by Leah Kadetz
“All good athletes make mistakes; the great ones learn to make that mistake only once.” Mia Hamm
Race nutrition is more than just on race day, it is a lifestyle. And before a race you consume more of certain things to help your body when taxed at your actual event. In 2011 I raced Ironman Louisville
because I had several friends racing. I also wanted to beat my previous time of 14.5 hours from IMKY 2009.
Race day arrived and it was going to be a beautiful day. The high was in the low 80‘s, which is fantastic for Kentucky in August. I finished the swim fourteen minutes faster than 2009. I was so happy but l knew I had a long way to go. Soon I was on my bike where I ate my nutrition which included a salt pill every hour.
Three hours or so into the bike, I wasn’t sweating and I hadn’t peed. I started to panic. I took 7 or 8 salt pills with each having 300 mg of sodium along with my other, liquid nutrition on the remainder of the bike.
The bike portion came to an end I was on to the run. A couple of miles into the run, I stopped an EMT and told her I had not peed in over 7 hours. She said I needed to stop and go to the medical tent. I told her that I was not stopping so she told me I was probably dehydrated and to stay away from salt. I believed her and it seemed like it made sense since I had taken in so many salt pills on the bike.
As the run progressed I didn’t take in any nutrition, salt, or any fluids at the aid stations. I tried drinking water, but it was so cold, I did not want it.
I don’t know how I made it through the run because most of it I was dry heaving, nauseous, dizzy, my vision was blurred, and I had cold chills. I remember being so cold even though the temperature was in the 80’s. I had a goal that day and I was determined to achieve it.
I finally crossed the finish line in 14 hours and 57 minutes and I mumbled the words “med tent”. The volunteers got me to the medical tent and I was so sick I couldn’t talk. At the time I didn’t have a Road ID so I had to use my fingers to give them my mom’s phone number.
The doctor took my temperature and it was 92 degrees: hypothermia. When you have hypothermia and your temperature gets below 95 you can immediately go into cardiac arrest. I was so lucky!
I was given three IV bags at the medical tent. I remember mumbling to the doctor over and over “please don’t let me die.” I was rushed to the hospital. At the hospital I was told I was on the verge of acute kidney failure because I was so dehydrated. I was also told I had severe hyponatremia: a condition in which sodium in the blood is lower than normal. Normal sodium levels are around 140. When your levels get below 125, it is considered severe hyponatremia and your brain starts to swell which can then lead to coma then death. After receiving all of that fluid in the med tent, my levels were 122. I know God was definitely looking out for me that day.
It took me several months to get healthy and back to feeling normal. It was one the scariest days of my life.
About 5 months later I worked with a nutritionist to determine the cause of my severe hyponatremia. I eat a very clean diet and never cooked with salt, I also drink about a gallon of water on a normal day, not
including all the water I drink when I train. We determined most likely since I stuck with this regimen before IMKY 2011, my sodium levels were already very low before race day.
Since then I’ve learned a lot on how to manage my nutrition and my body to stay healthy through a long course event. I still eat clean, and drink plenty of water. But I definitely have a nutrition plan and I know what my body likes and doesn’t like during a long race. I adjust my nutrition to be sure I have the nutrients it needs to race strong when training and before race day. And I am a stronger competitor because of these changes.
I’ve also learned to pay attention to the signs my body is giving me so I can live to race another day.