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.
Barefoot running on the sand, a fun workout I would have never done while training for an event.
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.