On the morning of Oct. 12, Andy Potts made the tough decision to pull out of the 35th Ironman World Championship due to nagging injuries. Potts had put in extra preparation time in Kona for the first time in an attempt to properly acclimate to the conditions, and although he wasn’t able to test his strategies out on race day, what he learned along the way will serve him well throughout next season and hopefully next year in Kona as well. LAVA asked Potts about some of the biggest lessons he learned, and how he plans on taking this knowledge with him for next year. 

LAVA: How has the heat and sun exposure affected you in Kona during the past several years (symptoms, recovery problems, etc.)?

Potts: Racing in the heat is an occupational hazard for professional triathlete. I’ve performed both well and poorly in the heat. For better or worse, when things go sour during a race, the heat and humidity magnify the effects. Personally, I’ve learned that it is a lot harder to recover from an above threshold effort in the conditions in Kona because of the toll the heat takes on me. Being a bigger guy the heat can have more of an impact on me but I look at it as just one more challenge for me to overcome.

LAVA: Have you talked with any other athletes who have had similar problems while racing in Hawaii or other tropical conditions?

Potts: I’ve learned from Torbjorn [Sindballe] and how he used long sleeves and a cooling glove to help his body regulate heat.  Taking a page out of his book, I’ve worn arm coolers in Kona ever since TYR introduced them in 2011, they are thin arm covers that have a menthol weave to give the wearer a cooling sensation when air passes through it.  I’ve used them on the ride and the run and they have helped considerably with feeling cooler. In added benefit is that they help protect my skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

LAVA: What was the biggest thing you learned through your heat acclimation training this year?

Potts: After doing research on how my body adapts to new environments, I’ve learned that everything is trainable in the human body. Just like you train your muscles, heart, and lungs, I’ve learned that you can train your mind, gut, and even your skin. It was a huge revelation for me. The knowledge that everything in the human body is adaptable was very empowering.

LAVA: After your heat acclimation training during your lead-up to Kona this year, what will you plan to do next year and what do you expect to get out of it?

 Potts: To help me prepare better for the future, I’ll head out to the big island early so that my body can start the acclimatization process. Going out early will enable me to start wearing the gear that I plan to race in.  Small things like the ASICS visor I’ll wear, the Nathan hydration bottles I plan to use on the run because we get 6 Pro Fluids stations (just like the major marathons around the world provide for their professional runners), and even my CEP socks that I’ll put on in T2 because my feet sweat and swell in the heat more than usual.

The biggest change adaptation that I’m expecting is that my skin will be prepared for the sun exposure. In the past 5 races I’ve had in Kona, I’ve gotten a severe sunburn about 5 to 6 hours into the race. On top of dealing with racing the Ironman World Championships against the world’s best, I’ve had to cope with the added stress reaction that my skin was having. That puts a tremendous strain on the body at a time when I’m trying to physically pushing myself to my limits.  With that said, it is not hard to see why adaption is key to peak performance.

LAVA:  Are there any specific products that you experimented with in particular?

Potts: With the new knowledge that everything is trainable, I’ve approached my fuel consumption during training and racing differently.  I’m sticking with PowerBar products because my body tolerates their C2 Max formula exceptionally well. Along those same lines, I went to Hawaii early this year to get my skin to adapt to the heat and sun. My skin got used to training with Skin Strong sunscreen on so when the race rolled around I wouldn’t be applying a foreign substance on myself.  The Skin Strong product line is my first layer of defense against the sun, chafing, blisters, and anything a triathlete might encounter on a typical day. I felt comfortable training in the heat within days because my body had the right protection.

LAVA: When trying out different products, what kind of result are you looking for?

Potts: The first thing that comes to mind when trying a new product is that I have to have an open mind. Whether we are talking about when to eat a PowerBar or all the different applications of Slather, when I have an open mind I just jump right in and start experimenting. The right gear and products, be it the right size ASICS running shoes, proper fitting TYR goggles or the ideal setup on a Kestrel bike can enable the athlete that is in all of us. Ultimately, the ideal end result is when I can walk away from a training session or a race and say that I was able to preform my best.

LAVA:  How do you think that your experiments and results with heat acclimation and sun protection might help the age-group athlete?

Potts: I’ve bucked the conventional wisdom of “don’t do anything new on race day” for most of my career. However, I am slowly becoming a convert to that philosophy because the little things can make a big difference. For someone who doesn’t have the time that I have to prepare, the ability to overcome adverse situations in a race are more difficult. I’d recommend doing yourself a favor by racing with what you and your body know (because you’ve trained with it!) so that you have less overall stress and can concentrate on the experience.