Know Your Limits

During a very popular running event in Spain in November 2022, three athletes collapsed after suffering heart attacks and 125 other athletes presented with medical conditions that ranged from heat exhaustion through to heat stroke.

A situation such as the above, thankfully, is quite unusual. What we can do with the information and data, though, is to learn from it to avoid any such occurrence in the future.

The run course consisted of a 20km route from the suburb of Behobia, in Irun, Spain to the small seaside city of San Sebastian. This course is famous not only for the magnificent views you experience, but also for the big climbs that it offers up Alto de Gaintxurizketa, Alto de Miracruz, and Alto de Ventas. These climbs consist of some sections that have you ascending more than 70m in less than 1km.

By the courses technicality alone demands of the athletes to have a minimum knowledge of their own skills and limitations. It also increases the importance placed on the athlete to get their nutrition and hydration strategies correct.

Coaches from around the world are very critical with the recent trend of individuals signing up for events without a proper preparation or program. These days more and more people are committing to big challenges without training, experience, or a plan. They tend to be fooled by the marketing hype and sign up without thought, believing that they can rely solely on their equipment, or their ability to push through pain. It must be highlighted that if a beginner athlete jumps too quick into long endurance events without a proper preparation, then the chances are that their body will suffer though the event and may bring with it long-term injury or health consequences.

Many experts in the mental health and sport and fitness fields agree about the dangers of social media hype in relation to these events. They agree on three different scenarios that push athletes into unhealthy situations.

Social Media

This platform encourages people to put themselves into situations that are far beyond what their body is capable of handling. Hey do this all for the sake of likes, comments and the dopamine rush that comes from feeling loved and noticed online.

Toxic Positivity

This is where, as a sporting community, we have made ‘pain’ a positive and almost necessary attribute of any athletic endeavour. Phrases such as “No pain, no gain”, “Pain is temporary” or “Pain is just weakness leaving the body” may have started out as having good intentions, but they can lead an athlete to ignore clear signs of injury or exhaustion and pushing far beyond what their body is physiologically and medially able to cope with.

The Finisher Medal

Any race that offers an incentive to finish can bring with it an unhealthy desire to push beyond your abilities. Beginner athletes will be more tempted to go beyond the limits of what is healthy to ensure that they receive their finish line prize.

To summarise, the best way to measure where you are in terms of fitness, endurance and aerobic capacity is with a well-prepared running or triathlon coach. This can be in a squad, or an online triathlon coach. As an athlete, you are not expected to understand the principles of periodisation or the adaptation curve when preparing for an event. That is the role of a coach. A coach will be able to understand your reality, the conditions of the race, other environmental factors that may affect you and most important, the risk involved in you signing up for an event. The big lesson here is, check your ego and be mindful of the effect of social media. Your health and integrity are worth more than a medal or a PB.

‘An organism at war with itself is doomed.’ – Carl Sagan

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