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Sunday, October 09, 2016

Retired Triathlete at One Year

What happens when you go from a full schedule of races and hours of endurance training to a more relaxed exercise regimen?

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.

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.

August 2015

And 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.