In the weekend I was really looking forward to competing at the Sunsmart Ironman 70.3 Busselton. I hadn't been to Busselton, Western Australia since 2009 when I last competed in the full distance event. I have raced the full distance in Busselton on 3 occassions (2007, 2008, 2009). I love Busselton, such a relaxed, laid back town and I have always had a really good time coming to race there. I have wanted to go back on numerous occasions, but have never had the energy to race a full distance in December since my last appearance. So the half distance in May was a tantalising prospect. All the fun of a trip to Busselton, but only over half the distance.
Unfortunately as soon as I landed in Perth I decided to feel rather odd. I made the 2.5 hr drive down to Busselton feeling really strange. I felt like I had arrived in Europe, when really the jetlag was only 4 hours in the good direction. The next morning I woke with a fever, chills, muscle ache and stomach bug. I spent all day on that Thursday in bed. On the Friday, the day before the race I felt better. No more fever and the stomach problems had stopped. Only problem was, my body didn't want me to eat anything. If I hadn't had a race planned for the next day, this would be no problem. It always takes me several days after a tummy bug to start eating again, and I always let my body dictate when this will be. But with a race the next day I was in a no win situation. If I didn't eat I wouldn't have the energy I needed to perform at the pace I needed to, and if I forced myself to eat I would risk feeding the bug and prolong things. I decided to force myself to eat. I opted for high fat, high calorie food, which was a big mistake. From 11pm that night the stomach bug came back and I was up for the rest of the night. This ruled me out for the race. There was no way I could race, having kept no food down for over 2 days, no energy and still having to dive into the toilet every 30 minutes or so. I was gutted (pardon the pun!). So frustrating and upsetting to come so far and then not even attempt a start, but I have learnt the hard way over the years to listen to my body. Most of us ironman athletes are pretty stubborn types, so it was very hard to just not go down to the start and go as hard as my body could go on the day, but ultimately having done that before, I know the hole that I dig myself into, which can tend to lead to a chain of unfortunate events.
So although I was incredibly disappointed, at least I was able to still be a part of this great event. 3000 people take part in the event which I think is pretty extraordinary for our side of the world. The event was really well run, and even with that many competitors was really stress free (illness aside) to be a part of. I was able to get out on the run course later in the day and that was only the second time in my life I have been a spectator. I don't particularly like being a spectator to be honest. It's a very odd feeling! But both the men's and women's fields were fiercely competitive and it was good to watch people's running techniques! On the Sunday I was able to be a part in the Kids Triathlon, which is always one of the highlights for me seeing the next generation staying fit and active, achieving, and seeing the pride in themselves as they reach the finish.
On that Sunday I again felt a lot better, and by the end of the day I even felt hungry and ready to eat, and so I did, only to have the bug come back for a 3rd time. So all in all it was about 5 days where I pretty much kept no food in. I have had to ease back into my training as I really was very weak, and it has taken me until today (Thursday, more than a week after the bug started) to feel completely normal, full of energy and training to the level I was before. So it was clear to me that I had made the right decision not to race.
So for me sadly tummy bugs have been my downfall over the years. It is quite interesting because I used to be called the girl with the iron stomach (this was well before I'd heard the word ironman). I could pretty much eat anything and never get a bug. The first time I ever got a stomach bug was not until I was 24 in 2005. But after the first one I have had them on numerous occasions, I am now prone to them. It can't be my immune function as I very rarely get other sickness. The last time I had a cold was in November, and previous to that it was a good 3 years, and that is with being surrounded by preschoolers a lot of time (known to have a lot of bugs!). You could then say that I must have horrendous hygiene habits, but I also don't think that is the case. The more stomach bugs I get, the more obsessively I wash my hands! So it is just one of those things with me I think. At least I have been fairly fortunate during my career. I had this exact situation happen to me in 2009, when I traveled all the way to Wisconsin from New Zealand, but I guess that is over 5 years ago, and I do race a lot of races, so it really is not a bad record for a pro triathlete.
My tips would be, timing is crucial. If you get a tummy bug 6 days or more before a race, there is no reason you can not still have a great race. This happened to me at Challenge Wanaka 2013. 6 days out from the race terribly sick, I then had a great race, one of the best of my career in fact. Don't rush the eating, when your body wants to eat opt for bananas, soup, lots of fluids, then introduce other food slowly and cautiously and only when your body is calling out for it. Hold back on the dairy and the fat, and add them cautiously after eating other foods normally. Once you are eating normally again you need to really get your glycogen stores back up. I found that I really had trouble eating enough to do this, I felt too full and so I had to opt for what I call poison (fizzy drinks). Really that was the only way I could get enough calories (and really is why inactive people should not drink their calories!). Once you get those calorie stores back in, things seem to be good to go. Also remember to get those electrolytes in as a priority if you are wanting to race. As for getting a tummy bug on the very day of the race. I have found that on 2 occasions (IM France 2012,and Ironman Hawaii 2014) that I was able to get through the race. But I never had a fever on those occasions, so if you do, I wouldn't suggest to race. Without a fever, I think the reason that I was able to get through an ironman, was that my glycogen stores were not depleted as there hadn't been enough time for that. Depending on how bad the bug is, I think it is possible to keep going with your race. I think the hard period is if you get a tummy bug between 2 and 5 days before the race. In my cases, I can't think of any occasion where it would have been possible for me to complete a race. I always utter to myself, "everything happens for a reason" and "it's not meant to be". All very well me saying that, as it will never be too long until my next race, whereas I know for many who train for months with such incredible dedication for one race, that that would simply be devastating. You have to pick yourself up, don't give up, set yourself a new goal, and don't look back.