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.
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!
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.
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...
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.