How to stay hydrated (and train for an Ultraman) in a war zone
We first met Tommy Bowling at Ironman Florida and he's been using PH ever since. But not just when he's training/racing. Tommy works for the US military over in Afghanistan and so staying hydrated is a constant challenge for him at work too.
He's now in training for Ultraman Florida - which he's doing for a great cause - and we caught up with him to get an idea of how he's able to train for that event whilst on base in one of the hottest and most hostile places on Earth...
So Tommy, most PH drinkers are using the products for sport, but you’re also using them at work. Tell us a bit and what you do and why hydration is such a challenge for you...
Well, I’ve been an Overseas Aviation Contractor for about 7 years now and with the austere environments of Afghanistan and Iraq come several challenges, hydration being one of the biggest issues we face as aircrew during the year.
As a Huey Crew Chief, I often run a fine line between being hydrated and dehydrated due to the demands of the job. When crewing a helicopter in full kit (long pants, sleeves, gloves, armoured vest and helmet), in temperatures that frequently exceed 120°F (49°C) for hours on end, carrying heavy cargo in and out, you tend to create what we jokingly refer to as a “helmet leak”!
This is when you're sweating so much that by just leaning forward, the little bit of pressure that is applied to your helmet liner actually squeezes out a stream of sweat that has been collecting inside! Gross I know...
To combat these high sweat losses, I'll typically drink 1l of plain water about every 50-60 minutes out in the field. And of course I'm adding PH electrolytes to a lot of that fluid to replace the sodium I'm losing in my sweat.
I'd say that a trying to stay hydrated at work is about the same for me as hydrating for a warm weather Ironman event. Now imagine doing that 4-6 days a week during a whole summer...
The biggest benefit for me personally is keeping me on point for work, allowing my team to count on me at times when most guys would be taking a knee to recover. I’ve passed out some of the 1,500mg/l packets to a fellow crew chiefs, and they all comment on the taste, how well it works, and how quickly they're back up moving when they were struggling.
Insane! Ok, so tell us a bit about your sport...
I was a typical American high school kid, involved in wrestling, cross-country running, the swim team and track. I was athletic enough that I qualified for district, regional and the Florida state 3A championships. I even made it to the Junior Olympics for the 800-metres and triathlon.
When I graduated high school, I enlisted in the U.S Marine Corp. That ended my competitive athletic career, until I was challenged to race a fellow U.S. Marine in the Escape to Miami Triathlon back in October 2014.
I only had about 4 weeks notice before the race, so I bought a bike online and trained the only way I knew how... by pushing it to the max! After that I was hooked and have not stopped since, competing in Ironman NOLA 70.3 in 2015 and Ironman Florida in 2016.
For Ironman Florida, I raced as part of the Children’s Tumor Foundation team. It was there that I was introduced to Precision Hydration and had my Sweat Test done. Sean and the rest of the PH team even made a contribution to my race fundraiser for the Children’s Tumor Foundation which was lovely.
That's our Sean for you, a generous man! What are you training for at the moment then Tommy?
I’ve spent all of 2017 training for the 2018 Ultraman Florida in February. My goal is to raise $100 for every mile of the 321.6 miles I’ll cover for my charity, Warriors 4 Kids Inc.
Nice. Epic event, great cause. Ok, so what does a typical training week look like for you? Must be hard to find time to train given your day job?
A typical "easy" week is about 14-15 hours of training. That includes about 3-4 hours of running, 3 days a week. I try to fit this in either early in the morning (around 0300 if I’m on day shift), or late at night (at ~2300 or midnight) to hide from the sun and the heat of the day.
My cycling is done on my feedback trainer. I do 9-11 hours on one of the most challenging bikes anyone has ever trained on (a Tern P9 Verge folding bicycle)!
Yes, I train 9 months out of the year on a modified folding bike. Anyone who has ever ridden on a folding bike will tell you that I’m probably insane.
If you think that’s a challenge, try training for a 6-mile swim without a pool...
To simulate a swim, I use StretchCords® for about 2 hours, working in intervals. I use an s-hook and either hook the StretchCords® to my door on some point higher than I am tall, bend over, and workout sets of 100’s, adding some core work in between those sets.
Sometimes I have the opportunity to get in the above-ground soaker pool and I tie up to a pillar and swim in place with a set of ankle StretchCords®. There’s nothing like trying to breathe while the StretchCords® are trying to pull you backwards! This is great for timing as you have to time every stroke properly so you don't get pulled backwards.
A big week is easily 20+ hours, with double runs (a morning 1.5 hour Z2 run, followed by an evening 60 min Z2 run) twice a week, with a run simulation later in the week lasting anywhere from 3-5 hours at aerobic pace.
For these longer runs, I’m really fortunate to have a few friends that will crew for me, allowing me to test out my hydration and nutrition plan and to log the ups and downs of those sessions.
The cycling usually runs over 3 days, with Day 1 being a 2-hour recovery ride in Z2 with some intervals mixed in (such as single leg drills for 30 or 60 seconds), but nothing really heavy.
Day 2 cycling is usually a build day, around 3-3.5 hours Z2 heart rate, working on staying super tight on the heart rate and cadence and hitting all the hydration and nutrition needs that not only fuel the ride, but allow me to roll right into work without missing a beat.
Day 3 is part of the simulation and could be 4-7 hours on a trainer, just peddling away in Z2 heart rate. These are the most difficult days because you're already tired from the workout the day before, plus the normal work schedule, and now you have to hold the next several hours at a constant cadence and heart rate with what seems like no end in sight! TV shows, movies, podcasts, YouTube and FaceTime with family become your go-to distractions at this point. Anything to consume the time while you’re knocking down the hours and miles.
During big weeks, I burn around 26,000 calories and about 32 gallons of water just during training alone, so keeping me topped off all the time is a huge challenge given the training schedule and temperatures.
Our schedule here changes every day, depending on missions and manning, so pre-planning and asking for help from the guys is really the only way I've been able to make this happen. If it wasn’t for my team and family at home, this hectic training schedule would never come together.
Your coach is ultra-endurance specialist Chris Hauth. How has working with a coach helped you improve?
Chris is an amazing coach. He's not a cheerleader, but always knows when to say the right thing to keep you motivated and focused. As humans, we always think we know something, only to find out later on we don’t and that’s where coaches like Chris come in.
I mentioned before that I trained for an Olympic distance triathlon with only 26 days of actual training time. Back then, I didn’t know anything that Chris has taught me. Talking to Chris helped me revise my expectations by answering questions about why heart rate training was so important, or why focusing on proper hydration and nutrition can keep my energy up and keep me moving forward.
He also ensured I actually understood the direction I needed to head in if I wanted to make this a lifestyle, which is really what endurance racing is all about. Between Chris and my wife Kellie, who constantly encourages me to try better ways of fuelling with plants and more nutritionally-dense foods, I’ve made not only a huge change in my body’s overall health - dropping 30 pounds of fat, and lowering my cholesterol enough to not require medication - but also improved my emotional health.
How does life in the Forces help prepare you mentally for something like an Ultraman?
As a former U.S. Marine, I can call on so many lessons. One of the main ones I carry with me to this day is the importance of dedication and having the mental fortitude to hold myself accountable.
When you say you're going to do something, then it must be done, even if the resources, training time or scenarios are not in place; you must adapt and overcome whatever comes up.
A great example is the fact that I've been able to adapt to training on a folding bike versus my fancy tri-bike, and adapting to simulating a swim with StrechCordz® versus swimming in a lap pool, like most of my fellow athletes. I’m the only person responsible for making my dream a reality...
And finally, do you have any bucket races on your list for the future?
I have a few goals in mind. I would like to be the first person to complete all 4 Ultraman events inside a single year - Florida, Canada, Australia, and the World Championship in Hawaii.
I’m also in the beginning stages of planning out an event called the Warrior 556 - a 556 mile ultra endurance triathlon - with the majority of the entry fee and sponsorship funds being directed to benefit children in need through the Warriors 4 Kids charity.
I’ve got a few others I would like to do as well, such as the 4 Deserts Series, The Grand to Grand, Badwater 135, the Hurt 100, and the RAAM Solo, to name but a few. I guess the wife is right (shhh don’t tell her) - they're all bucket list races!