I learned some helpful tidbits the other day from my doc, Todd Schragen at All-Pro Health, because I asked for a warmup routine that I could do before workouts and races. I had two reasons to ask for it: 1.) Some of my injuries have come from not warming up properly and 2.) Sometimes I feel that my glutes aren't firing properly. Here's more:
1.) Injury Prevention - Most people don't warm up properly. This is especially true for any of us post-collegiate athletes who no longer have a coach and team enforcing warmup everyday. Ever hop out of bed, throw the sneakers on, and run out the door for a 5 mile jaunt around the neighborhood? I have. When we do that, our joints and connective tissue are stiff and haven't had a chance to loosen up, and it makes us prone to injury. A bunch of those little nagging injuries (that sometimes turn into full-blown catastrophes) can be avoided by doing a simple warmup before SBR'ing.
2.) Fire Up Those Glutes - Another thing a warmup can do is fix a stubborn butt. Most of us don't engage our glutes properly and it leads to less power on the bike, worse stability while running, and a slower push off the wall / less efficient kick in the pool. Just do a quick google search for glute activation and you'll see a smattering of articles talking about how big and strong the glutes are, and how they aren't used to their potential. In fact, it's the biggest muscle in the body, and is one of the most powerful engines to power a bike, yet we barely use them. Sitting as much as we humans do deactivates the glutes. Fortunately, it's possible to fire 'em up and get them working as hard as you do.
I told Dr. Todd that it's gotta be a quick routine or I won't do it before every workout, so here's Dr. Todd's 10 minute routine (with videos where Dr. T demonstrates) that I've adopted for pre-workouts that you can do too:
1.) Foam Rolling - Hop on that foam roller for 3 minutes and roll out your myofascia. I hit my calves, hammys, glutes, quads, back and shoulders (shoulders are a little tough to roll, but good to do if you've been swimming)
2.) Floor Exercises - These activate your core and encourage good posture
i.) Pelvic tilt
iii.) Prone press up
iv.) Modified plank
3.) Glute Activation - Get the big guns fired up for your next workout
i.) Bridge with march (7 each leg)
ii.) Lunges (7 each leg)
ii.) Single leg stance (15sec each leg. You can do it on the ground or anything unstable if you don't have an Airex balance pad)
All of these videos can be found on the All-Pro Health website in the video exercise library. New Year's Resolution to do these before your workouts? It can only help you as an athlete.
Quick update: I'm being formally coached again! I'm back in action with Earl Walton looking to take on Puerto Rico 70.3 on March 19th before Baby Bach arrives :-)
In other news, my first published article is online now - Triathlete Magazine!
Train happy, train healthy,
Dr. Todd and I have been through a lot together this year but always with the same aim – get to the start line of the next race in the best possible shape to focus on performing. Most of the time, my body has cooperated but setbacks are natural in training especially for long endurance events. Training blocks incorporate periods of high intensity and power as well as speed development and aerobic capacity gains.
One area that we really worked on was core training and a strength program. Core is not confined to attaining the much desired 6 pack abs. Core strength extends so much further than that and impacts your ability to engage muscles groups properly and efficiently. I have never felt as strong at the end of races as I did this year. Standing up tall, engaging leg muscles without tapping into other muscles groups for compensation, and staying relaxed all helped keep me focused on racing and not managing cramps or muscle fatigue.
Dr. Todd nailed it with a late season addition to the program. After IM Chattanooga, I was left unsatisfied and wanting more in terms of competition and race results. Working with my coach and a somewhat clear head, we decided on IM Arizona. This gave me 8 weeks to recover, rebuild the lost fitness, and get to the race ready to crank away. The only catch – I banged my ankle on a Starbucks door two days before IM Chatt and I couldn’t really put weight on it. In hindsight, the sore muscles and tired legs from the race probably prevented me from damaging the ankle more by running on it. After about 2 weeks, I finally went for me first couple runs again. The ankle hurt and the ligaments around it were sore from compensating. Dr. Todd worked on the whole area and just kept giving it the care and attention it needed while I did my best not to beat it up too much. Then one day, after graston and some ART, I worked out in the afternoon and didn’t pay any attention to it before realizing that night that the ankle didn’t hurt. Five weeks on and it was finally back together. Now, I had three weeks to work out the other muscle compensation issues that arose. Dr. Todd went after my calf and quad on each visit.Race day came and the body just did what it was supposed to do. No doubt about it, the upkeep and care is the only way I made it to the line and through the race.
What a year it’s been together. I can’t control the quality of the field that arrived at IM Arizona but I executed the race plan and crossed in 9:08 for 5th in my age group and 13th amateur. After some mental and physical recovery, I’m looking forward to another together, conquering new goals, and reaching now heights.
BOOM! My testosterone levels are way up and I'm feeling great. I'm making major progress down my road to recovery - the crazy fatigue I was feeling is all but gone, my libido is way back, and my body recovers from workouts and injury faster than last year. In even bigger news, we're having a baby!!! Those of you who listen to Endurance Planet will already know that from our latest episode. The pic on this blog is how we announced publicly (because once it's on Facebook, it's official?).
Her name will be Summer Elizabeth Bach and we're very excited to be bringing her into our lives after trying for a year (and having two early miscarriages). As you might expect, her arrival will affect my athletic plans, but I'll get to that in a bit.
I've been meaning to write this one for a couple of weeks now but things kept getting in the way, things that dudes with a lot of testosterone do...like lift heavy things, scarf down steaks, build things, start bar brawls, and women (well...woman in my case. Hi Lauren ). I'm only sort of joking.
I've been feeling better and better, but then the blood work proved it. My latest number came back at 599!? Here's an updated chart of my testosterone levels with reference numbers so you know what it all means:
Here's what I've done to get these huge results (all done naturally, careful not to have or do anything banned by USADA):
- Decrease my endurance training load from ~15hrs per week of fairly intense training to ~7hrs of mostly aerobic, not-so-intense training
- More sleep! I used to get 7.5ish hours per night while training a lot. Now I'm getting 8-9 hours per night training less. Big swing.
- Increase my strength training from 1-2 sessions per week to 3-4 sessions of fairly intense lifting, including CrossFit twice per week.
- Supplements. I've been taking a host of all-natural supplements since May when I learned how unhealthy I was. These include Omega-3 fish oil (Zone OmegaRx, very pure), zinc, pregnenolone, Mitocore Multivitamin (also helps with my bone density), CoQ10, magnesium, and adaptogenic herbs that help with HPA axis regulation (calming and sleep).
- Being more relaxed, sometimes through meditation and breathing.
- Packing on some body weight/fat. I'm not sure if it played a role in my hormone issues or not, but just to be safe, I now weigh 163lbs, and strangely still feel lean.
You might ask..."is it all worth it? You've sacrificed fitness, training and races, but what do you really have to show for it? Will you ever be able to go back to heavier training loads?" They're good questions and I don't fully know the answers, but I believe it will all be worth it. Yes, I've sacrificed performance to the tune of 15% by decreasing my training, but what I've gained back is my health. With good health as my foundation, I hope to raise that fitness again without sacrificing what I've earned. That's the part that remains to be seen, but pioneers like Cody Beals and Sarah Piampiano have showed me that it's possible, so I am hopeful.
In other news, I've been able to run a whopping 5 miles at a time, outdoors, full body-weight, without any issues with my bones (like recurrences of bone stress injuries) or my Achilles, which had been chronic problems. This is thanks to routine adjustments and therapy by Dr. Todd at All-Pro Health and Josh Grahlman at Clutch Physical Therapy. I highly recommend both of them as they have helped me to keep my body together over the years.
Finally, here's a little update on my plan going forward. It's hard to really plan because there is so much uncertainty around the birth of our first child and with the pace of my recovery, but here's what I've got:
Between now and the end of the year: Swimming 4x per week, strength 4x per week (including CrossFit), run 2x per week and get it back up to 10+ miles at once, bike 1-2x per week. Get back some base fitness so that in...
January - March 2017: Build off of that foundation and get into "fighting shape" for Puerto Rico 70.3, my anticipated return to the sport!
April - June 2017: Babytime! No focused training, just caring for my wife and our little one, and getting in what training I can.
July onward: ???Late summer or fall racing??? Only God knows at this point, but I am excited that maybe, just maybe, I'll be Bach.
Train Health, Train Happy,
This blog is a quick one about how more is not always more. The "hellth hole" I'm climbing out of is proof of that, but there are many other instances in training and in life where balance is key! Read on...
When many of us first start this crazy sport, we're doing a few workouts per week and decide "hey, why not? It could be fun" and sign up for a sprint triathlon. Our first race sets the bar, and then a strangely large percentage of us "catch the bug" and want to see how much better we could do if we actually knew what we were doing, and trained...like, for real. I know this because I had the same thoughts after my first triathlon. Here's a profile of what it looked like:
- Running shorts under my wetsuit
- Toe straps on my dad's 1980 steel-framed Peugeot that must have weighed 30+ pounds
- Rode in one gear the whole time because it was too hard to switch gears using the two levers by the headtube
- Floundering in the pool once per week, spinning twice per week, one devastating abs class and a couple of runs defined my training regimen
It was pretty ugly, but I loved it.
So we step it up a notch, and might even decide to take on a long race like a 70.3 or Ironman. Maybe the 4 hours per week of training becomes 7 hours per week, and at your next race, boom! improvement. "Great, so I added training and I got better. What if I trained 10 hours per week???" You bag the weekly poker sesh with the gang to get another workout in, and at your next race you are rewarded with another PR. Now your wife is taking the kids to soccer practice so that you can leak salty water all over a black ribbon for an extra two hours every Saturday. It's at approximately this point where things go wrong. We, as human beings, tend to see patterns, but in this case our recognition of increased training equating to increased performance as a linear relationship is flawed. It is not linear! It seems fairly linear at first, but then we experience diminishing returns...then a plateau (called "the plateau")...and then a decline (overtraining).
Here's my crude illustration:
The "Me" is where I was during 2012, 2013 and 2015. In 2014 and early 2016 (before the injury came), I had better balance and was on the right track. I could tell because I had a life, and was improving quickly. Less became more.
There's another thing that makes us type A triathletes susceptible to overtraining and it's our mental strength / willpower / discipline. Paraphrasing Matt Fitzgerald's new book How Bad Do You Want It?..."in baseball, or many other sports, perception of effort plays only a small role, whereas in endurance sports, it is everything." Many of you, whether you are consciously aware or not, are drawn to triathlon because you have a higher degree of mental toughness than the average person. It is part of the reason why you are successful in this arena. Your mental toughness results in better and more training, and you are rewarded with increases in fitness and performance. For me, that held true and was part of the beauty of triathlon. Until it didn't. Until the extra work that I had managed to add into my schedule resulted in a derailment of my health and performance. We are a sport dominated by mentally tough go-getters who like that more results in more, and we must be careful because at some point, more becomes less.
Train Healthy, Train Happy,
I'm back from Santa Cruz 70.3 and here's a recap.
The big takeaway from the weekend was that training works! ha, I think we knew that right? I did minimal training leading into the event (1-3 endurance workouts per week for the 4 months since I learned the extent of my health issues) and it showed up in the numbers, even more so than expected. I overestimated my fitness thinking I'd be around 30-32 in the swim, and swam 33:09. I thought I'd be around 250w on the bike, but only averaged 233w. As mentioned in my blog pre-Santa Cruz, my goal was to run an experiment on the bike...to build throughout the leg and get a nice negative split. Did I accomplish that? Eh...not really. I figured I'd be around 250w overall, so I started with a target of 220w for the first 10 miles, then moved the target up 10w every 10 miles until targeting "Hard" for the last 16 miles. As you can see in my TrainingPeaks file, that plan went pretty well until mile 30 when I was supposed to notch it up to 250w, but could feel the effort weighing on me and decided to back it down a tad so that I could still push it hard for the last 16 miles. I did achieve that, as the closing miles were my highest normalized power and speed.
One thing that struck me about racing this weekend was that even though my swim was ~5min slower and bike 45w lower than when I was at peak fitness, it felt the same. It still felt like a race! I still felt the burning legs, high heart rate, adrenaline and competitive drive that I always feel in races. It was great to be bach.
Other highlights of the trip:
- Christine Hoffman, a training partner and friend from when she lived in NYC before moving to Tucson, was also racing (in a wave that started 8 minutes ahead of me) and it took about 30 miles to catch her. Once I did, I shouted some words of encouragement, and then rode by, but on the next hill, she repassed me! It took another few miles to catch her again. She went on to ride just 4 minutes slower than me and take 2nd overall amateur at the race and to earn her pro card. She's a beast.
- Mingling with pros - prior to the race, I had the chance to meet Jesse Thomas again at the pro panel (met him briefly in Kona last year). I very much admire his story...All-American NCAA runner, co-founder of Picky Bars, races in aviators, 6x Wildflower Long Course champ and 2 for 2 at the Ironman distance including a win against Jan Frodeno. The next day, I met Ben Hoffman (2nd in Kona 2014) for the first time since receiving some great advice from him via email conversations, and then met Cody Beals finally. Cody, those who have read my blogs and followed my story will already know, has been very helpful with solving my low testosterone issue. He had low T and low bone density himself, and has overcome it to go on to be a solid pro on the 70.3 circuit. He was gracious enough to sit down and chat with me at the athlete food tent for about 40 minutes after the race. These three guys placed 5th, 3rd and 4th respectively and were part of a speedy running group off the bike, hitting 1:13s for the half marathon. Impressive athletes!
- I stayed with a high school friend of mine, Wes, and his wife (Hilary) and dog (Riley). They're a power couple working at Tesla and Lockheed Martin and living in Sunnyvale. After seeing redwoods for the first time, I had the chance to ride with Wes on the bike course and then climb up a meaty 6 mile hill back to the car. If I was racing "for real" two days later, I would have been panicking! but since I wasn't looking for peak performance, it was fun checking out some of the Cali terrain. The next day they drove me to the race in a Tesla Model S, and WOW that car is amazing! The thing goes 0-60 in 3.9 seconds and we might have tested that. The G-force (less than 1 G) made my head spin - I can't imagine astranauts at north of 3 Gs...
- Two of my cousins live in San Mateo so I visited them Friday night. They took me on a boat ride over to one of their favorite restaurants where Jay walked in like a celebrity. Everyone knew him, and he knew everyone. "Kids good?"..."Yea! How's business?"..."Hey, get me my usual please"..."Sure, Jay!" You might think he owned the place. Both Christine and Jay have personalities and hearts that fill a room.
- It was my first time flying Virgin America and it was great. They were also ultra-speedy returning my bike to me after each flight.
All in all, the trip was a success. A strong mix of excitement, learning, networking and fun. As my health returns, plans are formulating for the future and my road bach. Stay tuned for future blogs on that!
In a couple of weeks, I'll be "racing" Ironman Santa Cruz 70.3. I won't be racing, but rather "racing" because I won't even be finishing the race and because I'm going to use it as an opportunity to experiment. My doctor hasn't cleared me to run something as far as 13.1 miles yet, so I'm going to do the swim and bike legs and then drop out. While bummed to not be able to complete the race, the cost of still going out there is minimal, I would only be able to get a small fraction of the already-paid expenses back, and I'm excited about the abundant opportunities I've found in the trip to Cali. Here's my thinking:
- Friends - Before I gained full knowledge of my deep health issues, I had arranged to go out to race Santa Cruz 70.3 and stay with a long-time friend of mine from high school, who now lives near there. Instead of focusing so much on the race, I'll have the opportunity to catch up with him and his wife over a few beers (yes, even before the race!) and to go on a 30 mile ride with him (he happens to be a triathlete as well) around Sunnyvale. Another friend moved out west recently and I'll get the opportunity to meet up with her as well (and race against her, though she might kick my butt now!).
- Sponsors - A close contact and friend from Generation UCAN recently moved out to the Bay Area to spread the word out there. The trip will give me the opportunity to do a speaking event with him, or at least to just get together to chat. The weekend also means that I'll meet other triathletes, where my sponsors' names will organically come up in conversation. Finally, I hope to get some pics of me in action in my new tri kit for my newly minted website :-)
- My Experiment - it is an exercise in control and pacing. I plan to start the bike at a wattage that is ~30w below where I think I could ride, then after each 10 mile split, increase my wattage by 10w until the last 6 miles when I'll give it everything I've got (remember, I won't be running!). The reason I want to try this exaggerated negative split approach is because last year I attempted to discover my limits on the bike. I first attempted in training, where I did two "blow-it up brick" workouts involving a ride at 90% of my FTP and then a 6 mile run all-out off the bike with minimal transition time (like a race). In my first attempt, I targeted 90% during the whole ride, but found that because of all the turns, stopsigns, lights, potholes, cars, steep downhills, and other obstacles that litter the roadways, I only hit 84% (263w) - TrainingPeaks file here: http://tpks.ws/RTnuk. I then ran too fast for it to be considered a blow up - TrainingPeaks file here: http://tpks.ws/vUALd. I failed to find my limit, so I tried again the next weekend. This time, I targeted 96% (300w) so that the road obstacles would drag my average down toward the real target of 90%. It worked rather well and I ended up riding at 88% (275w) - TrainingPeaks file here: http://tpks.ws/F929J. I failed again, though, to blow myself up! I ran almost as fast as the week before - TrainingPeaks file here: http://tpks.ws/4L0L9. While I failed to find my limit, I did learn where my limit was not and it gave me a lot of confidence going into Eagleman 70.3. There I had some mechanical issues and ended up having to ride without power, but rode an 8 minute bike leg PR, then ran the 4th fastest run split for a 6th overall finish, and top amateur. These points and more led me to believe I was more durable than ever, and that it was really hard to blow myself up, so in Kona I went for it, and paid the price. I found my limit finally, and unfortunately it was in my A-race on the Big Stage. Upon reflection, I realized that all my best races in life, including those all the way back to high school cross-country and track, happened when I negative split. They happened when I went out conservatively and built into my performance. Many athletes find this to be the case, and I've found that it rings even truer for me than for most. Last year, my M.O. was not to ride steady or build, but to go out hard because I didn't think I could blow myself up. I know what the limit feels like now, so that is why this year, and next (when I hope to be back truly racing and not "racing"), I want to practice the build. Closing strong. Santa Cruz sounds like a good place to start.
- Humbled - Another opportunity this race provides is for me to be humbled. Given that I've only done ~2 endurance workouts per week for over 3 months, it's going get ugly out there. It'll give me a chance to see how so little training and such limited fitness translates into diminished performance.
- Tri Community - Finally, this race gives me a great opportunity to immerse myself in the community that I love, one of camaraderie, commitment and everyone striving to be the best they can be. The vibe at these races is awesome and I'm looking forward to feeling it again!
This post served two purposes - 1.) an update and 2.) a perspective you might emb"race" - some things look sour on the surface, like your doc telling you not to run in a race...but spin it another way, and that same limitation can be seen as an opportunity. Have a bum knee and can't run? Hit the pool, take some lessons and bring your swim time down further than you could do while trying to balance all three sports. There are countless examples like that one. What looks negative in your life that you can morph into an opportunity?
Waking up in the morning with cotton mouth, looking for a glass of water as quickly as possible, and then it just evaporates in your mouth leaving you wanting another. You start thinking back to the night before and reviewing what you had. We've all been there. And no, I'm not talking about being dehydrated from drinking. Rather, you're all dried out from salt in your food.
My initial thought had been that I had too much salt in my food during dinner and that made me dehydrated. So, working under this premise, how in the world could sodium loading possibly be helpful in training and racing? Wouldn't that just dehydrate me more?
As a roundabout way of answering those questions, I'll say that sodium loading has been a missing component to my nutrition plan and that salt tabs during training and racing have elevated my performance this season. Having salt doesn't dehydrate you. It's not that the salt intake takes water away from your body and dries you out. By having more salt, your body wants to hold on to more water. So you need to drink more water to satisfy that urge. With this understanding, the benefits of salt intake become more apparent for training and race purposes. With an extra intake of salt, you can hold on to more water and also not cause discomfort to your body. I know I've felt the sloshy up and down feeling of having too much water in my stomach while running. With the sodium intake, there's now an extra source to absorb the new water.
This has made a huge difference in the cramping that I've traditionally experienced during longer endurance tests. In the past, I've hit the run and started to have calf cramps or quad cramps at some point during the run leg. During the Boston marathon, I waited too long to have electrolytes / salt tabs and that made a huge difference in the last few miles. Now, as I've started to use salt tabs throughout training and races, those issues have dropped off and my performance has stayed consistent. All of this has been made possible by the work with my sports nutritionist, Nicci Schock and Elevate by Nicci.
Sodium loading is a two part process. The night before the workout/race in question, you take a certain amount of sodium. For me, it's roughly 3000mg of sodium mixed with water and orange juice. The oj acts to help absorb the sodium and process it in your system. I'm sure there's a more scientific way to describe it, but that works for me. Then, in the morning, you finish off the process with a smaller amount of sodium. The benefit here is that your body will hold on to water as you drink it. It doesn't mean you won't sweat and lose water, but you are ahead of the game and able to hold on to more for longer. This is especially helpful when it's hot outside or if you are a heavy sweater. As you add electrolytes / salt tabs to the in-race/training nutrition, then the sodium stores in your body won't be depleted as quickly. The end benefit is less muscle cramping and fatigue and more performance.
It's definitely a trial and error process to find the right balance for sodium loading and not feeling bloated and uncomfortable. But once you find the right intake, the results are amazing. There's no reason to think that salt is an enemy of training and performance. As is the case with all parts of nutrition, just be smart. Test different approaches in training and keep track of what works.
Nobody likes their time, effort or money to be wasted, and yet we do it all the time! Yes, sometimes it's beyond our control. You go to the DMV and there's no getting around it, you're going to have some time wasted, but I'm talking about those instances where you do have control (hint: that's nearly all the time). Here are some scenarios in my own training/life that many of you will relate to:
Physical Therapy - When I first started going to physical therapy to correct muscle imbalances that were causing knee pain after a bike crash in 2012, I didn't commit to the recovery. I did my prescribed PT exercises for the first couple of weeks but didn't see results, so I gradually stopped doing them as reguarly. I was supposed to do them 3x per week but I found myself doing them maybe 1-2x per week. I continued to not see results. Big surprise. At the time, though, I didn't know I was setting myself up for failure. I knew I was not doing quite all the strength sessions, but figured I should still see some sort of results even just doing it once or twice per week. Then I went to a new physical therapist, thinking that maybe if I found the right therapist, I would magically get better even without doing all the work. Wrong. The problems persisted and I stopped going to PT. Fast forward several months, and my orthopedic doctor recommended a physical therapist. Argh...I knew she would say that. I objected because "I already tried that and it hasn't worked for me," but she insisted. I grudgingly began PT again, this time with Josh Grahlman in NYC, and he helped me to realize that I needed to commit to the exercises for it to work. I made the decision that day to commit, to give it a chance to be true. I did my exercises religiously 3x per week and while I didn't notice results for several months, I kept my head down and stuck with it. When I picked my head back up, I discovered that the pain was gone! I was able to run without any pain for the first time in 18 months. Without committing, I may never have healed from the glute imbalance I was facing and would still be experiencing knee pain. It seems there are many things in life that aren't linear...you may not see steady progress, but need to be patient and BOOM, all of a sudden there's a jump forward.
Coaching - In 2014, I hired a coach (Earl Walton) for the first time. After my experience with PT, and learning that you need to commit for some things to be true, I decided that I would interview a bunch of coaches, pick one, and then do exactly what that coach told me to do. To the T. Why pay a coach and then argue with them about their philosophies or complain about the training? I hired Earl for a reason. I wanted to get to the next level, and I believed that he knew what it would take to get me there. I decided to give it a chance to be true, and followed the training plan he gave me. I won Ironman Maryland that year with a 51min PR, so I guess it was true .
Metabolic Efficiency Training - I grilled Nicci Schock with questions for two weeks because I was very skeptical of the metabolic efficiency training approach to nutrition. She answered all my questions, I did a bunch of research, and came to the conclusion that there was little downside to giving it a shot, and a lot of upside. I was either going to not give it a shot, or I was going to commit 100% to doing it because I would only do it if I gave it a chance to be true. By only following her guidelines in a half-hearted manner in my experiment of one, I wouldn't have seen the results to know whether what she was preaching was true or baloney.
If you commit only 50% to your experiment, you may see far less than 50% of the results (or even zero results), and deem the experiment a failure. "Decide and Commit. Give it a chance to be true" is one of the principles I live by. To prevent wasting any of your own time, effort or money, make an educated decision to do something, then commit 100%. Give it a chance to be true.
Core is Key
I am writing this article following a two week training block in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado intending to share some learnings about both the importance of core activation and engagement in cycling. Over 14 days, my husband John Bye and I swam, biked and ran close to 400 miles, training generally at a mile or two above sea level, and gaining over 25,000 feet in elevation in our various running and biking workouts. These workouts were hard – admittedly some much harder than others and not just because of the climbing involved. A lot had to do with how “well prepared” we were for each workout. You might be thinking “what do you mean prepared, it’s a workout, so don’t you just jump out of bed and go?” I certainly used to – that was possible until a few years ago when I both began to demand more performance out of my body and made my way into the masters category of racing. If you’ve found yourself struggling to execute on some of your training sessions at times with no logical explanation, or if you simply want to enjoy our sport for the long haul, keep reading.
Over the last couple of triathlon racing seasons, I recall shaking my head in frustration after failing various “functional movement screening” tests during a physical therapy session, especially during those training blocks where my lower back, hamstrings and IT bands seemed to be in a constant state of discomfort. I could never accept the diagnosis that “your core is weak”, but what I have finally learned is that regardless of how strong your core is, if you cannot engage it, you are simply out of luck when you need to dig deep to power your bike or your body forward in challenging situations and/or at top speed.
If you are in the early stages of your triathlon career, this may not resonate just yet – but trust me, the sooner you raise your awareness to this issue the more effective your workouts will be. The inability to engage the correct muscle groups wasn’t a problem for me (or some of my other MAPSO Kona buddies) several years ago, because as a high performing athlete, our bodies got extremely good at compensating, so if one muscle wasn’t firing the way it was supposed to, something else took over and while we might be uncomfortable, we could still perform fairly well. Now though, after racing for well over a decade, when things don’t work, sometimes the body just shuts down.
To illustrate how this played out during my training block in Colorado, let me tell you about a couple of the rides we did and what happened on these rides. The first ride of our training camp the day after we arrived in the Denver area took us up to the top of Lookout Mountain in Golden Colorado – one of Colorado’s beautiful and iconic climbs, a 46 mile round trip from John’s sister’s house, with 3,600 feet of elevation gain. The snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the distance, the foothills and Tabletop Mountain in our sights during ride were breathtaking. After making our way through the historic downtown Golden and upon making our right hand turn to start our ascent up the mountain, I spent much of the main climb a few meters back off the wheel of one of the local pro women. She was not very chatty, especially when John passed her and said hello, so we assumed she was taking care of business and was not out simply to enjoy herself. I was pleased to stay with her to the top, feeling great for the majority of the climb and optimistic that my body could handle the high altitude and tough training I was about to put it through for the next two weeks.
Well, two days later, things changed a bit. For our second ride of the trip, we rode from Idaho Springs (7.5K feet of elevation) to the top of Mount Evans (14K feet of elevation) over a mere 28 miles. This ride is one of the most challenging road rides in all of Colorado, based on not just the gradient but the logistics. Granted, it’s Mt. Evans, not Mt. Everest, but similarly, it’s one of those mountains that you don’t want to be stuck on above treeline after about noon when the storms roll in. We’ve been in situations on Mt. Evans before where we’ve gotten rained, snowed, and hailed on in the same ride where the sun was shining just moments prior. We now know better than to start too late in the day, and generally plan to be sagged at the top due to dangerous traffic, road and weather conditions.
We drove 45 minutes to Idaho Springs, jumped out of the car, onto our bikes and began to ascend. During the first seven miles out of Idaho Springs and up the mountain before the increased gradient and switchbacks started, I found the long, slow grind to be excruciating. My legs felt like bricks as I watched John Bye ride away early on in the climb, with no ability whatsoever to stick to his wheel, then after about 10 miles and now into the switchbacks, I watched Jenn Docherty do the same. My lower back was screaming and every time I tried to increase my wattage and/or cadence my adductors wanted to seize up. I was using all quads and little core. My power output was well below what I should have been capable of, yet I couldn’t do anything to change the numbers. Despite several breaks to rest, each time thinking that when I restarted things would feel better, I could not get the right muscles to fire. I could barely turn my legs over and if I went any slower I’d be going backwards. How is this possible? I just did a strong ride two days prior and now it seemed as though I’d never ridden a bike before. This continued on for several miles, and after the final rest stop before the most difficult half of the climb, I acknowledged to John and Jenn that “my legs are just not working” and they would need to go ahead without me while I slowly made my way up the mountain at a significantly reduced pace.
A couple hours into the ride at one particularly exposed switchback above treeline with the wind threatening to blow me off the mountain and a big storm cloud above my head, I called my sister-in-law, whose husband was sagging us. I told her to let Bob know to look out for me as he drove up, and plan to pick me up, as I would not be able to make the full ascent on this particular day. This mountain was like a tough race – unforgiving – and being at less than 100% trying to ride Mt. Evans is like showing up for the Ironman World Championship without bothering to train. Riding up the steep switchbacks into gusts of wind so strong they stopped your progress when you hit them head on, and they moved you as much as 3 feet across the road when gusting from the side, above 12K feet, on a narrow, winding road with no shoulder and sheer drops on each side leaves little room for error, let alone the delirious weaving back and forth across the road that I found myself doing.
The bad news for me coming from the call I made was that Bob had gotten delayed by an errand earlier in the day, so my choices were to continue another 10 miles or so up the mountain or turn around and descend (dangerously) as the wind continued to gust. I decided to continue, since it would be even more risky (and cold) to try to descend, and at worst, even if I was moving slowly, eventually Bob and the Suburban would come along and I could throw my bike in the rear and my broken body into the back seat to take a nap. Further, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy having lunch and a slice of homemade pie at Echo Lake Lodge because I’d be there all by myself, waiting for the others to finish the ride, and the thought of sitting there eating pie and feeling sorry for myself was more horrible than trying to fight through the pain.
So, I continued on, switchback after switchback, getting a push by the wind from behind at some, then facing a wall of wind on others, and despite my snails pace above treeline, I made it to the top before Bob did with the Suburban. It was sheer and utter agony most of the time – I could not remember a ride where I ever felt so bad, worse even than I felt after throwing up all over myself on the Queen K Highway at mile 90 of the Ironman World Championships one year. One of the mountain sheep that was munching on the side of the road looked at me, laughed and said, “you call that climbing???”
By the time I made it to the top of the mountain, passing one guy who had walked with his bike the last three miles, I found myself 35 minutes slower than the last time I’d done the same ride. Poor John and Jenn just about froze to death at the top waiting for me, and it was a good thing Bob and the Suburban showed up quickly because by the time we loaded the truck with all the bikes and people, they were in as bad as shape I was simply from standing around in the cold wind waiting for me and Bob to appear.
Reflecting back on the Lookout Mountain ride (albeit that ride was much easier than Mt. Evans), the main difference was in both my preparation that day, as well as the fact that I was likely a bit fatigued from the prior climb when I attempted the Mt. Evans ride. What I’d like to share is some insight with respect to core activation that might help you avoid a bad race or training day due to a lack of responsiveness, or worse, a shutting down of the key muscles that need to fire in order to perform.
Working with All-Pro Health, some of us have developed a series of exercises to do prior to training or racing in order to get the proper muscles to engage and to activate our core before attempting a workout. A contributing factor to the lack of performance on the Mt. Evans ride I just described was one of core activation and a failure to fire my glutes all day. I had nothing more to give on that ride and there was nothing I could do to change that – but by focusing on recovery, foam rolling, stretching and corrective/preparatory exercises for subsequent workouts got things back on track for the remaining 10 days of training.
What were keys to success?
Massage – deep tissue massage at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Spa to aid in (both physical and mental!) recovery from my poor performance on Mt. Evans
Yoga – 3 sessions of Vinyasa/Flow Yoga throughout the trip at our favorite Yoga studio in Winter Park – Mountain Moon Yoga - aided in stretching tight hips, hamstrings, glutes, calves and adductors
Corrective/preparatory exercises – here is my routine that was developed with the assistance of All-Pro Health that I skipped on the Mt. Evans day but followed routinely after that:
Foam rolling – focusing especially on upper quads, IT bands, adductors
Lacrosse ball – focusing on hips, glutes, calves and adductors
My top 10 corrective/preparatory exercises to fire the appropriate muscles, including:
Child’s pose, with hip circles
Opposite arm/leg extensions on all fours
Planks, lowering to “cobra” then “up dog”
Toe touch/”yogi toe lock” to awaken hamstrings
Forward lunges/lizard pose/Warrior 1
Forward lunge with torso twist (adding a resistance band)
Pigeon to open up hips (although I will admit I hate doing this…)
Time permitting many of these can be tied together via a short practice of vinyasa flow yoga with sun salutations, warrior 1,2,3 and standing splits. Also, check out the exercise video library at:
Activating the muscle groups critical to executing either a race or training session, especially those of us who are racing in the masters categories - is key. My training got back on track with a focus on these 10 exercises/stretches to activate my core muscles – and despite the fact that I could not get to All-Pro Health for the soft tissue work I have come to rely upon to keep myself moving well, I was able to self-correct some of the compensation related problems that were detracting from my performance. Diligently following a routine involving adequate foam rolling, stretching and muscle activation exercises before each training session makes a big difference. Try it—and see how you do! Hope this is useful – good luck in your training!
I've been working as hard on my recovery as I did in my training, and it's paying off! Catch up on my health debacle by reading my first blog here then read this update below.
Bone Stress Injury
I am officially off the crutches after using them for 4 weeks and weening off of them for an additional 2 weeks. I can walk around without any achiness returning in my hip, which I haven't felt in over 4 weeks. I can even ride my bike again! I did two rides, one in Lake Placid where I went for a "training camp," and one with the Mapso Tri Club near where I live, that were pretty hard and both over 50 miles. I'm happy to be off the crutches even though they did give me an opportunity to drop some jaws...I could walk without pain and without a limp, so sometimes I would be crutching down a sidewalk, and suddenly pick up the crutches and walk completely normally. Onlookers were shocked and it made me a little bit happy.
You may ask why I needed the crutches if I didn't have any pain. The simple answer is that my doctor said so. The more robust answer is that my bone stress injury is in a place of "high risk" and continued stress on the area, especially since I have osteoporosis, could lead to avascular necrosis, where the bone essentially dies and requires surgery. Not ideal! To play it safe, we kept me on the crutches longer than many would consider necessary for a standard "low risk" stress reaction. I have also begun pushing off the wall in the pool, which is allowing me to keep up with my old lane! I still can't run because the force your joints must withstand is approximately 4-5x your body weight when running, far greater than the ~1.4x your body weight when walking. I'm hoping to return to the Alter-G at Dr Todd's and then hopefully return to the roads soon thereafter.
I had blood work done last week and the result came back at 308 ng/dL, a 41 point increase from one month ago. I'm pleased! Though I would have loved to see it jump faster than that, this new number puts me in the range of "normal" (albeit at the low end). The symptoms of low T have abated dramatically since I stopped training. The fatigue that I used to experience on the train after work is all but gone, and I'm almost back to my old self in the bedroom. This jives surprisingly well with my doctor's comment that most men experience symptoms of low T if it is under 300. She also mentioned that men feel the full benefits of this hormone at around 600, so I still have work to do if I want to situate myself in the best way possible for triathlon performance.
Another interesting thing I learned about testosterone (from a smart friend of mine) is that a discovery has been made linking certain gene mutations with low testosterone. We've known that one's natural testosterone levels are influenced by genetics, but now we know which genes have the highest correlation with those levels. The men studied had somewhere between 0 and 4 genetic mutations termed "risk alleles" and those with 3 or 4 mutations had a far greater chance of testosterone under 300 ng/dL (30%) than those with 2 mutations (15%), 1 mutation (12%) or 0 mutations (5%). We all have access to whether we have these risk alleles by doing genetic testing through 23andMe, which I will do soon. I'm mainly interested because it will educate me on whether I had a compromised starting point or not, which is something I don't know right now because I never had baseline testosterone measurement done before I began training for Ironman.
My bone density is going to take some time to return, many months to be more specific, but in order to monitor the progress, my doctor gave me a test kit that would tell us whether I'm creating or breaking down bone. It was a urine test that I did about two weeks ago and I should be receiving the results any day now. I am optimistic that the trend has been reversed, partly because of my higher testosterone levels, and partly because my blood work revealed an interesting genetic mutation that makes me susceptible to low bone density. I have a double mutation in the MTHFR gene, specifically in the C677T variant, that means my body isn't very good at converting inactive folic acid and B12 to their active forms. I'm 10% as efficient at creating the enzyme that does the conversion as compared to a person with no mutations in that gene. It's actually a fairly common thing to have at one, or even two, mutations and the good news is that it is easily treatable. Just take methylated (activated) forms of folic acid and B12 so your body doesn't have to do the conversion. I've been taking that for about a month now as part of a special multivitamin I'm taking.
I'm also doing a few other things to help strengthen my bones...I take magnesium and strontium and will be doing weight-bearing strength work that will encourage my body to develop greater bone density (not yet though because I still need to be careful with my bone stress injury).
I'll be "racing" this weekend in honor of my brother, Justin, who died of cancer in 2008, at the Lake Waramaug Sprint Triathlon in Connecticut. I'll likely do just the swim and bike, and then drop out before the run to avoid re-injuring my femur. Each year, we do an event like this one, and raise money from family and friends for St Jude's in his name. Please read our one page letter and consider a donation! We are grateful for any amount!
"The next station is...Summit."
My eyelids slowly rise, contacts dry and stuck to my eyes. I grab my bag full of sweaty training gear and empty UCAN bottle from that morning's threshold ride at Tailwind Endurance and stand up. Whoa. I feel weak, and now a rush goes through my body as blood begins to circulate more rapidly again. I walk down the steps and off the train feeling terribly sluggish. Of course I do. I got up at 5am this morning, trained my butt off on the bike for an hour and a half, worked a full day and now here I am falling asleep on the train. I have a hill workout tonight that doesn't sound fun right now, but hey, I'll wake up after the first couple of miles of running.
I give Lauren a kiss and run out the door to meet Clyde at the hill, two miles away. My legs feel like jelly but that must just be the sleepiness wearing off. It'll go away like it does every time I do a run in the morning right after waking up. Not this time. I get to the hill and my legs still feel lazy. Weird. I know what will fix it...I'll run hard up this hill for 5 minutes! My heart rate will be north of 180 and that'll definitely wake me up. I hit the button on my Garmin and Clyde and I charge forward; my legs are heavy-feeling but I reach the top at a solid pace and jog back down. Somehow, my legs still feel sluggish though and not just for the first rep, but all five of them. What the heck!? I must just be off today.
But it wasn't just that day. Week after week starting in March 2015, I got off the train feeling lazy, and it continued right through any of the evening workouts I had. I hit the splits fine, but I didn't feel like I had an extra gear. After this persisted for a while, I began moving all of my workouts to the morning when I typically felt less lethargic, even if I had to wake up before 5am. Further to the fatigue was that I often lost interest in using the bed for anything besides sleep for days, or even weeks on end. Now that's weird. I'm 28 years old and I KNOW that's not supposed to happen yet.
This is what it feels like to have low testosterone, as I've had since at least March of last year, due to overtraining / under-recovery. It's terrible, and can affect many aspects of life including energy levels, sleep patterns, mood, sex life, fertility, cognitive ability, bone health and body composition. The symptoms that each person experiences are different; for me, it has been fatigue, low libido, and bone health (see my previous blog called “Update: Bad News, and More Bad News”), but for other people it could be any combination of the other symptoms that I listed.
I write this blog so that you might be aware of the issues that can arise from too much endurance training and perhaps prevent the problems that have wreaked havoc on my health. Life is about balance, and I screwed up my balance. I may look healthy, but I’m not. You may like what you see in the mirror, but you may not be healthy either. I am a case study for what NOT TO DO, and I hope you will learn from my mistakes.
If you have low T like me, know that we are not alone. It is a very common thing for triathletes, and if you have the type A, overly-disciplined personality that so many of us triathletes have (and many take pride in), then you are at high risk for suffering from low T. If any of the below apply to you, then you might be driving yourself into a hole:
- “I try to fit in as much training as my schedule will allow”
- “If I miss a workout, I try to make it up later in the week”
- “I got to bed late, but that 5am swim session is too important to pass up”
- “I know I’m already really lean, but every pound less I am is a pound less I’ll carry during my next race, so I think I’ll lose a few”
- “My wife and kids no longer recognize me”
Tip for the women reading this: it doesn’t just apply to men! Women face similar issues with regards to overtraining and hormone imbalances. Women are actually at a greater risk of bone health problems. I’m not as familiar with the issues as they relate to women, so you should consult your doctor.
It’s not just triathletes that suffer from hormone issues, but other endurance athletes too. Many of you may be aware of Ryan Hall’s story, which has helped to bring the low testosterone issue into the limelight. I’ve been a fan of Ryan’s since I was in high school because he was a senior when I was a freshman. I watched in awe as he, Dathan Ritzenhein and Alan Webb duked it out and shattered records. Ryan went on to race at the marathon distance, running the fastest time ever by an American in the 2011 Boston Marathon, 2:04:58. He also broke the American record in the half marathon running a blistering 59:43. This year, he retired from the sport, at the young age of 33, struggling to run just 12 easy miles per week because of the devastating effects of low testosterone.
Over the past three weeks, I have been on a fact-finding frenzy. How can I make important decisions about an integral part of my life and future without information? I wanted to see how common low testosterone is in endurance athletes, and ask them what they’ve done to manage it. I chose to focus on elite endurance athletes, about half professional and half elite amateurs, because they typically take on higher volumes of training, which I’ve come to understand is the biggest factor leading to low T. I polled 22 elite triathletes and an astonishing 13 of them have had diagnosed hormone issues due to endurance training. Out of the remaining 9 people, 6 of them have experienced symptoms of low testosterone but have not been formally diagnosed. Just 3 out of the 22 elite triathletes I polled claim to have never experienced hormone issues! Further, at least 6 from the list have also had low bone density due to hormone imbalances, and bone stress injuries like I have.
The prevalence of health issues, particularly at the elite level, is both disheartening and encouraging at the same time. It’s great to know that I’m not alone, that many of these athletes continue to train and compete at a very high level despite these problems, and that some of them have overcome the issues. I must admit though…it’s scary to know how common it is and that it’s likely something I’ll need to manage for as long as I am training at a high level in this sport.
Attitudes toward their hormone issues have varied widely with some accepting it to be a cost of the sport, while others have fought back (and won) through natural measures, like Cody Beals. I choose to fight back.
Matt Bach, A Case Study
Below I will describe what I’ve done over the past five years to cause such devastation to my health. I do this so that you might have a better understanding of what it took for me, and you can compare to yourself. We are all different though, and some of our bodies can sustain a lot more stress than others before they break down. Note that you may be training far less than I, and may be getting more rest, but still could experience issues. On the flip side, you might be training far more and sleeping 5 hours a night, yet haven’t experienced any problems health-wise. Lucky you!
How I Dug My Hellth Hole
Overtraining / Under-recovery
2010 – The year my wife and I began triathlon. Spinning classes, some running, practically drowning in the pool, and some killer abs classes at the gym. This was not when I began overtraining.
Weekly Average: 6 hours
2011 – Met a group of tremendously dedicated triathletes in Hoboken while I was living in Jersey City. Saw their knowledge and company as a way to get good quickly, and I was right! Upped my training and they showed me the ropes. I did 3 half Ironman events that year, along with some shorter triathlons and running events. I was self-coached and partook in “leech training” where I would join in on my training partners’ workouts, usually created by their coaches.
Weekly Average: 12 hours
2012 – Competed in my first Ironman at Lake Placid. My body seemed to be able to cope with more training, so I gave it more training, as I was still self-coached. I saw improvements in fitness over the past couple of years simply by increasing volume, so I, like so many others in our sport, figured improvement must be linearly correlated with volume. My attitude drifted in the direction of trying to fit in as much training as possible given my work and sleep schedule. I noticed that if I got under an average of 7:15 sleep per night, I would get sick, so determined that 7:15 was the right amount. While it was not my goal, I missed qualifying for Kona by 1 slot in my debut Ironman going 9:59.
Weekly Average: 16 hours
2013 – Seeing how close I was to qualifying for Kona, I was determined to get there. I remained self-coached, increased my training even further, and fit in as much training as possible. In fact, I stretched the limits of what was possible to put into my schedule. I rarely saw my wife during the week, and spent only a handful of hours with her each weekend. On one occasion, we had her parents over for dinner and I practically kicked them out at 9pm because I had to get to bed early for a 5am wakeup call the next morning to go on a century ride by myself. Nearly every Saturday for three months, I rode over 100 miles up 9W to Bear Mountain and back, then tacked on a run afterwards. For a five week period before tapering for Placid, I had not given myself a single rest day. I ended up having a terrible race at Placid, missed Kona by 1 slot again and went 9:58. Frustrated but knowing the fitness was there, my wife allowed me to sign up to race Ironman Louisville four weeks later on her birthday. It turns out I had some niggling issues that stopped me from doing much training in between the races, which in hindsight was what allowed me to win my age group at Louisville and qualify for Kona (I was stoked!). Another factor was that Jared Tootell, a training partner and friend of mine, informally coached me after Placid, and taught me the value of the trainer and quality vs. quantity. This was my first foray into “less is more” and likely saved me from digging myself even further into this hellth hole. I competed in Kona 7 weeks later to complete my 3rd Ironman in as many months. This year was the peak of my overtraining / under-recovery, and when my life balance was most out of whack.
Weekly Average: 17 hours
2014 – Three Ironmans was a lot to handle. I was mentally shot and I decided to make 2014 a “down year.” I would regroup, hire a coach for the first time, and do just half Ironman events this year. Training under Earl was totally different than how I coached myself…I had extra bandwidth. I had a solid rest day each week, trained fewer hours, yet improved faster. Training was going so well that in June I decided to throw the inaugural Ironman Maryland onto the race schedule in September to try to qualify for Kona for 2015. Between June and early September, training increased marginally to “Ironman training” from “Half-Ironman training” but all of the training was more focused and specific to my goals. I continued to get 7:15 of sleep per night, but without really knowing it, I had taken my first real step in the direction of better training/recovery balance by hiring Earl.
Weekly Average: 14 hours
2015 – Having won Ironman Maryland in 2014 in a massive PR of 8:51 on what felt like “light” training, the prospect of going pro became real. I felt compelled to train more this time and see how big of a ripple I could make in Kona, targeting the top amateur spot. A great result there would put me in a good position to go pro either in 2016 or 2017. My volume stretched again and I felt as though some of that extra bandwidth was gone. Then in March, I noticed the symptoms of low testosterone for the first time as described in the intro to this blog, but I didn’t know that’s what my issue was until August when I was first diagnosed. I had total testosterone of 153 vs the “normal” range of 300-1000. By then it was too close to Kona to just stop training, especially when the only things I noticed were fatigue and low libido, and I was continuing to improve performance-wise. In fact, I had a number of massive breakthroughs in training last year and was top amateur at Eagleman 70.3 by over 5 minutes. I kept the testosterone issue in mind, but decided to continue training at a high level through Kona, and then I would address the issue. I placed 72nd overall in Kona, failing to execute the race I knew I was capable of, and then took time off. After 2 weeks, my testosterone levels had already risen to 256, more than a 100 point increase over my known low point, though still not in the range of “normal.” Several more weeks off would help, and learning more about what could be done to improve my levels naturally would set me up well for 2016.
Weekly Average: 16 hours
2016 – This is when I finally started doing a lot of the right things (though apparently not enough!). After gathering tons of info from doctors, studies, google, Cody Beals, and ancient cave paintings, I decided to pursue a smattering of natural methods to improve my testosterone levels, which you can read about in the “What I Did Right” section below.
Weekly Average: 13 hours
This is a loaded topic! Weight is a major factor for some people when it comes to having hormone problems, and it may have had something to do with mine. While I’ve always been very lean, my weight actually puts me in range of “normal” on the BMI charts. Just to be safe, I’ve increased my weight since I learned of my low testosterone in 2015. Prior to 2015, I weighed 145 pounds (I’m 6’0”) and if I ever found myself below 140, I would feel like dirt. In 2015, I increased my weight a few pounds to 148. Early this year, I increased it further to 155 and now I’m “chunky” at 163.
Something of note is that in early 2015, one of the experiments I ran on myself was to see how low I could go before losing muscle mass or feeling like dirt. I had begun employing metabolic efficiency training in 2014, so thought that maybe with my new nutrition regimen, I could go lower than 140 and still feel strong. Every pound less I weigh is one pound less I have to carry for 138.2 miles (the swim doesn’t count) through the lava fields right? Right, but it’s not sustainable! My body rebelled and I couldn’t even drop below 145. I pushed and pushed and just couldn’t do it. It turns out that your body’s response to having low testosterone is to retain body fat! Now it makes sense, but I am fairly certain I did some damage during those months.
I’ve always wondered why professional triathletes are all heavier than me, even if they are shorter. I think I now understand the reason why. I think I also understand why Mark Allen was known to have said “you need to be fat in July” to race well in October.
Other Factors & Notes
- I, like many of you reading this, work full time and sit in a chair all day. Top pros don’t do that because it is not conducive to training at the highest levels of the sport. While we are toiling, they are recovering, but we gotta bring home the bacon!
- I trained for 5 years straight at a high level because each success and failure led to new goals to pursue. Even in 2014, when I planned on reducing my training/racing for a year, I ended up doing an Ironman. The low T and bone density problems I have take years to develop, and I never really gave my body a long break.
- “Early season” not light enough. A better plan might be to do moderate but consistent training from January to July then ramp up in August/September for an October race. It’s a long season if you train hard January through October!
- Offseasons – I generally took at least 2 weeks completely off, then had a period of 1-2 months around the holidays where I did just ~25% of my usual volume.
What I Did Right
- Up until 2014, not a lot!
- In 2014, I began Metabolic Efficiency Training with Nicci Schock. At the time, I didn’t know that the principles of MET reconciled so well with the dietary measures one might take to improve testosterone.
- High in healthy fats
- High in protein
- Low in processed foods
- Low in sugar and simple carbs
- Low in alcohol
- In 2015, once I discovered the low T problem and had researched how to “fix it” I:
- Started a vitamin D supplement, which can help with testosterone production
- Started taking Omega-3 fish oil supplement
- Brought the training volume down a bit (just 1-2hrs less per week)
- Cut soy out of my diet because soy encourages estrogen production, which decreases testosterone levels in men
- In 2016, I took more natural measures to raise my T levels:
- Stopped training for several weeks after Kona 2015, then gradually got back into it starting in late December
- Began regular heavy lifting sessions in the gym under the supervision of my physical therapist, Joshua Grahlman of Clutch Physical Therapy, particularly dead lifts
- Increased my sleep from an average of 7:15 to 8:00 per night
- Better work arrangement that allowed me to train in the middle of the day
- Gained 7 pounds
- Doubled my vitamin D supplement to 4000 IU daily
- Began taking a zinc supplement which helps with testosterone production
- Working with Dr. Barry Sears to manage cellular inflammation and improve recovery time through the consumption of large quantities of high quality fish oil
Time for a little side story! After Kona 2015 when I was determined to get a handle on my testosterone levels, I met with an endocrinologist. I thought I had a good idea of how the meeting would go…I’d explain that I have low testosterone, and that I thought it was because of overtraining. The doc would say, ok, we’ll slap this testosterone patch on you and you’ll be good to go. I’ll say “no, doc, I can’t do that because I’m an athlete and it’s against the anti-doping rules” and then the doc would say “ok, then let’s take natural measures to remedy this.” Doc would then list a bunch of natural ways to do it that would probably overlap quite a bit with the methods I had already learned from Cody Beals. Maybe I’d learn a thing or two, and would consider the appointment a success. NOPE! We didn’t even get past the first part. I explained that I have low testosterone due to endurance training, and the endocrinologist, someone who is an expert in hormones, wasn’t even aware that the link exists! Needless to say, I walked out and never saw that doc again.
Performance Enhancing Drugs
I won’t take supplemental testosterone, and here’s why:
- It’s banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)
- It can cause fertility problems and other side effects
- I don’t like the idea of “slapping a band-aid” on something instead of fixing the root cause
- Even for the short-term, I won’t take it because I don’t want to risk there being an asterisk next to a future result. “Yea, but he took testosterone at one point.”
- Because it can be done without it
It’s been a roller coaster emotionally. Though I typically excel at remaining rational, it’s been hard to keep my head on straight. The journey has brought up tons of questions and has driven me to learn things about myself. Am I doing the right thing for me and Lauren? A future family we might have? Is this a career change I should be pursuing? Will I find the right balance between training and recovery? Will that equilibrium translate into enough training to compete with the best in the sport? Genetically, do I have what it takes? Should I throw in the towel?
Recently, with the help of my coach, I realized that these health issues have only brought more clarity to the question of whether I pursue a career as a professional triathlete. When I ask myself what I should do, the answer is still to go for it. I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t. To be able to say that, even given my new situation, is a powerful indication to me that this is the path I need to follow.
My Path Forward
- Decrease my training to near zero for the time being to allow my testosterone levels to restore to at least the low end of “normal,” targeting 400+
- Begin and progress a strength training regimen to improve testosterone levels, maintain core stability, improve bone density, and limit muscle imbalances
- Continue metabolic efficiency training but maintain a higher body fat %
- Get more sleep! I will be targeting an average of 8-8.5hrs per night
- Gradually introduce more endurance training while continuing to achieve rising testosterone levels and improved bone density
- Continue working with my doctors to assess my blood work and correct some of the abnormalities through (natural and legal) supplementation
- With every upheaval comes opportunity, and the extra time will allow me to work closely with my sponsors in ways other than by giving them exposure through racing. I’ll do more speaking engagements, educational events and blogging.
- Early next year, my goal is to have positioned myself in a way where I can employ a “less is more” approach to my training that will still yield performance improvements. It may involve as little as 6-8 hours of high-quality, intense training per week, similar to the approaches of Sami Inkinen (ridiculously fast age grouper and co-founder of Trulia) and training partner Jared Tootell (husband, father, banker and elite age group Ironman athlete who makes it happen). Professional triathletes Cody Beals and Sarah Piampiano had similar problems with hormone imbalances, and bone density issues. Both have recovered from those, came back even stronger than before, and have gone on to very successful pro careers. I hope to use their success as a model for my own.
A Frog Slowly Cooked
There is a fabled science experiment that a frog can be boiled if the temperature rises slowly enough, but the metaphor is apt so I will use it. A frog is placed in a beaker of water which is placed on a hot plate and slowly heated. If the frog were to be placed in boiling water, it would jump out, but here, the frog remains in the water until it’s literally boiled alive. My doctors have told me that testosterone and bone density don’t change overnight and that my levels have probably been coming down for years. As for the mythical boiled frog, the threat developed gradually and I allowed myself to get cooked.
What I Hope For You
Get blood work done. It’s either free, or nearly free (just a co-pay) and really easy to get. Simply talk to your primary care physician about your level of exercise and concern that it may be affecting your hormone levels. Routine blood work does not typically call for testosterone measurement, so be sure to have your doctor request it specifically.
If you think you have experienced symptoms of hormone imbalance, do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com. I can help point you in the right direction.
Keep your priorities straight. Remember what is important in life! We love endurance sports, but your health comes before training and competition, as does family, and if you’re not healthy, you’re not going to be there for them.
Don’t be a frog slowly cooked.
I received this custom Tri Kit in the mail a couple of days ago. I LOVE IT! and can't wait to race in it, but yesterday I learned that I will not be racing Ironman Lake Placid. Many of you may have noticed that I did not race Raleigh 70.3 last weekend. I won't be racing Eagleman 70.3 this upcoming weekend either. My season is up in flames and I'm working on accepting the facts of my situation and choosing the best path forward.
As any of you who have listened to the podcast series about my journey to "go pro" on Endurance Planet will know, it started with what I thought was inflammation in my hip, but I've discovered that it's much more than that. The "hip" injury is actually a stress reaction in my right femoral head where it meets the femoral neck, according to an MRI I had done a couple of weeks ago. The good news is that it's not a stress fracture, but only a stress reaction, because I was smart enough to stop running on it when the pain appeared. The bad news is that the stress reaction is in a bad place, a place of tension, where weight that I apply to that leg tends to put more strain on the affected area which makes it susceptible to reinjury. In fact, if I continue to aggravate the area, I could actually kill the bone. I was put on crutches and immediately knew I would not be racing Raleigh 70.3 or Eagleman 70.3. I won't be running anytime soon, can only do light cycling, and can swim but can't push off the wall. In my meeting with Dr. Sylvia Hesse, a fantastic orthopedic doctor in Manhattan, I mentioned that I've had issues with low testosterone due to overtraining. Hmmmm...are the two linked?? I hadn't thought to ask that question, but Dr. Hesse did. She had me do a bone scan and the results were terrifying. I have osteopenia in my hips and osteoporosis in my spine. To summarize...Overtraining led to low testosterone, which over prolonged periods can lead to low bone density, which led to the stress reaction I have today. I'm a mess.
Yesterday, at a follow-up meeting with Dr. Hesse, she assessed my progress and didn't like it. I still have a subtle dull ache in my hip area on the right side, indicating that I'm still injured. I had been on crutches for 2 1/2 weeks already, but was told that I will be on them for another 2 weeks. I also won't be able to race Ironman Lake Placid. The risk is too high that I will reinjure myself, or even cause another injury somewhere else due to my low bone density. My health is the priority so I will be focusing on restoring it for the rest of 2016, and though the racing season is up in flames, I may be able to take a page out of the phoenix's book and rise from the ashes next year.
I will continue to blog and speak about the health issues - I want you all to know of the problems that endurance training can cause so you can be careful in your own training approach. Stay tuned for my blog about low testosterone, why it happens, and what you can (naturally) do about it. I'll use my own story as a case study so that you might prevent or repair your own issues with low testosterone. It's more common than you think.
Until I can get back to health again, the Tri Kit will hang in my room waiting for me to return.
Be healthy, and train happy.