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No Visceral Fat!

Ironman Lake Placid 2010 Race Report by Tara Norton

It has been confirmed: I have no visceral fat! I know this is a strange way to start a race report, but let me explain:

Back in 2004 or 2005, Tanita came out with weigh scales that not only show your weight, but also other readings including your overall body fat percentage as well as a reading that shows whether you have a high or low amount of visceral fat. I remember going on the scale at my old coach’s house along with a few of my guy-triathlete training buddies, and it became a little competition. These guys only had four or five percent body fat overall. Being a woman, my overall fat percentage was in the double digits, but this higher number was normal as a female athlete. However, my visceral fat reading was the lowest of everyone. I took advantage of this result and called the four percent body fat boys FAT! It was a joke and it was fun, and I also didn’t really believe the scale. I thought to myself, how does the scale know how much fat is around my organs!?…

Fast forward a couple of years to the time when I went for an abdominal ultrasound. During the test, the very experienced technician (who works almost solely with athletes) exclaimed: “Oh my gosh Tara, you have no fat layer around your organs!” Immediately, I thought of the Tanita weigh scale competition and thought “Wow, the scale really does know how much visceral fat one has!”…

I had another abdominal ultrasound recently and a second technician made the same comment to me about the lack of fat around my organs. At Ironman Lake Placid this year, my friend Jim and I went on the Tanita scale again in the Expo for fun, and while Jim was 10 percent lower in overall body fat than I was, his visceral fat reading was a 4 and mine was the lowest at 1. So I had to call him a ‘fatty’!!

At Ironman Arizona I got hypothermia in the swim and had to pull out of the race. It took me hours to stop the full body convulsions and while this was the coldest I have ever been in a swim, I get cold abnormally often. I competed in a 5km open water quarry swim with my friend Lisa and while she was nice and warm, it took me hours to warm up. Not only was I cold, but in the race I felt like I suffered a full bonk. Recently while swimming in an outdoor pool at night, I got so cold that when I jumped out of the pool at the end of the swim I suffered full leg spasms so badly that I had to lie on the deck (writhing around in agony) until the cramps stopped. Kind of embarrassing when the pool was closed and I kept the guards waiting for me to be able to stand up. Even when I swim at the University of Toronto indoor pool, I am often covered in goose bumps. At Epic Camp this past year when one open water swim was canceled due to cold water, I wasn’t just a little bit relieved but was thrilled because all day I had been dreading the swim (it was to be part of a short aquathon race) and was extremely stressed and anxious about how I would manage in the cold water. Up at my father’s cottage, when the water is very warm (it is a small lake), I put on layers to warm up after swimming for an extended period of time and take the hair drying to my head to prevent me from feeling chilled for hours.

That was a long-winded way of saying that I do not tolerate even slightly cold water well and so when they announced that the Lake Placid Ironman swim would be non wetsuit legal for the professionals, I was disappointed. However, I truly thought I would be okay in 73 degrees. I knew that I would be working hard and generating a lot of body heat because this was not to be a leisurely swim…

Well, unfortunately at the first turn around, I was already cold. I could feel that my core body temperature was dropping and soon after that turn, my legs started spasming. And these were not small little cramps. I had to float on my back three times to relax enough to keep swimming and while I was in pain lying on my back, I questioned whether or not I could even finish the swim.

It is kind of funny to hear people’s comments after the fact: “Tara, your lips were purple”, “Tara, I was worried when I saw you exit the water after loop #1, you re-entered the water for the second loop very slowly”, “I could see that you didn’t look good coming out of the water”, “Tara, you looked white as a ghost as you ran out of the swim”, and so on.

I felt similar to how I felt at Ironman Arizona but not quite as bad. I also knew that on the bike there would be a climb out of town which would help generate some heat, and the air temperature was warmer than in Arizona. I hoped that I would warm up quickly. Well, it took a long time and I shook and shivered and hung on for dear life down the seven mile descent on loop #1 of the bike. Needless to say, my power was seriously lacking. And while I normally can ride myself into a good position on the bike, this was not to be the case this time.

I was pretty sad because I was feeling so strong and ready to race hard coming into this race. Ironman Canada has always been my A race goal, so this fact in combination with the fact I don’t think I could have done anything differently (aside from not start the race) makes the result easier to swallow, even though it was frustrating to feel such a lack of strength on my usual strength leg, the bike.

I have been working hard on improving my run since Ironman Lanzarote and even though my run would likely be affected by this energy-sapping incident, I wanted to finish the race and test out my running legs. Amazingly, I never cramped again out of the water. I guess because the spasms in the water must have been due to a protective mechanism to generate heat, they never happened again throughout the day.

I started doing regular speed work intervals with Coach Nicole Stevenson and have finally been able to put in some proper run training. Nicole as well as many friends and my family were there to cheer me on which was amazing, and while my run wasn’t ideal in the end, it was better than all the races I have done since my crash in Kona in 2008. So I am happy to report the run training IS helping me to improve.

Being in Lake Placid again was great. I stayed part of the time with my good friend and ‘I WILL Foundation’ founder Matty Long which was awesome. I can never have too much Matty-time. I had a number of athletes racing and it was extremely rewarding to see them out there during the race and three of them got to hear the words “You are an Ironman” for the first time.

Recovery is going really well and I am now getting psyched to do it all again at Ironman Canada on the 29th of August.

Thanks for reading.