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For more informationVisit coloradomultisport.comDuring the Ironman Boulder last August, white patches appeared on Dick Sumerfield's jersey — a telltale sign of effusive sweating and sodium loss. But the 54-year-old Boulder resident — a man who...

Ironman Boulder competitor Dick Sumerfield offers cautionary tale

For more informationVisit coloradomultisport.comDuring the Ironman Boulder last August, white patches appeared on Dick Sumerfield's jersey — a telltale sign of effusive sweating and sodium loss. But the 54-year-old Boulder resident — a man who...

Ironman Boulder competitor Dick Sumerfield offers cautionary tale

For more information

Visit coloradomultisport.com

During the Ironman Boulder last August, white patches appeared on Dick Sumerfield's jersey — a telltale sign of effusive sweating and sodium loss.

But the 54-year-old Boulder resident — a man who has crossed more than 100 finish lines since he began competing in such events during his college days — pressed on.

Michael Friess, a Boulder marathoner and Sumerfield's running buddy of 20 years, noticed the white patches from the sidelines.

"He knew — and I knew — he was hurting," Friess, 67, said. "When people on the course noticed me running alongside Dick, they reminded me that no one is allowed to have a pacer. I just told them, 'Look, he's not trying to win his age group. He's just trying to survive.'"

Looking back, Sumerfield knows his bout of stomach flu before the event — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and 26.2-mile run — depleted him. He just didn't know how it could factor into his three-day hospitalization and life-threatening case of rhabdomyolysis — kidney failure due to muscle tissue breakdown.

Sumerfield didn't know how his fixed, genetically determined sweat rate might have aggravated that temporary, circumstantial deficit.

Another performance tool

Now, technology allows athletes, particularly those embarking on grueling distance events, to use another tool to gauge and better manage the inherent risk of losing too much sodium while competing for 10 or more hours. Electrolyte loss due to heavy sweating can vary eightfold from person to person exercising under the same conditions, Michael Stone, the owner of Boulder-based Colorado Multisport, said. And genetics determine a person's sweat rate — how much sodium will be lost and not reabsorbed by the sweat glands.

But now, that rate can be gauged through an hour-long sweat composition analysis, or "sweat test." Stone noted that the technology stems from research related to childhood conditions, such as cystic fibrosis. That inherited disease affects how the body makes and secretes mucus and sweat.

His daughter died in childhood from the condition and his memories of her make the sweat test equipment now stationed at the front of his store by the window particularly meaningful to him.

"This science was once used in a disease population to determine how much sodium a person was losing and not naturally replacing so that it could be replaced through an IV," he said. "Now, we can use it in the performance population."

How it works

Though the sweat test might sound like a workout in and of itself, athletes take this $129 test sitting still. Colorado Multisport's Ryan Ignatz first swabs the inside of your forearm with deionized water to clean the skin for the scan. Then, he rubs gel in a circle slightly larger than a half-dollar to chemically stimulate the sweat glands. A 9-volt battery-operated patch vibrates to desensitize the nerves while a flat, circular plastic piece collects sweat in a tiny tube coiled inside.

Afterward, a computer analyzes the results, produces the sweat rate number, and helps subjects use that information to better plan how they hydrate and maintain appropriate sodium levels, Ignatz said.

"This test can help you plan ahead for a grueling event," he continued. "You can prevent problems down the road by doing the math and figuring out how to replenish your sodium at a fast enough rate."

When Foothills Hospital's emergency department in Boulder admitted Sumerfield about 24 hours after he finished the Ironman last year, he had been vomiting, cramping and feeling lightheaded.

"They told me that normal sodium levels should be between 135 and 145, and mine was dangerously low at 118. The normal creatine kinase number they mentioned is around 200 and mine was 10,139 — dangerously high," he said.

After his hospital discharge, Sumerfield needed to rest for two weeks and spend the next three months building up his strength slowly, per doctor's orders, he said.

Now, he is back to swimming in lane 4, the fast lane, at his home gym, RallySport Health & Fitness Club in Boulder.

But Sumerfield, along with Friess and their respective wives, plans on volunteering at an aid station for this year's Ironman Boulder on June 11, he said.

"I love this whole sport, even watching it. It's a way of life for me. But last year I learned that you do need to listen to your body," he said. "We train hard for events like this, and we know we can push through so much. But if you experience something completely abnormal like I did — I wanted a massage at the end of the race, but didn't think I could climb on the table — then you need to take a step back ... And I will get a sweat test done before I compete again."

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or at 303-746-0942.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or at 303-746-0942.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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