Friday, October 29, 2010

Yes, Alcohol Can Affect Your Performance


So how does alcohol affect endurance athletes anyway?

Beer. It's not just for breakfast anymore.

When you're at a wine tasting with a bunch of doctors it can be kind of boring. One thing for certain is going to come up - a study done a number of years ago showing a protective effect of alcohol consumption, but only with one or two servings per day. More than once you'll hear someone state, over their third or fourth glass of wine, "I'm really working on that protective effect." It's like they want you to think they'll live to be 140 years old!

This observation is true but, again, it's optimal effect is with a single drink, possibly two, daily. The other side of this equation is a college student, one of my kids roommates for example, a gent we'll call Joe. Joe didn't show up back at the dorm one Saturday night his freshman year, and when he stumbled in mid day on Sunday - with a big plaster splint on his hand from an injury of unknown origin (which would eventually require surgery) - and, oh yeah, the papers releasing him from jail where he'd spent the night having been arrested for being drunk and disorderly, he just sighed. But, at some schools, isn't that the norm on a college Saturday night, how much worse does your behavior need to be to raise the ire of the gendarmes?

I make this example to provide a range of minimal to near maximal consumption and the potential effects on athletic performance. Many of us, particularly the more youthful, may underestimate the ability of alcohol to reverse the effects of those hours, even weeks of training. It can reduce your endurance as well as your decision making capacity as illustrated above. It effects your pattern of sleep in both duration and cycle, particularly REM sleep, essential to memory and hormonal development. This has been shown to have a deleterious relationship with post workout muscle repair, the key to the training effect. ( See Triathlete's Training Bible by Joe Friel) The hormone HGH, human growth hormone, is one that's gotten a good deal of press recently. Part of it's function involves muscle repair and growth, and alcohol has been shown to decrease HGH secretion by 50% or more! This is an important sentence that should be read twice.

Most of already are aware of the diuretic nature of alcohol which contributes to dehydration. And, in a sport where we spend so much time and effort figuring out our proper diet, race nutrition and race hydration, alcohol only compounds the problem.

There are a number of other issues with alcohol including inhibition of nutrient absorption like zinc, vitamin B12 and thiamine just to name a few. Remember when we used to drown in Tour de France information when Lance was pushing for number 6 or 7. Heck, they'd even show footage of the team dinners after he won a stage, no alcohol in sight of course. I recall seeing Jan Ullrich with a wine glass in his hand at a Team Telecom meal. Retrospectively, maybe Lance knew something Jan didn't. Maybe he knew a lot of things Jan didn't!

So, for your best athletic performance, keep the alcohol to a minimum, Doctors orders.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Gentlemanly Ironman Head Referee

"Powdermilk biscuits give a shy person the strength to do what needs to be done." Garrison Keillor

Several years ago, while on a rolling section of the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway portion of the IMH bike course, one of the motor scooter bound bike refs was just itchin' to get someone. They sat off to my left rear. Lurking. Waiting. Like a mosquito on a hot summer day. There was a sizable group of athletes whose positions relative to the other bikes were totally dictated by the terrain. A spreading out occurred going downhill with the inevitable bunching up come the next short up hill. And that's when the ref struck nabbing a slew of folks allowing them a short "unplanned rest" in the penalty tent. I sent a note to the race office describing what I felt was just
not the standard I'd expect of a referee, unfair really, and the following year I saw no ref behavior of this kind.

Fast forward to 2010 when I meet the Ironman Head Referee, Jimmy Riccitello, the man does indeed set the standard. Multiple times I saw him help out an athlete or aid in race conduct at this years event, never drawing attention to himself. On the Friday afternoon before the race, during bike check in, one woman's race wheels didn't make it to Kona and here's Jimmy, butt on the pier, stretching out some sew ups, which he helped this woman mount. All real casual like this happens every day. (Maybe it does.)

12 hours later, the transition area is a madhouse with 1900 athletes, volunteers providing assistance, and bike repair teams making last minute fixes. And where's Jimmy? Helping an age group woman trying to figure out if her speed suit was legal for the swim. Sure you could say why would someone wait until an hour before arguably the most important race of her life to figure this out. But he didn't. He researched the
question and determined that a short run of this particular suit was not legal, unfortunate for her in that hers was one of them, but she was able to follow the letter of the law with a clear conscience.

I have three kids, and, at the heat of action during the race asked Jimmy how many he had. "Two," was the answer. I told him I hope they married my kids if they were anything like their dad. He just smiled. Later, when recounting this interaction to an IM employee, she added, "I feel honored to have gotten to know him and work with him the last several years. I have also been with him and his children outside of our work worlds and can validate that he is a wonderful father…a better parent than many. He’s not just the 'good time dad', he truly is a wonderful, caring parent and his children are a reflection of him."

There are other examples but these three illustrate the point. In 2010, where the national pastime is complaining, we are so fortunate to have this gentleman help us both follow the rules and have a successful day doing so. Maybe he thinks of the athletes as his 1900 children. Who knows. Thanks, Jimmy. Thanks, Dad.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Road Rash, Torn Up Skin, What To Do

"Ain't no doubt about it we were doubly blessed, 'cause we were barely 17 and barely dressed." Meat Loaf, Bat out of Hell

Possibly without intending, Meat Loaf was describing the amount of protection one gets from cycling clothing when you hit the asphalt. Barely dressed. But, you look good doing it. Right?

What would you think if this were your elbow? You crashed hard, went to the local urgent care and got sewn up...but things went down hill quickly when you started to develop a fever. Then, rather than having less pain as time passed it only increased. And then you started to sweat. Heck, you're a veteran. You served 5 years as an instructor at the Naval Nuclear Power School, you can handle this. Why, it's just a cut, right?

You visit your friendly local Orthopedic Surgeon who cultures the wound (put in a cotton tip, send it to the lab to see what unexpected bacteria can be found in what should be a sterile environment). Then you're told that your next stop is the operating room...NO, you cannot go home to let the cat out or turn off the sprinkler because you're being prepped for immediate I&D, irrigation and debridement. You meet the holding area team, the anesthesiologist, the circulating nurse for the OR as she seats you in the center of the operating table, etc. You're surprised how cold the operating table is against your unclothed butt! Just the first of many unfamiliar sensations.

This is all a true story. A triathlete suffered a fairly involved injury, without broken bones, to her arm above the elbow and the above sequence occurred. This picture is her arm about a week ago. She's also under the care of an Infectious Disease specialist to help manage the antibiotics as appropriate to the organisms cultured at surgery. So what are the lessons that we take away from this? Well, it's hard for many of us to get thru a full season without dumping our bikes at least once - or more. If we're lucky it's just a skinned knee or lateral ankle that with a minimum of local care heals uneventfully assuming an intact immune system. What about that dog bite? Or that more significant skin embarrassment with depth and significant bleeding?

I'd suggest beginning by lavage of the area as best you can with the contents of your water bottle(s). I know a number of athletes who drink very little from them, particularly in cooler weather, and carry them for just such an emergency. You're prepared for a flat, loose spoke, broken chain, etc., why not be prepared for this is their motto. While you probably wouldn't use water from the creek, tap water from the nearest source to irrigate out any debris while still fresh helps a great deal. If there's any doubt, seek medical care. If the wound is over a joint and sizable, if it's at all deep, if you see a tendon, bone or joint, these are all reasons to proceed to the local Urgent Care right away. The longer you wait, the more time any foreign matter has to set up shop. You can also update your tetanus at that time. In fact, I know one athlete who called his docs office within minutes of an unprovoked dog bite, was told to "come now", which he did, and had the wound cleaned, tetanus administered, etc. in about an hour allowing him to finish his ride. Can't leave that calendar space white, even for a trip to the doctor, now can we? (See "Once a Runner")

How can you possibly not PR with this on your head?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two Ironman Stories, 10/9/2010 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Sometimes, in surprising ways, the human spirit of kindness saves the day. A triathlete I know, despite his best efforts, is tad forgetful at times. I worked the men’s changing tent in Hawaii last year when this gent came in flying after a pretty good swim. As is custom, he dumped his bike transition bag on the floor, quickly changed in to his biking gear, and was out the door. In a matter of seconds he was back having forgotten an item. He eyed me, and asked if I could find his bag and retrieve it. Well, if you’ve ever served in this position, you know that there are 50 men at any one time in the tent, all moving as quickly as they can in many different directions, and the stress level is right high. In short, it’s controlled mayhem with a great deal of activity in a very small space. Also, when an athlete is dressed and out the door the bags are thrown into one huge pile to be sorted later.
But, he hadn’t been gone long so I gave locating it a try. After searching through about 50 bags, we realized the futility of our efforts and he abandoned the search sprinting toward his bike (which went fine by the way.)
Fast forward to 2010, same situation – different volunteer – and our buddy is out the door…and back in a flash having forgotten his sunglasses. These are pretty important given the wind and heat of the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway and the near complete absence of shade. Again the volunteer made a noble, but unsuccessful search for the bag containing the sunglasses. Without hesitating he said, ,“Here, take mine!” At first this gent protested, but after a second offer , an order actually of, “Take mine”, the athlete did and had a quite successful ride. At T2, he looked for that volunteer but there’d been a shift change. The sunglasses were left with thanks and instructions for return to the volunteer.
This helping gesture, non-competitor supporting competitor was done in the truest spirit of triathlon. I think that both of these folks benefited from this spontaneous and selfless act.

One of my roles on Saturday was being stationed at the entrance to the men’s changing tent. At the debriefing last year, it was noted by many that the pros exit the swim like a house on fire and when they tried to change direction to enter the tent, they lost footing ending up on the ground. My goal was to eliminate this for 2010. It worked. By simply getting eye contact with the athlete and actively directing him to turn, nobody “went to ground.” In fact it worked so well I was encouraged to keep my position and direct the age groupers, women to the women’s tent, men to the mens. And, it was almost completely successful. Almost! When you consider 1800 swimmers passing by you in a six foot wide space they almost suck you along. I was able to prevent 9 women from mistakenly entering with the men…but not the tenth. This somewhat smaller woman was directly behind a large body athlete and it was only out of the corner of my eye that I saw her slip in. But, because of the sheer numbers of bodies, I was blocked for a moment from following her into the tent. By the time I was able to thread my way in, she was already dumping her bag and ripping off her swim suit – almost. Interestingly, she was so focused on the job at hand, she didn’t notice that she was the only woman in a tent with forty men in various stages of undress! In one quick movement I got her arm and her bag. Exit stage left and back to my post. One can only imagine the reaction in the tent if I'd missed. As they say on TV, priceless!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Advance Race Prep and Bruce Dern

"From here on in, I really gets grim. For 99% of the people still left at this point, they are possessed with one thing, finishing. They’re saying to themselves one thing, “If I can just be standing at the finish, I've won,” and they’re right.

But, for the gifted few, for our 1% who are still competing, that are still racing, they’re more than standing. They’re wondering, can I catch that guy up there? And what about the guys behind me, are they coming up on me, are they picking up on me, can I get him? Because let me tell you something. This is it. The last hour of this triathlon, on the pavement, at 110 degrees, that’s when we’re going to find out who the hell the Ironman really is!”

Bruce Dern, Freewheeling Films, 1982

Yep, it’s race week in Kona. But it’s early and people are still light, joking, horsing around on training runs down Alii Drive or at the pier. The attitude is almost festive at Lava Java or the King Kamehameha hotel. But it’s only Monday and the nerves won’t start to fray till later in the week.

I don’t think it matters at what level you race. Everybody goes through this why not get “race ready” early? Why not prepare for a race, particularly one at a distance from your home (using your written check list of course), a week or two in advance. Then, the night or two before, when looking at the pile of race gear you've created, only a couple things are needed to complete it. It also depends how important the race is to you. For Hawaii as an example, many have been known to change tires and tubes two weeks in advance, regardless of their age, to have the greatest safety margin and lowest potential for flats.

It's always befuddled me how folks can arrive at the race with almost no time to get inspected, body marked, etc. How can they possibly do their best with so little preparation. Maybe it's not important for them to do well...then why race?

Once you develop a race day routine that you're comfortable with, when the guns sounds you'll not only be fit but relaxed and ready for a fine day. As elder statesman Bill Bell said in last weeks blog, you'll be ready to "Enjoy your day."