California Loses Wildflower Triathlons

Generally I focus my articles on duathlon training, news, interviews, and other goodies. Recent news seems important enough for me to deviate to talk about a big change in triathlon events.

Wildflower Triathlon, one of the most popular events in California, will not be held in 2017.

Wildflower Triathlon

Wildflower race director Terry Davis said five years of drought drained Lake San Antonio to devastating levels, which caused attendance to drop dramatically. “In the 34 years that I have been producing the Wildflower Triathlons, I have never experienced anything that compares with the effect of the prolonged drought,” Davis said.

At its peak, Wildflower attracted 7,000 athletes. In 2015,  that number dropped to 2,500. Last year, when much-needed rain filled Lake San Antonio to a mere seven percent capacity, early estimates for Wildflower were only 2,200.

Davis’s company, Tri California, will not produce any events in 2017. Its races include Scott Tinley’s Triathlon, Pacific Grove Tri, Treasure Island Tri, and the Alcatraz Challenge.

Davis plans to resume these events when water levels return to normal.

In the meantime, disappointed triathletes can turn to duathlon! No water to worry about there!

Seriously, Wildflower and other Tri California events will be dearly missed among local, national, and even international athletes. We wish Tri California much success in its other endeavors. Visit Tri California’s website to read Davis’s statement about the decision.

Read the Slowtwitch article for a glimpse into Wildflower’s musical history.

Heart racing? It could be more than race jitters.

Many athletes, especially longtime, high-intensity endurance athletes, have heart-racing stories to tell—in more ways than one.

In 2009, Australian professional triathlete Erin Densham had to be rescued from the water during the Hy-Vee Triathlon in Des Moines, Iowa. Doctors diagnosed her with supraventricular tachycardia, or periodic rapid heartbeat. She had surgery to correct the condition and won bronze in the 2012 London Olympics.

American pro triathlete Justin Park was diagnosed in college with a congenital heart defect that causes heart palpitations and can lead to sudden cardiac death. He struggles with endocrine dysfunction and thyroid issues because of the condition, yet continues to regularly place in the top three in Ironman 70.3 events.

Triathlete
Photo by Bobby Ketchum, Flickr

If you experience an irregular or rapid heartbeat during training, racing, or even at rest, you may have some type of heart arrhythmia, or erratic heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of arrhythmia. It happens when the heart’s upper chambers beat chaotically and out of sync with the lower chambers. Most of the time, AFib comes and goes. In some cases, it lingers for months or permanently.

AFib is one of a handful of common arrhythmias among athletes. Bradachardia, or low heart rate; sinus arrhythmia, where the heartbeat fluctuates with breathing; and premature ventricular contractions (PVC), or extra beats, pose no cause for concern. AFib, however, increases your risk for stroke (only slightly in healthy individuals). Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is a rare, genetic heart disorder worth noting because it puts affected individuals at risk of sudden death, especially during heavy exercise.

Stronger hearts, higher risk

Older adults, heavy drinkers, and people with high blood pressure, underlying heart disease, and a family history of AFib have a higher likelihood of developing AFib. Oddly, so do the excessively fit. A 2013 study out of University Hospital in Bern, Switzerland reported a five-fold increased risk of AFib in middle-aged endurance athletes “with a striking male predominance.” (Women, take heart.)

Excess inflammation from training, nerve reflexes, a larger heart, and bradycardia are all proposed contributing factors to arrhythmias among endurance athletes, but true causes remain speculative. “We still don’t totally understand it,” says Michael Emery MD, a sports cardiologist and medical director for the Indiana University Health Center for Cardiovascular Care in Athletics.

It’s also unclear just how much exercise leads to increased arrhythmia risk. Will one marathon up your odds? Or does it take repeated Ironmans over decades? “Researchers are working to understand the mechanistic approach and what kind of lifetime ‘dose’ these athletes are exposing themselves to,” says Emery.

One thing is certain: the endurance athlete lifestyle—exercise, healthy eating habits, healthy weight and body fat—reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. So while long-term endurance exercise may increase your risk of an arrhythmia, healthy habits reduce your risk of many other health conditions.

Will AFib end your athletic career, or worse? Probably not. “It’s usually not life-threatening because most athletes are so healthy,” says Emery. “It can be annoying; however, if it becomes disruptive to your lifestyle it could require a procedure or medication.”

If nerves cause your heart to race at the start line, don’t assume you have AFib. It’s difficult for even doctors to determine the difference between race jitters, starting too fast, and an arrhythmia.

One key sign, Emery says, is noticing your heartbeat. “Most people aren’t aware of their heart beating, even during exercise,” he says. “It may be nothing, but if you notice something unusual, it’s worth talking to your doctor about.” If you feel one little flutter, it’s probably okay to keep going. If you experience something more noticeable (see below), stop.

Park monitors his condition regularly, but hasn’t stopped racing. Most athletes with arrhythmias shouldn’t either. “If you want to lower your risk for heart disease and mortality,” Emery says, “lifelong endurance exercise offers the most bang for your buck.”

Arrhythmia warning signs

If you experience any of these symptoms while training or racing—stop. Doctor’s orders!

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Unusual shortness of breath
  • Heart racing or skipping
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain or pressure (This is a medical emergency. Call 911.)

How to decrease your risk

Put less stress on your heart by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

  • Limit caffeine and other stimulants (check your supplements for hidden sources).
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation. (You’re already doing this, right?)
  • Get adequate recovery. Overtraining stresses the heart in more ways than one.
  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can precipitate some arrhythmias.
  • Reduce stress. Intense stress and anger up the odds for heart rhythm problems

Du It For  You note: A magazine editor assigned me this story. The magazine’s then-new editor-in-chief promptly killed it. Because I haven’t found a home for it yet, and because I think it’s worthwhile information for veteran endurance athletes, I’m publishing it here. If you’re an editor and interested in this story, get in touch! 

USA Triathlon Announces 2017 Calendar

Last week I talked about goal setting. This week I give you goals! USA Triathlon has announced its 2017 national championship calendar. Start planning now!

The season runs from January to November, so you have more than enough to choose from! Of note to duathletes, the duathlon long course nationals will take place again in Cary, North Carolina on April 29. The standard and sprint distance national champs will be held in Bend, Oregon in June (most likely late June), date TBA.

usatagncolympic2015bycruse0007a
photo by Rich Cruse, courtesy of USA Triathlon

These events qualify you for ITU World Championship events. The 2018 Multisport World Championships, site of the standard and sprint distance duathlons, will head to Odense, Denmark that year.

You can find the full national championship slate on USAT’s website.

What big races do you have planned for 2017? Tell us in the comments below!

My duathlon “A” race next year is the Duathlon World Championship (standard distance) in Penticton, BC. I also plan to compete in the National Championship in Bend, Oregon. I’ll call that an “A-” race goal!

Review your 2016 season to prepare for an even better 2017

For most of us, the duathlon season comes to a close by late September. (Unless you’re in California, like me, when you can race year-round.)

As your duathlon race season wraps up, take a look back at your results. Did you accomplish your goals for the year? Did you earn that podium spot? Nail that PR? Did you set any goals at all?

As you look back, you may find you accomplished way more than you thought. I had a great 2015. I won a handful of local duathlons, placed fifth in the USA Triathlon Duathlon Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota, raced a full season of cross-country, and squeezed into the top ten in the USA Track & Field/Pacific Region road racing series (short course). I also tacked another USAT All-American certificate on my wall and applied for and received a USATF Phidippides Award for running a whole bunch of races that year. Had I not looked back at my goals and what I accomplished, I wouldn’t have stopped to appreciate it. I had accomplished my goals and then some.

This year, my duathlon season ended in August. Injury kept me from achieving my original goals, but I did achieve my revised goal: finish respectably in the duathlon nationals in Bend, Oregon. Now, I’m healthy, I’ve regained my pre-injury fitness, and am in the thick of cross country season with my team, Pamakid Runners. But I’m already imagining my 2017 goals.

What’s a good goal-setting strategy? Set goals that get you excited; push you but aren’t ridiculously out of reach; and specific. Pick a few, not too many.

To elaborate, I’ll turn it over to someone far more experienced than me in achieving big goals: Olympic medalist, Boston and New York Marathon winner, and inspirational person Meb Keflezighi. In this article for Runner’s World, taken from his book, Meb for Mortals, Meb tells you how to set yearly running goals. Apply this to your duathlon season for breakthrough success.

Need more inspiration?  Canadian duathlete Darren Cooney assesses his 2016 season in his latest blog post. His article shows that even when we don’t achieve everything on our list, we still have lots to appreciate.

Did you nail your goals this year? Tell us about it in the comments below.