Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Social Media - What's the Point? (Political and Sarcastic)

I've been a bit crabby recently.  Mostly when using Facebook.  But, not just then.  Well, a lot of it has been interweb-related.  And, in this post, I'll reveal more of my liberal bias than I have in a long time, maybe since my Masters Of War post in 2009.  If you don't want to risk being offended, leave now.

Maybe it's the election season.  Maybe I'm crabby because I'm not going to be happy, no matter who wins.  Our current President has been a major disappointment to me.  When people on the far right call him a socialist or a liberal, I usually laugh, and think to myself "I wish".  The people on the other side just plain scare me.

I'm not voting for the same person for President as you are.  Let's just say that if I make that bet, even-money, with every one of my blog readers, that I'd make a lot of money.  OK, I don't have enough readers to make a lot of money, but I'll make a profit.  I refuse to vote for mediocrity, especially when I feel like the mediocrity is self-inflicted.  Years ago, I shared season tickets to the San Jose Sharks hockey team, starting in their very first season.  That first year, we, the fans, didn't boo much.  We expected the team to be bad.  But, starting in the second season, we would boo the Sharks.  Why?  It wasn't because they were bad.  We booed them when they didn't try.  We booed them when they played like being bad or even mediocre was acceptable.

Maybe I'm crabby because my wife is still unemployed and my family and I remain without health insurance. And yet, we are way better off than so many people I know.  We can buy health insurance when we need to do that.  It's absurdly expensive, and the time window provided by COBRA is allowing us to hold tight for a little bit, unless we have a sudden unexpected health issue.  And yet, half of the people in this country seem to think that we should all live like this - with no guarantee that health care will be available if or when we need it.  Rationing.  Death Panels.  Infinite Waits.  Give me a break.

Maybe I'm crabby because too many people are trying to sell me stuff on social networks.  LinkedIn is probably the worst.  I use it to try to stay in contact with former and current professional acquaintances.  Maybe I can help someone find a job or vice versa in the future.  Maybe I can use an acquaintance to get a recommendation for a company to do some work with my company.  But, instead, people are finding me on LinkedIn and trying to sell me stuff - services, software, employees, consultants, etc.  One person recently found me on LinkedIn, called my company to track me down, tried to sell me something, and then wanted to be a contact on LinkedIn.  No.  I don't know you.

And Facebook is the worst.  I wish people wouldn't post stuff where a quick trip to Snopes can verify or deny the accuracy of the post.  After referencing Snopes, I've even been told that Snopes is a liberal web site and cannot be believed.

I've been unfriended on FB because I used an article from the NYT (mostly numbers and graphs - facts, which are well known to have a liberal bias) to try to make a point.

And lately, I've been unfriending people on FB.  I don't care if you like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Obama, or Shakes the Clown.  If people are going to start throwing their political views at me, and think that I'm going to change my mind about a candidate, maybe I don't care about the rest of what that person has to say.  I have been judicious with this to some extent.  I have one really good ultrarunning friend who is Mormon, and is supporting Mitt and Ryan purely because of that.  We are also truly good friends, not Facespace acquaintances.  But, if you and I are "friends" with multiple degrees of separation, are we really friends?  Do either of us care about the other's political views?

I've unfriended a number of high school classmates.  I grew up in the bottom of the "T" that geographically defines the conservative part of Pennsylvania, a portion of the state often referred to as Pennsyltucky.  I don't know if that's an insult to people who live in PA or KY or both.  In these cases, my rationale has gone beyond what candidate people like.  It's usually because someone posted a bunch of talking points for one side or another.  One person was demanding a rational explanation for Obama's "You didn't build that" statement.  Anyone who has seen the entire clip knows that what he said was rational and made sense.  If you disagree with that, Romney has given a nearly identical stump speech in the past, so it's not like it's a one-way issue.

I'm tired of the hatefulness of politics in our country.  My kids are tired of it.  My son, as cynical at 19 as I was, hates them all.  It's hard to provide a valid counterargument.

If I'm going to use Facebook, I honestly want to stay in touch with my friends.  My sister is getting a new puppy this weekend.  A good high school friend just took her daughter on a trip to Paris.  The breeder of my first Rhodesian Ridgeback is now showing Basenjis and posting some great photos.  My niece has moved to Boston and is adjusting to a new world.  Friends from CrossFit post great stuff about workouts.  Running friends are going to interesting places and running.  Or just having great training runs.

I honestly don't care what Starbucks anyone is at, at any time.  I don't care what you think about Chik-Fil-A.  I'm not all that curious about what anyone is listening to on Spotify.

And I sure as hell don't care if you like Paul Ryan or not.

Maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon.  But, if you feel the need, please unfollow by blog, unfollow my dormant Twitter feed, unfriend me on Facebook - whatever you need to do.  Please note that I am posting this bit of grouchiness on a "pull" media, rather than "push".  In that way, only the RSS followers of my blog (single digits) will be forced to read this rambling rant.  The rest do so voluntarily, by choosing to come to this page. And, I've even warned them up front about the contents of the post.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lance, Melky, and Bartolo

Since I'm not focusing my blog so much on training for and racing in ultras, I feel like I can remove some of the artificial boundaries that I'd created in the past, when deciding to address a news topic or not.

I have reviewed concerts here.  I even wrote a couple posts about the scandal at Penn State when it first broke.  I've decided to stay away from that one since then though.

But, in the past two weeks, we've seen two baseball players suspended for 50 games for using testosterone, and then yesterday, Lance Armstrong lost a court case and decided not to fight USADA any more on its doping charges.  I have to say I'm confused how the US Anti-Doping Agency thinks it can strip 7 tour titles from Lance, but I don't really care.  Last year's MLB NL MVP was also caught, but used a technicality to avoid his likely well-earned suspension.

I don't care at all about how many drug tests anyone passed.  Or failed.

What interests me the most is a culture of denial and hero worship.  And yes, that applies back to the Penn State issue as well, but that's for another day.

Baseball players have been using drugs of one sort or another for generations.  Perhaps Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" was the first book to really address this issue, but it wasn't new.  Painkillers and amphetamines were the early choices.  Do we really think that those huge guys who play football every Sunday got to that size strictly through hard work and not with the addition of some performance enhancing drugs?

Tour riders have been using drugs for generations as well.  Tom Simpson died during the Tour de France in 1967, with amphetamines and alcohol in his blood.  There is even a report of a rider dying in 1886, during a one-day classic, due to a mixture of cocaine, strychnine, and caffeine.  There have been many deaths linked to EPO in cycling.

It takes amazing talent and dedication to even approach the top level in most sports.  If an athlete gets to the national or world class level, but can't quite break through to winning championships, you are talking about someone with an amazing desire to win who is falling short.  If that person begins to suspect that his or her competitors are "juicing", why not go along?  Now, maybe this is silly, because the results would be the same if everyone juiced or no one juiced.  But, there's always going to be one person who wants to win at all costs.  As soon as one juices and starts to excel, the next will come along, and then another, etc.  Along with that drive and desire, I imagine it takes a big ego to need to succeed at that level.  Heck, Barry Bonds's head got physically bigger during his career, and it still couldn't contain his ego.

The big home run guys of the 1990s were impressive - not just their stats, but their physical presence.  Mark McGwire could take a short swing that looked like it wouldn't get the ball out of the infield, but the ball would travel over 400 feet.

Caminiti, Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro, McGwire, Canseco, Clemens - think about it.  Did any of these guys look "normal"? In many cases, their physiques changed dramatically at an age that should have been past their physical prime.  Why?  Anybody who doesn't know the answer is simply in denial.  Even utility middle infielders got huge in the 1990's.

The backlash against steroids is an issue of concern to me.  That backlash has made it difficult for me and and many other men to get treatment for truly low levels of testosterone.  I think a similar thing is happening with opiates in this country right now.  They are so abused that many doctors are becoming more and more afraid to prescribe them when they do make sense.  I wonder how many current baby boomers will endure excessive pain near the end of their lives due to an increasing backlash against opiate abuse.

Testosterone has very legitimate medical uses.  So do opiates.  Even amphetamines.

But, we also have a culture that glorifies athletes.  To get to the top, athletes will do whatever it takes, as long as they don't get caught.  The medications listed above, variants on those meds, and masking agents are all part of the repertoire of many athletes.

Maybe some are clean.  Maybe many are clean.  Maybe most are clean.  But, blind hero worship is just that - blind.  I'm not here saying that Lance cheated or didn't.  There are 17 years worth of data there and I don't know the answer.  Melky got caught.  Braun got caught.  Colon got caught.  Caminiti confessed.  Bonds and Clemens were tried.  Others had to testify before Congress and admit to doping rather than risk being tried for contempt of Congress.

Whose fault is all of this?  If we didn't glorify sports and athletes, I'm guessing this would happen a lot less.  So, instead of pointing fingers at the athletes, and feeling let down by our heroes, perhaps we should all consider taking a look in the mirror.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rest Day, squats, and health care/politics

After a tough squat workout on Saturday and a bike ride on Sunday, Monday, it was more squats:

Back squats:

Front squats:

We are not even to the mid-point of our 12-week squat cycle, and we are already doing sets, while fatigued, at 90% of our pre-cycle one rep max.  To be honest, these workouts are taking a lot out of me.  Without the testosterone supplementation, I don't know how I'd be holding up.

After the squats on Monday, we did a descending ladder of overhead presses (not strict presses - push presses and push jerks were fine) and burpees.  After each burpee, we performed a lateral jump over our barbell.

I think the squat workouts would be tough enough on their own, but adding in more work makes it worse.

I took yesterday as a rest day.  Tonight, we have heavy barbell snatches and then a workout involving dumbbell snatches, med ball slams and some running.

For a while, I think I'm going to go by the CrossFit  "3 on-1 off" rule, so I'm not working out too many days in a row.  I'll make slight modifications so that I do the squat workouts, although I may do some of them on my own.

It's now been more than 3 weeks since my family and I lost our health insurance.  It's hard to believe that so many people are forced to live like this on a regular basis. We still have the option to pay thousands of dollars to retroactively continue the policy my wife had until the end of last month.  Instead, we spend each day hoping that we have no need at all to see a doctor or buy any medications.  And my wife is working very hard trying to find a new job, so that we can hopefully have decent insurance again.

Are "we", the citizens of the US, so much smarter than the rest of the world, that we can be the only "first world" country without a socialized medical system, and we can make it work?  I think that's a rhetorical question.  Somehow, our current system, where insurance is tied to a job, poverty or old age, is failing us badly.  The insured already pay for the uninsured.  We have the highest health care costs in the world and we have terrible outcomes.  It's really a screwed up system, but watching the political news every night, it's easy to see how we got here.  We continue to vote complete morons into positions of power.  And if they aren't complete morons, they are so ideologically rigid that they simple refuse to think if that thinking would mess with their pre-formed notions.

My 14 year old daughter told her mother and me last night that the politicians in the US scare her, and she wants to move to another country.  We had no reason to disagree with her.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Relaxing Weekend?

The weekend got off to a pretty rocky start.  My wife had two job interviews last week and she was excited about both jobs.  On Friday afternoon, she heard from both companies.  One had hired someone else.  The other told her she would not be invited for a second round of interviews.  She was disappointed and so was I.   We've been without health care insurance for about three weeks right now, and it is something that worries both of us all the time.

I went to CF after work on Friday night, mostly because I had a very specific squat workout to do.  However, I just couldn't focus and I left not long after I arrived.  I just wanted nothing to do with the gym at that point in time.  The crazy downpours on the drive home matched my mood perfectly.

It wasn't the happiest evening we've had recently, but I tried to get my wife to focus on her running event onSaturday - the 100 on 100 relay - a six person, 100 mile relay that she'd be doing for the third year in a row, but for the first time without me on the team.

Saturday morning, we were out the door at 5:15 a.m. and we met her team and I dropped her off for the race.  I took a nap in the car for a while.  Then, I went to Montpelier for some coffee and the to go to the farmers market.  After that, I went to the supermarket for a few other items.

I got home and did some cooking and cleaning for a while.  Then, I hit the gym to do the workout I'd skipped on Friday night.  The workout went well overall.  I was in the gym for a max of 45 minutes.  When I arrived, there was a college kid (this is a college gym) working on his arms.  He had skinny little chicken legs, so squats and deadlifts must be unknown to him.  I swear he did nothing but arm work with dumbbells the entire time i was in the gym.  He never even stood up except to get a drink of water.  I guess that "big guns" and "what do you bench?" remain the fitness benchmarks of many people out there.  I just don't get it.

After my workout, I did some lawn work, took my daughter to soccer practice, took a nap, picked up my daughter, and then waited for my son to get home from work.  When he got home, we dropped off a car for my wife at a local park and ride lot, where her teammates would drop her off, post-race.  We had dinner, and then I watched 5 episodes of Breaking Bad.  I'm way behind the times - still in season 2, but I'm trying to catch up.

On Sunday, I slept in.  Ate some breakfast.  Went for a bike ride.  Ate some lunch.  Took a nap.  Went fly fishing with my son (the streams are still too warm for safe catch and release fishing).  Cooked dinner on the grill.  Ate.  Went to bed.

To me, it seemed like a nice relaxing weekend, especially when the naps are counted.  Hopefully, my legs will be ready to do hard squats in the gym tonight.  And tomorrow might be a rest day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Progress in the gym

At CrossFit, we are currently in the fourth week of a 12-week squat cycle.  The program we are using is described here:

Hatch Cycle

The page has a link to a spreadsheet.  Basically, you enter your current best in the front squat and back squat, and it spits out 12 weeks of workouts, 2x per week minimum, with some optional days as well.  I've found this to be really difficult so far, as we are doing lots of high rep days, particularly with back squats.  So far, a typical day has started with 10 reps at 200 pounds and then moved up to 6-8 reps at 265-280 pounds.  Front squats have been pretty consistent at 4 sets of 5 reps, but the weight is moving up there as well.

But, as the weeks go by, I can feel my legs getting stronger.  The nice thing about the program is that the reps go down over time, and it will look like a more traditional power-lifting cycle soon.  I've never done reps beyond 5-6 per set for pure strength work before, so this has been an interesting start to the cycle.

Adding this work to the rest of  our typical CrossFit week has been a challenge.  I've also been trying to sneak in some running - maybe half a mile or a mile at a time, before or after class.  Overall, I would say that the last four weeks of CrossFit have been as difficult as any four weeks since I joined the cult.

I've heard others in the gym echo the same sentiments.  I've also heard of a number of people hitting new PRs in a variety of lifts.  Yesterday we started with heavy split jerks - seven single reps, trying to get a new 1 rep max.  After failing on this lift at 175# a number of times, I finally got that weight overhead last night.  A lot of people got new PRs yesterday, so the hard training is paying off.

I'm still trying to get to CF four times per week.  Usually, that means a rest day on Wednesday or on Thursday.  I'm still not sure whether I'll go to the gym today, although I am leaning towards going.  Tonight's working includes lots of bench pressing, followed by pull-ups, running, kettlebell swings and wall-balls - basically a vertical shot put of a medicine ball from a squat position.

Friday, August 10, 2012

One more on testosterone levels

So, how did I end up with low testosterone levels?  And, is it possible to reverse the condition rather than depending on medications?

Those are two questions I've thought about a lot over the past few months.  For example, every time I'm about to stick a needle into my thigh, I wonder if there is another way.

First of all, how did I get here?  There are all kinds of things I can think of that might have contributed to low testosterone levels.

There is some research that suggests large amounts of endurance exercise in men can reduce testosterone levels.  There are some studies that are also quite inconclusive in this area.  Before I first visited a doctor for my depression-like symptoms in 2004, I had run 1600 miles in six months, including a brutal 45 hour mountain 100 miler, and I'd skied 2-4 days per week for the first half of those six months.  I'd done no strength training at all.  Coincidence?

I've been overweight off and on since I've been about 12 years old.  High body-fat levels are associated with lower testosterone levels.  Yet, in 2004, I was significantly lighter than I'd been in a while (probably since 1995 when I had run my marathon PR). 

Alcohol consumption is also associated with reduced testosterone levels.  I am someone who enjoys a good beer or a great wine or a well made cocktail.  Was this the cause?

Testosterone levels normally decrease with age.  Was I just getting older and I hit a tipping point in 2004?

Cholesterol is a precursor to testosterone in the body.  Does the USDA-recommended low fat, very low saturated fat diet cause problems with testosterone?  Our livers typically produce plenty of cholesterol, so I honestly doubt this as a cause.

There are other rarer causes that I do not think apply to my case.

So, perhaps all I needed to do to naturally restore my testosterone levels was give up endurance exercise, do lots of strength training, lose body-fat, give up alcohol completely, and get younger.  Or I could go to Google, enter "low testosterone" and buy one of each of the hundreds of supplements that guarantees me higher testosterone levels, reduced weight, a perfect body, and perhaps even a younger trophy wife.  (The last one is a joke - after 26 years of marriage, I'm not in the market)

Since 2007, I have been lifting weights regularly.  Since 2009, I have greatly reduced my endurance exercise.  Losing fat has been really difficult for me, to be honest.  It's been that way my entire life, but it's been much harder the past few years.  Lower testosterone makes it difficult to lose body-fat.  Higher body-fat seems to contribute to lower testosterone levels.  Holy Death-Spiral Batman!

I honestly feel that I did almost everything I could, on my own, to get things to improve.  And instead, earlier this year, I was feeling worse.  My mood was worse, my body composition was going the wrong direction, and I was struggling in the gym.  Sometimes, it was a major struggle to just get to the gym.

So, I pursued another remedy.  The long term story remains untold.  I hope I made the right choice.  I can say that since I started the testosterone, I've wanted to go to the gym.  I've seen some improvements in the gym.  I'm even doing a little bit of voluntary running again - not a lot, but some.  I'm sleeping better.  I'm happier.

Earlier today, I was interviewed by a writer from the Associated Press about testosterone supplementation.  I don't know if my interview will be part of his final article or not, but I'm curious to see the results of his research.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Depression vs. Low Testosterone, Part 2

Part 1 of this post can be found here.

At the end of the last post, I'd basically been told by my PCP that my testosterone levels were fine.  He told me to keep taking the four different meds I've been taking for depression and anxiety.  An endocrinologist had told me that my testosterone levels were marginal, but in range, and no treatment was warranted.

At this point, I was furious.  The only thing that mattered to the doctors was a number, not the patient and the patient's symptoms.  I turned to the internet.  Basically, I found two categories of information.  First, I found a lot of information about "andropause" and the use of testosterone and HGH (or products known as HGH secretagogues) as a remedy for andropause.  Most of this information came from online "clinics" that seemed to offer easy access to these medications.  Most of them were based in CA or FL.  All of them seemed to make a lot of wild promises about restoring youth and vigor and losing weight and getting smarter, etc.

I spent a lot of time pondering the validity of the claims and wondering about the legality of what they were promising.  Were these places steroid factories for athletes to gain access to HGH and testosterone?  It's actually fairly hard to get HGH these days, because the federal government created a special law just to govern that one medication.  Normally, once a drug has been approved for usage by the FDA, doctors have discretion to prescribe it for any reason they see fit.  HGH is no longer governed that way and providers can get into legal hot water if they prescribe it without very specific diagnoses.

The other type of information I found was mostly on internet forums and bulletin boards.  Some of these were really disheartening.  It seems like doctors everywhere are fast do diagnose depression and prescribe pills.  A few doctors seem willing to try the trans-dermal forms of testosterone, and it seems a lot of men get little benefit from these medications.

For the people who had found a solution, there seemed to be a recurring theme - the American Association for Anti Aging Medicine, also known as A4M.  This organization includes an alliance of doctors who are open to therapies to improve the quality of life for people as they get older.  I'm not necessarily interested in living forever.  I would like to have quality in my years though.  So, I used the directory at A4M to find a clinic.  I still traveled out of state to see a doctor.  The doctor did not take insurance, so everything is out of pocket - office visits, labs, and medications.

In May of this year, I got the most comprehensive set of lab work done that I've ever seen.  This time, my testosterone level was no longer borderline low.  It was officially clinically low - 177 nanograms per deciliter.  The bottom of the reference range for this lab was 280.  I don't think I'd ever been happy to see a "bad" lab result before.

After a follow-up conversation with the provider, I was prescribed injectable testosterone cypionate.  I was also given injectable vitamin B12.  And, two other medications to deal with possible estrogen issues as I added the testosterone back to my body.

Twice a week, I give an injection of testosterone and an injection of B12.  I thought it would be difficult, given my lifelong needle phobia, but it hasn't been that bad.  One of the anti-estrogen medications is a bit tricky.  It seems like it's possible to take too much of it, so the goal is to figure out a personal minimum effective dosage.

Is it helping?  In 11 weeks, I've dropped two of the four medications I've been taking for anxiety and depression and my brain feels fine.  I hope to drop the other two over the next few months, but some tapering is required with those medications.  I'm doing better in the gym.  I'm sleeping better.  I feel more alert and focused at work.  Two other meds I'd been taking are also gone.

In general, I would say that there's been a huge turnaround for me.  I imagine that there are many other men out there, living with a diagnosis of depression or anxiety or adult ADHD, when the real problem is something else entirely.  I'm certainly not a doctor.  What seems to be working for me might not be appropriate for anyone else, although I've participated in enough online forums to know that it seems to be working for others.  At this point in time, I'm injecting something into my body that it should normally make on its own - a bio-identical hormone.  I'd much rather do that than take the plethora of pills the pharmaceutical industry has been pushing and that I've been swallowing for eight years.

I think the biggest lesson I've learned in all of this is that you need to question your doctor.  If your doctor isn't open to being questioned, perhaps you are seeing the wrong person.

This post is also "to be continued", but over a much longer period of time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Depression and Dysthmia vs. Low Testosterone in Males

Here is a list of symptoms from WebMD.com:
  • sadness or depressed mood most of the day or almost every day
  • loss of enjoyment in things that were once pleasurable
  • major change in weight (gain or loss of more than 5% of weight within a month) or appetite 
  • insomnia or excessive sleep almost every day
  • physically restless or rundown that is noticeable by others
  • fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or excessive guilt almost every day
  • problems with concentration or making decisions almost every day
  • recurring thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plan, or suicide attempt
This "disease" is also associated with heart disease, sexual problems (low libido and sexual dysfunction) and pain perception.

 Here is another (slightly edited) list of symptoms from Dr. Wikipedia:
  • Low or complete lack of libido (sexual desire/interest)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Poor sleep or sleep disturbances
  • Cognitive problems such as difficulty concentrating and memory loss
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Aches and pains (such as in muscles)
  • Diminished or lacking pubic, underarm, and leg hair growth
  • Loss of bone mass (osteoporosis)
  • Increased abdominal fat
  • Glucose intolerance (early-onset diabetes)
  • High cholesterol/lipids
This disease is also associated with heart disease.

From the title of this post and the list of symptoms, it's probably obvious that the top set of symptoms apply to depression.  In particular, the symptoms are for chronic dysthymia - a sort of low level and chronic form of depression.

What is really interesting to me is the overlap between the two sets of symptoms. Weight gain.  Cognitive issues.  Fatigue.  Sleep problems.  Etc.

Eight years ago, when I finished the Hardrock 100, I should have been ecstatic.  It had been a personal goal for years, and when I first finished, I honestly felt nothing at all.  I simply assumed that I'd get some sleep, get some food, and I'd feel better in the morning.  But, the feelings persisted.  My wife and I talked about a month later, when I wasn't feeling any better.  She said that she felt my mood had been going downhill for a long time.

I had my doctor refer me to a psychiatrist who tried a number of different medication options until I felt better.  Well, my brain felt better.  But, the medications themselves have sexual side effects and can also lead to weight gain.  And, I was using small doses of four distinct medications on a daily basis.  These medications even interfered with each other, in terms of function.

Over the next couple of years, I became aware (through the internet, I'm sure) that my symptoms were very similar to the symptoms of low testosterone.  To me, I much more closely mapped to the low T symptoms than to depression.  In 2006, I asked my PCP to test total and free testosterone as part of my annual physical.  He agreed reluctantly.  My numbers came back within range, and as far as my doc was done, the issue was over.  The fact that I was in the bottom of the range didn't matter.  We don't treat symptoms.  We treat lab results.

Earlier this year, my depression symptoms were getting worse, my weight was near an all time high, I was going nowhere in the gym, it seemed, and I tried again.  This time, I went to the largest hospital in Vermont, and saw an endocrinologist who specializes in male hormones.  Again, my tests came back within range, but barely.  I had a few e-mail exchanges with the doctor after getting the results.  I pointed out that the definition of the normal range is very arbitrary.  While my levels were in range, this web page showed something interesting:


My testosterone levels were at about the average level for an 85-100 year old man.  But, the normal range is defined by where 95% of the population falls rather than my symptoms and illness.  In other words, it's completely arbitrary.

Finally, the doctor basically said that it was possible that I was lying about my symptoms in order to get access to testosterone.  Testosterone is a schedule III drug as defined by the FDA.  For 8 years, I'd been taking a schedule II drug (a stimulant) on a daily basis and a schedule IV (a benzodiazepine) drug as well.  Docs had no problems dispensing those pills, but apparently, testosterone is a very dangerous medication.  And again, I was told that I could only be treated if the lab test showed an abnormal level.  Lab results, not symptoms.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why "Pseudo-Athlete"?

Why did I use the term "pseudo-athlete" when I changed the title of my blog?  A lot of my friends would say that I am an athlete.  To me, athletes are the people we are seeing in most of the Olympic sports.  Or people playing competitively in college sports or maybe even in high school sports.  Real athletes define their lives by their athletic goals and achievements.

Yes, I've competed in a lot of races and other competitive events over the years.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I did a lot of triathlons of varying distances.  I was a terrible swimmer, a barely competent cyclist, and a below-average age group runner.  I finished events.  Lots of them.  But, on the male side of the sport, triathlon had the big 4 - Scott Tinley, Mark Allen, Dave Scott and Scott Molina.  And then Mike Pigg came along.  They were athletes, making their living in the sport.

At some point, I realized that I was spending up to 20 hours per week training.  The time spent in the pool was not fun at all.  The time spent on the bike was mostly fun, but very time consuming.  Cycling is gear intensive and expensive.  And, I really loved running more than I did the other two sports.

I focused on road running for a while.  Even my triathlon years had seen me running road races, so this was nothing new.  With a lot of hard work, I managed to run some decent times - 5:18 for the mile, sub-18 for 5K, sub-38 for 10K, 1:22 for the half marathon and 2:57 for the marathon.  But, one racing event stands out from a period of time when I was in pretty good shape.  I was running in the regional USATF cross country championships on a tough hilly course in northern California.  I was working hard early due to the nature of the course.  As I neared the one-mile mark, I noticed that I no longer heard other runners around me.  I assumed I'd gapped some of the runners behind me.  I hit the mile mark in 5:48.  I took a quick look back and there were NO other runners behind me.  I was in last place in a regional championship race.  I did manage to pass two runners before the finish line, but it was a humbling experience.  A few years later, while in decent shape, I finished last in the USATF regional road mile championship race.

In 1994, I started running ultramarathons, and in 1996, I pretty much abandoned road racing.  I've finished some tough ultras.  Every once in a while, I'd finish in the top half of a race.  But, I also accumulated a bunch of last place finishes.  My first 100 miler was a last place finish.  At the Don't Run Boston 50K, I am 4 for 4 - last place every time I've run it, although I did tie for last when I ran my course PR.  Most of the time, my goal was to finish in less than twice the winner's finishing time.  I usually did this, but not all the time.

These days, I get humbled at CrossFit instead of on the roads or trails.  At our gym, which has some very strong and fit athletes, I'm an also-ran.  I'm not saying this to be negative or run myself down.  I'm the person with limited shoulder mobility who can't do a decent overhead squat.  I use giant rubber bands to do pull-ups.  I use the shortest box when we do box jumps.  I can't do double-unders.  I can't do kipping pull-ups.  I can't do unassisted ring dips.  I can't do handstand push-ups and I certainly can't do muscle ups.  Yes, I'm in the top quarter or so of the gym in terms of raw strength in the deadlift or back squat.  But, when you compare my lifts to my body weight, the ratios aren't so good.

I could tell the same story about skiing, but I think I've made my point.

So, I've spent most of the last 27 years playing at athletics.  I have fun, I'm in better shape than a lot of people my age, and I'm certainly better off than my dad was at my current age, or just about any age between 25 and 50.  By age 25, my dad was sedentary.  I'm far from that.

I don't intend to quit.  I would like to be the really old guy at the gym someday.  The guy who is still teaching skiing to children while in my 70s or older.  At the same time, I'm starting to focus more on doing activities that keep me healthy enough to do the things I really love, rather than training to compete.

I'm OK with that.  But, I'm not sure that I can honestly call myself an athlete.

Monday, August 6, 2012


A couple people were kind enough to say that they actually enjoy reading my blog.  So, I've been thinking about what I would write about if I did continue to write.

And, I've decided that I do have some topics that I think are worth writing about.

I'm pretty convinced that my running days are over, at least from a competitive perspective.  I could probably still get myself back into decent running shape if I made it a priority.  However, I don't really want to do that.  I was talked into signing up for the 100 on 100 relay here in Vermont earlier this year.  I've done it a number of times and we have a fun team, but I knew I didn't really want to train for it.  But, my wife and another friend talked me into signing up.  And then, two months ago, facing the prospect of an 8 mile run, I told my wife "no way".  I did 4 miles with her that day and then found someone to replace me on the relay team.  And, I'm really glad that I made the decision to drop from the race.

I still run a little.  Ride my bike some.  Ski all winter.  But mostly, I do CrossFit to stay in shape these days.  I simply don't have the spare time I had years ago at the height of my ultra training.  Being the IT Director of a software start-up company is the most time-consuming job I've ever had.  And, I like the job and the company and the people I work with, so I work hard at trying to keep us in business.  CrossFit gives me a chance to work hard for about an hour a day, 4-5 days per week.  Also, I've been running solo for years and I miss training with people in a supportive environment.  CrossFit is a group workout and I really enjoy the community that I've joined.

As I have my entire life, I continue to battle the scale.  I've been almost lean a few times in my life.  But, it's always been fleeting.  As I get older, the battle gets tougher.  I'm not so concerned about the scale anymore, given the amount of heavy lifting that I do.  But, I wish the mirror was kinder when I manage to see how big I am at present.

I try to eat a Paleo diet and I'm sure I'll talk about that in the future.  However, my adherence is nowhere near what it should be, and my main nemesis remains bread.  Wheat.  A food that acts like an opioid.  Even after reading Wheat Belly, I still haven't been able to give it up entirely.

Let's not even talk about the calories in adult beverages and how alcohol sabotages fat loss.

And lastly, I'm going to write some posts about mental health, hormones, and some interesting changes that have been going on in my life recently.  I've been taking a handful of meds for anxiety and depression for the past 8 years.  And, despite repeated requests to doctors along the way, I was completely ignored when I was pretty sure I knew there was an underlying problem causing the depression.

I finally went out of state to a specialist and paid every penny out of pocket - appointments, lab tests, medications, etc.  And, what I long suspected was confirmed by a blood test.  My testosterone levels were way out of range - about the average level for a ninety year old man.  So, for the past 10 weeks, I've been giving myself testosterone injections, under a doctor's supervision.  Two of the four brain meds I'd been using are now gone and I'm expecting to ditch the other two by the end of the year.  I also hope to get rid of two other medications that I've been taking,but that is a longer term issue.

After having stalled out in the gym, I'm actually making some progress again.  My weight is actually going up right now, but I'm pretty sure I'm not adding fat mass. In the long run, the testosterone should help with fat loss as well.

I have to say that I'm not crazy about giving myself a minimum of four injections per week, but I feel so much better right now that I almost look forward to the "shot days".

Right now, I'm just trying to find a way to be fit and healthy and happy as I get older.  I don't think I need to be as competitive an athlete as I've been.  I just want to be able to do the things I enjoy for years to come.