By Sarah Pacheco, Hawaii Army Weekly, U.S. Army Garrison, HawaiiJune 9, 2014
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- The Army Medical Command recently rolled out the Performance Triad at bases throughout the Army in order to stress the importance of leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
According to Army Medicine, the three components of the Armywide initiative -- sleep, activity and proper nutrition -- are important independently, but must be addressed simultaneously in order to achieve optimum performance, readiness and resilience.
Capt. Rhett Soltas and 1st Lt. Travis Kaufman, both battalion physician assistants from 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, stress these focus points daily to patients at the 3rd BCT Soldier Centered Medical Home of the U.S. Army Health Clinic, here.
However, Soltas and Kaufman also practice what they preach, and the two more than "walked the walk," last weekend, when they both competed in and completed the ultra-competitive IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii.
Nicknamed "The Honu," the half-IRONMAN is considered a mandatory race on the schedules of professional and age-group triathletes looking to prepare or qualify for the full-distance IRONMAN championship in Kona.
The race began with a 1.2-mile swim in the waters off Hapuna Beach State Park, then continued with a 56-mile bike along the infamous Queen Kaahumanu and Akoni Pule highways toward the tiny northern town of Hawi.
There, competitors turned around and cycled their way back through black lava fields, historic Hawaiian heiau (temples) and the notoriously challenging Kamakani headwinds to the next and final portion of the race: a half marathon, or 13.1-mile run.
"The bike course was challenging, with strong head winds and lots of rolling hills … (but) the run was by far the biggest challenge!" reported Soltas, who said his strength is in the swim.
"The run course included short, steep climbs on a golf course and took us out onto hot lava fields that lacked any kind of shade," Soltas explained. "Several emotions swirled through me during the last five miles, but coming around the corner and seeing the finish line was by far the best moment all day."
"It felt great to cross the finish line," agreed Kaufman. "The heat of the course and lack of shade made the run a challenge. I remember having one mile left and thinking after 69 miles, this is it! That mile was so long and grueling. I had several emotions all at once."
To ensure they were prepared for both the physical and mental exhaustion of the course, Soltas and Kaufman relied on the sage advice found in the Performance Triad, implementing the three points into their daily lifestyles, as follows:
• Activity -- "At the peak of our training, we both trained between 12-15 hours weekly, often divided into morning and evening workouts," said Soltas, noting that they varied their workouts in frequency, intensity and duration to avoid injuries, as well as cross-trained between aerobic and anaerobic training sessions.
"We also avoided back-to-back days of running, as well as multiple high-intensity workouts without adequate recovery days between them, since this significantly increases injuries (something we counsel our patients on)," Soltas noted.
• Sleep -- "I prefer the term 'recovery,'" Soltas said, explaining that both he and Kaufman strive for the recommended 7-9 hours of shuteye nightly, because "sleep is when our bodies rebuild themselves and is vital for continued improvement as an athlete. Without sleep, we would be unable to push ourselves in our workouts the way we do," he said.
Soltas added that in addition to adequate sleep, recovery includes daily stretching after activity and throughout the day, as well as icing sore joints and muscles.
• Nutrition -- "This is extremely important!" both Kaufman and Soltas said. "Proper nutrition gives us the fuel our bodies need to rebuild after tough workouts, as well as throughout the day as we continually burn calories 'recovering'. A healthy diet primes our bodies to work at their peak during training sessions, allowing us to achieve significant gains for race day."
Their diet included several small meals and healthy snacks spread throughout the day, with lots of whole foods, to include good carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and lean protein; minimal red meat; and zero fast food, sugary beverages or energy drinks.
"By us doing what we're doing, we're no longer just telling someone to do something. We can say, look, I just did a triathlon this weekend. This is what I did, these are the injuries I have (and) this is how you can get through it," Soltas said.
"It give us more credibility, too," Kaufman added. "When we're out there with Rangers and Sappers and Special Forces guys every morning, sometimes we're just the medical or PA (physicians assistants), but then they see that we're athletes as well. That gives us more credibility."
Soltas completed the Honu -- the first triathlon of this distance for the athlete -- in a time of 5 hours:39 minutes:41 seconds, placing him 36th in his division and 307th out of a total 1,597 finishers.
Kaufman, who has competed in half-IRONMANs before, finished with a time of 5 hours:03 minutes:51 seconds for a 12th-place finish in his division and 91st-place overall ranking.
"When I crossed the finish line at 5 hours, 3 minutes, I was happy it was completed, but look forward to doing it again by using the Performance Triad to help me continue to improve my training by making me a faster, stronger and smarter athlete, Soldier and medical provider," said Kaufman.
"Crossing the finish line felt amazing, not just because I had gutted out 5 hours, 39 minutes of racing in some unforgiving conditions, but because of the six months of training it took to get there," Soltas added. "At the finish line, I was instantly greeted by Travis and my teammates who had shared in the misery and excitement of finishing the 70.3 miles."
Admittedly "fatigued and sore, with heavy legs" nearly a week after the race, Soltas and Kaufman are relying on the Performance Triad to help them recover properly before training begins for their next big race: The Kawela Endurance Triathlon, which is another 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run from Kailua to the North Shore, Aug. 16.
"And then, of course, for all triahtletes, the goal is to do Kona in October; at least that's my goal before I leave Hawaii," said Kaufman.
"I think I might wait a couple years before that!" Soltas laughed. "I've only been in the sport for about two years. It takes a lot of discipline, but if not for those three points -- the sleep, nutrition and just taking care of your body all around, in general -- I know I wouldn't be able to make it."