I have learned some hard lessons this summer as it has been difficult to deal with health issues that cropped up for me. This year’s triathlon season has been more pondering and reflection than training and racing. My goal going into the year was to race 12 to 18 events. I managed 3! How could this happen? I find myself wondering.
Going back to last year I took a 1 month break after Treasure Island’s Triathlon in November. I then began my winter base training in earnest. It couldn’t have gone much better. I was feeling stronger in all three disciplines and had eluded any sickness or down-time in my training. It continued like that for me well into my build-up phase and some early Spring races in April where I was hitting lots of PR’s. This is where I made a critical mistake. With 3 weeks until my first big race of the year, I had an intense sore throat. For the first time in 4.5 months I missed a day of training! At the time it seemed like the end of the world with some important speed training coming up for my first race. I felt ‘better’ 4 days later and proceeded with the scheduled track workout. I was battling hard and ascending sets rather than getting faster because I was exhausted. That decision may have been the major culprit that set me in a downward spiral the rest of the summer!
In large part due to that hard track workout, I was very sick the next day and remained in poor shape for another 2 weeks! Arrrgh! Not only did I feel bad but it was stressful to not be outside exercising with a big race fast approaching. My symptoms were finally gone 7 days before a cross-country trip and race at St. Petersburg’s St. Anthony’s Triathlon. With a bad performance, I was upset and angry. In the past I have been able to rebound with a good performance through motivated, determined, and hard training. A week off would have been good for me. Instead, my wife and I were going to France & Corsica for 3 weeks of vacation. Perfect, right?, vacation translates to Training Camp!, for most triathletes. I was possessed in my training, never missing a day, and getting hours of un-work-interrupted training in. I relished the chance to train like a real pro and maintained a training week of 18 to 20 hours, which is 2 to 4 more hours than I can do while working back home.
Then came the return trip, through land, sea, and air for the next 3 days; my wife and I along with my mother-in-law and 2 year old niece traveled back to the U.S. In hind-sight, those travel days took as much out of me as those 20 hour training weeks. But I almost looked at them as rest days, because I had no real exercise and there were only 13 days until my next race, Escape from Alcatraz. Again, 5 to 10 days would have been golden for my body. However, feeling the need to prepare for the Escape Tri, I rushed back into intense training. That’s when I had my 2nd sore throat of the year, just 7 days before the race. I ignored it as best I could, and went to the race up-beat and knowing that I had some good training to get me through some minor obstacles. Although I enjoyed this race because it is so awesome, I had a miserable performance. All 3 disciplines were well off what I could do on even a moderate training day.
Looking back, I could have salvaged my season here by taking a much needed break and I even planned on taking a week off. I came back to work the next day and took a day off — kudos to me. The next day, I was back training! Ooops! So much for some rest. Only 9 days later after doing less than stellar on a group ride, I hit the wall. I felt overly tired and was not recovering well plus I had a minor sore throat. I was then forced to take 12 days off and did nothing but gain 13 pounds!
Upon returning to the lifestyle I love, refreshed and appreciative to feel healthy again, I had 26 days of moderate base level training being very careful to not over-do-it. But in the first week where the intensity went up to normal levels I relapsed with unusual levels of fatigue and a sore throat! I was thinking, “What in the world is going on with me?” I was so frustrated and depressed. I took another 16 days off and did nothing more than simple chores around the house to keep me from going crazy due to the lack of activity. 7 days into my ‘resting’ I had to decide not to go the Mosman Triathlon in Connecticut which my wife and I had signed up for and purchased plane tickets. At the end of those 16 days was the Emmett Triathlon which I desperately wanted to race in. Alas, the day before the race I had chest congestion, lots of nasal drip and a slight cough, not too mention I had just finished 9 days of anti-biotics. I had to cheer on the race competitors and wonder what might have been.
Still blindly motivated to race, I managed 14 days of low key training in hopes of racing in November. I chose to do a warm-up race – McCall’s Wild Ride Xterra (my 1st Xterra). With only 2 weeks of mtn biking in me I happily readied for the race, having little idea as to what I was truly getting into. I am proud to announce that I finished my first Xterra and I’m feeling grateful to have finished in one piece. Holly cow, my mtn bike skills are not up to par for these races. There just good enough to get me in serious trouble. I can climb OK, good enough to get me to the top, but my descending skill are going to break me. I told myself after the race, “you are not allowed to race those unless you vastly improve your mtn biking skills”. So my skills aren’t the best when it comes to mtn biking, but I also forgot all my nutrition for the bike ride, leaving it neatly piled up in the transition area. I finished a frustrating bike leg feeling pretty good cardio wise. I grabbed the nutrition I left behind for the bike and gobbled them as quickly as I could while starting the run. I still bonked. I had to walk a lot and the 10k run took me a long time, I’m trying to delete the time from my memory. But I was OK with this race. I knew I wasn’t going to set the world on fire. I attributed my slowness to bad biking skills and forgetting my nutrition. The race was more than I bargained for. It took me 3.5 hours! Not a very good ‘warm-up’ race considering that’s almost 1.5 hours longer than I am used to racing. So, maybe not the smartest thing to do, but I still got to race.
The following week I realized that the race had taken quite a bit out of me, more than it should have given the circumstances. I did not jump back into my training or anything so again I was left wondering, “what in the heck is going on with me?” I was up and down for almost 4 months now! It seemed that any moderate to high levels of exercise or any stress would send my body into a tailspin of exuberant fatigue and mild sore throats. I was feeling fragile and inadequate and having trouble enjoying my days. I decided that I just had to get out of this cycle and to do that I probably needed to pull the plug on my triathlon season. So I did and re-focused myself and my goals so that I could have some measure of success and enjoy my days.
Several weeks ago I made an appointment with an infectious disease doctor to see if he might be able to diagnose what was ailing me. I saw him recently and was tested for several viruses, suspecting West Nile, CMV, and/or Mono. I found out my test results 4 days ago and was positive for CMV. A very anti-climatic light went on in my head, “Of course”.
Today, I am feeling much better, the veil has been dropped and I know my enemy, so going forward I can win the battle. The most important thing I can take home from this hard earned lesson is to know when to REST. To become a professional Rester. Yes, there is still much hard work and lots of suffering, but the key is to understand the crucial need to rest and replenish your body; to re-charge your immune system, your mind, your muscles, and your spirit through well timed and never hurried periods of rest. I hope to strike a balance in my training and in my life that will optimize my health and have gained valuable insight from this season’s trials and tribulations.