What to do when you lose 2.5x more sodium than the average athlete.
Here at Precision Hydration we've tested literally thousands of athletes with our Advanced Sweat Test. As you can imagine, we’ve just about seen it all. But every now and then we see something that just blows our minds. This is a story about one of those rare days.
Jack Richards is an Ironman athlete from Seattle, WA. He contacted us after hearing Andy on the Endurance Planet Podcast. He suspected he had a high sodium loss rate and with IM Florida coming up in 10 days he wanted a test ASAP. Getting down to Seattle just didn’t pan out so as Precision Hydration had a booth at the IM Florida Expo I said I would get him tested as soon as I arrived.
I arrived into Panama City, FL late on the Tuesday night before the event and first thing Wednesday morning I headed over to meet Jack at his hotel and get him tested.
As we were doing the test he told me a little about himself. He had been training for Ironman events for the last 4 years but to date had never actually finished one. Three times at Couer ’Alene Ironman in Idaho he had failed to even get through the bike leg. His body just always shut down with severe cramp. As you can imagine a very frustrating situation after all the hard work and expense of attempting an Ironman.
I finished the test and ran a sample of his sweat through our machine...
"Your sweat/sodium concentration is 2,314mg sodium per litre of sweat."
Whoa! Off the charts. Personally I’ve never tested anyone this high, this is right out there in the 99th percentile. Here at Precision Hydration we dream of meeting these mythical salty beasts. We know they’re out there. We know we can help them.
You could see lights going off in Jack’s head. Everything was starting to make sense for him now.
With 3 days to go before an Ironman, a key event, we generally make it a policy never to change the plan an athlete has in place (assuming it's fairly sensible!). However, this was an extreme situation. Jack had never finished an Ironman before and based on his target time of 16 hours my calculation showed that he would lose as much as 27g of Sodium during the course of the race. Read that again… 27 grams!
I came up with a plan for Jack, checked back with Andy in the UK for a sanity test, and we all agreed on his race strategy.
So the plan was in place. The morning of the race the Precision Hydration team headed out of town — I went for a run that morning and it was windy! - I felt for them all as I passed them on their bike leg as I headed to the airport.
As I flew home across the continent back to Vancouver I was particularly interested in how Jack was progressing so I monitored him online. When I got off in Seattle to wait a couple of hours for my final connection I was gutted to see ‘Jack Richards DNF’. I emailed him the next morning...
I’m back in Vancouver.
I tracked your progress yesterday and saw you DNF’d.
Bummer. Although it looked like a gnarly day out there on the bike with that wind.
A couple of hours later he e-mailed me back:
I finished. I have no idea what happened with the tracker. I timed everything perfectly.
Jack’s time — 16:25.
Some quotes from him...
“It was a great experience”. “No cramping.”
“100% attributable to my sodium strategy, I can attribute it to nothing else”.
“Went from total hell to heaven”.
Jack got sea sick during the swim which put him back a bit but his plan was only to finish and keep ahead of the cut off times. He played it perfectly. He dialled it back on the bike leg then started the run at 9:30 into the event. 60% walking, the rest was an ‘airbourne shuffle’. He said his energy felt great and his legs felt great. He thinks he could have done 9:30 miles but that was not his strategy.
However, it wasn’t all roses. He actually passed out at the finish line. It turned out he had severe hypothermia. After the sun went down the air cooled fast and he was losing body heat rapidly, primarily because he wasn’t expecting this to be an issue in Florida (and who would?!).
So my last question to Jack was, will you ever do another Ironman? A discussion with his lovely, incredibly supportive wife in the hospital suggested that he might not be doing another Ironman. But...never say never. He’s definitely doing some 70.3’s and some Olympic distance events in the future.
I love meeting people like Jack. They are truly inspirational. Working hard to achieve a personal ambition. Exploring and being open-minded enough to try different solutions to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. We’re proud to call Jack a Precision Hydration athlete.
And… Jack Richards is an Ironman.