Rachel Hallam's Kona ended in the medical tent. We worked with her to refine her hydration strategy and were delighted to see her bounce back from the disappointment just 7 weeks later by coming 8th (and 1st Overall AG) at IM Cozumel. Here's her story...
How did you get started in triathlon then Rachel?
In my final year of University I purchased a bike and decided to give Triathlon a go. I had always run (usually around the farm chasing sheep!) and could swim ok so I thought why not? Previously I had mainly been involved in team sports. I was enticed by the combining of 3 sports into 1, thinking I wouldn't get bored!
What does a typical training week look like for you in the months before an A race?
I guess I don't really have a typical week, as my Coach Mark Livesey keeps me guessing week on week. But the most important sessions during the weeks leading into an A race would be the race specific brick sessions, normally some sort of 2-4hr ride with race-paced efforts followed by a run of say 6 x 1 mile efforts above race pace with short rest intervals. I like to hit a couple of hard swim sessions a week and I know if I’m hitting my hard 100m efforts around the 1.17-1.16 mark I’m swimming well.
This is Rachel's sheep farm in Oxfordshire. Talk about cross training...
How do you balance training/racing with life as a sheep farmer?
During our busiest times of the year, lambing and when the lambs are growing in spring / early summer, it can be really difficult but you just have to be very well organised and my coach has a good understanding that I will sometimes need to adapt my training plan to suit work commitments and juggle sessions around from time to time.
It’s also important not to get stressed out by missing a session or underperforming in the odd one. You need to listen to your body and if it’s saying you need to rest instead of training you have got to do this. My job can be very physical at times, so this is really important for me.
My job does make me mentally tough which is helpful for triathlon and Ironman in particular. I use the turbo trainer and have a treadmill at home in one of the sheds and these are great time saving training tools that I look to make the most of. Swimming can be hardest discipline to fit in during busy periods, because of the extra time needed to travel to and from the pool. I guess I am fortunate that my swimming is strong and it doesn't normally take me long if I miss a few weeks of swimming to get back to where I should be in the pool.
Its basically all about being efficient with time, the turbo trainer needs to become your best friend if, like me, at times you struggle with being able to get outside for a long ride.
What do you eat before and during a race?
I am a big fan of porridge before a race and as my staple breakfast on a day to day basis. I think it’s important to eat what your body is used to. I have learnt over the years that I need to avoid high fibre foods in the few days leading up to a race. I have had issues in the past with nutrition during races so have looked to keep this simple and actually avoid the simple highly processed sugars and just stick to maltodextrin based products during a race.
What went wrong in Kona and what did you do to come back from that and get such a great result in Cozumel?
In Kona I had issues from a nutritional point of view and my race ended in the medical tent with me on a drip! Following advice from you guys at PH, I looked to improve my electrolyte strategy for Ironman Cozumel and to prove to myself that I can race well in a hot environment.
The plan was as follows. Pre load before the race using 1 tablet of 1500 with 500ml of water the night before the race and again 90 minutes before the race started. I was then recommended to up my dose from PH 500 to the PH 1000 as my Sweat Test showed that I loose 798 mg of sodium per litre of sweat, so the 500s that I had previously been taking weren't quite replacing what I was loosing in hot racing conditions such as Kona. I took 1 sachet of PH 1000 with every 500ml of water I consumed during the bike leg of the race. Then it was suggested for the run that I switch to taking 1-2 SweatSalt capsules per hour or so. At aid stations I would chase down a capsule with some water.
This plan worked really well and helped me to get through the race in decent shape and, unlike in Kona, not finish my day in the medical tent on a drip but instead winning the Overall AG race! So a massive thank you for the back and forth advice and strategy…
Talk us through your race in Cozumel.
For me Cozumel was all about proving to myself that I could race well in a hot environment following a disappointing race in Kona. I intended to take the swim reasonably conservatively and use it as a warm up. I found a decent set of feet to sit on for most of it and exited the water in a good position and feeling fresh enough after 3.8km. The swim in Cozumel is a point to point swim and the current was pushing us into shore, so sighting was really important as it was really easy to drift off line.
Onto the bike I was feeling good but knew I had a lot of hard work ahead. The Cozumel bike is a 3 lap course and a third of the bike course was into a strong head wind. It was, as expected, a hot day so hydration and electrolyte replenishment were at the top of my priority list, along with keeping to a steady effort throughout and keeping a cap on my power output.
I grabbed water at every aid station and topped up the bottles with a new sachet of PH 1000. My nutrition strategy seemed to work really well. I came off the bike and was feeling ok after a solid bike split, leading the female Age Group race and within the top 10 female athletes on the course.
The run was a bit of a blur, it was really hot and all I could think of was keeping cool and keeping the SweatSalt capsules going in so that I could reach the end in one piece. Thankfully this happened and I went on to win the Female Age group race and finish as 8th Female overall. And in 9.42, my best result to date. A great way to end the season!
Other than Kona 2016, what’s the hardest race you’ve ever done and why?
Ironman Bolton back in July 2015. It was off the back of a running injury and I hadn't run for longer than 60 minutes since April, so it was a battle but I got to the finish line in my first ever Ironman!
Who inspires you?
My late Grandmother, she was a tough lady and a great sportswoman who went through a lot in her life.
What are your goals for 2017 and beyond?
Good question .... I’m hoping it’ll be third time lucky and that I have a race that I can be proud of out in Kona....
Thanks Rachel, we'll be rooting for you on the Big Island!
You can follow Rachel's journey on Twitter.