There are few things more satisfying than hearing from a PH athlete who's chuffed to bits with a result they've just achieved. Often we've been working with them for months, even years, to nail their hydration strategy and so when they finally get it (and other aspects of their performance) right and perform at their best, it's as close as you can get to achieving our own sporting goals (and there's not much chance of that around these parts these days what with the day to day running of a growing business!).
Andy tested Nick Shay way back in the early days of PH in 2012. We've been working with Nick to tweak and perfect his hydration plan ever since. Nick's goal this year was to improve on his performance at his second full Ironman at Mallorca last year when he went out to Canada for IM Mont Tremblant back in August. We were stoked to hear that he'd smashed his PB and risen 400 places to finish 329th overall. So much so that we asked Nick to pen his thoughts on how he managed such a big improvement. Inspiring stuff...
Before I start, I would like to preface this by saying that I once believed that my innate ability to dehydrate myself combined with a less than robust stomach meant that endurance sport was just not for me.
Like many of you, I came to triathlon later in life. One day I had a go at British Military Fitness and that led me to cross-country running, then marathons, then ultra-marathons and eventually to the purchase of a bike. 4 years, several bikes - and countless triathlons - later, I have just completed my 3rd Ironman in Mont Tremblant.
I had no idea how I would fare in my first Ironman (Barcelona) but I did know that several months of training had to result in me crossing the finish line and I played it safe. A year later I ‘raced’ Majorca. I knew what to expect this time and was more aggressive. I improved on my time, gained places and eliminated most of the tummy issues that marred my run in Barcelona where I had overeaten both pre and during the race.
I decided to enter Mont Tremblant this year to coincide with a family visit to Quebec City. Whilst I had by now figured out many elements of a successful race, I decided to start working with a coach (Fiona Ford) who I have known for a few years, being a regular of her swim squad. Despite travelling regularly and having an unpredictable schedule, we were able to adapt and optimise my training over the weeks and months to fit around work and family life.
This is the first time that I had really done disciplined heart rate based training and, after a few weeks, I could see my pace increase at the same heart rate. As someone who has done a lot of short sharp stuff, it was quite eye-opening for me.
On the bike, I used both power and HR to train. Whilst I love open water swimming, I needed to concentrate on technique and spent more time in the pool without the buoyancy of a wetsuit. I also added extra swimming to my schedule, swimming on rest days, but only focusing on technique and drills. No hard stuff.
Work and travel commitments got me slightly behind on training and I only had time for a 2-week taper. I was a bit nervous about this but I trusted Fiona! I never lack the motivation to train but for some reason I do lack the discipline to rest. Knowing this, with months of training behind me, I wanted to make the race week as relaxing as possible.
My wife and I arrived in Mont Tremblant on Tuesday. We had plenty of time to assess the lay of the land, try out sections of the swim, bike and run course before the race on Sunday. I reduced my caffeine intake and slept a lot! Afternoon naps, early nights and lying on the sofa became the daily routine.
I ate my big meals on the Friday and then lighter meals on the Saturday. One big change this year was no carb-loading. This put far less stress on my digestive system. I preloaded with PH 1500 the night before and again with my early 4am breakfast. I was ready to go.
The swim was fairly uneventful. It wasn’t the quickest swim, but solid enough for me. I ran in to T1, had a decent swig of the on course sports drink and got on my trusty P3. For those thinking of doing this race, the bike course is excellent. It's a beautiful 2 loop, hilly course with high quality road surfaces.
My hydration plan was clear. I had tested the Precision Hydration packets during training but went back to the zero-calorie tabs for the race as I find they dissolve faster in to water. I used H2Pro 1500, assuming that I would get roughly 700ml of water with each bottle and that would give me the right sodium intake (~1,100mg/litre) for my body. I alternated between taking water bottles and the on course sports drink bottles at the feed stations, just going by feel. I had 2 comfort breaks, as always, stopping once mid bike and then once at the beginning of the run.
Food wise I made a few changes this year. I stuck with my usual white bread, peanut butter and jam sandwiches but alternated with Chia Charge bars. These are super easy on the tummy, slow releasing and the cranberry bar in particular has no added sugar. I also eliminated gels on the bike, taking just one before T2. I discussed this with Fiona in my pre-race check in and, being very keen to reduce my reliance on sugar this year, I was happy to give it a go.
I stuck to the bike plan, not powering up the hills and keeping my HR low to optimise the run. The wind picked up during the second lap but other than that it was a pretty uneventful bike leg. I made it in to T2 with a PB.
I was through T2 and on the run in 2.5 mins. I really don’t see the point of wasting time in transition as I would rather use that time on the run if need be. It’s one thing to have a hilly bike but to back it up with a hot hilly run means you're going to face some adversity and might need that time.
The course was 2 out and backs past Lake Tremblant, up through the beautiful village of Mont Tremblant, along the edge of Lake Mercier and back to the turnaround point. It was a lovely course with some tree cover in places and some very nice locals with water jets!
I knew from the start that it would be tough run. I felt my legs a bit coming off the bike and that doesn’t usually happen, but regardless I settled in to my pace and started to get the first 10km out of the way. I was carrying some SiS energy gels that I'd pre-mixed with water. I planned to take 1 gel every 30 mins and then switch to the feed station gels once I ran out. From beginning to end I did not lack energy.
From a hydration POV, I carried PH's SweatSalt capsules with me. They're by far the easiest thing to carry and take on the go. My plan was to have 2 capsules per hour, which is 500mg of sodium. Despite this being less than half of what I need, my flawed logic told me that I wouldn’t lose enough sodium to make this a problem. I wouldn’t overload my stomach with salt, or that was my logic at least.
The first half of the marathon was largely uneventful. There were lots of feed stations and I took at least one cup of fluid at each one. I also put ice in my cap and water over my head to keep me cool. There's usually so little fluid in each feed station cup but I was able to get in 100ml at best by my calculation.
The temperature peaked around 30 degrees with the humidity, whereas I had planned for it to be 25. It didn’t feel that hot but I knew I was losing a lot of fluid. I weigh myself pre and post training runs to understand my fluid loss and, by my calculations, I was losing 1.5 kgs / hour whilst taking on less than 0.5kgs. It should have been of no surprise then that my muscles started twitching after ~25km, threatening to cramp.
When I took a SweatSalt capsule the twitching would go away for 15 mins or so, but I hadn’t brought enough with me and eventually ran out. Idiot! The last 17km became a game of staying relaxed and trying not to set off any cramp. I couldn’t kick or push at the end, I walked through the feed stations but still made it across the finish line with a PB!
Despite having paced one of the female pros (she was on her second lap, me on my first!) for a few km and having passed a lot of people, it didn’t occur to me that other people were also struggling. I was solely focused on my own race and 'controlling the controllables’.
Whilst I ran out of sodium towards the end, I had executed an excellent race in tough conditions following a clear nutrition and hydration plan. In terms of results I finished nearly 400 places higher than in Majorca last year. This still leaves plenty of room for improvement but carrying on on this trajectory is exactly what I intend to do...