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Posted: August 24, 2009  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this

Multisport: Worst Race Best Learning Experience in 30 Years

By Elizabeth Primrose

Elizabeth is the managing director of Brockville Sports ( and an injury management and cross training consultant ( She was the first Canadian Professional Triathlon Champion in 1988, represented Canada in the Open Women’s Division at the 1999 Avon Global 10k Road Running Championships in New York City, and completed her first marathon in 25 years in 2007 to win the Niagara Falls International Marathon in 2 hrs 55 min. Elizabeth is planning to compete in her first Ironman triathlon in 2011 to celebrate her 50th birthday.

Since I started competing in road races when I was 18, I have not had a more painful learning experience than the one that I had on August 23, 2009. I had incredible difficulty finishing the extremely well organized Cornwall Olympic Distance Triathlon as a result of not fully recovering from being dehydrated from a triathlon a week earlier.

On August 16, I competed in the 1000 Islands Olympic Distance Triathlon in Brockville. The temperature was getting close to 30 degrees Celsius by the time the run started. I made sure I was fully hydrated before the race. I had lots to drink while I was on the bike but was not prepared for having just one water station on the 5k run loop. With other runners around me reaching for a cup of water from the 2 volunteers at the water station, I decided to try and get through the 10k leg of the race by taking water only once. I got through the race with a strong finish in 2 hours, 12 minutes and 54 seconds (2:12:54), 1 minute and 18 seconds behind the 1st place overall finisher, David Markin of Ottawa.

It now appears that I paid the price in Cornwall for what happened in Brockville a week earlier. Even after doing everything that I could do to rehydrate my body after the 1000 Islands Triathlon, I could hardly finish the Cornwall Triathlon. My performance was well off my effort from a week earlier. David Markin finished a strong 6th place overall in Cornwall with a time of 2:10:14 while I struggled to finish in 2:17:53. David took 1 minute and 20 seconds off his Brockville time while I added 5 minutes to my time. I have never experienced anything like it. I felt uncoordinated during the swim, was struggling to find my rhythm on the bike, and I had to walk a few times during the run because I was breathing very rapidly and feeling extremely lightheaded.

In hindsight, I probably made a big mistake by competing in two Olympic distance triathlons within 7 days. I used to do it when I was younger, but at 48 years of age, it could have been disastrous. When I finished the Cornwall race, I was disoriented, felt like I was going to pass out and was cold and clammy. I recognized my symptoms as signs of severe dehydration and went to the first aid tent right away. In the tent, paramedics took my vitals. My heart rate was 66 beats a minute more than 30 minutes after I finished the race, which is almost 60% higher than my normal resting heart rate of about 38 beats a minute. I was in trouble. I was taken to the Cornwall Community Hospital, where I received excellent treatment.

The doctor at the hospital ordered a blood test. Even after drinking a few cups of sugar water and having a litre of fluid injected intravenously into my system by paramedics in the first aid tent, the blood tests indicated that I was still twice the dehydration level of a normal adult more than two hours after the race and my blood pressure was well below normal (hypotension), which could have caused me to go into shock.

I have always been aware of the importance of keeping my body hydrated and my electrolytes balanced, but even after taking precautions, I did not expect my health to deteriorate so rapidly during the Cornwall Triathlon on August 23. I have learned that, as an aging athlete, I need to be more aware than ever of dehydration signs during training and competitions. The most vulnerable populations for dehydration are young children and older adults.

Warning to Aging Athletes

It is important for aging athletes to be aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration.
Symptoms of mild 
dehydration include:
Increased thirst Dry mouth Sticky saliva Reduced urine ouput Dark yellow urine
Symptoms of moderate 
dehydration include:
Extreme thirst Dry mouth Dry eyes Decreased urination Dark amber or brown urine Lightheadedness Irritability or restlessness Cool arms or legs (extremities) Rapid heartbeat Muscle cramps
Symptoms of severe 
dehydration include (even if only one):
Severe anxiety Confusion Not being able to stay awake Inability to stand or walk Faintness Rapid breath Weak, rapid pulse Cold, clammy skin Loss of consciousness

Seriousness of dehydration

Mild and moderate dehydration can be treated at home by drinking more fluids. I did that between the August 16 and 23 triathlons thinking that I could recover between races. Severe dehydration is much more serious. If an athlete becomes severely dehydrated, there is no longer enough fluid in the body to get to the vital organs. Severe dehydration is an emergency and requires immediate medical treatment. If it is not properly treated, it can cause kidney failure and could lead to a coma. If enough organs in the body start to fail, death can occur.

Looking Forward to 2010

I will be closely monitoring my hydration levels during training and competitions from now on. One of my most important goals in 2010 is to strongly finish my somewhat unfinished business in Cornwall. I have already identified the Cornwall Olympic Distance Triathlon on August 22, 2010 as one of my 3 peak races of the year. The race was one of the best organized triathlons that I have ever competed in. The race officials, volunteers, and medical support were excellent. I am looking forward to competing again in this great event.

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