Injuries and Adrenal Fatigue – Can You Train Through Either?


Author’s Note: I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be. Information in this post is from my own research from as reputable sites as I could find. If you have better information, please feel free to share, as long as you cite your sources.


Athletes can be a stubborn bunch. Even those of us that should know better, that coach or advise others, tend to not follow the best practices when it comes to injuries.

You know who I am talking about.

When we are training for a specific goal, a target race, the only “A Race” on our schedule, nothing will deter us from those long training days, the early morning sprints around the neighborhood, the sneaking out of work early to get a swim in before a scheduled bike ride. Miles or Time in training equals success on race day, so the inverse must also be true, basically, that time or miles lost during the training period costs us on trace day. We will run through small aches and pains to the point that we are hobbled, then after an evening of ice, compression, and elevation, get right back out there the next day and do it again.

The trick is when is it time to say “enough”?

We are a short-sighted bunch. We either refuse to see the big picture or are so narrowly focused on the end event that we just don’t see it. We only see “today” and do not take into account what happens tomorrow if we continue to train through an injury. A slight tweak in an Achilles is run through until it changes from a “hurt” to an “injury”. When I played football the coach would always ask us as we lay writhing on the ground if we were hurt or injured. Back in the late 70’s when I played this was a HUGE distinction. If you are hurt, you can play, and if you can’t play, then you are replaced, and possibly never getting back on the field. This happened to me my last year of playing against New Smyrna Beach (damn them ‘Cudas). I was chasing a running back (#44 – will never forget that number) down the sideline and leaped at him just as he was about to score, grabbing him by the back of the shoulder pads (something that is illegal in today’s game). I snapped him backward (though not in time since he did cross the goal line) and I went flying into the spectator area, which was very close to the sidelines. I rolled a number of times before coming to a sudden stop against the concrete. When I got up I felt that my knee was off, but I limped back into the huddle for the extra point attempt. Back in these days, there was very little kicking, so they went for 2, using the same running back and I met him coming through the middle of the line, just as he planted his helmet directly to the same kneecap.

I couldn’t get up. My knee would not bend. A couple of teammates helped me to the sideline and sat me on the bench. My Defensive Backs coach came over and asked if I was OK. I told him “I can’t bend my leg”. He shook his head at me, swore, and yelled “Ingram … get in there for Harris” and walked away. I sat there for a few minutes, scared to pull my pants up to see what was there before the trainer came over. I leaned against the trainer we had as he pulled up my pants. My kneecap was about an inch off center. He looked at me and said “grit your teeth” which I did as he grabbed the knee and pushed it back in place, telling me it was “just dislocated” and would be OK. “Just ice it”. Since we lost that game (we played on Thursday nights) we had a practice the next day. I hobbled into my head coach’s office and told him I didn’t think I could go. All the coaches looked at each other, and then he said “fine … sit on the bench” without ever looking at me. I walked away, hearing them laughing when I closed the door, and never saw the starting lineup again.

So, when I feel a tweak, it is my first instinct to try to push through it. One day, to me, could mean not making the lineup, in this case, not starting the race. When I hear of others that have a nagging issue I am the first one to tell them to sit out, to rest, that losing one training day is better than losing the whole year, but I am the worst culprit. I am not alone. I know coaches who say the same thing to me yet are out running or biking on injuries themselves. As I said .. we are our own worst enemies.

Sometimes the injuries are evident, like a sprained ankle, a plantar fasciitis issue, a swollen knee, but often they are not, especially when we are dealing with true adrenal fatigue (AF). Once your cortisol levels drop to zero, there is no recovering from that other than taking time off. You cannot “train through it”. The issue is recognizing AF is not always easy, because it can feel amazingly like just being tired, or over-trained. So you take a day off, maybe two, and then hit it as hard as you can once more. And it is just as bad, or worse, than before.


What is Adrenal Fatigue?


From the Adrenal Fatigue website, AF is defined as a collection of signs and symptoms that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level, most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress. As the name suggests, its paramount symptom is fatigue that is not relieved by sleep but it is not a readily identifiable entity like measles or a growth on the end of your finger. You may look and act relatively normal with adrenal fatigue and may not have any obvious signs of physical illness, yet you live with a general sense of unwellness, tiredness or “gray” feelings. People experiencing adrenal fatigue often have to use coffee, colas and other stimulants to get going in the morning and to prop themselves up during the day.

Adrenal fatigue can wreak havoc with your life. In the more serious cases, the activity of the adrenal glands is so diminished that you may have difficulty getting out of bed for more than a few hours per day. With each increment of reduction in adrenal function, every organ and system in your body is more profoundly affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system, and even sex drive. Many other alterations take place at the biochemical and cellular levels in response to and to compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs with adrenal fatigue. Your body does its best to make up for under-functioning adrenal glands, but it does so at a price.

Pretty scary stuff right? I wonder how many of you reading this right now are walking around with it and never knew it? Dr. John Tinterra, a medical doctor who specialized in low adrenal function, said in 1969 that he estimated that approximately 16% of the public could be classified as severe, but that if all indications of low cortisol were included, the percentage would be more like 66%.

And this was in 1969 … you know … BEFORE the internet, 24/7/365 work days, terrorism, the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Donald Trump, etc. Imagine what the numbers would be today??

The problem is this; although adrenal exhaustion is a real medical condition that can be measured through blood tests, adrenal “fatigue” is not. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long-term mental, emotional, or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms, and there is no test that can identify adrenal fatigue (http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/myth-vs-fact/adrenal-fatigue).

Eric Metcalf, MPH writes (and reviewed by Dr. Brunilda Nazario) on WebMD that:

Adrenal fatigue is a term that’s used by some to say that fatigue and other symptoms are caused by a poorly working adrenal gland in people who are under mental, emotional, or physical stress. But it’s not a proven medical condition. Your adrenal glands make hormones. One of these is cortisol, which helps your body deal with stress. According to the adrenal fatigue theory, if your life is too stressful, your adrenal glands may not pump out enough hormones, leading to a wide variety of symptoms. But there’s no evidence to support this theory. (http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/adrenal-fatigue-is-it-real)

Robert Vigersky, MD, a past president of the Endocrine Society, says the symptoms are very common in people in general. Though people often blame their hormonal glands, such as the adrenals or thyroid, for their tiredness, Vigersky says in many cases fatigue is due to common problems such as:

  • Poor sleep habits
  • Poor diet
  • Stress at work or home
  • Depression

All of these can affect your energy level without involving your adrenal glands. Fatigue is also a symptom of many diseases such as anemia, arthritis, diabetes, and heart failure, says Janet McGill, MD a hormone specialist at Washington University in St. Louis.

I know this … I fit into every symptom of adrenal fatigue but mine is due to 2 of the 4 (maybe 3 of the four) common problems, in addition to having psoriatic arthritis and no thyroid due to cancer. Adrenal Fatigue is a new buzzword (much like Celiac, where people want to be Gluten Free, but most are not actual Celiac diagnosed … ) so when someone throws that at you … take it for what it’s worth and get checked out before buying supplements. Do your homework, and do what is best for you using an intelligent mind. Lots of information is at your fingertips these days. There’s no excuse for being misinformed. And remember, just because the medical establishment doesn’t recognize something as a disease doesn’t mean it is not real (for example Fibromyalgia and Thyroid Disease were not recognized for a long time, and the effects of Low T is not agreed upon as well).

And if you’re tired … how about resting?

Just a thought …

Dead Zones

One of the hardest parts of being an adult-onset athlete is learning when to back off. We have become so ingrained to sit on our asses for years upon years, that when we do find the energy, the willpower, the need, to get up and start moving, the very thought of sitting back on that couch is anxiety producing. It scares us. This is a hard thing to explain to those who have never been on the “other side”, who has always been active. Taking a day off to them seems easy, and welcomed. When I have a recovery day on the schedule, especially on a weekend day like Saturday, I spend the whole day fidgety. The mere act of sitting still, relaxing, taking it easy is enough to throw me into a panic attack. I get images of scales going past the 300-pound mark again. Images of not being able to get up that hill the next day. Just typing this is making me antsy.

I will find reasons to prove my point as well, even if some are concocted.

“Took a day off did you? Well, you gained .6 pounds because of that, fella! Get your fat ass back on the road!!”

Our inner voices can be very insensitive at these times.

And we listen to these voices.

“We have lost dozens of pounds yet see in ourselves the same, self-loathing behemoth we were 5 years ago.”

It never goes away.

We can look at pictures of us before and now, and see … SEE … the difference and yet it makes no difference to us in our heads. A day off is giving in to the monster, the 300 pound beast inside me that wants, so badly, to win … at all costs.

So … when I struggled through 2016, into 2017, and now facing 2019 with injury after injury, along with new and exciting medical issues erupting, and with it some MORE meds to take, I feel like I am at my wit’s end. I was not sure in recently if I actually cared enough anymore to keep going. I was having a crisis of faith, in a way, and was about to give in to Rick (my inner voice has a name) and let the fat guy back out. I went from a low of 238 pounds in January 2014 back to 278 pounds. Rick is back. And He is angry.

I need help.

The first thing I needed was to get a grip on was my health and injuries. Normal, and I say normal in the most positive way, coaches spend time on your workouts and training plans. I needed more. I needed someone to look at what I could do, what I have done, and what I can do, and try to help me (I say “try” because I am very hard-headed at times) work through it in a logical manner. This is how I found Meghan Fanning at Zendurance Now. I had “met” Meghan through a few online groups I was part of, so when I was rambling on about what my issues were, and she started chiming in, I asked her onto the old podcast to discuss injury management. Once talking to her with Andrew on the show I felt like she understood the issues I was having (as well as Jennifer) so I contacted her about coaching us, and she agreed. Meghan is “Up North”, so the coaching is via email and Skype sessions, but what I like about her is that she tells you what she thinks, point-blank, but not to the point that she’ll tell you not to do something if you really want to do it. An example is the Disney Marathon in 2015. I knew I wasn’t ready, she knew it was probably a mistake, but she gave me some pointers and told me to just take the race as it comes and not to be afraid to pull off if I had to. I did end up DNF’ing that race (the first time I had ever DNF’ed a race), but I felt supported, even in that failure. That is what makes her a good coach. She may not like or agree with something, but she listens and attempts to work around the issue without getting me killed.

Unless you count Infinitus. I do think she was trying to get me killed there.

So, the body was taken care of, but that’s the easy part. The mind is the hard part because I have spent 55 years screwing my head up as much as possible without actually tipping over to insanity. I have been told a few times, and once very recently, that one of my strengths is my willingness to look inward and mess with my inner doctrines. This is not something most people can do, especially men, or so I am being told. I find it interesting to be honest, which is why my undergraduate degree is in psychology. I find the way people think fascinating, but it’s easy to look at others and find their … not faults I think … wrong word … find their roadblocks. Each of us has the capability to be great. It is there. The hard part is unlocking the barriers that prevent us from becoming great. Being honest with ourselves, being Self Aware, is important in this. It is not self-deprecating to refer to myself as a Fat Slow Triathlete. All of the parts of that title are true. I am Fat, I am Slow, and I am a Triathlete. So what’s the problem?

The term “Fat Slow Triathlete” has little to do with weight, quickness, ability, or even triathlon’s. It is meant to provide an inclusive atmosphere for the adult-onset athlete, where support and acceptance can go a long way in bringing everyone to a healthier lifestyle. It’s way of thinking that doesn’t allow for obstacles to get in the way of the things you want to achieve. If you’re “fat” … so what? “Slow”? ….so what? It’s a way of saying, yes I am Fat (or obese, or overly tall, or old, or young), and I am slow (or injured, or tired) but I can get off the couch and train, and I can compete in and complete any race I set my mind to complete.

A large portion of my change was based on getting my life together. By that, I mean deciding that enough is enough and making the effort to change your way of thinking and living. Although hard, it is not as difficult as you may think, once you get the initial “lethargy” over with as your body is readjusting. The hard part is facing the shaking heads, the tuts, and clicks of tongues, from people who at first ask you how you’re losing so much weight, and then when you tell them how, proceed to tell you how that is not going to work, despite having proof right in front of them to the contrary. It is amazing to me the reaction you get from people, especially those closest to you when you try to share with them what you have been doing to change. It’s as if they take offense to the fact that you are improving yourself like they are being personally attacked. They tell you all sorts of things: You’re neglecting your family! You’re obsessed and that is not healthy! You’re being a zealot!

They don’t see the full picture.

If you are struggling, I wholeheartedly recommend seeking out a coach, whether it be a fitness coach or a life coach. Do your due diligence and find one that matches your personality or fills a need you have in your life. I use joke a lot about how Tara Newman would ask me blunt questions like “well when you finish an Ironman, do you expect to be different?” … reminds me of something my grandfather would have said. My grandfather was my first “life coach”. He had his faults, as do we all, but he had this old world Italian way of looking at things that cut through the bullshit and hit the nail on the head. I have striven, in my life, to be like he was, at least in that manner. He has been gone for over 25 years now and I have been missing that person in my life ever since. So after struggling for that long with no one, I am starting, at this advanced stage, to fill that void with people I think like, act like, or wish to emulate in some way.

Andrew and I used to talk on the show about self-destruction or holding back just enough so that you had a reason for not being at the top of your game in training or in a race. It may not seem related but I think it is. A part of me was destroyed in that situation, and I am not sure that I ever fully recovered. There is always a sense of “distrust” in me about relationships, a stand-offishness that allows me the ability to not be hurt if the relationship ends. I have been doing better. Suffice to say, though, that some can be traced to my inner shittiness and cold-hearted side at the most inopportune moments. I can be an asshole to the nth degree at times. Being aware of it doesn’t make it right though. So, as far as training goes, it’s that part of me that just assumes failure.

Just wrap me up now

The Joy of Swimming

I … am not a fish.

I know that comes as a shock to some of you because if you have been reading my blog for any length of time you know how comfortable I am in the water. It is, in fact, like a second home to me. I love having the wave’s splash over my face as I try to swim. It’s especially nice when the waves are just a bit higher than your head so that when you come up for a breath the water is right in front of you … I tell you brothers and sisters … is there anything more calming than being that close to the water?

It’s … well …

Soothing is what it is.

It’s kind of like being coddled in your mother’s arms on a cold December night in front of a roaring fire.

But you know what’s even better?

Being in the water with 500 or so of your closest friends.

The playfulness that ensues while seeing who can get to the turn buoy first.

The happiness you feel as your brothers grab your feet to try to propel them faster through the water. The occasional love tap of your buddy’s arm as it crashes onto the top of your head. The happiness it brings to grapple for your goggles as they float to the bottom of the lake (or ocean) while people are coming at you like you just yelled “Polo!!!”.

Yes … the swim is quite magical …

If you’re lucky, and we always end up being lucky because we are, in fact, in the water, there will be seaweed floating through the swim zone.

Even better, underwater seagrass! Nothing completes a relaxing swim portion than the occasional feel of something brushing past your legs, or across your face, while you’re trying to remain calm. Yes, the only thing better would be to have actual wildlife swim next to you. If luck holds, and you know it will, it will be the rarest of all wildlife, the elusive jellyfish. The exhilarating rush of the slight pinching feeling as they let you know they are around as if they are saying

“Hey! Hi there! Come on and play with the Jelly Man! We ALL float down here!!”

Yes, they are charming creatures. In addition to being able to play with them, afterwards, you may get to experience the pleasant experience of having a complete stranger pee on you.

Now, really, what has two thumbs and LOVES being peed on by strangers???

THIS GUY!!!

So, no, I am not a fish. I wish I was because then I could spend my whole life in the ocean. Frolicking, and laughing, and playing with my fish buddies. Maybe nibbling on the toes of the triathletes swimming over me.

Everyone knows
that Triathlete toes
are the best meals in the sea!

Right??

I am ready …

Let’s go swim!

All Sizzle and No Steak

I hope this post doesn’t turn into a rant, but I have a sneaky suspicion it will, so I should apologize for any hurt feelings, but I won’t, because if you think I am talking about you, then I probably am. 🙂


The more I have gotten into blogging and podcasting the more I see instances of so-called “fitness experts” hawking either their own products or something they are paid to sell, no matter what the underlying healthiness of said product is, and it is getting ridiculous. I actually saw a post once on a healthy (at least it was advertised this way) eating site titled “recipe of the day” …

It was for DEEP FRIED STRAWBERRIES.

Seriously?

Now if you are someone who is so in shape and have the metabolism of a housefly that you can afford to eat deep fried anything, well, good for you. Congratulations. But the majority of people are not that lucky, and to see a post on healthy websites or blogs touting something deep fried like it’s a “new twist” gives the impression it’s healthy. It’s not, and it’s misleading to present it as such. Why does anyone need to deep fry a strawberry?

We see this all the time, especially from the celebrity trainer types like Gillian Michaels. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Gillian Michaels, or at least I used to, but she constantly is pushing food and supplements that are one, not healthy, and two, usually not needed, and the problem with that is, alongside others like Bob Harper, are people listen to them.

They buy the DVD’s, watch the shows, follow the diets, and when it doesn’t work for them they feel like they have failed.

No … you have not failed …they have failed you.

An older post I wrote touched on this issue also, but was more geared toward those out there that complain and complain about their weight yet you see them posting on Facebook “checked in a 5 Guys Burgers”. There is NOTHING healthy at 5 Guys Burgers. Period. If you want to eat at McDonald’s, or 5 Guys, or wherever, that’s fine … it’s your life. Just please refrain from complaining about how fat you are afterward. The same issue happens with people completing about GI issues during runs and bikes, yet when you look at their nutrition they have downed numerous packets of sugar-filled GU’s and Gels.

But don’t DARE suggest they lose the sugar! Oh God no!!

The blogs I read or tweets I see that are re-tweeted? The majority say nothing of value … it’s all just fluff meant to self-promote. The people behind most of these blogs and tweets (the ones I KNOW at least) rarely are found out at 5:00 AM running or making a mad dash for Flatwoods after work to get a couple of loops in. And most of those that ARE out there, don’t blog or tweet (which I find amusing), though they ARE good at Facebook entries, which I think is great!

I know there are some people that hate people posting their recent workouts or meals. I personally find it motivational, especially when I know they are out there giving it all they can. The frustrating thing, for me, is when much credence is given to those that are not out there. Personally, I am out there 4-5 days a week and I was questioning how much I should write about or post/tweet because, well, I am still overweight. What right do I have to write about my training and nutrition when I am still in the shape I am in?

I liken it to someone I used to work with. We were measured in the number of “projects” we had on our plates. At one point I had 13 open projects. They had 3. Yet, they are the one singled out for recognition, presentations, etc., because the 3 they work on are high visibility projects. The funny thing is that the work associated with them is all phone time; selling basically, and once the WORK needs to be put in on development, or authoring a white paper it gets handed off to someone else (me in many cases).

He was all sizzle but no steak.

So, everyone, when you read blogs, or tweets, or Facebook, please use some discretion on whose opinion you put a value on. I know I put stuff out there all the time, but I try to stay informed, and I am quick to point out that I am by far not an expert and that everything I post or say is MY point of view and from MY experience. I am a lifetime student and I gather information from everywhere I can and filter what works for me and what doesn’t.

You Are What You Eat

As I have progressed through the last 7+ years from a 300 pounds couch potato (mmm potato) to a more active athlete the biggest change I have made has not been in the amount of activity I have on a weekly and daily basis (though that has been significant), but more about the way and what I put into my mouth every day.

It has not been easy.

There are days that a pizza calls to me like a siren calling a sailor to his death. When I walked out of the gym where I used to swim, directly across the parking lot is a 5 Guys Burger.

Damn, I really wanted that burger.

But, for the most part, I have been able to push these cravings aside and eat sensibly. I have made some missteps here and there. I am only human. But the trick I have found is not to fall off the wagon and stay off. You need to get right back on that wagon, not the next day, but immediately after you do it.

As most know my weight issues started with my cancer diagnosis in 1994. I went from 180 pounds and peaked at 313. At 313 pounds I decided that enough was enough. I could blame it on cancer, and continue to not try to stop the progress, totally give in and stay on the couch, eating my potato chips that were balanced on my ample gut, and watch The Biggest Loser. I actively sought out a doctor that specialized in weight management. I was tired of hearing the same old story about how my body would never be what it was and that I needed to take the Synthroid and learn to cope with what I was dealt.

No. Not any more.

I was given a full panel of blood work and they found that not only were my TSH levels all out of whack, but my Testosterone levels were at 165 (they are currently at 212). I addition, what little T I had was being overly converted to estrogen, which basically put me in starvation mode and made me hoard fat.

Not good at all.

So I was switched to natural thyroid, put on a weekly regimen of T injections, and given medication to block the estrogen production. Immediately I dropped 25 pounds, and I mean within two weeks. I felt better even at a heavyweight of 270. I completed my first triathlon at that weight, but all it really did was give me the boost I needed to not only maintain my new activities but to strive for that goal weight of 200 pounds I thought was out of reach.

The weight continued to drop until I reached a low point of 236 in the Winter of 2011. By January 2012 I was again 255 pounds, and I am currently at 275. The frustrating thing is that I am doing nothing different than I was initially; I am actually eating even better than I was, I work out 4-5 days a week, and have completed a marathon, a number of half marathons, and 5 half Ironman and 70.3’s. My calorie deficit each day averages 750, which means I should be losing 2 pounds a week. But I am not. I am gaining weight.

I think my body is just very temperamental. I tried juicing and was told by some that juicing is not as good as I thought. I tried Fitlife Foods, which are actually very good meals but can’t afford to keep doing that. Am I doomed to just battle this every day until I can no longer compete, then just gain all the weight back and end up at the end no better off than I was when I started?

It is very discouraging, to say the least, more so because I feel I am doing everything right at least 90% of the time but not getting the results. I have still yet to find someone who can explain to me how a small slice of cake weighing less than 3 ounces turns into 1.5-pound weight gain the next morning.

I mean, how is that even mathematically possible??

Another issue with nutrition is finding what works for you. Those of you currently competing in triathlons, or other endurance races, know that the supplements are not cheap, and if you dole out $50 for a vat of protein powder that you don’t like, or worse that doesn’t like you, well … that’s a lot of money to just throw down the toilet (pun intended).

So, as far as nutrition goes, I keep trying to learn as much as possible. Reading books. Watching documentaries. Talking to fellow athletes. Anything I can to pick up on a tip or two. Everyone has an opinion, and so many contradict each other (Carbs bad! No! Carbs GOOD!) but what it comes down to is eating well and finding out what works for YOU.

  • Eat natural foods that are full of color.
  • If Man had a hand in it, leave it alone.
  • No fast food.

Pretty simple rules …

Now if only the weight would follow …

Thoughts on Getting Older

Somewhere between 1991 and today, a weird thing has occurred.

I have gotten older.

Yes, I know we all get older, but it is something that has become strikingly apparent to me over the course of the last year. It wasn’t an immediate thing that has made me notice, it has been gradual. Aches and pains that used to go away in 24 hours now linger for days. A hard run on Monday night that I could shake off by Tuesday I can still feel on Thursday.

The saying goes that aging is in your head, and I can hear some of you reading this thinking the same thing right now, but the hard fact is that it’s not true. Yes, we don’t have to be old in our minds. My mind is not that of a 55-year-old man (though I am starting to notice some memory loss at times, which is irritating). It is a very different thing to feel young, act young, and to actually be young.

The changes are happening and are evident. Wrinkles are showing in my forehead. My beard is gray. Though my hair is still on my head it is thinning everywhere else (my legs are almost hairless at this point for example). My skin is like sandpaper in places. I wake up to use the bathroom three or four times a night. My eyes refuse to focus unless I have a lot of light. Slow, but sure, signs of a body entering its last phase.

And I am not liking it one bit.

My problem, though, is not that I am mad about getting older. It really doesn’t bother me to be in my 50’s. What bothers me is regret. Regret about the 21 years I wasted being unhealthy. When I left the Navy at 27 in 1991 I was reasonably fit. Even though cancer was a year away, I could still run well, had a few aches or pains, but could hold my own in a beach volleyball game if I was called upon. But then, I just gave up. My weight started climbing and by the time I was 40 I had gone from 185 pounds to 300. Part of this was that my thyroid had shut down and we were just discovering this and the cancer that followed but, and I am ashamed to admit this now, I used this as an excuse to turn into a lazy, couch dwelling, potato chip eating slug. I wasn’t happy with where my life was and where I saw it heading, and instead of strapping up my boots and doing something about it I let life happen to me. So when I woke up at 48, 21 years later, the damage was done.

Seven years later I can say that I am better than I was, but the hard truth is that I cannot reclaim 28 years of sloth. All I can do is stop the tide from getting deeper. Nearly all research that has been done on aging and athletics has shown that you can expect certain declines with age, regardless of fitness level;

  1. Aerobic capacity (VO2) will decline
  2. Maximal heart rate will be reduced
  3. The volume of blood pumped with each heartbeat decreases
  4. Loss of muscle fibers results in loss of mass and decrease in strength

These are all subjective of course. Someone that has been a runner all their lives will not see the decrease a sedentary person will see. The majority of aging studies have also been conducted on what is defined as a general representation of the population; sedentary, overweight, unmotivated. Athletes, especially those that have not had an “off period” will not be represented in that population. So what this is basically saying is that you can think young all you want, but aging is going to get you at some level.

I know I am in better shape and better health today at 55 than I was at 41, and even 31. I have completed 70.3 triathlons, numerous sprint triathlons, a marathon, and a number of half marathons. I could not have done that ten years ago. I don’t eat sugar and limit grains, which has made me healthy on the inside as well. I know all of this, but when I cannot remember a word I want to use, or the names and birthdays of my children and grandchildren, no amount of exercise or diet is going to fix that. No matter how many miles I log on the road running, the aches and pains of psoriatic arthritis are never going to get better, and most likely are going to get worse.

The thought of being “stuck” at 30 is one thing, but being stuck at 55 is a truly scary thing

I feel like I am running out of time. I know it’s a bad way to think, and I don’t want to give the impression that I am obsessed with mortality. It’s not the case. But I also have to be aware of it. In a best-case scenario with the health history and family history, I probably have 15-20 years left. I look at Facebook pictures of people I went to high school with and am shocked at how old some of them look, then I realize I am the same age. I have been lucky to have inherited the Italian genes I have, and I think most would be hard pressed to look at me and say “yes, he looks 55”. The thought of being “stuck” at the age of 30 is one thing because you have so much time to right the ship, but being stuck at 55 is a truly scary thing. We can all read this and say “don’t think that way, you have all the time in the world” but that’s not the truth. Time is fleeting and seems to move faster the older we get.

If given a “do-over” would I choose the same path I chose at 17?

I often joke that “when I grow up I want to be a rock star”. The point is I wonder what my 16-year-old self would think of me today. I can imagine me looking in the mirror in 1979, long curly hair, silk shirt, Napoleon Dynamite glasses, seeing me sitting in an office with lots of fancy degrees, working at a job I do not enjoy for a salary well under what I should be getting in order to pay for things I don’t like, need, nor desire. If I knew then what I have come to learn, would I take the same path? Would I have joined the Navy at 17 instead of staying in high school and going to college? Would I have married so young (19)? When did I start to compromise my needs and wants in life to accommodate others, and would I do it again if granted a second chance?

I know, it’s the pondering of an old man and not productive, but I was hit with a dose of mortality recently and it got me thinking about it, so grant me the time to work through some of it in writing. It’s what I do. The bottom line is that I am trying to get “better” and to make the most of the time I do have left. No one knows when we will be called. I say I have 15-20 years but I could be gone tomorrow, or live another 50. We don’t know.

All we can do is make the most of what we have in this life with the hopes that we don’t make so many mistakes that we are reincarnated as a dung beetle.

That’s all we can really hope for right?

Skinny Fat

Ever heard of this term?

Most people have a different idea of what the term means. On Urban Dictionary, the term Skinny Fat is defined as

A person who is not overweight and has a skinny look but may still have a high fat percentage and low muscular mass. Usually these people have a low caloric diet, that’s why they are skinny, but are not involved in any sports activities or training’s and that’s why they don’t have any muscle. Since between the bone and the skin those people only have fat, the skin can be deformed easily because the skin layer is on an unstable matter (fat).

I am not sure I buy that description. When I think of the term Skinny Fat I think of people who are thin, and appear in shape but eat or behave in such a manner that, metabolism aside, would make an average person overweight. We all know these people. These are the runners who average 8:00 miles and post all over Facebook and Twitter how they scarfed down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s as a “reward” (how undoing all the work you just did is classified as a reward is beyond me). They are the ones that scoff at your No Sugar No Grain effort because, well, it doesn’t affect them in the same way.

The body is a lot like a database … Garbage In Garbage Out

What these people don’t realize is that looking in shape and being able to perform at a high level, the way they are inside, fueling themselves with unhealthy food, is affecting them in ways they may not see for decades.

Listen, folks … according to research stated in several sources (“Wheat Belly”, “Fat Chance”, “Good Calorie Bad Calorie”), only 20-25% of people can process sugar correctly. That means for every 4-5 people you know, only one can afford to eat sugar filled food and process them in a way that it will not affect them health wise. In a triathlon with 3,000 people that is 600. And most of them are the elites at the start of the race. Want proof? Go to a longer distance triathlon (Olympic or a 70.3) and watch the finish line. The elites are coming in under three hours, and they are all fit, fuel with sugar (not all, but most), and train like animals. Then near the end, you see the rest of us. We train hard also, we struggle through the race and finish, but we are overweight.

And where did we make our mistake?

We make mistakes by trying to emulate the professional triathletes eating and training habits. Pick up a magazine and leaf through it. Most are filled with “Training Plans of the Top Pro’s at Kona” or “Mirinda Carfrae’s Nutrition Plan”. We eagerly scoff this stuff up and fix our plans to match the pros.

And it fails 80% of the time.

I was (am) one of these people. Through my first season (2011) I ate like I had been eating to lose the initial weight and dropped from 313 pounds to 236 (between May 2010 and September 2011). Then, because I was now a “triathlete”, I changed my eating and fueling habits in Season 2 (2012) to match what the elites did. I started using sugar filled crap to refuel (chocolate milk anyone??) and added carbs back to my diet. My races got progressively worse through the season and I went from my low of 236 back to 263. Today I am at 278.

I learned my lesson, but here in 2018, I am still struggling to find what I lost in 2011. My weight is still in the 280-pound range and refuses to budge (though most of this is my own fault). The difference is that I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2014 and it has affected my training load. So, even with my healthier eating lifestyle, I am gaining weight. I am finding more and more that even a little bit of processed food, no matter how healthy I think it is, affects me in a negative way. My energy levels have fallen and I find it harder and harder to get it there to train unless it’s a weekend and I have a team obligation, and even then I am finding it harder.

So what is the takeaway?

The people you see running these amazing race times and scarfing the sugar crap may be part of the 20%. And if they are not, it will catch up to them at some point. Some of these people may never be fat or overweight. They may go through life judging their fitness by what they see in the mirror and on the race clock, oblivious to the damage they are causing internally until they drop dead of a heart attack at age 45. Stick to your guns and stay the course. Don’t be swayed by the ads and the magazines. If these athletes and/or celebrities were honest they would tell you that they don’t really use half the crap they are shilling.

Have you ever seen a pro scarfing chocolate milk right after a race? Didn’t think so!

Yes, there are people who are reading this and saying “there’s nothing wrong with sugar. Your body needs sugar. I eat sugar all the time and never have a problem!”, and more than a few that will comment on how they, in fact, use chocolate milk. As I have said, there are people who can do it. There are also people who smoke their whole life and never get cancer. Doesn’t mean that smoking is healthy.

The problem is that most do not see sugar addiction as a valid addiction

As an ending note, I am not talking about anyone specifically. In these types of posts inevitably someone I know thinks I am talking about them. I am not. If you want to eat crap and feel it’s OK, then have at it, but please … PLEASE … don’t characterize it as “healthy” or “OK”.

This is what my base issue is. On a social media post, someone who was having trouble with sugar cravings posted that it bugged them that a gym (in this case Lifestyle Family Fitness, now currently out of business … go figure) would have donuts on Wednesday for their patrons, and how she felt it was detrimental to those struggling. A valid point, and one that I share. Of course, there is always one person who chimes in with the “eyes on your own plate” metaphor. The respondent’s point (and I quote) was “if you want a doughnut just eat a damn doughnut. One doughnut won’t kill you”.

And there is the problem. People do not see a sugar problem, or over-eating, as a real “addiction”. If someone had written “I am a recovering alcoholic and seeing booze all the time is really bothering me” you wouldn’t tell them “hey man, eye’s on your own plate. If you need a drink then have a drink. One drink won’t kill you”.

Or would you?

I think the point is if you think I am talking about you, then maybe you need to really read what I am saying.