Tips to Enduring Hot and Windy Race Days, My Experience At 2018 Ironman Boulder
In the days prior to the 2018 Boulder Ironman, the weather forecast changed a few times. One day the day time high temperature showed 97 degrees, the next day it predicted 91 degrees, and when checked the day prior to the race (on Saturday), the high for the race day was predicted to be 90 degrees. The morning of the race the day time high was predicted to be 91 degrees, occurring near 3:00 pm, with winds beginning to pick up after 3:00 pm, and peaking at 11 mph. One thing was certain about the weather forecast, was the cooler weather, which was expected to occur on Monday. Having lived in Albuquerque, NM, I know one thing is certain, anytime there is a prediction for cooler weather, it is always preceded by a significant wind storm. I am not a weather person, but I really believed that the weather in Boulder was going to get interesting, and that strong winds was a possibility for race day.
Thus, knowing that the weather was going to be a factor, it was important to make certain that my special needs bags contained some important items. Everything was up for grabs. I knew that I had to avoid dehydration, heat exhaustion, and GI distress, as any of those three conditions can hinder a great race day, even result in not finishing a race. The question that must be considered, is what should be done to ensure hydration, minimize heat exhaustion, and avoid GI distress. Amongst those three items are some common practices, one of the most common is managing your heart rate, keeping it out of Zone 4, and into Zone 1 and Zone 2 as much as possible, as to avoid heat exhaustion and GI distress. The second is ensuring proper hydration, which means ensuring sufficient electrolytes are supplemented into your body. For most athletes, there is a tendency to consume more sports drinks to ensure sufficient electrolytes, however, it is always important to take into consideration the amount of carbohydrates that are contained in many of the sports drinks used to hydrate. If one consumes an excess of carbohydrates to ensure sufficient electrolytes, the result can be GI distress, as your body can only process so much carbohydrate in an hour, once GI distress kicks in, it is difficult to stay hydrated. Thus, knowing that my sports drink has both carbohydrates and electrolytes, I opted to pack in my special needs bags (both run and bike) some additional electrolyte supplements, I also prepared a small zip lock plastic bag with electrolyte supplements that I could pick up in Transition 1, and carry in my jersey pocket. In case you are now wondering what guidelines suggest for replenishing carbohydrates and electrolytes, if you recall I prepared a blog on these topics, for your reference here is the blog topic: https://www.fe26tricoach.com/single-post/2017/07/17/The-Basics-of-Hydration---What-Should-I-Drink-for-an-Endurance-Event-and-How-Much-Should-I-drink.
I know I mentioned GI distress a few times, so as a brief refresher, there are four items which can cause GI distress 1) nutrition with protein/carbohydrates in excess of what your body can process while active in a given time 2) dehydration 3) working too much and/or too long in Zone 4, and 4) mixing nutrition during a race (that should never be mixed, for example using a milk based product in conjunction with a product that states should not be mixed with milk based products). The most important tip with regards to replenishing electrolytes and nutrition is to practice it during your training sessions. It is so important to avoid trying something new on race day.
Race day for 2018 Boulder Ironman, reported wind as high as 25 to 40 mph, with the highest course temperature reported at 104 degrees. There were a few other factors that contributed to athletes not completing the race, but in all, there were a reported finish percentage of 82% of the starting field, and the weather played a huge factor.
In addition to preparing my nutrition and hydration there were a few things that I did, prior to race day, and on race day to ensure success of completing the hottest Ironman day I have ever raced. For fear of getting too detailed, and having this blog become a book, below are some general tips:
1) I trained on hot days and windy afternoons, several of my longer rides and runs were done in the afternoon to test my hydration and acclimate to the heat.
2) In the week of the race I stayed out of the heat, heat exhaustion can last days, and at the end of the training prior to race day, the body needs time to rebuild and replenish, so get out of the heat.
3) Moved my warm up (swim, bike, run) from Saturday (the day before the race) to Friday, again, avoiding the additional stresses to the body, saving it for race day.
4) Used arm cool sleeves on the bike and wet them down often. This was wonderful, felt like an air conditioner on my arms.
5) Took a cool arm sleeve on the run and used one as an ice holder (tied one end, put ice into it, tied off the other end) and placed it underneath my jersey over my neck.
6) Stayed up on my electrolytes, took a tablet every hour as suggested.
7) Kept my heart rate in Zone 3 and lower, stayed out of Zone 4.
8) Set my watch to remind me to drink every 10 minutes.
9) Had a piece of banana at most all rest stops, kept potassium at high levels.
10) Introduced myself to chicken broth during the run.
11) Drank high potassium drinks the day before (smoothies, coconut water), and ate bananas. Important to help mitigate cramping.
12) Packed extra salt tablets in my special need bags and picked them up when I arrived at special needs, it was best to carry too much than not enough.
13) On hot days, your feet can sweat even more so, resulting in blisters, knowing this I avoided getting my shoes wet by spectators wanting to hose your feet down, and at special needs I changed into a dry pair of socks.
14) Knowing that it would be dark before I finished, I packed a head lamp, and took it out at my special needs bag, this enabled myself to light the path for myself and two other athletes who asked to share my light.
15) Kept cool, I mean cool, tried to focus on feeling cool and the happiness of the finish, instead of thinking hot. Put my mental game into positive, rather than focusing on the heat of the day.
16) I say this all the time when I instruct my indoor cycling class, smile big and often, it relaxes you, makes your body feel less stressed. There wasn’t anything I could do to change the weather, but my smile is what I can manage, and I smiled.
17) I actually made a small adjustment to my seat height, it was a little too low for the wind, so I raised it slightly, I don’t recommend this for everyone, but I had trained a few times making adjustments, small adjustments.
18) Took a drink at each aid station during the run, thanked all the folks who volunteered, even the police officers managing the traffic, it felt good to thank them, they cheered, it feeds your energy in return.
19) I know it is a race, and yet I also know that other participating athletes who need help can get help from you as a participant, so as I passed those whom had to stop or were in need of medical attention I asked them if they needed anything, and sent back help when I passed an aid station or medical assistance on the course.
20) When I felt a cramp coming on, I tried to keep moving through it, tried not to stop, and slowed down, then took an electrolyte supplement. If on your bike, changing position can help work through a cramp, if running try walking through it.
21) There is one last thing that I should mention, cover yourself with sunscreen, that sun on your skin at 5,000 plus feet elevation is brutal, a sun burn can also cause difficulties during a race.
22) When I was adjusting my seat height on my bike, some spectators offered me a peanut butter sandwich, as good as it sounded, and as hungry as I was at this point on the bike ride, I remembered to be honest to the race. It is okay to get help from a participating athlete yet taking something from a spectator can result in a disqualification. I know during difficult races such as this one, the situation can present itself, and it is tempting, however we must stay honest to the race.
I truly hope that these tips can help you. Racing in the heat, such as was observed in the 2018 Boulder Ironman
can be a bit dangerous, and there are certain signs you must be aware of to ensure your health. If you begin to feel cold, your heart rate begins to race, your body ceases to sweat, you get a headache, nausea, or feel dizzy, then it is important to cease what you are doing and get some immediate attention. The most important thing is your health always, there will always be another race, but there is only one of you. My finish at 2018 Ironman Boulder will be memorable, it was tough, will I race another full Ironman again, yes, and likely 2019 Boulder Ironman!