Thursday, April 29, 2010

Are you struggling trying to understand your hydration needs? Hopefully this info can help.

(To kick off this post, a few framing comments are needed...

1. I'm not a doctor, nutritionist, chemist, ... none of the above. The comments in this post are purely the product of my research on the web and of local resources including my personal experience. Please don't consider this to be medical advice in any capacity whatsoever.

2. Your mileage may vary - it's my hope that you'll add this information to your current mental database and therefore become even better equipped for sports nutrition success.

On to our regularly scheduled blog post...)

Hydration is about a whole lot more than just drinking water. I'm sure you probably already know that. But, the real question is this - how can you be sure that you've got the right formula to have confidence you're meeting your endurance sport hydration needs? Let's see if we can't add a few bits of info to answer this question and at least get closer to an answer.

A few things to consider in long course endurance racing.

• You can have a stomach full of water and still experience dehydration if you are electrolyte depleted.
• Salt capsules are not the same as electrolyte supplements... they both contain salt, but the electrolyte supplement also contains (generally speaking) potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
• It's unlikely that in endurance racing (half-ironman or longer) at higher temperatures you will get your electrolyte and hydration needs both met through a single product (drink, gel, powder). You may be one of the lucky ones, but it's unlikely.

So, it seems there may be some complexity here then. Let's talk about a few basic strategies that have worked for me.

1. Separate your hydration needs from your caloric needs! You may address them both through the same products, but consider their fulfillment separately in your planning. I'm not going to discuss caloric intake needs in this post at all - we'll discuss that one later.

2. Know your sweat rate (how to determine is below), and estimate your electrolyte needs. The sweat rate test is relatively easy, the electrolyte need determination may take some trial and error.

3. Know what products you use, what products will be on the course for your races, and make sure that you have a specific timetable at which times you will consume what quantity of what product. It's important to be a planner in this endeavor if you want to be successful.

4. Practice your hydration strategy in your training! Don't ever think that you'll just magically nail it if you're not planning and testing during training - we train to long and hard to leave something as important as hydration to guesswork.
Have you done a sweat rate test? If not, you should consider it.

Here's how you'd do it - from an article originally published in Runners World.

1. Weigh yourself nude right before a run.

2. Run at race pace for one hour, keeping track of how much you drink (in ounces) during the run.

3. After the run, strip down, towel off any sweat, and weigh yourself nude again.

4. Subtract your weight from your prerun weight and convert to ounces. Then add to that number however many ounces of liquid you consumed on your run. (For example, if you lost a pound and drank 16 ounces of fluid, your total fluid loss is 32 ounces.)

5. To determine how much you should be drinking about every 15 minutes, divide your hourly fluid loss by 4 (in the above example it would be 8 ounces).

6. Because the test only determines your sweat losses for the environmental conditions you run in that day, you should retest on another day when conditions are different to see how your sweat rate is affected. You should also redo the test during different seasons, in different environments (such as higher or lower altitudes), and as you become faster, since pace also affects your sweat rate.

Now that you know your sweat rate, you can begin to consider your electrolyte replacement needs.

From what I've read/observed, if your sweat test result yielded your needs to be 24oz of fluids per hour, a fairly average hydration formula would look something like this - 24oz of fluids per hour plus electrolyte supplements containing ~600mg of sodium (also including brand-specific proportions of the other electrolyte ingredients mentioned above). I'm sure this estimated baseline could be debated, but I'm willing to put a stake in the ground and recommend this as a starting point.

You can now begin to experiment with a few different electrolyte replacement products using your sweat rate result as a baseline for electrolyte replacement needs.

Remember that although electrolyte supplements (i.e. Endurolytes, S-Caps, SaltStick, Lava Salt, Thermolytes) may appear identical, there are DRAMATIC differences between them. As an example, lets look at the sodium content of each of the above caps (we spend so much time looking at sodium as it's the electrolyte in highest concentration in our sweat & urine):

S-Caps: 341mg
SaltStick: 215mg
Lava Salts: 158mg
Thermolytes: 150mg
Endurolytes: 40mg

Clearly quite a difference, and very important to keep in mind when planning for your electrolyte needs!

Personally, I'm a fan of Thermolytes, but also use SaltStick caps on occasion. It's very rare you'll see me without a little container of them on any long training effort. Visit your local endurance sports store or running/tri club and see what they have to say. Experiment to find your optimal mix.

Here's another possible approach that may yield some assistance as you determine your needs during long intense training and racing situations...

• If your drink "tastes" too "watery" you may want to increase your salt intake. For example, some athletes have had the experience that "the volunteers at that last aid station aren't mixing the Gatorade strong enough, it's way too diluted!" Well -- usually the drink's mixed right and that is your body's way of telling you that you're in fact diluting your own electrolytes, internally.

NOTE: There is no "salt craving" associated with this "watery taste." In fact, it's more a feeling of "water aversion.", as in it just doesn't feel/taste like something you want to drink.

• If your drink tastes too "sweet" or concentrated you may need to increase your water intake -- this is your body's way of telling you that you're dehydrated. If you come away from an aid station thinking the drink has been mixed too strong, or things simply taste too sweet, syrupy, or concentrated, your body may be telling you it needs water.

There's certainly more to write in the future about this, but hopefully this serves as a solid starting point if you were looking for one. If you're a bit befuddled trying to figure this all out, believe me, you're not alone... but once you get it figured out, you'll never be happier and will be en route to some outstanding performances!

(huge thank you to the many contributors to this information!,, and many many endurance athletes/coaches throughout Texas and California)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The 2010 Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas... aka Windybikefest 2010

I now understand why everyone was so pumped about the weather conditions in 2009...

Ok, so probably need to start by describing myself to those of you who don't know me. I'm 6'3", ~190lbs. If you had a sailboat and had a need for some extra sail surface area, you could use me. I get as low as I can on the bike (and I can get pretty aero), but I'm still a big guy with a lot of surface area for the wind to grab on to.

Now that we've got that out there, let the race report begin.

The wind was pretty intense most of the weekend. Friday night, the winds reached up to 75mph... the sprint and olympic distance events for Saturday morning were converted to run-bike-run due to the high winds. The wind was so extreme that a police boat capsized in Galveston bay. So, hopefully you're getting the picture that this isn't the standard cyclist wind bellyaching. The bike course for this race is an out and back, flat as a pancake, and highly exposed. Staying low and aero is a big deal to have a good bike split here.

When the race kicked off, the water was pretty choppy - we had to work our way through some swells and decent waves (I heard someone say there were whitecaps, but I was pretty heads-down so didn't see them as much as experience them). I enjoy rough water swimming - reminds me of the Great Lakes - but it doesnt make for fast swim splits. Amongst my age group, I had a good swim split. Out of the water, into T1, and into the winds.

When I got out near the seawall to begin the 28mi straightaway (before the turnaround just past the opposite end of the island), the wind was like a slap in the face. As I continued to ride, it became clear it was more of a side wind with a bit of headwind. It made the course quite tough. I kept low and ground it out, but it became pretty clear about 15mi into the ride I should begin to let thoughts of a big PR go... that wasn't easy. But, when confronted with the simple choice of either continue to grind it out and possibly ruin the fun of the day or take it a little easier and be sure to have good memories of the race, the winner was the latter. Just doesn't make sense to put all of that effort into a race weekend and come away having not achieved my time goal AND having not had a good time racing. This is the reason we do it, to have fun, right? :) After the turnaround, sped up slightly on my way back to T2, but the wind was still beating me up pretty good. Back into T2, let the run begin.

I was very happy with how I managed the run mentally... wasn't my fastest run ever, but kept good paces for the first two (of four) laps, and took it a bit easier towards the end. Hit my hydration plan perfectly this year - a key goal of mine given the big problems I had on the run in 2009 with dehydration. All considered, my nutrition plan hit dead center for this race... and I get three more chances to practice it prior to IM Arizona later this year.

The finish, not a time I'm very proud of, but still did pretty well in my AG. I had hoped to go much faster, but that's ok - I'll live to fight another day. After my second attempt at this course, I'm trying to decide whether to keep after it in 2011 at this event and see if I can't master it, or to spectate... I'm sure I'll be there to take the start :)

Big props to all of my T3 teammates... many PRs, many first timers at this distance. Chris, Kevin, Carrie, Jen, Seth, Jason, John, Danny, Tami, Natasha, ... You're all a blast to train and race with, and I'm proud to be on the team with you. Coach Mo, you were a great help to many in keeping on target during that run - very much appreciate your words of encouragement and direction.

All considered, a great event - great weekend with friends, great weekend away from normal life to get some mental downtime, and a very well run race. Time well spent.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 19, 2010

What to do when another cyclist is hurt...

Here's a clip from an outstanding article... full version can be found here (with thanks to 'Fat Cyclist' for the copy).

As a cyclist who sometimes rides with a female cyclist, I realize that how one acts may depend on who one is with, and have therefore helpfully segregated my findings into appropriate gender combinations.

If you are a male cyclist with an injured female cyclist, ...

  • Refrain from telling her how hot she looks in lycra. Now is not the time. Trust me.
  • Tell her how tough and awesome she is. By the way, she is very tough, and very awesome. Just in case you weren’t clear on that.
  • Tell her anyone else would be crying harder / acting more pathetic than she is, including you. But don’t use the words “acting more pathetic,” because that implies she’s being pathetic at all, which she is not.
  • Get her bike ready to ride again. The woman is going to want you to shut up at some point. This is a good time for you to fiddle with her bike and make sure it’s good to go.
  • Volunteer to make a tourniquet / bandage out of your jersey. But not until she’s on her feet and seems like she might appreciate your sense of humor again.
  • Describe the events leading up to the injury. Be expansive and generous with the difficulty of the triggering obstacle and / or event. She didn’t endo when she hit a rock. It was a big ol’ honkin’ ledge, and she darn near cleared it anyway. I’m not exactly sure why we all start telling the story as soon as the event happened, but it seems to help, and it seems to help more if you get started with the exaggeration right away.
If you are a male cyclist with an injured male cyclist, ...

  • Ask if he’s alright. Depending on how old you are and where you live, you should either end the sentence with “dude,” “man,” or “bro.” It makes the question affectionate and concerned-sounding without being too affectionate and concerned-sounding.
  • Lean his bike against a tree. He won’t trust any tweaks, fixes, or adjustments you make anyway.
  • Wait for 30 seconds before asking if he’s ready to ride. If he says he needs another minute, wait another thirty seconds and ask again. Repeat as necessary.
  • Describe the event, but feel free to trivialize certain aspects (such as the prime cause of the event) and enhance other aspects (such as the high-pitched scream the victim made upon suffering a compound fracture).
If you are a female cyclist with an injured male cyclist

  • Tell him how hot he looks in lycra. For guys, there’s no bad time to hear this, and even when we’re injured there’s a small part of us that’s wondering if our guts are sufficiently sucked in.
  • Otherwise let us suffer quietly. We’re trying to be manly and stoic. If you begin to describe the event, we’re going to think it sounds silly, because you’re not exaggerating our manliness sufficiently. If you call the injury on our leg a “nasty little scrape,” you’re making it that much harder to refer to it as a five-inch-long gushing gash when we recount it later.
  • Don’t touch our bikes. Unless we beg you to help us unclip.

If you are a female cyclist with an injured female cyclist

  • Honestly I have no idea. Do whatever it is you women do when you’re with each other. Like, talk about how much you miss us men. That’s what you do when we’re not around, right?

Hopefully y'all found this as entertaining as I did :)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Running form, swimming form... why not pedaling form?

My tri team here in Austin TX, T3, just recently conducted a demonstration as to what the team can offer to its members concerning pedal stroke efficiency coaching. We had about 20 team members attend the demo, and I believe we'll end up having a good amount of those who attended the demo participate in a form-focused coaching session related to their pedaling efficiency.

I bet you're thinking, "Hey, that's great Tom. Why do I care about this?"

For some reason, it seems the normal triathlete operates under the philosophy that it's all about hard training... volume, volume, volume. We normally, when learning the sport, don't pay very much attention at all to specific technique work until one of two things happens...

1. We get injured (99% of people fall into this camp)
2. We stop getting faster through volume alone

When starting out in the sport, the opportunities to improve in each of the disciplines are plentiful, and offer almost instant return on training investment. If you're getting out to train, you're getting faster - almost no way to get that one wrong. As we get more experienced and the volume begins to pile up, inefficiencies in form begin to turn into wear and tear that can turn into injury, or stagnation in improvement.

If I had my first year of triathlon to do over again, I'd do it much differently - I'd focus almost exclusively on form, and in all of the disciplines. That effort spent will certainly yield two things...

1. Reduced risk of injury
2. Overall better performances with greater capacity for improvement with volume

The particular example that's kicking off this thought process for me is the bike... nowhere in endurance sports is the extreme volume philosophy stronger than cycling. It seems to work in most cases, but I'd imagine that even those who don't encounter injury using the volume philosophy would achieve even better results through greater focus on proper pedaling efficiency. Early this season, I've made a point to spend more time on the Computrainer... the spinscan tool can help identify weaknesses in your pedal stroke and provides real-time feedback as you ride to let you see for yourself if changes you're implementing are helping to correct them. Using this tool along with a trained (hopefully USAT certified) coach can help you get there even faster.

Certainly, running is probably an even stronger case for this point - increases in quality of running form can enable running speed/efficiency far faster than volume ever could, and with greatly reduced risk of injury.

Are you running with a group that has quality coaching resources? Are you focusing on form rather than volume in your efforts to gain speed? Have you ever used a resource such as the computrainer to determine where to focus your cycling form improvement efforts? If you're saying 'no' to any of these questions, I'd recommend you give it a shot! You'll love the results.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

IMO, an excellent read - Shimano and Advocacy

Certainly worth a few moments of your time to read (or scan) through...

Shimano's Advocacy

Spoiler alert - here are some of my thoughts/impressions.

Shimano - a $2B company, with 80% of its revenue coming from cycling ($1.6B) and the remainder primarily from fishing equipment ($400M). Clearly the dominant player in both industries, probably moreso cycling... though I do not claim to have the grasp on the state of the fishing equipment industry that I do on cycling.

Cycling and fishing, politically speaking, are roughly at opposite ends of the spectrum... cycling is generally more leftward leaning (environmentally conscious, etc) and sport fishing (not industrial fishing - key distinction) is generally a bit more to the right (environmentally conscious for sure, yet more focused on freedom of access rights and opposed to catch restrictions).

As you'll note reviewing my previous blog entries, I'm not normally want to comment on affairs political in this space. However, this one for some reason is striking me as comment-worthy... why would a company take a strong political position that's primarily opposed to the general beliefs represented by 80% of its revenue (and by translation customers/constituents)? Curious to say the least. Additionally, if the statement that their market share within the fishing equipment space isnt as dominant as that within the cycling market, this strategic direction becomes even more puzzling.

Anyway, a worthy read for anyone with a particular bent towards environmental affairs or interest in Shimano as a corporate entity. I'm always interested to hear more about advocacy efforts undertaken by the companies that provide products I consume - there are always many options available to the consumer; Ideally, I desire that my dollars spent not only provide me with the goods/services I want, but also support the beliefs I espouse.

Hopefully you enjoy the article too!

Monday, April 12, 2010

iPhone + Blender = ?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hydration and Lonestar 70.3...

The Lonestar 70.3 in 2009 was a story of contrasts for me... the first story being the combination of swim, T1, bike, T2 and the second being the run. Thought I'd share in the hope that there's some key learning I could pass along to any who may be racing this event in the near future.

The first story...

Swim, T1

The swim was fantastic for an early season swim. While I was not even kinda approximating a straight line and learned it was key to swim with your mouth closed while in saltwater, it was a moderately fast day, and a good crowd - very sporting. A little bumping around, but nothing overtly combative or inappropriate. Sight lines were very clear and easy, and I rather enjoyed the bit of current and chop we encountered; reminded me a tiny bit of big lake swimming rather than the smaller lakes we normally race in for the local triathlon circuit. T1 went smoothly – I was fortunate enough to have received a very low number, and our bikes were racked according to race number (I love it when race organizers do that). T1 complete, off on the bike.

Bike and T2

Straight, flat, a little breezy. Lonestar 70.3’s bike course is basically like riding a trainer for the amount of time it takes you to cover 56 miles. If you stop pedaling, you slow down. No hills to coast down, no real terrain variety. All considered, I did enjoy it… we had very little wind to battle, and I can only pray that conditions will be as friendly in 2010 as they were in 2009.

I did discover through this style of racing that my aero position on the bike, as well as the flexibility needed to maintain that position for this length of race, were considerations that would need a larger portion of my attention throughout the season. I’m generally not one of the world’s most flexible people, and staying in an aggressive aero position for 2.5 hours was not yet a trick I had in my bag. However, I had a very solid bike, a solid T2, and thus began the run.


The run is where the wheels fell off. Up to this point in my racing career, I wasn’t quite aware of the fundamentals of proper hydration beyond fluid intake… the primary missing piece being the role of electrolytes. I began the run looking around 4 months pregnant; had a ton of water onboard, but none of the electrolytes my digestive system needed to process it. Therefore, the most curious thing happened – while I had a surplus of water in my stomach, I was dehydrated and getting worse by the step. Your body goes through a few different phases when progressing deeper into dehydration…

1. You feel thirsty – dry mouth, etc.

2. You stop sweating

3. You begin to feel cold, possibly with goose bumps.

4. To say it politely, your stomach ‘empties’ from whence it became full J

So I was solidly in step 4… once per lap. It was a four lap run. That was not pleasant. The key learning for me – while water and sports drink are important, separating the plan to satisfy your caloric needs from your hydration needs is key. Your nutrition plan should have two distinct phases – caloric needs, hydration needs.

Thus was born my love for Thermolytes. I began using Endurolytes – an excellent product made by Hammer Nutrition - but soon realized through a good amount of research and numerous discussions with friends/teammates that they just didn’t pack enough punch for my particular needs. When you see me racing, it’s a guarantee that if the race is longer than a 10k (which is pretty much everything these days) not only will I have a tube of Thermolytes on my person, but I’ll have a spare in T2 in case something happens to my first. I consider them as important any other key need – body glide, timing chip, etc.

How’s your nutrition plan for long course these days? Do you separate your caloric needs from your hydration needs? If not, you may want to consider it!

See you at lonestar… errrr, the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas (name changed for 2010).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Back to the future?

Yeah, no idea why that last post was a time warp :) This post and the last post were made 4/8/2010.

Those who want to 'See Tom Tri' :)