A multiple finisher of IRONMAN 70.3 races, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Bliss has enjoyed a long and successful career with the US Air Force, so we were intrigued to hear from Mike when he told us how airmen are using Precision Hydration to help keep hydrated in the Middle East...
Hi Mike, great to speak to you. My understanding is that you need to be super-fit to be part of the Air Force, but what are the basic fitness requirements to be an airman?
Most people have an idea that not each branch of the military have the same fitness requirements, which is basically a true assessment, although there isn't actually a particularly high level of fitness required to join the Air Force.
It's been more than 28 years since my Basic Training [Air Force speak for 'boot camp'] and I remember the fitness requirements were push-ups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run. I'm pleased to say I had no problem with the fitness side of things and helped others that struggled.
As I say, my own Air Force career spanned 28 years and many phases of life, so my fitness level went through various valleys and peaks... I'm sad to say there were longer valleys than peaks to the point that I once failed an annual fitness assessment! Talk about a kick in the teeth!
I followed many different regimes when I was on the 'up-swings' of my fitness. Some of the programs I followed were bodybuilding and weightlifting, running, P90X, PiYo, and for the past four years it's been triathlon training.
Image: Mike Bliss ©
I imagine the job is pretty full-on, so is there much time available to fit those various fitness regimes into your schedule?
One of the issues I have with the Air Force, not all branches are the same, but for the Air Force there wasn't a true 'corporate' endorsement of fitness time made available for airmen 'on-the-clock'. My job didn't allow much time for exercise, so the vast majority of my physical training and exercise was done in my own spare time.
Thankfully, I've always been a very active person as I spent most of my childhood near water in places like Key West, Florida, and a lot of my playtime was spent swimming. I began to play baseball at 8 years old and continued up to college level.
Additionally, when I was 13 we moved to Jacksonville, and I began playing American Football at Trinity Christian Academy, where I found I really enjoyed the physicality of football - there's no better feeling than hitting someone and feeling their 'soul' leave their body!
Since your younger days, I understand you've gone on to complete several IRONMAN 70.3 races, did you enjoy those experiences? What did you learn from the races?
Okay, so "enjoy" is a strong word! My first IM 70.3 was Syracuse IM 70.3 and it crushed me to be honest with you. It took me over 9 hours, officially giving me a DNF, and it's fair to say I wasn't prepared for that race.
I didn't have my race nutrition right, I actually overdid my sodium consumption and retained too much water which made me swell.
My next race was the Austin IM 70.3 and that was a much better experience. My last race was earlier this year when I completed the Dubai IM 70.3. The experience of these races have been great and I will definitely do more after learning so much from my events so far.
The big things I've learned is to scout the course online and train for it pre-race. Also, know and practice your in-race nutrition, and take the time during training to build your base level of fitness.
It sounds like your hydration was an issue in Syracuse, so how have you gone about managing and improving that particular aspect of your performance?
Well, I knew it was time to get a coach to help guide my training and for accountability, so when I was stationed in Korea with the Air Force I worked with Team PH captain Brad Williams. We were connected on social media and I followed his transformation from airman to pro triathlete.
I reached out to Brad and asked if he could coach me. During that time I began to experience some cramping issues, so Brad suggested I take the PH Sweat Test and after receiving my Hydration Plan, I began using PH 1500 and PH 1000.
I'm a pretty heavy sweater so having a clear hydration plan during IM races and knowing how my body will react when I take my PH drink has been great. Having the correct levels of electrolytes gives me a clear head and keeps me focused, and the very same thing happens in the austere environment of a very demanding flight line while working on aircraft.
Image: Cedric Dhaenens via Unsplash (copyright free)
So did you have a hydration strategy for your 'day job' as an airman in the Middle East before you started using Precision Hydration?
Before being stationed in the Middle East I didn't. Well, I say that, I did use the old faithful 'check the colour of your pee' strategy...
But, when I stepped onto the flight line at Al Dhafara Air Base in the UAE on 22nd June 2018, I knew I had to have a strategy. The first time I leveraged Precision Hydration at work was in July of that year when the real-feel temp was 142F (61C), following a two-mile flight line walk was done.
The conditions in June, July and August in the Middle East are unexplainable, you have to live it - basically, you're facing super high heat with high humidity. There was little or no cooling effect from sweat evaporation, leaving everyone soaking wet, and I would literally have a stream of sweat coming off my uniform.
We walked the flight line visiting our team once and I noticed that may of the airmen were experiencing the same things we do during an IM race in hot conditions. These airmen are working 12 hours in conditions that are relentless. They must be focused and mindful of what they are doing in a demanding environment.
Wow, sounds brutal! With that in mind, what would a typical day for the airmen in the Middle East involve?
The typical week was five days' work with one day off, and the work days are 12-hours long, although the airmen were ready for generating combat aircraft 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The launch, recovery, and fixing of aircraft is a very demanding job that has a very thin margin for error. Airmen are in this environment from 4-12 months depending on which unit they are from.
With that in mind, we attempted to have work/rest cycles and many of them were drinking sports drinks, but that was not enough to keep them at their best.
I knew how effective PH was for me so I began to offer many of them PH and soon they came back asking for more.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. After they drank their first PH drink I'd hear guys saying, "I had no idea I was that bad off, I felt my energy levels come back up".
Image: Skitterphoto via Pexels (copyright free)
It's always interesting to hear about stories where PH is used beyond the world of sport. I understand you've recently retired from the Air Force, so what does the future hold for you? Anymore IM 70.3 races in the pipeline?
I had a great career in the Air Force and enjoyed almost every day of it... although that's a topic for another day!
I'm now embarking on my second career and it's so exciting - my family and I are taking over the Trinity Camp and Retreat Center. My wife and I met at the camp 33 years ago when we were both working during the summer.
The camp was started in 1963 and we're excited about the opportunity to bring some new opportunities here, like triathlon training camps, youth camps, leadership retreats and such.
Living full-time here on the property, I'm 20-feet from the Palatka-to-Lake Buttler bike/run path, 30-feet from the camp pool and down the hill there's a lake ... so I think it's probably time to find my next IM 70.3!