Retired Triathlete at One Year
Without endurance-race goals, and without a coach to give me workouts, I’m in charge of my fitness. For me, that means I work out six days a week, one or two workouts per day, with one day a week for rest.
- I swim with a masters group Golden Road Aquatics 3-4 times a week, usually in the morning before work
- One “long” run of 5-7 miles on my own
- Barry’s Bootcamp treadmill/strength hour-long sessions once or twice a week
- November Project LAX, a Wednesday morning workout at the Hollywood Bowl, consisting of running and bodyweight strength training
- Other random workouts that sound like fun at the time — outdoor cycling or open water swimming, a spin class, lifting weights at the gym, yoga.
Less exercise has led to change in my body and fitness. While I toed the start line at Ironman Boulder 2015 at 147 pounds, I am carrying ten more pounds on my 5’10” frame. At a BMI of 23, I am still a healthy, normal-sized person. And, while I may swim a bit faster, and can competently swim butterfly and backstroke which I couldn’t do a year ago, my running and cycling are certainly not as fast as they were, and my endurance in any of the three sports is less.
I’ve also learned how to listen to my body. I no longer have a coach looking at the metrics and heart rate graph from my workouts to tell me that I should go harder or need to rest. I’ve found that about five or six days into daily workouts that I need to take a day off to recover.
And then there are my recent labs, during peak training, and now. This for me is the most startling finding. While my non-fasting cholesterol numbers look nearly identical, my hs-CRP, a marker of inflammation, which was quite high during training, is completely normal now.
So what’s the significance of the elevated high-sensitivity c-reactive protein (HS-CRP)? It is a marker of inflammation. The number in studies correlates with increased cardiovascular risk. I don’t think that it in my case it would indicate an increase in my risk of a heart attack or stroke, given my other parameters of no family history of heart disease, a healthy plant-based diet, no hypertension, no diabetes, and the lipid numbers above.
And yet, we know endurance athletes have a five-times increased risk of atrial fibrillation, One study of runners who participated in the Minneapolis Marathon for several years in a row demonstrated increased calcified coronary plaque in the arteries compared to non-marathoner controls.
There is said to be a “U-shaped curve” for exercise — at one end, there is not enough exercise, which is where most Americans sit. On the other end, for a very small and growing minority, is too much exercise, and potential consequences of excessive exercise. There is still much we do not know about exercising this much for years at a time.
My own take-home message — there’s something about Ironman endurance training, for me, that leads to objective evidence of inflammation, and decrease in that inflammation with scaled-back exercise. It would suggest that, for me, training for long hours year-round is not a good idea. But, I will race again, maybe even complete another Ironman in a few years.