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
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.