I have previously alluded to vomiting problems experienced during long course racing.
The issue has been detrimental to my last two IM campaigns at Cairns (2015, 2016), as well as a few 70.3 races.
It has twice cost me a Kona slot so I knew I had to be more proactive ahead of this year’s Cairns campaign and try harder to understand the cause.
Supported by Sally Garrard, from Apple to Zucchini nutrition, I have been working with a range of other health experts.
Sally suggested I meet with Rebecca Elkington, from Sprouts Dietetics on the Gold Coast, as Rebecca has worked with Melbourne’s Monash University studying this specific problem.
We also approached Mark Barrett and the team from Physiologic at Robina to undergo detailed testing.
Once we had collected my results from basal metabolic and VO2 max tests, I was required to perform a three-hour treadmill run at 60 per cent of my VO2 max.
I had breath analysis readings recorded, blood glucose levels measured, and ingested a mixture of fluid-based carbs for the first two hours followed by water only for the final 60 minutes.
Heart rate, weight loss and hydration were constantly monitored and the results are very interesting.
- At a heart rate of 140, my stomach shuts down and won’t take in any more calories. This explains the cause of my vomiting towards the end of the bike leg and during the run when my heart rate starts to climb. My maximum heart rate is around 200 and I aim to ride the bike in IM at 135-145hr (I averaged 137hr during Cairns, 2016).
- My sweat loss and dehydration levels are off the charts. In the three-hour treadmill run, my dehydration levels were 3 per cent. “Normal” is considered 1 per cent. Despite drinking a lot during the treadmill test, I still lost almost 3kg.
- When my stomach shuts down, the pressure on my heart is enormous and so all available blood will go to the brain and heart as a protection mechanism. When this happens during an IM, I am risking small intestine failure and subsequent emergency surgery.
- We’re not sure if it is dehydration or intensity causing my stomach to shut down at a 140 heart rate. I suspect and hope it is dehydration as this can be improved through training.
- I need 1.5 litres of fluid per hour during the Ironman bike and run while all calories must be in the form of fluids because of stomach sensitivity and a need to restrict concentration levels.
- My fat oxidization is in the elite range and my Vo2 max is 62 which is reasonable for an age group athlete. So the engine is there and the mind is willing but a seriously high sweat rate and a dodgy stomach may yet determine the outcome no matter how fit or determined I am.
Rebecca told me that to get through Ironman Cairns without vomiting I am going to need to keep my heart rate at 140 or under.
Will this allow me to go fast enough to secure a Kona spot? Within this heart rate limit, I know I can swim between 55-60 minutes depending on conditions while last year I cycled 5.11 with an average heart rate of 137.
So my swim and bike will get me within striking distance but is a 140bpm heart rate going to allow me to push in the marathon?
Ideally, I would like to run at 145-155hr which I would think is normal under the strain of fatigue, heat, sweat loss and other racing stresses.
However, we now know that any higher than 140hr and my stomach won’t accept the calories so the vomiting begins.
In 2016, I vomited my way through 42km of running and recorded a time of 3.57 with a heart rate of around 145-160. In 2015 my marathon was 3.36 but the vomiting was not quite as bad however I rode 5.30 that day at exactly the same average HR of 137.
Both Cairns Ironman campaigns have seen me finish around 10 minutes’ shy of a Kona spot and were it not for the vomiting, I know I would have already reached my goal.
It’s not in my nature to give up or die wondering so my challenge is to see how fast I can be at 140bpm heart rate, on the bike and run especially.
How do I do that?
I need to get lean. In 2015, I raced at 76kg and last year I was 74kg.
This year I need to be under 70kg and be as lean as I was over a decade ago when I was an AFL umpire. I was 76kg this morning.
For the first time, I’ll get a meal plan from Sally to shred the excess body fat and be as lean as possible.
This will also help with sweat rate due to a smaller body mass to cool.
I then need to be as efficient as possible in the swim, bike and run.
Basically, I am going to have to do all the one percenters across the board.
Stretching, trigger point, core, specific zone training, strength work and more importantly regular mindfulness exercises to be ready for race day.
During the event, I’ll use Produrance from Pro4mance sports nutrition to absorb all calories via 1.5 litres of fluid per hour. I’ll use a camel back system while running to ensure I also get the adequate fluids and calories.
I am accepting this as a great challenge. How fast and efficient can I become at the maximum level my body allows me to function?
If it is fast enough to gain a Kona spot then great but if not, the improved knowledge and experience will significantly assist my work as a coach.