T WAS SUP­POSED to be the cul­mi­na­tion of a train­ing dream. As a sea­soned sprint triath­lete, I knew I was tak­ing things to the next level with the half dis­tance – 1.9- km swim, 90-km bike and 21.1- km run. I fol­lowed a 12- week train­ing plan, worked with a

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the rest tent, while well-mean­ing vol­un­teers en­cour­aged me to get back on my bike and wrap up the re­main­ing 10 km. Men­tally and emo­tion­ally I wanted to, but my body was slowly shut­ting down. When the doc­tors asked me to walk, I had to grab chairs to keep from fall­ing. When they asked me to sit in their car, I im­me­di­ately passed out. I was rushed to the near­est hos­pi­tal. I have no mem­ory of the next 17 hours.


What I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing was an ex­treme case of hy­pona­tremia – also known as wa­ter in­tox­i­ca­tion. This is when the body takes on more wa­ter than it can re­lease, caus­ing blood sodium lev­els to drop to dan­ger­ous lev­els. to dis­tin­guish a clock from a pen. When my mother ar­rived at my bed­side, I wasn’t able to iden­tify her. I had gone blind. My case was se­vere. I’m lucky the New Zealand ICU team re­sponded ef­fec­tively by first drain­ing me of the wa­ter. The doc­tors rec­og­nized the sever­ity of my case, and de­cided to trans­fer me via air am­bu­lance to the South Is­land’s largest hos­pi­tal, a 45-minute flight away. I have no mem­ory of this surely re­mark­able heli­copter flight over the Crown Range moun­tains il­lu­mi­nated by a bright moon. In the Dunedin emer­gency ward, I was given in­cre­men­tal amounts of sodium and my con­di­tion sta­bi­lized. Upon re­gain­ing con­scious­ness the next

“I pre­fer to use an en­durance for­mula for my flu­ids since this pro­vides me with car­bo­hy­drates needed for en­ergy and sodium and potas­sium to help re­place sweat elec­trolyte losses,” says Han­nah. “I also try to take one to two en­ergy gels for my runs last­ing longer than two hours. In ex­treme tem­per­a­tures (over 30 C) I will also take in ad­di­tional wa­ter based on my thirst. I aim to con­sume the max­i­mal amount of flu­ids dur­ing my runs that do not in­ter­fere with my pace or effort and do not cause gas­troin­testi­nal dis­com­fort.”

She also says that urine is a good in­di­ca­tor. Its fre­quency and colour is a tell-tale sign of your hy­dra­tion health.

What I would do dif­fer­ently

If I were ever to train for another 70.3 (some­thing I am re­luc­tant to even con­sider), I would most cer­tainly work with a coach, reg­is­tered di­eti­tian and also take a sweat test.

“Drink­ing habits need to be in­di­vid­u­al­ized to re­duce the risk of ex­er­cise-in­duced hy­pona­tremia,” says Han­nah. “Since peo­ple vary in body mass, run­ning speed, heat pro­duc­tion and the weather is also vari­able. It is es­sen­tial to prac­tice fluid strate­gies dur­ing prac­tice

dis­tance. While train­ing for the swim, I would ex­pe­ri­ence tight chest. The day be­fore the race, I went to drop off my bike. When I saw the or­ange py­lons, bike racks and sig­nage, I started to cry. This re­ac­tion was weird be­cause I was feel­ing emo­tion­ally neu­tral. A doc­tor later told me that my re­ac­tion was a flash­back.

“That’s your fight- or-flight re­sponse. The adren­a­line rush when you are con­fronted with some­thing that could be threat­en­ing again. Your mind may ra­tio­nal­ize that it’s a one- off, and it won’t hap­pen again, but phys­i­o­log­i­cally, when you step into a race set­ting or sit on your bike, the mem­ory is still there and this is still a threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tion or piece of equip­ment, that could have killed you,” says Dr. Be­se­mann. “But most re­peat scares are not life threat­en­ing. The longer you re­sist – whether it’s get­ting back on the bike, driving a car or re­turn­ing to fit­ness, the harder it be­comes.”

De­spite the cry, I com­peted the next morn­ing. Once I had com­pleted the run I ex­pe­ri­enced a won­der­ful sense of re­lief and ac­com­plish­ment.

Five months af­ter my hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, I had fi­nally crossed a triathlon fin­ish line. A few weeks later I did another triathlon – this time a team race – on Toronto Is­land. I ex­pe­ri­enced no flash­backs or phys­i­cal stress symp­toms. I felt back to my old self.

My train­ing was phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal. Be­se­mann en­cour­ages all those in­jured to ease back into ac­tiv­ity and to wel­come the ob­sta­cles that arise as a part of your com­pre­hen­sive re­cov­ery.

“For those who have dif­fi­culty re- en­gag­ing when they are phys­i­cally ready, they may be blocked by un­re­solved trauma that this in­ci­dent has re-awak­ened in you,” says Besse­mann.

Post-trau­matic growth can hap­pen

My trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence awak­ened the need for more bal­ance and self- care in my life. It contributed to per­sonal growth and a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of life. I learned that mov­ing for­ward ( how­ever grad­ual it may be) de­fines re­silience – a com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic among triath­letes. And, with the right ap­proach, we need not be lim­ited by the pro­found chal­lenges we en­dure.

OP­PO­SITE TOP OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM Haas on the bike prior to pulling out of the race LEFT Start to Chal­lenge Wanaka

BE­LOW LEFT The Sport­ing life 10K was Haas’s re­turn to rac­ing BE­LOW RIGHT Af­ter a full re­cov­ery Haas com­petes in the Graven­hurst try-a-tri and fin­ishes with a smile on her face

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