seriously, if any of you have ever done an Ironman, it is crazy the conversations, and arguments that you have with yourself! It was a battle of “give up” quickly followed by a feisty “don’t even think about it- MOVE!!”. I kept saying to myself “This can’t be happening again.”, then remembering how I finished Challenge this year. I found a strength I never knew I had, and sprinted for the win. The mind is a very powerful tool if you know how to use it! I was frustrated and angry, but turned this around to fuel me. Yes, it sucked that I got the cramp, and had fallen to 7th. I knew I couldn’t win at this point, or even podium, unless something drastic happened to the girls in front. But why was this a reason just to throw the towel in. Yes, I came to the start line healthy, feeling good, and hopes of top 3, but this was no reason to give up. My hopes of getting a decent paycheck were gone, I was hurting, and was beating myself up, trying to figure out why I had gotten myself into the position….again. But then, Jay’s voice popped into my head : “Remember the real reason you do this. Because you love it!” It’s true. While it is really hard to have fun and love something when you’re hurting, that hurt is a very small amount of time in the big picture. I do love this sport, and everything about it. Even the painful times. I held onto 7th for the remaining 7 or 8km, and finished in a HUGE PR of 9:17:34! How could I not be happy with that! My body was a pretty hurting unit, but I had made it to the finish line with a PR and a story to go with it!
I have now enjoyed some vacation time and R&R with the family. Racing will be put on hold for a few month as I will be tackling a HUGE swim focus. But don’t worry…I’ll be back- fitter, faster, and most definitely more educated!
Thank you to all of you who have followed along and supported me. As well as to my coach Jonathon Caron, and all my sponsors: Skechers Performance, Swagman, CarboPro, NuVista, EnergyLab, The Bike Barn, Cervelo, Podium Imports, Cobb, Garmin and Blue Seventy.