September 21, 2014.
That was supposed to be the day I ran my first Ironman in Lake Tahoe. For those who followed that race, it was cancelled at the last moment due to wildfire smoke. However, I had already cancelled my entry a few months prior due to my doctor’s recommendation.
I think that’s the hardest part of training: finding your body’s limitations.
As endurance athletes, we are taught to push past all limits. We even like to pretend they don’t exists. We learn to keep training through the pain. Anyone who has run a marathon will tell you that it hurts. I certainly stumbled my way to that finish line on my first 26.2-mile race. If you stop every time you feel discomfort, you won’t get very far.
However, as I sat in the doctor’s office and he told me I wouldn’t be able to race in the Ironman, it crushed me. I haven’t talked about this for over a year. It just hurt too much to admit that I didn’t finish what I started. It was embarrassing. I felt like I had failed. I also didn’t know the complete picture of what was wrong.
I had been having trouble with my workouts for several years. After a run, I would be exhausted for the rest of the day and have splitting headaches. My hands were swelling, my energy tanking and the insomnia made me a zombie. My brain was fuzzy and I felt depressed. I couldn’t keep weight off no matter how healthy I ate and how much I worked out.
I also experienced anxiety for the first time. I became too nervous to even ride my racing bike that I had ridden in multiple triathlons and trained with daily. With every sharp turn, my brain gave me a movie reel of a horrible crash, and the adrenaline rushes wouldn’t stop making me shake. I felt like a completely different person.
That was a little over a year ago. It’s taken that long to figure out how to fight this mystery illness. I had to watch my Ironman fee wasted because I couldn’t get better in time. It was a very painful lesson. Ironman doesn’t do refunds.
My doctor has finally discovered what’s been holding me back. It seems I don’t absorb nutrients and hormones well. My Vitamin D levels tanked to single digits, I have hypothyroidism and I have insulin resistance. With medication and supplements, I have experienced some amazing results. I feel so much better after just a few weeks on my medication and my mind is clear again.
However, my fitness level is back at ground zero. I can’t even run a 5K without walking at this point, even though I’ve still kept up running. It’s like whatever workouts I put into that endurance bank trickle out the back door. Before treatment began, with every run, I saw little to no improvement in my performance. It was the most baffling and frustrating thing to experience. I knew how to train, and yet all of my training wasn’t making me any better.
I feel like I’ve made this climb back to fitness so many times. It’s all I can do stop myself from remembering how six-minute miles felt, because when you are going twice that slow, you feel so frustrated when you remember what your body used to do. You feel trapped in a weighted-down anchor that doesn’t fit your spirit.
One of the main symptoms of all of these health issues is exhaustion. The insulin resistance also further sabotages me because it doesn’t let me easily access my stored fat during a run. To add insult to injury, it also doesn’t let the sugar already in my blood into my cells to burn it as fuel. My cells are starving, but they have difficulty letting in new energy. As you can imagine, distance sports and insulin resistance are not good friends.
However, I did this once before, and I can do it again. I know what my body is capable of if given the chance. I want to hear “You are an Ironman!” just once in my life. I’m not going to sign up for another race until I know I will be able to compete. I can’t lose that much money a second time. However, I will resurrect this blog and share my progress with you.
The Year of “Embrace the Suck!”
The saying, “Embrace the Suck!” comes from the military. I’m sure I will never experience what many of those brave men and women have gone through in their training, but it’s still my motto for this year. This come back is going to hurt. So, I’m going to give all the tough experiences I’m about to face a big ol’ hug and get used to it!
However, instead of waiting until I’m the picture of health and racing again to start up this blog, I wanted to invite you on this journey with me. Maybe you want to take a journey of your own. If my struggles can encourage you to go for your dreams even if there are a lot of obstacles in your path, then it’s worth a little vulnerability.
I’m sure there are plenty of people trying to exercise with insulin resistance or diabetes. If so, I would love to hear from you! Tell me how your training is going and any tricks or fuel that you found to manage your blood sugar on longer runs. I believe that working through our limitations will just make us stronger in the end.
I’m sure there are also people out there who are heavier and don’t believe they can race in a triathlon, bike race or road race. If so, follow my blog. I can promise you that if I can turn things around with my weight and limitations, so can you! Unlike a lot of athletes who have never been overweight, I’ve been there and I get it. One of hypothyroidism’s main symptoms is weight gain and difficulty losing weight. I have always eaten very healthy, and worked out constantly, yet the weight has been my biggest rival. I don’t look like an athlete right now. I have about 60 pounds to lose to be back at my racing weight. However, I know I still have the mind of a runner even if my body has been broken.
In addition to slowly bumping up my workouts again, I’m switching to what worked for me before for my diet, with some slight modifications. I lost a lot of weight and ran my best times during my seven months on a raw, vegan diet. However, I also lived alone as my husband was in school overseas for a year. With him back in my life on a daily basis, it’s much harder to be so extreme with my meals. So, I’m doing at least half of my daily food from raw foods and the other half will be healthy, cooked foods. This way, I can still go out to eat with people, have a social life, and not have to just eat salad at restaurants.
I also am completely cutting out wheat and gluten based on my doctor’s recommendation. It really seems to affect me negatively. It will be tough, as I love bread. However, nothing is so delicious that it’s worth losing out on my health and fitness. I am also limiting my sugar to manage my insulin.
That’s the game plan… to come back to racing again! I’m not sure how long this journey will take, but I know I will eventually get there. If you have a great comeback story, I’d love to hear about it in the comments! Let’s make 2016 the best year yet!