Too Fat to HIIT

I admit it.

When the subject of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) was first brought up to me my instant reaction was exactly the blog title above … basically that I was too fat to be able to participate in HIIT programs. I would not be able to do most of what was being expected and therefore would neither finish the workouts nor continue with it after getting through one or two.

And I see this feeling echoed all of the time on social media. As soon as someone states that they are having a hard time losing weight and a suggestion comes across about HIIT intervals, the immediate reaction is “I am too fat (old, slow, etc.) to do that”.

I am here to tell you that you are being misled, or are trying to convince yourself of this because you don’t really want to do it.

The problem is that this belief is often echoed in the media. Look up HIIT on Wikipedia and you get the following definition:

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training (SIT), is an enhanced form of interval training, an exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise. Usual HIIT sessions may vary from 4–30 minutes. These short, intense workouts provide improved athletic capacity and condition, improved glucose metabolism, and improved fat burning. Compared with other regimens, HIIT may not be as effective for treating hyperlipidemia and obesity, or improving muscle and bone mass. Researchers also note that HIIT requires “an extremely high level of subject motivation,” and question whether the general population could safely or practically tolerate the extreme nature of the exercise regimen.

So, what this means to a person trying to find an answer is that (1) you need to be highly motivated and (2) if you’re obese it probably won’t work. I am not sure how this result is arrived at since the consistent way I have been able to lose weight was when I was participating in HIIT on a regular basis. There are all kinds of research studies out there that show long course training (i.e. Zone 2) does not help you lose weight either, and in fact, can make you gain weight.

So basically, if you train long and slow you’re screwed, and if you train short and fast you’re screwed.

No wonder people give up right?

The bottom line is this … there is no medical reason that an overweight person cannot or should not do HIIT (OnFitness, September/October 2015).

There is a disconnect in understanding what HIIT actually is and how it is performed. This disconnect, unfortunately, is far too often parroted by the very coaches teaching it in the programs. HIIT is often linked to speed work, sprinting, but this belief is not true for everyone, and especially not true for the overweight population.

HIIT is about effort … not speed.

Someone who is overweight can get the same benefit by simply walking as fast as they can up a hill, then walking back down to recover, then walking as fast as they can back up the hill. Have a hard time walking? Then get on a bike, pedal as hard as you can for 30 seconds to a minute, then go easy for a minute or two, then repeat.

The trick is that the all-out effort needs to be to the point you are breathless, and that is different for everyone.

I can go out and try this workout and be breathless running in 15 seconds, while a more fit person might be able to run a good 5 minutes before reaching that state. The result is going to be the same for each person because the effort is the same regardless of the speed or the distance.

I feel like at times people don’t want to have heavy people get thinner or healthier (not the same thing). It seems at times they design programs that make you give up (P90X anyone?) or defeat you in their explanations before you even try it. As a coach, I try not to do that. Even when I sign up for races I know I am not ready for I have never been told me to not do it, and I usually would not tell a client not to do it (unless I really felt they were going to get hurt). I don’t understand a coach or mentor, be it in fitness or in business, that seems to thrive on holding people down rather than raise them up.

And you have seen it.

I know you have.

I see it a lot with age too. People not telling me outright that I am too old to do something but acting surprised when they hear I have entered a race “at my age”.

I have races and events I want to do that I know I am not able to do right now. A Spartan Race maybe, An ultra run eventually. Maybe even an Ironman distance event at some point (the goal is in my 60th year).

Has no bearing on “why” I want to, or “if” I can do it. I want to.

And telling me I’m too fat is not going to stop me.

Realism & Goals

I had such lofty goals when I started this journey in 2010.

I was going to be an Ironman. Everything I did was focused on that goal. Being an Ironman, and being one as quickly as possible.

I raced through 2011, and though I had my issues I pushed ever forward to sign up for my first 70.3 race in 2012. Florida Ironman 70.3 in Haines City. Huge issue in the swim, a slow bike, and a brutal run … but I finished.

So I signed up for another one. Ironman Augusta 70.3. Slow swim, awful bike, brutal run. But I finished.

See a pattern emerging?

So in 2013, I signed up for two more; a HITS in Ocala and Augusta again.

Slow swims, awful bikes, brutal runs.

But I finished.

2014 became the “Year of the Ironman”. I waited by my computer, constantly tapping the refresh key for the entry opening, and got into Ironman Chattanooga.

Then reality set in. Jennifer moved to Ocala, so I lost my daily training partner, and to top it off my body started rebelling. In April 2014 I found out that I had psoriatic arthritis, which was causing my body to inflame at the slightest provocation, in addition to degeneration of joints in both wrists, both feet and ankles, and the L5-S1.

But I did not drop out of the race.

I kept pushing through the summer, feeling hurt all the time, taking days to recover even from medium length workouts, and test races getting slower and slower. Instead of improving I was getting worse.

I finally called the race in July. My first intention was to downgrade to Ironman Austin 70.3, but even that was not going to happen with the way my training was going, and the way the weight I had lost was now creeping back up.

So, as I approached 2015 the plan was to reboot the process. Return to sprints until I could get a handle on the health and body issues. I told myself that maybe long distances was not for me. Maybe I was more suited to sprints, with an occasional Olympic thrown in to test every once in a while.

But there is still a nagging feeling in my brain, and in my soul.

I am now into 2019 and even though I have pulled back from 70.3 racing and the 140.6 distance, the dream of doing these is still present in me. Is setting a goal “age” a bad thing? I had stated in a post once that my target to move up to 70.3 distances again was a sprint in under 90 minutes (my fastest now is just over 2 hours) and my goal for the move to a 140.6 was a 70.3 in under 7 hours. I think that is still a reasonable goal, but my body is still hanging on to weight and my times are not improving (though my overall recovery seems to be getting better).

Is a 140.6 in my 60th year a reasonable goal? I will turn 56 in September, so that is a 14-year journey from start to finish. Is that too far away to be realistic?

Some reading this will question why I still feel the need to get this race done. I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t especially enjoy road running (though running on trails is a whole different matter), or even biking, long drawn out distances, and the motivation to train alone is still not there, so why am I still clinging to these lofty dreams of finishing races that seem so far out of reach?

Maybe the thought of stopping is just too scary?

There is a part of me that is drawn to goals that seem out of reach, even if the motivation, and the wherewithal, to do these things are not there.

I see someone running an ultra race of 100 miles and I want to do that.

I read about Scott Jurek running the Appalachian Trail and I want to do that.

I watch as someone runs the Sahara desert and I want to do that.

Is it a bad thing to set a goal that is not a realistic one, or is it better to set goals that one can reasonable obtain?

Watching the debates back in 2016 (not a political statement … I watch ALL debates so I can make an informed decision not based on party) and one question put to a candidate started along the lines of “you promised to create 250,000 jobs but you only created 125,000 …. ” and the answer was that he believes in setting the bar high instead of setting them to be easy. I think I agree with that, but the problem arises when others see this goal as a failure. The person posing the question obviously framed it as a failure to create 125,000 jobs, and not focused on the 125,000 he did create. The same happened to another candidate when it was posed to them that the state they are from is so many millions in deficit, blah blah blah, and their answer was “you should have seen it when I got there. Yes, we are 12 million in the red now but we were 600 million in the red when I took office”.

It is framed as a failure when in fact it is a success.

I have wavered lately on being a bit down on myself. It is frustrating to only be able to muster a 14 mph pace on the bike when two-three years ago my normal pace was 18 mph. But the thing is that a year ago I could only get to 12 mph. In fact, I have improved. I can frame it as a success instead of framing it as a failure.

Swimming is another issue recently. I have started swimming with a Masters Group after much pushing from a few people and got over my … not fear but hesitance to look foolish. I have been swimming a while now but have never really gotten over the anxiety and the discomfort in my head. Swimming three days a week has alleviated some of that but I was still talking the other day about how I still was “the slowest person there”. I was doing it again. In January I was doing a full workout of 1,700 yards at a 100 pace of 2:36. Those recent Saturday my workout was 4,000 yards at a pace of 1:48. But again, not seeing the improvement, I still focused on my ability in relation to all of the others there.

Bad John!

The fact is that you get better after each event, after each session, in some way. My pace may be slower, but my recovery has gotten better. I may be doing shorter distances but two years ago, even though my average pace was 18 mph I could not have climbed Sugarloaf Mountain on a bike or swam 4,000 yards.

Today I can.

I have gotten better.

So, I will keep my goal of Ironman, and set it for when I am 60.

Seems a good year.

A pivotal year.

See you in 2023.

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

Pain is NOT Weakness Leaving the Body

At its core what is “pain”?

Pain is your body telling you that something is wrong. It is not a weakness. A weakness is when you have NO pain and your brain is telling you to stop, because you’re bored, or you’re tired. That is not true pain. There is a reason for pain, and true pain is a warning bell for you to STOP whatever it is you’re doing at that minute, or it WILL get worse. I have a couple of examples of this.

The first one happened to me in high school. Playing Strong Safety (or Monster Linebacker as we called it) for the DeLand High Bulldogs against the New Smyrna Beach Barracudas. NSB’s running back, a big corn-fed farm boy, #44, hit the line and we all stacked the middle to stop him. From the corner of my eye, I catch movement to the right and see #44 heading down the sideline. I take off after him and catch him at about the 5-yard line, grab a hold of his pads in the back (which would now be a horse collar foul) and yanked with everything I had. He flipped, OVER the goal line, and I went flying into the bench area. I got up and felt a twinge in my knee, but it had been the first week that I had earned a starting slot and I was NOT about to come off the field. So I limped to the huddle and lined up for the extra point. At this time in High School ball no one really kicked field goals, so they were going for two. They handed the ball to Farm Boy again, he came through the middle where I met him head on …. only he ducked under my tackle and slammed his helmet, and that big old farm boy head, straight into my knee.

I saw stars but managed to get to my feet and limp to the sideline where I was immediately yelled at by my coach for allowing not only the touchdown but also the extra point (obviously I had missed the practice where I was the sole person responsible on defense for stopping plays like this). I went to the bench and sat down but found I was having trouble bending my knee, so I motioned for a trainer. She pulled my pants over my knee and my kneecap was sitting to the outside of my leg. She freaked out and called the coach over, he looked at it, grabbed the kneecap, and pushed it back into place, then told the head trainer to get ice for the “pussy”.

Yes, that is NOT an exaggeration. It is exactly what he said …

On Monday afternoon I was back at practice.

I finally got the knee fixed in 2009 after once again ignoring pain while running on a treadmill and spraining the ACLs on BOTH knees.

A more recent example was a Fit Niche Pub Run in 2011. I usually am “off” for the first half mile or so of a run, so when I felt sharp stabbing pains in my right foot I didn’t think much of it. “It will loosen up,” I told myself. “You can’t afford to miss the miles with a marathon coming up”, so I pushed through it, and the funny thing was it did feel better after a while, and even after the run. I had forgotten about the pain until I got home and got my shoes off. It started hurting again but now was to the point that I could barely walk on it. So what did I do? I iced it for the night, iced it Friday, and Saturday headed out for my training run with Team In Training. I made it 2 miles before having to stop running. I went to a doctor and was told that I had probably ruptured the tendon the starts at my ankle and that I should rest it. I did …. for four days and tried to run the next week’s Fit Niche, made it two miles before hobbling back to the start. Iced it. Then Saturday headed to team run. Made it two miles. This finally got my attention and I sat until the week before the half marathon …. three weeks of no running. I finished the run with no pain and then finished the marathon.

So I started reading. Jeff Galloway and John Bingham mostly at that time. It has finally sunk in that I am not in these events to become a champion. I am in them to finish, to become healthy, and to have FUN. Where I had failed in the past to keep up with training was the same path I was heading down again. I had become obsessed with pace time, and finishing times, and had forgotten to have fun. PAIN is NOT fun.

Galloway says in his book that the pace for a half marathon should be one that is comfortable and that you can hold a conversation throughout the run and after the run. He has a formula that is basically multiplying your normal one-mile pace by 1.2 and that should give you your half marathon pace in the end. My normal pace at that time was in the 12:00 range, which means my half time should be in the 14:27 region. Guess where it was? Correct. 14:23. That means I held my normal pace through 13.1 miles, and I should be proud of that and be OK with that.

This might be I have started to “lose my motivation”. I have forgotten to have fun. When I watch Chrissie Wellington compete in the Ironman she was smiling the whole time …. she was pushing her body to its limit, sapping every bit of strength she had in her, yet she is HAVING FUN. The funny part is when you watch Crowie in the same race, he is grimacing, scowling, hating life. The “man” part.

So … PAIN is NOT a weakness. It’s a warning sign that you are pushing too far. If my Stepfather had heeded the PAIN he was feeling for a year when urinating instead of trying to be tough, we would have found the cancer, but instead, he waited until the bleeding was so bad he was almost passing out, and he died three months later at the age of 64. As “men”, as “athletes”, especially those of us that have seen success before athletically, we try to treat ourselves like we are still 17. but 17 was 38 years ago, and I have to accept that and change my definition of an athlete.

Am I an athlete? I don’t think so. Not really …. I may never really be one …. but I am going to keep racing …. and from now on I am going to have FUN doing it, no matter what my time and pace are.

The Best Way to Lose Weight

Disclaimer: This is one of those posts that people reading either scream “YES!!!!” or scream “What an Idiot!!!”. Let me start off right away by stating this … if you disagree with anything I am about to talk about, or if it doesn’t jive with what you have seen or experienced, let’s take it at that and move on. Everything … and I mean everything … I write about on this site or on my various social outlets are an n=1 issue. 

I will start by saying this … I have been having a hard time with my weight again … and it has gotten to the point where I have had to take a hard look at what I have been doing vs. what I was doing when my weight was dropping in 2012-2013. After reading through my past logs and postings, and comparing them to what my current practice is, I have found some large differences, and the bottom line is that it all comes down to self-sabotage. I knew what worked in the past, and I have actively gone against what worked, for whatever idiotic reasoning has been in my head. It is time to halt this train and get my head straight again, and this posting is part of that, so bear with me as I share what I have found works and doesn’t work, for me.

The Best Cardio for Losing Fat

Here it is in a nutshell. If you are training for a long course event, say a marathon or long course triathlon (70.3 and up), you are going to have a hard time losing weight. These events and burning fat do not go together. Long form cardio is not effective as a foundation for a weight loss program. Many people and sources have told me this over the past 8 years, from Vinnie Tortorich personally, to books by various authors, but I have fought this concept. I have fought it at my own risk. When my training went from sprint triathlons and half marathons to marathons and 70.3 triathlons I started gaining weight again. Not only did I start gaining weight, I also started getting injured, and the heavier I got the closer I was to getting hurt at some point. A vicious circle.

So what is?

The exact opposite.

The first two years all I was doing was the sprint and Olympic triathlons, and my weight was dropping. My weight was dropping because my training program consisted of 20-mile bike rides vs. 40-50 mile rides. It consisted of swim workouts of 100 meter splits to “long sets” of 400 meters. Runs were 3 miles, not 6-10 miles.

And you know what else I was doing?

I was lifting weights.

But more on that in a little bit.

So when doing shorter, higher intensity, work I went from 303 pounds down to 235 pounds. Then I started adding distance events, marathons, 70.3’s, even attempting to train for a 140.6, and my weight started creeping up again. The most frustrating thing? I KNEW better.

So, What Should I DO to Lose Weight?

So if long course training should not be the foundation, what should be?

The exact opposite. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This means a short burst of energy with short breaks in between.

This means an hour bike ride that is broken up into bursts of 10 minute, out of the seat, sprinting followed by a 1-minute spin, and then hitting it again. This means 1:00 running as hard as you can and followed by a 30-second walk, and then going again. It means sets of 100-meter pool sprints with a 15-30 second rest in between while maintaining race pace as best you can throughout each set.

It also means WEIGHT training.

When I was going to Powerhouse with a co-worker at lunch a couple of years ago, my weight was dropping fast. AND I was getting stronger very quickly. When my psoriatic arthritis flared up for the first time I stopped going, and my weight has been a struggle ever since. I am starting to think that the foundation of a weight loss program should be strength training, even before HIIT. But it has to be done correctly.

I have a history of lifting. It started back in my days playing football and as a member of the weightlifting team, but continued well into my naval service as a way to escape the monotony of being at sea for 6-7 months at a time, and the funny thing is, the lessons that were taught to me back then are proving to still be the most effective.

Muscle hypertrophy is when the metabolic effect happens, and subsequently, weight loss occurs, so the idea is to get into that state and stay there. Hypertrophy happens when the muscle is under tension, so “time under tension” (TUT) is the key. What this normally means, for most people, is the following:

0 – 20 seconds – strength is being built
20 – 40 seconds – strength is being built with the beginning of muscle hypertrophy
40 – 70+ seconds – no strength is being built and the muscle hypertrophy is constant

So, if you load up a bar with 200 pounds and bench press it three times, you are building strength and strength only. If you load the same bar with 100 pounds and bench it to failure, say 30 times, you are into hypertrophy and are starting to burn fat. It’s the old “High Weight Low Rep” to get strong method. Still seems to work.

The additional point is TIBS, or “time in-between sets”. Most people in gyms take forever in-between a set. They lift the weight for 30 seconds, then talk, or text, for 4 minutes before doing the next set.

This accomplishes nothing.

In order to “keep the burn” on, your TIBS should be under 45 seconds.

OK, So I Need to Lift Weights … What Weights??

This is easy …

When you walk into a gym and see all the fancy equipment lining the walls … ignore them… and head straight back to the free weights.

I know that is scary because that’s where the monsters live, but trust me … you only need 5 exercises to gain strength and lose weight.

  • Bench Press
  • Dead Lift
  • Squat
  • Barbell Row
  • Overhead Press

Yes, there are machines where you can do these exercises, and in a pinch, they will work, but free weights not only give you the weight to lift, they also cause you to balance the weight, which makes it a better exercise all around. Machines take the “feel” from you.

When I was going to Powerhouse we split these 5 exercises into two workouts. They were:

  • Workout A: Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row
  • Workout B: Squat, Overhead Press, Dead Lift

The key, as is true with most thing, is FORM. Make sure you have the form down before adding more and more weight to the bars (and one more reason to use free weights over machines). This might mean lifting only the bar itself, but in the long run, it will save you from injury. If you feel unsure about asking for help, YouTube (and Endurance for Everyone has our own channel HERE) has plenty of video’s showing form and function. Kelly Slater is a valuable tool on there.

So .. That’s ALL There Is?

Of course not. As I stated in the beginning, everyone is different, so feel free to play with this a bit. The core is sound, however. Long Course Training should not be your base for losing weight. You will end up frustrated and injured. I know this for a fact, even if I don’t practice what I preach.

You also MUST watch what you eat. Just like a computer, if you put crap in you will get crap results. Eat no processed food, including sugar and grains (I know I will get comments on that one). Naturally occurring sugar, like in fruits and vegetables, are fine but cut out the artificial sweeteners, the Dixie Crystals, etc. If you need carbs, then fine, but it doesn’t mean eating pasta unless you can lead me to a pasta tree.

I hope this helps some of you.

Realistic Goals and the Problem of Groupthink

In past podcast episodes, we talked a little about training partners and whether or not they can actually hurt you. The bottom line in the discussion was if the partner you choose to train with is not on your level, or does not have the same goals as you, then they can hurt your preparation in the end.

We have all been there to some extent. As social creatures most of our instincts are to be with others, not solo, so when we choose to run or bike or swim or hike we naturally want to go with someone, or with a group. It’s human nature. The issue arises when you happen to be in a training plan for, say, a marathon and the person you run with is only out to socialize and take it easy. Nothing inherently wrong with that at all, except when your training for that has a purpose that is now affected because you (1) want to hang with your buddy, and (2) don’t want to hurt their feelings by leaving them behind.

Groups are notorious for this, and I myself have been guilty of giving the wrong impressions at times.

For those new readers out here let’s have a quick recap of the blog and the associated podcasts.

After a year of co-hosting a show called “Ironman: Year One” Andrew Weaver and I decided to rebrand and changed the name to “Back of Pack Endurance”. We kept that name for over a year, and when Andrew decided to move on I once again rebranded the show to match the name of this blog, “Fat Slow Triathlete”. Six months into that I received input that some were “scared off” by the name, thinking it was a triathlon only show, so once again we rebranded to “Endurance for Everyone”, a name that came from an off-the-cuff remark by the co-host at that time, Randy Messman. Four different names but still the same show.

And here’s the thing, the names we chose for each of them had a specific purpose but was never considered to be a “requirement”, although I think some out there see these names as such.

Ironman: Year One was not only for those seeking to accomplish 140.6 miles of pure triathlon joy. Yes, at its core it was a chronicling of Andrew and my journey to that goal, but the show was about the pitfalls we all face, not just in triathlon.

Back of Pack Endurance was not only for people that ran in the back. We had guests on ranging from one end of the spectrum to the other. “Back of the Pack” was not a GOAL, but a MINDSET. But that fell on deaf ears to some.

But nothing compared to the issue I encountered with the name Fat Slow Triathlete.

The term “Fat Slow Triathlete” had little to do with weight, quickness, ability, or even triathlon’s. It was 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 a 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.

It is not, nor ever was, the GOAL to be Fat or Slow.

Again, it’s a MINDSET

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

It was shared with me this morning the same issue in another group. In one episode I talked a little about this group and a bad experience I had with some of them back in 2015. While that opinion changed at Runners World, the gist of my issue with the group reared its head today.

The Sub-30 group was founded by Ted Spiker and was named as such because that was HIS goal, a sub 30:00 5K. All well and good. But there are some that take that goal literally and strive for it in a sometimes unrealistic manner. Case in point was a member stating that they “HAD to get under 30:00” because a race was named in their honor. Not in of itself a bad goal except for one thing; their current best was 39:30 and they had 2-months before the race.

Now, if they had 6 months, a year, absolutely realistic. Go for it. But trying to drop 9:30 off your personal best in 60 days is a recipe for injury, and while most of us would never want to dissuade someone from a goal, there has to be a point where people can be honest with unrealistic expectations. Remember that goals have to be SMART; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. In this case, it IS specific (sub 30:00), it IS measurable, it IS achievable (technically), and it IS timely (2 months).

But it is NOT realistic.

And here’s the other issue these days; telling someone that a goal they have is unrealistic is now met with disdain. When did it become that way? I can understand if you’re being an ass about it, laughing at their ideas, calling them an idiot. But what is wrong with stating to someone that their goal is admirable but probably not realistic and then helping them set another goal that works toward that one? In that string on social media the first responses were the normal “go for it!” types before someone, finally, said the truth, that the goal was probably not a good idea in the amount of time they had.

A voice of reason in the crowd.

So, once again, a SUB 30 is a mindset. YOUR “sub-30” could be breaking 45:00, or doing a run/walk split of 4:1. It is not always specifically a sub 30 minute 5K.

Find YOUR goal instead of letting others define it for you.

Remember, everyone’s visions are their own.