How to knock 20 minutes off your Ironman run PB.
Coach Rob Wilby of Team Oxygenaddict (see the bottom of the post for an offer on their online training programme) and the Cup of Tri podcast met up with us at the Ironman UK Expo in Bolton recently to get his sweat tested 'on air' for the show. Listen out for that podcast in a few weeks, but for now Rob's written up his experience for the blog. And this post's actually a two-parter, as his teammate Andy Heaps has also written up his IMUK race report. It was his first race using Precision Hydration and he's suffered with cramp in the past, so we were really interested to see how he'd got on. Read on for that, but first, it's over to Coach Rob...
This year I had decided that I wanted to try to complete Triathlon X - an Iron distance triathlon in the Lake District that was billing itself as ‘The World’s Hardest Ironman’ due to the mountainous nature of the bike and run sections. The course has over 3500m of climbing on the bike and another 1000m on the run, where it climbs to the top of England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike.
I had previously completed 6 Ironman triathlons. In all but the last one I had been quite unwell at the finish; ranging from feeling ‘a bit lightheaded and dizzy’ at best, to uncontrollable vomiting and losing consciousness after one on a very hot day. I’d pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I couldn’t race any longer than a 70.3, this level of illness just wasn’t worth it. In my last Ironman in 2012, I thought I had the problem sorted out by taking on more salt - I was taking a 200mg salt tablet every half hour - I’d assumed that was going to be enough, given it was more than the concentration of sodium in most ‘isotonic’ drinks. Even so, I felt quite unwell at the finish and had no chance of running a good marathon.
The final missing piece of the puzzle fell into place when I interviewed Andy for the Cup of Tri Podcast, when he told me that the amount of salt in each person’s sweat can vary massively. After hearing my story and symptoms, he told me he felt pretty sure that I must be a very salty sweater.
Having taken Precision Hydration's online Sweat Test and listened to Andy’s advice, we decided that for Triathlon X I would use PH 1500mg in each of my 750ml bike bottles, and the SweatSalt capsules on the run to balance out the water I was drinking. It seemed like an insane amount of salt compared to what was considered ‘normal’, but I trusted Andy’s experience, having sweat tested over 4000 athletes.
On race day, I managed to get myself to the finish line in a little over 18 hours and had a fantastic day out, but the real difference for me came in the hours following the race. I was really nervous that I’d start to feel ill at any moment, but I sat happily chatting with the other competitors eating food and cheering on the later finishers. It was such a difference for me to be able to just sit and enjoy the post race chat, rather than being stuck in the medical tent.
Convinced that the extra salt is what made the difference, I arranged to meet Andy at the Ironman UK expo to get the full, Advanced Sweat Test done. This would tell me exactly how much sodium I was losing as I sweated, and would give me even more confidence going forwards.
The test itself couldn’t have been more simple, or relaxing! I simply sat in a chair while Andy attached two electrodes to my forearm. These, he explained, would stimulate a small patch of skin to start sweating by infusing a harmless chemical called Pilocarpine into the skin to stimulate the sweat glands. Sure enough, about five minutes later when the electrodes were removed, there was a small circle that was sweating profusely. It was quite strange and surreal to see!
Andy then attached a small collection device called a Macroduct over the sweaty patch, which collected the sweat into a piece of very thin coil of plastic tubing. Ten minutes or so later enough sweat had collected and the tubing was connected to a small machine which then analysed the sweat.
The result of the test was that I lose 1515mg of sodium per litre of sweat - in the upper ranges of the numbers Andy had seen (though he told me he loses 1842mg per litre himself, which is how he came to start the business...).
The test totally validated the results of the online Sweat Test and what the advice Andy had given me when we first chatted. There’s no way I’d ever have considered that I need that much sodium without having had the test done. Armed with this information, I’m now starting to wonder whether a return to competitive Ironman racing is on the cards for 2017 - this time, without worrying about the after effects!
Ironman UK 2016 Race Report - Andy Heaps, Precision Hydration newbie.
To say my training for Ironman UK was ‘unconventional’ would be an understatement! Even the fact I made it to the start line was a small miracle. I was literally able to count on 2 hands how many training runs I’d managed since Easter (after getting injured stupidly attempting my first ultramarathon...). Add to that with the fact I was sat in A&E 4 weeks before race day getting my incredibly painful neck x-rayed having fallen down a flight of stairs (an tumble worth of an action-movie, in case you were wondering...), I rated my chances of finishing at 50/50 at best.
Now, I’ve completed a couple of iron-distance events before, in much better shape, and still suffered massively. My friends and clubmates find it hilarious that my jaw often cramps up when I yawn after a long ride. Or that my feet and toes will spasm when I'm training in the pool. Even my intercostal muscles (the ones in between your ribs) like to cramp up every now and again. So yes, you could say I’m fairly prone to cramp!
Having had 500ml of water with a Precision Hydration's 1500mg electrolyte tablet the night before the race and another one 90 minutes before I started, and having loaded up my bike fluids with them too, I figured if that wasn’t going to stop me cramping, nothing would!
The swim was a rolling start - which was great as it avoids the utter carnage of a mass swim start! Eagerly jumping into the murky wilderness of Pennington Flash having ran over the start line proved to be a mistake. The water was only about 2ft deep. A bleeding foot and ripped wetsuit was not how I had envisioned starting the swim! I’ve done plenty of open water swims over the years, but no matter how many I do, or how big and obvious the buoys are, I never seem to be able to swim in a straight line. 4.1km later (including 300m of zig-zagging), I was on my merry way to T1.
Swim time: 1:10.
After a fair bit of faffing around, including trying semi-successfully to stick a pain-killing patch on my wet neck, and desperately trying to stay on my feet in a muddy field that more closely resembled Glastonbury than a transition, I was out on the bike. 200 metres later my water bottle ejected itself from behind my saddle as I hit a speed bump. It felt like it was going to be 'one of those days'...
The sun came out and it started to warm up. When that happens whilst you're wearing an aero helmet with no vents, I figured I should probably make a more conscious effort to drink and keep my electrolytes topped up. I still didn’t drink anywhere near enough over the course of the bike leg, but using the 1500 tablets in what I did drink seemed to be keeping the cramp at bay. The support out on the bike course was incredible. On Hunter’s Hill, COLT Alley and Sheephouse Lane it felt the Tour de France, but with marginally less able cyclists! My neck survived, cramp was avoided and I was feeling good going into T2.
Bike time: 5:55.
Past experience was telling me that this is where things usually start to go horribly wrong in an Ironman. I tried to block out the memories of the 26 mile shuffle of 2013, which had involved hitting the deck several times due to every single muscle in both legs and feet cramping up with almost poetic synchronicity. I felt ok, no signs of cramp, despite the fact that it was getting quite a bit hotter out there now.
For the first time I tentatively convinced myself that I might actually get to the finish line. Armed with my new SweatSalt capsules to take at the aid stations (which also gave me a great excuse to get a few seconds of walking recovery every half hour or so...), things were great (well, as ‘great’ as they can be when you've been torturing your body for over 10 hours...) up until about 30km.
If legs could cry they’d have been bawling. I had to have a stern word with myself - out loud - much to the amusement of the spectators around me. I dug deep, thought about the Dominos pizza waiting for me in the finisher’s tent and mentally ticked off landmarks as I went. The guy with the garden hose. The brass band. The incredible lady high-fiving every single racer on every single lap. Then I got to the final turnaround. Although it definitely didn’t feel like it, it was pretty much all downhill to the finish. But more to the point, the remainder of the run course was the most direct route to where I needed to be, so quitting now really wasn’t an option - I had to get there somehow, it might as well be by finishing an Ironman! And then those words that I’d waited to hear all day finally echoed out - “Andy Heaps, you are an Ironman!”.
Run time: 3:47 (shaving 20 minutes off my previous Ironman run PB!). Overall time: 11:05.
A big thank you has to go out to the Precision Hydration team. This is the first time I’ve ever completed a triathlon of more than 3 hours without even a hint of cramp and it’s made me think I might actually have a few more long distance triathlons left in me yet!
A big thanks too, to Rob Wilby of Team Oxygenaddict. I wouldn’t even have been on the start line if he hadn’t got me into the shape of my life over the winter, and then convinced me to take all pressure off myself, still give it a go and just enjoy the day despite the issues I’d faced!
Rob Wilby is Head Coach and Founder of Team Oxygenaddict triathlon coaching and race team. As one of the UK’s leading triathlon coaches, he has a degree in sport and exercise science, and is a certified coach and coach educator with British Triathlon. He is also host of the weekly triathlon podcast The Cup of Tri. Andy Heaps is the Co-Founder of Team Oxygenaddict and races for the team.