Monday, March 23, 2015

Triathlete in Transition

Right now I'm all about finding happiness, building my health base and being fit (with the goal of getting even fitter). This blog is a continuation of one I wrote on my health in late 2014. I realize I've talked about all this stuff before, but as the journey continues I want to dive deeper and share new updates. Personally, it's also a way to track progress, my state and understand all this even more. 

In fact, I was recently inspired to open up about all this thanks to a recent conversation with my friend Alan Couzens, who got me thinking. He says there's a performance pyramid and we need a health base before expecting to achieve high levels of athletic performance (or any quality performance for that matter, I'd add). Read his full post here. Then you can read below why I couldn't keep climbing the ladder of success in racing...


the past decade
I've been my own worst enemy. I've let my Type-A perfectionist tendencies get out of hand. I was an addict.

I've lived my 20s as a crazy triathlete chick and it's shaped me into the woman now (the woman who's about to turn 30). But the truth is, triathlon and me, well, we were going down a road that was not healthy, and I couldn't deny it or fake it any longer. Don't get me wrong, I loved triathlon then and I love it now. It is something that's brought more happiness than words can describe. Of course, it's also brought me frustration, tears, and tough times. Whether good times or tough times -- it's all made me stronger and taught me the best lessons.

But the life I was living was simply not sustainable. That "road" I was going down... it was like the lion was always chasing me, and I allowed it. I was in a constant fight-or-flight state, almost always stressed. Heck, my tendency to be stressed out goes way back, even before I started triathlon. Sport just emphasized it even more. My hormones were totally out of whack or non-existent. For a long time, who knows, I ignored the signs, put my head down and persevered, letting my ego and stubborn head rule the way. I was convinced I had to train and race. I loved to race. I needed it, craved it. For most my eight-plus years doing triathlon it's all I wanted to do no matter what. Even if I felt on edge or like blowing up, I never dreamed of actually throwing in the towel. Rough patch? Just HTFU. I always kept going, signing up for the next big thing.

I was certainly fit, I was fast (probably could have been faster lol ;)), but I was fragile. I could shine on a podium then just as easily crumble. I'd build back up simply to trash myself again. It worked for a while, and I got decent results, but like I said it was not sustainable.

OC Duathlon 2010, fit but fragile in action.

Same 2010 race; I had a good showing against the top
studs including running/racing against Olympian Julie Ertel,
 but I actually blew up with injury, and it would be the
end of my full season of racing... Podium, then crumble.

I didn't mind trashing myself and walking that fine line. I was an addict. I liked it in a masochistic way. Along with that, I certainly cheated legit recovery. Thankfully, I was introduced to MAF concepts in late 2011/early 2012, and the seed was planted. But by then I had five or so years of racing under my belt, and no doubt had dome some "damage." So, while MAF workouts were integrated into the program with success thanks to Lucho, I didn't immediately adopt the Maffetone training and lifestyle. First, I would have to fall down again so to speak (or sometimes quite literally like breaking my wrists lol!) before I could pick myself up and make the change.

When 2013 rolled around, it was sort of the last straw. The one thing I never wanted -- for training to feel like a job/chore -- started happening. Dang! Granted, I was really fit and PR'd at Oceanside early that season (2nd AG and earned a 70.3 worlds slot that I already had earned at Steelhead 70.3), and felt on Cloud 9. The weekend after I won a local sprint. I wanted to believe I was on the verge of my best yet in sport.

But I was not. 

"Athletes who lack such a constitution [of a heathy system] find themselves perpetually overtrained or injured -- no recipe for reaching the top!" says Couzens in his 'Health Base' post.

For me, it was all downhill from there -- or perhaps, it was actually the beginning of finally going back uphill. That was a year I was training for full Ironman and 70.3 Worlds, of course I was, haha. More than ever, I'd be rushing around, training like a maniac, working/living life to the fullest, but holding this pent up frustration about who knows what, and that would manifest into unpredictable moods, irritability, fatigue and stress that I could actually feel. Then I'd get mad at myself for being irritable because I know damn well I have a good thing going on with a rad job and pretty cool life. I'd tell myself I had no right to be annoyed, bitchy or whiny. (Btw as we all know now, the rest of that 2013 season turned into shit... great learning experiences, but shitty racing on my part nonetheless, including some dumb mistakes of just not thinking about things logically....)

Tough times at 70.3 Worlds in 2013, I was not happy.
Sadly, I was not loving it.
My addiction to sport and the pressure I put on myself to train and produce tremendous results year after year, just got to be too much, and it stopped being fun. Worse my performance and health plummeted. Look, had I wanted to be a pro triathlete and have the very real pressure to perform at the highest level (lifestyle and all), I should have just gone all in. But I knew I didn't want that. However, I think part of me felt like I had to live and train like a pro, even if racing pro was never a goal of mine. I think pro triathletes are incredible people and they live an extremely difficult life; I have the utmost respect for anyone who is pro or wants to go pro. Anyway, I was confused, in conflict with myself, and I simply not being honest with my goals nor my present state. As such, I was blocked from being my best self. I feel totally at fault for letting my ego get out of hand, being stubborn, and riding a rollercoaster of up's and down's with sport.

It took a toll. I know deep down I was not totally naive to it all over the years. Hell, I would never coach anyone with this "method" nor recommend it as an healthy, effective lifestyle. In fact the opposite is true. But, for me, I was being stubborn. Thankfully I was big enough finally to put a stop to it.

For the record, it's not that I totally lost the ability to be happy, fun, and sane. Deep down I know I am a happy, fun-loving, positive and optimistic person by nature; that didn't entirely pack up and leave.  


The end of 2013, in Hawaii after the IM World Champs,
finally understanding, ready, open
to making changes!
Since that November post here's the latest:

As I said then, I had to start working my ass off to mend things. It started with my health and the plan of attack. With that underway, I experienced great initial progress. At this point, I've been able to quit ALL supplements that were in place for repairing and healing -- those were just temporary. Which is good because it's much cheaper not to have to buy all that stuff regularly ;) Nowadays I stick to just the regulars -- fish oil, a little CoQ10, NAC, B vitamins, a little D, Mg, some collostrum -- but even those are not on a regular schedule and I'll go days and days without anything. The only things I take regularly are probiotics and MAP amino acids.

In Nov, I talked about how great I was doing. But I was still in "stage 1" if you will, the initial repair stage. And still just figuring things out in my head. Then it was more about fixing the big issues in my body.

Now it's about re-growth. Mentally, spiritually, physically and even in my gut (building good bacteria back in there after the killing phase).

I think I was still holding back a bit through the end of last year, allowing stress to randomly sneak in. I recall one particular episode where I broke down from feeling overwhelmed, over-stressed, rushed, and a loss of control. That weekend -- I vividly remember it -- I literally, honestly, truly just let it all go and said, "Fuck it, this is the last time. I want to be happy. And whatever I want to do to get there is what I'll do. No more of this stressed out bullshit. There is no reason for me to be overwhelmed -- really, no good reason!"

Since, my stress levels and stress management are the best they've been in years, maybe ever. Ok, so maybe it's been a few months, but I'm committed in a new way and do not foresee a setback. Making these conscious decisions to choose happiness and choose to eliminate stress work. Those past attitudes of irritability and worry rarely if ever make their way in, and if I do feel myself wanting to "go there" (sport or otherwise) I recognize it and am great at turning it around. I have more patience, I'm chill, happy.

So in addition, there's the physical progress. I can feel my body thriving (hormones are back in action; I feel like a whole woman again). All natural, no supplements. I feel incredibly strong and solid, not Ironman strong, but a different kind of strong -- a well-rounded strong that makes me feel like I can take on the world. I'm not saying triathlon makes you weak -- but when you're stressed and you deplete your body of everything, you are the opposite of thriving. You are constantly catabolic and breaking down, unable to repair and build back up. Now that I'm no longer chronically in that state I see my ability to grow and repair flourishing -- quite literally, I can build and hold more muscle and strength nowadays. I haven't given up endurance training to achieve this new strength, but I have decreased it as well as changed my approach. Yes, I am doing more strength training/strength activities too (like SUP). And without biomechanical imbalances holding me back as severely as they once did, I can build a well-rounded strong body.

Plus, a crucial component: I finally adopted the full MAF lifestyle (not just sporadic MAF workouts). It's leading me to believe, I think there is a formula in which one can achieve great health and performance. I'm trying to explore that and be an example of it.

In fact, this health + performance stuff is a hot topic, and a conversation I often have with Maffetone, Chris Kelly, and most recently Alan Couzens, who believes athletes at the top must be healthy:

"I've heard it said that elite athletics and health are mutually exclusive, i.e. that, at the very top of the sport, athletes are riding such a razor's edge of overtraining that none could be considered healthy. I don't agree with this, and would actually go as far to day that at the very top of the sport, the athletes who are able to consistently turn in top results are only able to do so by having a very strong base of general health," says Couzens.

new stuff
In this process of letting go, something rather unexpected happened: I became ridiculously excited about a million other athletic/active pursuits, and I have a ton of new fitness goals these days. Detour if you will. I think part of me expected to just get back to just the regular triathlon routine. But apparently not, now I'm interested in everything from mastering kettlebells to SUP to backpacking to exploring the world, and exploring my mind and body's potential.

No matter what, I am still a triathlete/multisport/endurance athlete to the core. I still love swimming (ocean!), biking, running. I still am the person who logs workouts on TP daily. I am and always will be a competitor. I've just shifted my priorities. And, eventually, I truly believe it'll come full circle and I will turn out to be a better (tri)athlete.

Obviously I can't go without mentioning the marathon training. Running (the way I'm doing it) is different -- it's manageable, it's chill, it's fun, it still gives me a little something to work toward. And it's a good test of my ability to not regress back to the addict tendencies. I can get good feedback for my "health base" that I'm trying to build. What kind of progress am I making? How much can I handle before needing rest? What kind of recovery I need to feel fresh again? How's my overall energy and moods? Managing weight/diet... staying well.... a good experiment.

So far so good, I suppose, and I'm not obsessing over the need to train like crazy, nor reach a certain volume, mileage or intensity. I'm just letting it come. My goals are loose, and I'm certainly not in it to go sub-3 or anything crazy. I'm in it for the journey not the end result. Plus, it's incredibly fulfilling and enlightening to work with Phil Maffetone and learn from him -- granted, I'm probably not the ideal athlete because I'm not giving up my life and going "all in" for the marathon, nor am I following any plan whatsoever.

In addition, my priorities are MUCH more focused on being an excellent coach and podcast host these days (not to mention a great girlfriend, friend, daughter, sister, human, etc....). The changes I've made are not just about me, they're about others especially those closest to me, and I want to be my best for everyone -- and be a good example. I love the idea of helping someone find health, happiness and performance at the races, the right way. I love simply finding/making the time to spend it with loved ones, or donating my time for a good cause. The old me, the train-a-holic, was not like that for fear I'd miss out on some miles or simply because I was just too trashed from training to want or be able to do anything else. Not anymore.


let it go and just be happy & healthy...

...I think that's the biggest way to find and build your health base. And to get here, a lot of us will have to give up those nasty behaviors and habits that are unhealthy. These changes are not always easy to initiate at first. In my opinion, it's about keeping your ego in check, following your heart, and no bullshiting (no secret goals to still self-destruct and obsess over data, for example).

Let go of whatever it is that's blocking your happiness, even if it stings. Choose to be happy, and choose health. Choose you. Your well-being is not to be decided by your friends, peers or race results.

 "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -  to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." - Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Life certainly doesn't suck.

This is an interesting chapter in my life, and I like documenting it, and learning more about myself. Instead of a shiny new PR or race report, this is the real side of growing up and doing what's best for the body and mind. For those who can go through a lifetime of sport and never have these hiccups like I've had, you rock. But for those of you out there who've struggled, I hope this can help.


Also, stayed tuned because I'm going to rock the blog with all kinds of interesting posts!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Giving up Gum, and More on 'Bad' Habits: Go Cold Turkey? Moderation? Or What?

I gave up gum. I was addicted for years. Substance of choice? Orbit... Trident... It may sound frivolous, but it's a nasty little habit and I knew it was doing me no good. There were days when I would chew more pieces in than I'd like to admit. Just imagine the wasted money going toward that habit. Ridiculous. Not to mention the negative health effects, which are real. I'm kicking myself for the years of not letting go sooner.
Warning: DANGEROUSLY addicting (this brand, especially!)

I am so excited to have broken this habit that I want to share with everyone, and hopefully inspire more gum addicts to quit -- I know you are out there; I see plenty of athletes popping in gum especially those concerned with body image and staying lean, using gum as a tool to control eating. So here's my story...

I don't know how or when the gum habit got bad. It must have been my early days at SDSU. It went from being innocent -- a random piece of gum here or there to freshen breath or whatever -- to a vicious habit that was a tool for controlling appetite. (Yes, I do believe my gum addiction has roots in its use as an appetite suppressant; read my blog on suffering from anorexia). Whatever I was doing, gum was around: Working at The Daily Aztec (endless hours editing and writing), during class, working out, before and after meals, at parties.

When I became a triathlete I chewed while training, all the time. I was already addicted but it gave the perception of keeping my mouth moist and seemingly prevented dry mouth, which in retrospect is probably a stupid idea on my part. I have no idea if this is a legit reasoning, but I wonder if I caused some dehydration due to artificially altering my perceived needs for hydration? Hm.

I felt symptoms but ignored them, i.e. often by the end of the day after chewing frequently I'd have bloating and gas all the time (this was likely related to other gut disorders that were "brewing" by this point, but I was clueless to the severity at the time). The bloating, gas and strait-up stomach pains would get incredibly uncomfortable especially when I was around others at work or socially or in class (holding it in), and it was also very annoying to walk around looking bloated to the point of pregnant. But I didn't let that stop me from gum.

For the record, I didn't race with gum in my mouth because I didn't want it to give me GI distress, nor would I chew gum the few days before a race, which shows I knew better! That alone should have been a red flag to never chew it at all, right?!

This habit continued into recent times, and because I work from home (or in the gym, or out in the world coaching) and have a "chill" job environment I could chew gum whenever and didn't need to worry about whether it was "professional" or not. I would always have gum on hand, and never ran out, I made sure of it. But it in bulk at grocery stores or on Amazon and always had a stash around.
Holy hell, I even dressed up as the Orbit girl for halloween in 2010! #issues #lol

The Science of Gum & Why it Sucks
Research shows that gum can help with weight loss or weight control in that it helps prevent over-eating or eating certain things; it can even help prevent the consumption of sugary/sweet treats (1). Unfortunately research also shows that there's no reason to believe gum is effective for suppressing appetite or limiting calories intake (2). Zero-calorie sweeteners in gum may actually stimulate appetite and drive you to eat, and may cause weight gain (3)! Why? Because your brain is smart. How I understand it, when you ingest these substances that have no calories (i.e. artificial sweetener/sugar-free gum), the brain gets the signal that it is time for calories, and the result is food cravings -- sugar/carb cravings in particular.

Furthermore, the artificial sweeteners in gum wreak havoc on the gut and our health (including potential long-term complications). Just how? Recent research is showing that artificial sweeteners "alter the gut microbial communities, leading to glucose intolerance in both mice and humans"(4). Glucose intolerance can lead to a slew of problems from Type 2 diabetes (on the extreme end) to loss of muscle mass or fatigue (5). There's not necessarily concrete evidence to show artificial sweeteners negatively affect insulin response, but with the other associated risks, it doesn't seem worthwhile to have them.

The fake sweet stuff is linked to neurological problems, cancer, you name it. It can even negatively affect your ability to produce natural digestive enzymes, meaning you cannot break down food well. The Food Babe wrote a good article on this. She suggests, instead, chewing on fennel seeds, which I may just have to try! She also mentions the brand Spry being safe (in low doses), and I agree that can be ok (and perhaps socially smart after a garlic-heavy dinner lol). However, this is not something I've done since quitting -- I went cold turkey.

With all these negative health effects and appetite issues, in my opinion I want to think that gum probably has some sort of negative effect on not just your health but... athletic performance? I don't have research to back that up, and don't quote me, but it seems possible.

Why & How I Suddenly Quit
It's easy to read all the potential harms of gum, and hear my anecdotal evidence of why it's disruptive and an unhealthy nuisance, but to pull the trigger and quit a habit? Not as easy. We as humans will still do the things we know aren't necessarily good for us, I don't think I need to cite that fact ;)

I briefly tried quitting gum in the past, and usually I would do good at cutting back during peak race season when I was racing a lot. Or last year I cut back when I started fixing my gut health (with good results). I actually held off on gum-binges for once, and would stick to just a handful of pieces a day, not having that bad of associated symptoms. But then more crept back in and I didn't stop it. My gum addiction wasn't even a conscious habit anymore... it was just a response, and something I always did. Tons of pieces a day...

Enter my homies:

Dr. Phil Maffetone
Chris Kelly of Nourish Balance Thrive.

I'm always having ongoing email conversations with Chris and Phil. I told them both about the gum habit earlier this year, and that was the catalyst to finally quitting! Admitting my little secret to two guys whom I respect a ton and two guys who I know do not approve of such a thing made me accountable. I am a strong girl, but my brain apparently is not strong enough to break this habit on my own. Phil and Chris both sternly suggested I quit, as if there wasn't even room for discussion. Just do it. I didn't want to let them down. I knew I needed to kick the habit, this was my chance.

So for me making it public to others -- Phil, Chris and now on this blog -- was a very effective way for me to commit to changing habits, and following through. It doesn't mean I'm weak, it just means there are certain tactics that work for me when it comes to extremes like this.

In fact, talking with Chris, I told him I thought I was having a gut setback from some symptoms I was feeling (including that bloating and gas in the evening, and whatnot), so I sent him a list of everything in my regular diet -- including gum -- and it was like, "bingo!" He was like, "Tawnee... c'mon!" And it made sense whether I liked it or not because it is true that I think my gum chewing had recently increased as I mentioned...

Furthermore, upon starting to work with Phil, he had me do a diet log/snapshot into what I eat (side note: I do this as well, and I think this should be part of a coach's program -- ask when interviewing coaches, or ask your current coach!). Not surprisingly, Maffetone doesn't stand for artificial crap in the diet! Gum was out.

And with those two guys giving me their "zero-tolerance policy" on gum, I said to myself, "It's time. Let's kick this habit once and for all!"

And that was it.

Oh and two other things helped me quit: 

1) John and I made a bet/deal on what I would have to do if I chewed any gum (and that's a secret between us lol).

2) I am out in the world promoting clean eating, good gut health, and the ultimate in health and wellness and I couldn't go on any longer chewing the very ingredients I was against!

Quitting: Cold Turkey or Moderation?
I won't lie, quitting the gum addiction was terribly hard! Cold turkey was the only way to finally get the result I needed. There was no "weaning off" and no "just keep it in moderation" as I had tried before...

Speaking of moderation, Maffetone just wrote a wonderful article titled The Moderation Myth, give it a read here. I can go both ways on his argument. Personally I think some things in moderation are good for us and prevents us from being too extreme (i.e orthorexia or some other eating disorder). Letting loose on occasion may help us not get overly stressed. I see some folks who are just way too worried about every little thing they put in their body -- those are the folks who I think can let go of the fear and enjoy a little more balance/moderation. But I see how the "word" moderation or "letting loose" can go wrong. Sadly, using these phrases just turn into an excuse to continually indulge or do the things you know aren't the best choices. Personally for me there are some things I can control in moderation and be just fine (i.e. wine, chocolate, caffeine), while other things I have to be careful (i.e. the gum) because I like many others can easily get addicted and once what was in moderation is now in excess. (Hm, perhaps training went this way, too.)

Back to gum and quitting.

For 1-2 weeks, I experienced intense cravings for gum for a solid week or so, and they were worst after a meal. Not shockingly, if the meal had something like onions and garlic the cravings were even worse, but in those cases I'd go brush my teeth (also not to offend anyone). I just did my best to ignore the urge to grab a piece and I focus on something else -- including sometimes just resting my jaw and mouth. I noticed a slight increase in having little tiny snacks after a meal like nuts or fruit, and I can see how popping in a piece of gum can prevent those unnecessary snacks. But on the other hand, without gum I find that I am better at eating a meal, stopping, and not grazing throughout the day... when I chewed gum my brain was always thinking it was time for food so I probably snacked more frequently! Now I can just turn it off until it's time to eat again.

So, my take on quitting a habit that you know is unhealthy: Just have to suck it up and go cold turkey. Taking a road of moderation usually means that habit will come back -- I'm a perfect example of the times I eased up on gum; it always came back.

Finally the cravings stopped, and I totally stopped thinking about gum. In fact, in the grand scheme, it didn't even take that long -- just the two weeks of self-discipline to let go, then poof, FREE!

Most importantly, am I symptom-free and do I feel better without it? YES. In quitting gum, I noticed a few positive results right away: bloating, gas, and any discomfort GONE -- especially the kind that I would get in the evening after a day's worth of chewing pieces. Gone just like that, no other diet tweaks. Soooo lovely and long gone are those times when I'd be straight up uncomfortable with my stomach/gut in knots from the gum.

It also underscored the damage the gum alone was doing. I'm glad I found this out and know that it wasn't a worse issue that I was going to have to figure out (i.e. a parasite, etc).

It's worth noting, while giving up gum, I've also cut back drastically on stevia. Not totally but stevia can be addicting where more and more creeps in, and I had to let it go. I haven't replaced less stevia with more sugar for the record. Instead, I'm just tasting real food on its own! (For the record: I'm not limited servings of real sweeteners like a good local, raw honey, or maple syrup.)







Monday, March 2, 2015

This Coach Gets A Coach

Dr. Phil Maffetone and I clicked as friends since we first met a couple years back, and I always felt like we'd end up doing some cool projects together outside of just his occasional guest appearances on Endurance Planet.

In fact, I've asked for his advice on various topics dating back to 2013 -- no shame at all asking training/health/coaching/life advice from one of the world's most respected coaches! Who knows, maybe he respected that about me -- that I am not a girl who's shy or timid and I am eager to learn and ask questions. He has always graciously and thoroughly helped me, except for when he's off the grid. In those cases I just don't get as quick of a reply, ha ha. (Btw, Phil's abilty to go "off the grid" is one of the things I love most about him; that's not easy to do this day in age but I think we all could use it a bit more in our lives.)

Well anyway, Phil knows I'm passionate about his MAF Method. So around fall 2014 we started talking about bigger projects. I don't think I'm at liberty to expose all the secrets for what's in store for the future just yet, but he and I have been chatting much more frequently including skype sessions just to go over things.

During one such conversation this year I was picking his brain on how he coaches/advises athletes, and I was asking some questions I had about my athletes, my own marathon training, etc. It was really fascinating. And then it hit me. In order to move forward on certain projects with him I felt the best way to really learn the MAF Method style of coaching is to have Maffetone himself coach/advise me! So I just asked him if he would do it; why not?! I just threw it out there in typical non-shy Tawnee fashion. He said yes! (That would have been awkward had he said no, huh, lol.)

I honestly had zero intentions of asking Phil to coach me prior to that chat or at all... it just hit me in the moment of the conversation and it felt right to ask.

So, that was back in January, the week I did a MAF Test, and since then we've been grooving together and I'm learning so much. I'm also learning much more about how I want my own coaching career to evolve, and I couldn't be happier with the path I'm on. Phil's not the kind of coach who writes workouts. He hasn't once laid out a weekly schedule in my training peaks. He does it differently, and in upcoming blogs I'll give you guys more insight on what exactly that entails. It's brilliant, and makes so much sense to me.

It's worth mentioning that my BFF Lucho (just in case you don't know, Lucho is my former coach, and co-host on EP's Ask the Coaches) does know about this, and he is totally stoked and supportive. I mean, the only I reason I stopped having Lucho coach me was because of me -- it really was an "it's me not you" situation. Lucho and I both knew I had to halt structured training and racing, and instead get my health back together. But Lucho and I are (obviously) still the best of buddies and just last week we agreed that there's no one outside our family with whom we talk as frequently. And it's been that way since 2011. That's pretty special right?! We love it! I think he said something like, "It will be so awesome for you to work with another coach and will make you a better, smarter coach." Exactly.

Anyway, so you can expect more stories on my training and working with Phil... I'll let you guys know what it's really like ;) If you have any questions for me, let me know!