I have very few pictures of myself during my years of racing as a professional triathlete. I keep the ones that I have in shoe box in one of my closets and occasionally pull it out if I’m going to share a story about an experience. Although I have degrees and certifications in coaching, I am most fortunate to be able to “teach” others what they need to know simply because I’ve experienced what it feels like to train and race in all kinds of conditions and under several circumstances. There’s nothing like going through the trenches in order to relate what it feels like crawling through them!
The picture that you see of me here was taken in a medical tent after a race in Clermont Florida in the late spring of what I think to be 1998 (I have a horrible memory). The race was a qualifier for a spot on the US National Team that would compete in the World Championships in the fall of that same year. I had to place in the top 3 for US woman in order to qualify.
I had THREE STRIKES going against me heading into this race.
Strike #1: I had been having some lower leg issues and had not run in few weeks leading up the event. I did all of my run training in the water and on an elliptical. Although I was considered on the stronger runners in the field, I had zero confidence going it.
Shrike #2: I spent the week leading up to the race training in Palm Springs, Florida to prepare for the heat. Three days before the race, I was bit on my foot by a microscopic, red fire ant. I am allergic to bees …. and apparently allergic to red, fire ant bites as well. My face started to look like a blow fish and the back of my throat started to itch. Fortunately, another woman who was with me (training for the amateur race) was able to drive me to the ER, where I received a big honking needle of Benadryl in my butt. The shot made me feel tired, bitchy, stressed out and even less confident of pulling off a decent performance going into the race. The good news is it really helped my eyelids get back to normal size!
Strike #3: It was about a million degrees Fahrenheit outside and a zillion percent in humidity on race morning. The water temperature was a hot tub level reading (I think it was 82 degrees if not warmer). I remember (outside of wanting to cry a little bit) that we were given the option to NOT wear our swim caps during the swim leg and I believe I was the only one who chose not to do so. I felt like a dork at the starting line. The good news is that I had really short hair and the payoff was worth the few minutes of being self-conscious.
I ended up having a good race and making the Team. It became a race of 1) who was the smartest athlete in terms of preparing to tolerate for the heat and 2) who could suffer the best in it. For the record, the smile that I have going on in the picture at the top of this blog is totally fake. I was beat but one of the fortunate athletes that did not need an IV of electrolytes stuck in my arm after crossing the line. I just needed shade, ice, cool fluids and a hug.
REWIND: I honestly can’t even remember where I finished. I believe that I was the 3rd American across the line perhaps 5th overall in the pro field. The swim was not by best (lost focus), and I had to count on playing catch-up on the up on the bike and run. The run was a 2 loop course. I was able to suffer my way up to being in good contention for a spot. During the 2nd loop of the run, I saw my ex-husband on the side of the road kneeling on the ground and supporting a fallen athlete who had apparently started weaving and then fell into his arms due to heat exhaustion. It was Barb Lindquist, who was in the lead at the time and on her way to a first place overall and American finish. I believe there was only ¼ mile left to go before crossing the line, however 1/4 mile felt like 3 mile in that heat. I felt terrible for her – having had the lead for so long and then losing her spot. Here’s the good news, Barb went on to be an Olympian, representing the USA in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. She also held the #1 World Triathlon Ranking from 2003-2004. I’d say that she learned a lot from the race in Clermont!
The THREE GREATEST LESSONS that I learned from this races were:
1. Don’t count yourself out even if you are not going into a race feeling your best. You never know how things will turn out.
2. Become a master of suffering. You have to “go there” in practice in order to get good at it.
3. Even though you feel like crap and want to go to sleep on the side of the road (and cry), keep moving forward. You don’t know what’s going on with the other athletes. Someone could be having a much harder day than you.
4. Be a smart athlete! Prepare for the conditions. In this case, it was all about being proactive in preparing to race in the heat.
I write this blog as several of the athletes that I coach are facing record-breaking heat and humidity as they head into race weekend. I was fortunate to have had a really, really good coach when I was in the peak of my racing years. I remember him giving me pieces of the same, sage advice that I provided them. I will leave you with these tips on preparing for training or racing in the heat. Follow through!
SIMPLE TIPS FOR RACING IN THE HEAT AND HUMIDITY
1. Make sure that while you taper, you continue to eat regular meals and NOT skimp on the carbohydrates. A high protein/low car diet will destroy your performance on race day. Carbs will stock the muscles with the necessary energy for race day. Remember, carbs also hold/store water which you will need on race day.
2. Aim for 20oz of an electrolyte beverage, 2 hours before the event. Drink 16oz of water, 15-20 min before your wave takes off. You are not going to feel like drinking it, but do it! Your body will process it.
3. Follow your hydration guidelines based on your previous sweat rate tests. http://www.runnersworld.com/hydration-dehydration/how-to-determine-how-much-to-drink
STAY ON TOP OF YOUR HYDRATION during the race and pay attention to how much fluid that you are getting in. Also, do not dilute your electrolyte drink. They consist of a specific solution to help your performance. When mixing into your water bottles, follow the instructions on the label. Those who are taking electrolyte/salt tabs, remember to have them handy on your bike and during the run. Carry extra in case you drop one. If you need to do a few fast walking steps through an aid station to get down the fluids, go for it.
4. Get in your post-race fluids asap! If you know from training that you tend to drop a couple of pounds per hour, aim to get in about 20oz of fluid per pound lost.
5. Good idea to wear a white visor or breathable white cap during the run.
6. Not a good idea to wear dark clothing such as black or dark blue.
7. If aid stations offer cold towels, take them and cool yourself off. If they offer ice, put some under your cap or in your sports top.
8. Wear a sports specific, broad spectrum sunscreen! This helps to keep the skin cooler.
9. Look for shade on the course and get under it!
10. Pace yourself! Your heart is working harder to help keep the body cool by rerouting blood to the skin. This may not be the day for breaking records but rather more about surviving the heat!
11. Save the crying for the finish line, or the podium – where you will by crying from happiness!