Dangers And Solutions To Consider When Endurance Training Or Racing Under Potentially Adverse Conditions


Hi folks,

Stacy and Tressa are pleased with their tree, the second to be sold at Johnny's Gone Fishing LLC

Stacy and Treasa are pleased with their tree, the second to be sold at Johnny's Gone Fishing LLC

We started selling our Christmas trees today at Johnny’s Gone Fishing. The second tree to sell went to friends of mine, Stacy and Treasa, as shown in the adjacent photo. They seemed pleased with their tree, and during the process of loading it into my truck with Johnny I was reminded of a run I did about 10 years ago amongst a stand of trees similar to the one in the photo. It was a crisp winters morning, so early that the moon was still high in the sky, and everything was covered in frost. I was running some trails amongst the trees and entered a grove of small firs, and to my surprise the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, to a level that was physically painful to my exposed skin. I quickly turned around, and found another path.

Electron micrograph of spore of B. thiaminolyticus isolated from sheep during his doctoral studies in neuropathology in 1974..

Bacterial spores are extremely resistant to adverse conditions. Here is an electron micrograph of a spore of B. thiaminolyticus isolated from sheep during the author's doctoral studies in neuropathology in the 1970s.

This cold running experience reminded me of how fragile humans are when it comes to adverse environmental conditions. The real trick is to be prepared for the unexpected, but it’s unexpected! Other animal species have developed all sorts of tricks to enable them to survive on this hostile planet. They have ‘invented’ antifreeze to prevent crystals destroying them under freezing conditions, water preservation systems that far exceed anything that humans have created, and a whole range of protective barriers that permit survival into the next generation. One of my favorites is the bacterial spore, which I saw up close and personal during my PhD research on a nervous system disease in sheep. These bacteria (Bacillus thiaminolyticus), which I isolated from the rumen contents of sheep with this disease as part of my research, are closely related the organisms that cause anthrax. They are remarkable creatures that produce spores (complex egg-shaped packets of their genetic material in layers of protective wrapping, see photo) under adverse conditions, which can remain viable for thousands of years. A picture (magnified over 10,000 times) of such a spore is shown in the adjacent photograph. Some of the adaptive systems developed by plants and animals almost defy belief, such as the counter-current system in penguins ankles designed to save them from melting into the ice upon which they stand.

The worst experience I had with respect to unexpected environmental change was a Lake Placid Ironman race where the forecast was “a 30% chance of light ran in the afternoon.” What we actually suffered was 10 hours of cold torrential rain, which started about 30 minutes into the swim and led to severe hypothermia problems on the bike course. Ever since then I have carried a light rain jacket that folds up in one of my bike pockets. It is bright yellow, and thus easily seen by motorists, and it protects me from the rain and the wind. I almost never ride without it when traveling more than about 25 miles from home. Here is a short list of adversity-related issues that you might encounter as a triathlete, with appropriate defensive actions provided in parentheses.

  1. Cold water during the swim, a real threat (appropriate wet suit, neoprene helmet, booties, don’t get in).
  2. Rough water during the swim (train for it appropriately so you don’t drown).
  3. Dangerous motorists (bike mirror, don’t ride alone, phone).
  4. Cold, hot or chafing on the bike (cold weather gear, layers that can be removed or added, butt butter [dry] or Aquaphor [raining], hot drink in insulated bottle, electrolytes, money).
  5. Equipment failure (repair kit, tubes, tires, duct tape, elastic bands, money, phone).
  6. Nutritional stress (nutrition plan, backup food, money).
  7. Dehydration (water, money).
  8. Injury and accident (first aid kit, plastic skin, money, phone, ID tag).
  9. Personal health threats such as diabetes, aneurysm, or allergies (consult your health care providers).
  10. The unexpected (let me know when you find out).

Try to develop a state of ‘healthy paranoia’ when it comes to training or racing in the great outdoors. It can make the difference between a great workout and a ‘living hell.’

-k @FitOldDog


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.