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Ironman 70.3 Sunshine Coast – Blog VI

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So here we are, one week until Sunny Coast 70.3. Now most of the hard work has already been done. This week is just about continuing activity but at a lower volume, slowly leading into rest the day before the race and then boom. It’s on! I’m pretty sure at this point I’ve changed my mind on how I feel about the race every day. There is a lot of self doubt. Have I done enough training? Will I be able to pull it together on the day? I shouldn’t have missed so many sessions. I should’ve worked harder. How am I going to cope if it all goes belly up? And then the classic imposter syndrome thoughts. I don’t belong with all these super fit people. The brain has given me a good old bashing these last few weeks. The reality is that while my training hasn’t been perfect, I’ve worked extremely hard. While I’m not the fittest/fastest/strongest, the work I’ve put in has gotten to me this point and it will see me through the race. An Ironman 70.3 in 8 hours is exactly the same distance as one done in 4 hours.

Our RTT crew had a full race rehearsal recently where we did the full distance race over the one weekend plus a little extra, and I learned so much that weekend. A lot about the actual art of the race itself, about my mental game and importantly, nutrition. A half Ironman can take anywhere from 4 – 8 hours. I know when I first started this journey I had no idea how someone could possibly keep going for that long without falling in a heap. The longest session I’ve ever had is 5 hours so I’m trusting the science when it comes to my race and possibly looking at finishing between 7- 8 hours.

Have you wondered what it takes to be active for that long? Obviously fitness is one thing, but surely you must run out of energy at some point? How do you give your body the energy it needs to complete one of these races? Hydration and nutrition is a critical component. One thing I’ve learned is to find an expert, and stick to them like glue throughout this process! As a clear disclaimer before we go any further, I’m not a dietician nor a health professional so any info below is purely what I’ve learned along the way and works for me personally. If endurance sports interest you, then take the opportunity to reach out to a Sports Dietician or other such professional because nailing the nutrition will make a massive difference (trust me!). In my support crew I have my Coach, Stuart Payne, my Dietician Peter Herzig from Centred Nutrition and a crew of amazing athletes who all have shared their guidance on what works for them. Fueling for training and racing is a very individual journey, so making sure you have experts to guide you, and plenty of time to practice the strategy is vital. Before I get to how it’s possible to use nutrition to our advantage, let me tell you how we got here.

It’s no surprise that I got to 163.5kg by not having the best relationship with food. I had challenges with emotional and binge eating my whole life. I was addicted to soft drink – easy 2l+ every day, barely drank water, and wouldn’t have touched vegetables unless it was potato or drowning in some delicious Chinese takeaway. Sweets were always popular – chocolate, cakes, icecream, icecream on pancakes, thickshakes. Food just in general was great. But it was killing me. I was fortunate that I never developed diabetes, but I had severe sleep apnoea and would stop breathing over 90 times an hour during the night. I was on a fast track to developing some severe health conditions.

It’s no surprise that I got to 163.5kg by not having the best relationship with food. I had challenges with emotional and binge eating my whole life. I was addicted to soft drink – easy 2l+ every day, barely drank water, and wouldn’t have touched vegetables unless it was potato or drowning in some delicious Chinese takeaway. Sweets were always popular – chocolate, cakes, icecream, icecream on pancakes, thickshakes. Food just in general was great. But it was killing me. I was fortunate that I never developed diabetes, but I had severe sleep apnoea and would stop breathing over 90 times an hour during the night. I was on a fast track to developing some severe health conditions.

When I first looked into having the surgery, it took a really hard look in the mirror to realise that I didn’t have the tools to combat my food demons. Honestly, I had thought surgery was the cheat’s way out and so I never considered going down that road. But the damage I was doing to myself with binge eating, yo-yo dieting and aggressive exercise on a malnourished diet drove me to consider that I did not have the answers. It wasn’t until I educated myself and met others who had the surgery did I begin to understand that the surgery was only a tool. In the end, if you didn’t correct the behaviours that drove you to that point, you’d eventually end up right back there having had the surgery or not. I found a Psychologist who specialised in disordered eating and spent 2 years working with her before I had the surgery, and it was the best thing I ever did and has set me up for the life I live now.

What happens in a vertical sleeve gastrectomy is that 80% of your stomach is removed, including the area of your stomach that produces your hunger hormone. You’re left with the stomach capacity of approx 1-2 cups of food – for life. Your body will adapt, and over time the body will produce that hormone again, but you really have a good 12 – 18 months to maximise the rapid weight loss traditionally seen in bariatric patients. You’re not able to eat and drink at the same time, and because you’re eating such tiny amounts of food, everything that goes in is critical to your overall health and wellbeing. Capacity changes depending on whether you’re eating light or dense foods and you really need to space out how you eat so you don’t fill up too fast and have time to digest. Even now, 18 months down from surgery, I still set a timer when I eat so that I have at least 30 seconds in between each mouthful, sometimes up to 2 mins plus, and liquid has to be sipped. There’s no sculling of any water/liquid – it just doesn’t work. You really need to re-learn how to eat all over again, so this journey is not for the faint-hearted. I have watched many make a complete success of it, and some never conquer the behaviour that got them there in the first place. At the end of the day, you’re only given a tool and what you make of it is entirely up to you.

How does this all affect endurance sports? Well, in order to sustain long efforts, we need to fuel our bodies to give it energy to replace what we’ve spent and keep us going. It’s also really important to keep hydrated, and get enough salts into your body so your muscles can continue working at that level. I have found for myself personally that fuelling through using carbohydrates gives me staying power. Thanks to years of dieting though I’ve always associated carbs with Satan. Most of my success in weight loss over the years, and for the first year post surgery were due to low carb diets, and being in and out of ketosis. So to first of all understand that 1) carbohydrates were indeed not Satan and actually a very helpful tool for energy and 2) that you could eat carbs and not scream after jumping on the scales was something I had to work through mentally. But it’s true! The body naturally excels at using carbs for energy and there’s so much variety in how we can get the energy we need.

The typical methodology is to try and replace the calories we’re burning while being active with nutrition to keep us going. The same for water, by way of replacing what we sweat. It’s not always possible to replace gram for gram but there’s some rough guidelines you can follow to keep you going. For myself personally, I aim for 75g carbs per hour on the bike, and up to 60g per hour on the run. With hydration, I aim for 450ml per hour. To give you a comparison, that’s about 1.5 cups of rice per hour on the bike, or 1 cup of rice an hour on the run. That’s a lot of rice right! Imagine going for 8 hours! Then add the water you need to make sure you keep up consistently. This is where the challenge with having a stomach capacity of only 20% of a normal stomach. Remember, no eating and drinking together. And between 1 – 2 cups total capacity. So how do I get the carbs in? Liquids baby!

I have found three saviours. Firstly, Infinit Nutrition. These guys create liquid nutrition that has a blend of carbs, electrolytes, protein and caffeine that can be custom made for your preferences. Finding that I could drink my way through a sports drink that tasted good and gave me the energy and salts my body needed was a godsend. This way I can meet my carb and water goals in one and spend my bike leg fuelling up. When I get to the run, I use gels. I’ve tried a couple of different varieties and right now I’m digging SIS gels as I find them to be softer on my tummy and not super sweet. To hit my 60g of carb per hour on the run I have a gel every 20 minutes. Apart from that, it’s water water water and that is enough to keep me going. I’ve also found that keeping my hydration levels up and the nutrition right helps me not just with energy but my heart rate, my mood, my mental space, cramps/fatigue. I wouldn’t necessarily fuel like this on a shorter effort, but if you’re going long then nutrition is vital. My third saviour is protein post-race and I use Peptipro. It’s a tasteless dissolvable protein powder and you can mix it into virtually anything and you won’t taste a thing. Everyone craves something different at the end but I just want a good, hot, strong coffee and protein after exercise is super important for muscle repair and recovery so I get my protein by putting Peptipro in my coffee. One serve of Peptipro is equivalent to 2.5 hard boiled eggs so it packs a punch and I know that I don’t have to try and have a full meal to meet my protein requirements.

So there you have it. That’s nutrition for triathlon on a tiny tummy! I couldn’t have worked through this all without my Coach Stu, Dietician Peter and my RTT crew to bounce off a million and one questions. Find your expert and find the recipe that makes you tick! Everyone is different but proper nutrition can really help your progress so it’s worth investing the time and money to understand your body better.

This will be my last blog now until after the race so …. everyone cross your fingers, cross your toes, everything that Sunday 12th September goes off without a hitch. Send all the good vibes up to the Sunshine Coast!!! I look forward to seeing you all on the other side of that finish shute, half Ironman completed and a massive goofy smile on my face having just completed this magical race. Possibly with the wallet out to sign up for another one …

Elyse is a 33-year-old, North Brisbane local diving into all things triathlon! Starting January 2021, as an irregular Parkrun-er, definitely not a cyclist or a swimmer, to going out on a limb in the world of Ironman. Elyse has struggled with being overweight most of her life, and eagerly sought ways of getting out of PE throughout school but as an adult, has tried to reinvent her relationship with food and sport for a better life. 92kgs down post gastric sleeve, Elyse loves a challenge and seeing what magic this new life holds.

Find Elyse on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elysesheridan88
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/163kgs.to.strong/

Elyse is coached by Stuart Payne

Stuart has competed in triathlons from Sprint to Ironman distance. As a qualified Triathlon Australia, Australian Athletics Run Coach, and a certified Ironman coach, he is aware of the importance of balancing training with lifestyle, thus complementing other important aspects of an athlete’s life (family, work, study commitments, etc.).

Contact Stuart at rdytotri@gmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ReadyToTriTriathlon/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/readytotri_bne/

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