Motion Sickness….and How I am Going to Fix It

Vegas.  70.3 World Championships.  Holy cow.  That sucked.  I’d like to use some other, significantly more offensive words to describe how I feel about Sunday’s race, but to spare you all, I’ll leave it at that.

Sunday was a very tough day for so many people I care about.  It was like we all had been sucker-punched in the gut, then kicked in the head and had rocks thrown in our faces.  Some people’s races blew up more than others, but at the end of the day, we all blew up.  I was bummed for my race, but in the aftermath, not being able to celebrate the success of many – well, that brought me down a bit further.  We all went in with our game faces on and ready to shine, and at the post-race bbq held by one of our Purplepatch teammates, we all had smiles, but the pain and disappointment that lingered in the air was tangible.

We are all tough.  We are all warriors.  That is why we were standing there in the first place.  And so we’ll all bounce back, learn from the experience and use it to become stronger, better and faster athletes.  But man.  That sucked.

I am disappointed and I had hoped for more, but when I take a step back and remove myself from the moment, I do remember the simple fact that I got to race on Sunday, and as a first year pro, that is pretty damn great.  Not everyone has that chance – in fact few of us do, and good race or bad, being able to take that experience, learn from it, and put it in the bank for next year – I am incredibly thankful for that.

Looking at my race, I know what the issue was: My stomach.  Same as it always is.  Motion sickness.  I did everything I had practiced.  I wore the pressure point bracelets.  I ate ginger before the swim.  I wore ear plugs.  I didn’t eat or drink for the first 45 minutes of the ride.  I did everything to settle myself, and let the blood start flowing to my legs and not to my queasy mid-section.  But this time, nothing worked.  And as I have learned in the race simulations we have done over the last month, until my stomach settles, I can’t get my power up.  In fact, when I am sick, I ride 75 to 100 watts lower than what my typical 70.3 race pace would be.  100 watts!  That is a big number for a little person like me.  That is a big number for anybody.

Placid was a blessing in that we finally were able to identify an issue and started tackling it.  At Ironman New York everything worked perfectly.  I had some sickness out of the swim, but my stomach settled within 30 minutes and I was fine.  In Vegas, not so much.  I kid you not when I say I threw up over 40 times in the ensuing 69.1 miles after I exited the water.

So as I sit here thinking about the race, my thoughts are less about feeling sorry for myself and more completely focused on figuring out how the hell I solve this problem.  So I thought I’d throw out the issues to the world and see if anyone has any ideas:

How it begins:  Whenever I swim – whether in the pool or in the open water I get some form of motion sickness.  Sometimes I don’t feel it at all in the water, and other times, like in Las Vegas, my stomach starts doing flips and turns before I get out.  The roughness of the water seems to have no bearing.

When I exit the water I always get one of those massive head-rushes like when you stand up to fast and your blood pressure drops.  I feel like my legs are like lead and my heart rate spikes when I run through transition.  The degree of this also varies based on how I feel in the water.  At IMNYC my stomach was more settled than normal and I felt the best I have ever felt running into T1.  Other times, such as at Eagleman, I felt so nauseous in transition I was dizzy and couldn’t see straight.

Out on the bike, I have no power.  My legs are dead weights, and I throw up a constantly.  And when I say throw up – I’m not exaggerating.  Imagine wretching your entire night’s dinner out – that is what happens to me.  It is only once my stomach settles that my power returns and I can ride properly.  Sometimes in training I wait up to an hour after a swim to ride, and even then my stomach still won’t have settled down.

I now wear pressure point bracelets on both wrists, wear ear plugs and take ginger – all homeopathic remedies.  None of this has solved my issues, but I have found, generally, it has reduced the time from when I exit the water to when my stomach begins to feel better.  I wear the pressure point bracelets on the bike too.

I’ve gone and done the balance testing and everything has come back normal.  And I have visited an ENT specialist.  She says I have ridiculously inflamed sinuses and believes the degree to which my sinuses are swollen impacts my balance, and thus the degree of my nausea issues.  This is entirely plausible.  As I sat back and thought about both Placid and Vegas – I had colds and sinus infections for both.  In fact the days before Vegas my sinuses were so blocked I had a terrible headache as the infection set in and went to bed at 6 pm the night before the race because my head hurt so much.

So that is it.  Kona is 4.5 weeks away.  And I’m on a mission.  Not just for Kona, but for next year.  My performance in races cannot be at the whim of this issue, or, if it is going to be, I need to figure out how to fix it quickly when it happens.  Any thoughts?  Ideas?  Comments?  Are my ear crystals out of wack?  Anyone?  Anyone?  I need help!  There has to be someone out there that has had the same issues…..right?

So – that is the deal.  Now it is back to work – focusing on getting this issue further sorted, putting up a solid training block before Kona and putting up my best performance of the year.

Thank you so much everyone – fans, family, friends, sponsors, coaches, and my fellow competitors for all of your awesome support out there on the race course and in the days leading up to and after the race.  I couldn’t do it without you all!

Until next time.

Don’t dream it.  Be it.




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25 Responses to Motion Sickness….and How I am Going to Fix It

  1. libby says:

    I’m so bummed to hear you had a bad race in vegas, I was rooting for you. It was a brutal day out there. Maybe a little far fetched but on the ear crystal thing- get an eval from a PT who specializes in vestibular and see if there is something going on. If there is, the treatment can be relatively quick. Maybe worth checking out. If you need a recommendation for someone where you live let me know and I will look some people up who are certified.
    best wishes to you for a killer kona- its been fun watching you crush your first pro year!

  2. Maria says:

    Have you ever try acupuncture? It works, someone close to me, years back, was hit by a car on his bike and did acupuncture for pain and he helped (and he didn’t think it would). They put a bee-bee in his ear that he could push on for if the pain was getting bad during the day that the can work for just about anything. Just a thought. Good luck.

  3. Libby beat me to the comment but i would go see a Vestibular Specialist, a PT. My sister has a version of this, cant see movies on the big screen unless she sits way in the back and has the same issue with swimming and flip turns. 
    There are ( as libby said) some pretty basic things we can do for you with the eye cadence, training the vestibular system, etc…worth a try.
    Best of luck at Kona!

  4. hey there,
    Bruce Levy sent me your blog to see if I had any suggestions. I haven’t ever experienced this bad- BUT I have had massive sinus infections and those are icky and can throw off balance quite a bit. I had sinus surgery last December- I’m not sure what it is officially called but its basically roto rooter- it worked and I feel SO much better now. Might be worth investigating if that is something that can help you. What about taking a decongestant? I wouldn’t recommend doing it for your race first time, but try it and see how it affects you in training.

    • SarahP says:

      Hi Claire! Thanks so much for that feedback. Actually several people have recommended this sinus surgery to me and, Actually, before I even wrote this blog, I had the surgery booked to do. It sounds like from from people have said, that this was extremely successful. I’m always hesitant to go the surgery route, but if it works, I will be extremely thankful for it! Thank you again! Sarah-

  5. SarahP says:

    Thank you ladies so much for the suggestions. I will def go and see a vestibular specialist! Great idea!. And Maria – I did so and see an acupuncturist. He put the seeds in my ears too, but it didn’t end up helping that much, unforuntately. I have been thinking about going back to give it another go, though. Thank you again to all of you! I appreciate all the ideas!

  6. Andy says:

    Sarah – I’m sorry about your race, and unfortunately I don’t have any good suggestions. I just wanted to let you know I met your mom while waiting for my wave to start, and she was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met! She asked me very thoughtful questions about my background as a triathlete, and shared some insights from your experience going pro. I hope to cross paths with team Piampiano in Kona! Good luck with your stomach issues and I’ll be rooting for you on the big island.

  7. Kerrie says:

    A long shot, but have you tried swimming with a nose clip? I started to get horribly inflamed sinuses which were due to chlorine irritating them. I wear a nose clip all the time now and that issue has gone. I know it won’t help your motion sickness but if sinus issues are a contributory factor, it might be worth a try.

    • SarahP says:

      Hi Kerrie – What a great idea! I will give it a shot. It is funny because this nausea issue has always existed, but has gotten significantly worse for me over the last few years – which coincides with my swim volume increasing. Perhaps I will give it a go! Thanks for the suggestion! Sarah-

  8. Jen says:

    Sarah- did the ENT do an ENG test (the most memorable part is having cold water in your ears that brings on the spins?) You can see Vestibular people through Audiology or PT. Google BPPV (benign para proximinal vertigo) and see if the symptoms match… if they do the fix is fairly simple… 

    • SarahP says:

      Hi Jen – I did do and ENG test – or at least I believe I did. They blew hot air and then cold air into my ears. Thanks for the feedback. Several people have suggested seeing a Vesibular specialist, which I think I am going to do. I will keep you posted!

  9. Tito says:

    Hi, Sarah. We met briefly at your first swim meet at the Rose Bowl. I was there in Henderson to watch my niece compete and the weather was atrocious. She, too, was vomiting on the bike and my brother pulled her off the course after one loop of the run. Under those conditions, it simply wasn’t worth it for her to continue. I haven’t look at your result, but I wouldn’t beat yourself over it. It was the heat, more than anything else — along with a poorly conceived swim venue. My niece said the temperature of the water in that “lake” was probably 82-84 degrees. That is way too hot for a hard swim of any kind, let alone one that will be followed by a difficult bike and run. In other words, the two of you and countless others got dehydrated (and no doubt sickened by that questionable water) before you even hit your transition; there was no way you could make up the hydration deficit because the sun was relentlessly beating down on you. Heck, I couldn’t even stay hydrated and all I was doing was watching. In Kona you will be swimming in cleaner, cooler water. You will be fine. Best of luck to you.

    • SarahP says:

      Thanks Tito! Much appreciated! It was definitely a brutal day out there! Hopefully Kona will go a bit more smoothly! Thanks for reaching out and hope your niece is recovering ok!

  10. @rickyhgarcia says:

    I am no expert, but I feel like fishing.

    I remember taking my kids to the pediatrician for ear infections….and the doctor´s reply that it is common in babies to have ear infection because they spend so much time lying down that nasal fluids flow to the ears.  As our head grows, the tiny ducts that connect ear and nose are no longer horizontal, but angled upward.  This, and the fact that we spend most of the day in an upward position, prevent nasal fluids from flowing to the ear.

    The body is horizontal during the swim, you are throwing your head (at your level) probably quite violently from side to side, underwater breathing is hurried and requires higher pressure to exhale, and, according to you, your sinuses are “ridiculously swollen.”  

    It sound to me that your ears could be getting flooded with nasal fluids while you swim.  Causing the unbalance, and the stomach problems.

    • SarahP says:

      Hi Ricky – Definitely an interesting idea. It’s funny because a few people have mentioned that how much/ how violently you swingyour head could play a roll. I am going to look into this more…but I really appreciate you taking the time to give your thoughts. I am making a list of every person’s feedback and trying to make my way through the comments and try everything. My view is something has to work – or it will provide some direction in terms of finding the solution! Thanks again! Sarah-

  11. Ana-Maria says:

    Seems like avoiding a sinus infection is key here. Perhaps doing salt water nose rinses (with netty pot) daily might help with that (works for me). Also wonder about some anti sea sickness meds, if those are permitted in races. Good luck!

    • SarahP says:

      I agree – I think I am going to have some sinus surgery this coming week to try to reduce the inflammation my sinuses and hope that works! Thanks for taking the time to reach out! I will keep you posted!

  12. Dawn says:

    I know someone with a similar issue and their MD prescribed protonix. It seems to have helped. Good luck.

    • SarahP says:

      Thanks Dawn! I will look into it. I am making a list of all the comments I received and going to start going through one by one until I find a solution! Really appreciate the feedback!

  13. Rachel Wills says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m not one to usually comment, but I do enjoy reading fellow triathlete blogs [I suppose that makes me a blog stalker…lol] Anyway, I took interest in your post about motion sickness and have a couple suggestions.

    I teach swim technique lessons to triathletes and have been doing this for a while, and have seen this before.

    Have you ever been filmed while swimming, above or below the water?

    1) Head movement should NOT be violent; in fact your head should hardly move while swimming. When you breathe, don’t turn your head, but you should turn your body to breathe, keeping your head in line with your spine. I see this far too often, where triathletes bend their necks in ways I didn’t know were possible, to get that gasp of air a millisecond earlier. Relax and let your hips do the work.

    2) Do you kick while racing [or training]? The kick in triathlon is meant for 2 things, and in your case, maybe 3. It helps with body position & body rotation [see #1] and blood flow. Most “swimmers” kick for propulsion, and I understand that us triathletes have to save our legs for the bike and run. But kicking a light, small, less intense kick can improve that blood flow. Since you are horizontal during the swim, and breathing hard, the blood flow tends to feed the brain first, and your lower extremities are forgotten about. Thus when you demand your body stands and runs through T1 and starts hammering on the bike, your legs don’t have the blood or oxygen to handle that demand. Lightheadedness [technical term, I know], dizzyness and blood pressure changes occur and with all that, your stomach can have serious issues.

    One more thing, do you hold your breath when your face is in the water? Breathe out harder than you think, for the entire time your face is in the water. When you turn your body to breathe, you should only be inhaling. Many people hold their breath, and then turn to breath, but exhale and inhale during that time, which will mess with stroke technique. There isn’t enough time for both, and you’ll end up hyperventilating. 

    Ear and nose plugs are very good solutions for balance issues as well.

    I sincerely hope you find a solution, but I’d have someone take a look at your swim technique before resulting to drugs or surgery. 


    • SarahP says:

      Hi Rachel! Thank you so much for the great advice. I am going to write a follow up blog actually about this issue – We still don’t have it fully figurted out (it is still happening), but we have determined it the nausea is caused by me turning my head to the side to breathe when I swim. Now we are just trying to determine if it is a vestibular issue or something with my Cervical spine. I just had a CT scan done this week and heading to the doctor today so hopefully we can get it figured out soon! Thank you again for the great input! Sarah-

  14. Victoria Wardle says:

    Sorry our paths didn’t cross again after the pre-race swim in Vegas.  Clyde was sorry to miss you.  Was just checking your blog pre Kona. Hope you are feeling good. I didn’t realise you had sinus issues.  I used to have horrendous problems – infections all the time, tried SinuClease, all sorts, however I have since given up dairy (which I did because I became lactose intolerant since training for IM and due to an infection in my illeum which left me with sensitivities).  Anyhow the long and short of it is since that time I haven’t suffered on the sinus side at all (hope I’m not jinxing myself).  I don’t know if you are dairy free but if not perhaps give it a go for a few weeks.  You never know. Hope you enjoy being back in HI – go get’em. One day I’ll get there and join you:)  Clyde says hello,  VW 

  15. D'Arcy says:


    I am not a doctor but I wonder if you are dealing with some inner ear issues? Two things: I remember Michiellie Jones not making it to the bike back in 2009 or 2010 because of her ears taking in water and being out of whack… another theory: I suffered some vertigo about 2 years ago and being on a bike (during a 40K TT) was the most nauseating experience of my life. Inner ear issues (and vertigo for that matter) are hard to diagnose… but totally perceptable during training/races while on wheels.

    Having done Kona 2007-2010, my husband and I watched Kona on and saw you finish. What an incredible accomplishment to be a first-year pro and be there…. Congrats on your finish! I hope you are recovering well.
    Cheers, D’Arcy

    • SarahP says:

      Thanks D’Arcy! I really appreciate the comment and the support! I am going to write a follow up blog about my motion sickness. It is still not figured out, but we have determined that it is driven from my turning my head to the side to breathe when I swim. Now we are just trying to determine if it is Vestibular or a Cervicle spine issue! Thanks again for the support! S-

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