Fellow Dorset native Linda Ashmore reached out to us late last year looking for some help with refining her hydration strategy. She'd placed 3rd in the 65-69 age group at Kona in 2015 and was looking to step up her game.
Her Sweat Test revealed she loses about 25% more sodium than average in her sweat and so we advised her to drink our strongest drink (which contains 1,500mg of sodium per litre, about 3 times more than typical sports drinks and electrolyte supplements) before, during and after her tougher training sessions and races.
Just over a year later we were checking the Ironman World Championship results and were delighted when we saw Linda had won her 70-74 age group making her the World Champion.
We touched base with her to get some insight into just how she managed to win by an incredible 45 minutes...
This wasn't your first Kona, was it Linda?
No, this was my 3rd trip to the Big Island. I came third in my first World Champs, then I moved up an age group for my next attempt. I thought it would be 'easier' but whilst I beat the times of the first three in the age group below me, I only came second in my new age group!
It was a tough race and I swore never to do another, but 24 hours later I was planning on how to come back and win.
Talk us through the 70-74 Age Group race. Who were you up against? Was it a close one?
The competition was tough. Cheri Gruenfeld, who had taken the course record back in 2015, had retired but Natalie Grabow was only a few minutes behind that year and is a phenomenal cyclist. I definitely visualised a close finish, seventy year olds replicating the race of the Iron War!
I came out of the swim with only just over a minute lead on Sally Crawford (who came 2nd at the end of the day) and we both had a fair lead over the others. I managed to extend that lead on both the bike and the run so it wasn't as close as I had expected in the end but you still have to keep your wits about you and concentrate on your own race as you can blow up at any moment if you don't. I raced hard until the end.
What did your training plan look like in the months before Kona?
I knew I had to make up some time on the bike, so right through the winter I was out every other day with cyclists stronger and faster than me. Prior to this I had mostly trained on my own.
My training programme was strict, no 'junk' miles, every session had a purpose. With cycling that mainly meant strength sessions with hill reps, technique sessions with high cadence and/or down in the aero bars and long endurance rides in zone 2.
Just prior to Kona, I built up the time I could ride continually on my aero bars. I found an undulating section of two roads about 9 miles long, with little traffic, and ended with continuous loops down in aerobars at an average of 16-17mph. It paid off as I was able to maintain the aero position for the majority of the course, even up the hills, to combat the cross and head winds.
Running was my real nemesis though, last year I went down a big black hole on the run in Kona. I came home determined to 'crack' my mental attitude to the distance.
It was suggested I do a stand alone marathon, so I started breaking my runs down to 'just one or two episodes of a favourite tv programme', rather than a specific time or distance, but I was still very sluggish on these longer runs, bricks off the bike were always much quicker.
However once I started doing the parkrun every Saturday instead of trying, unsuccessfully, to do effective interval training, my speed slowly improved. Then, all of a sudden, a month or so prior to Kona I started to enjoy running and felt like a gazelle rather than an elephant! On the day I ran the whole 26 miles at a steady pace, slower than I would have liked, but consistent at least.
My background is in swimming (in fact, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and swam the English Channel at the age of sixty, becoming the oldest women to do so!) so my training was just about keeping me ticking over.
I did my regular masters sessions twice a week plus some two, three and four mile swims in the sea. Plus I did another invaluable session with Karlyn Pipes, a superb coach who lives on Kona!
I also do yoga and TRX every week and consider rest and recovery just, if not more, important than the training itself.
We agree with you there Linda. Ok so, what was your hydration and nutrition strategy during the race?
Because of the heat, I was drinking my 1500 tabs in the days before the race to build up my sodium levels and I also did some carb loading from two days prior.
On the bike I mainly ate Clif ShotBloks, plus one bottle of concentrated lime Gatorade for the calories (the orange on the course is undrinkable, its SO sweet!).
There are feed stations every seven miles, so I'd try to take in food prior to each one. I was aiming for about 50g of carbohydrate per hour.
At the stations I'd grab a bottle of water, drink half and throw the rest over my head. I also a had bottle with my H2Pro 1500 tabs mixed in that I drank throughout the ride.
I then took two SweatSalt capsules with water as soon as I started the run and two more about half way through. At every mile I had either a Gatorade, Coca-Cola or Red Bull plus the occasional banana or orange.
What made you seek out PH for a Sweat Test?
I was concerned that I had started to sweat a lot during training and knew of the pitfalls of not taking in enough electrolytes and so I wanted to nail down exactly what I need.
Does being a bit older than most of the field give you any advantage?
As Ford said, "If you say you can or say you can't, you're probably right." You've got to want to do it and believe you can, obviously you need to do the training and get your nutrition and hydration right, but at the end of the day I think its 80% mental.
It took three attempts for me to get it right both in terms of fitness and mental strength, I'm not sure if age had anything to do with it to be honest.
You’re a World Champion. How did you celebrate?
I threw a party for my cycling chums from Sandsford Castle, there were buckets of Champagne! They gave me so much support and encouragement, forever making me chase their wheels on rides as they cruised along at half or three quarters of their normal pace!
We hope you had some PH 1500 left over from Kona for the morning after that one! So, what’s next for you? Will you attempt to defend your title next year?
Next year I'm swimming the English Channel again, I lost a stone in weight in training for Kona that I'll have to put that back on plus another one to combat the cold and that's not really compatible with doing an Ironman!
But I will aim to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships in 2019, and may be back to Kona when I'm 75...