Friday, May 29, 2015

The Great Valley

Most people who aren't parents would never get the subject line here.  When my son was much smaller, he was addicted to a set of dinosaur cartoons called The Land Before Time.  I was always bothered by some of the religious allegorical tones to the movies, especially the first movie, but my kids enjoyed them and I never stopped them from watching.  The Great Valley, in the movie, was a fabled place, where there was plenty of food and water and safety from the predator dinosaurs.  Heaven?  Who knows?

Since my last post, I feel like I've entered a different type of Great Valley.  I've had no appetite.  Sleepy all the time.  Every workout is a struggle.  A week ago, I went out fishing for just a couple hours, and it tired me out so much, I came home and just went to bed without any dinner.

I'm not sure what is going on.  I just had my annual physical, but many doctors are eschewing even the most basic blood tests during physicals these days.  It seems that just a couple years ago, a lipid panel and complete metabolic panel were automatic, and if you had any complaints at all, a complete blood count with Differential was also done.

This last time, the doctor tested me for Hep-C, which was ridiculous, because I meet zero of the risk factors for Hep-C.  He asked me to humor him.  He also tested my PSA level at my request, and it showed no signs of prostate cancer.

So, what is going on?  On 5/4, my notes about my workout started with "Felt like crap tonight".  The next night was "Still felt tired and almost flu-like".   The following Sunday, I fly fished for a couple hours and later wrote "Some sort of deep fatigue has just laid me out."  The day after that, I started the warm-up at the gym, and basically said "Screw it", put my barbell away, and took a nap while my wife worked out.

In response to feeling tired (physically and mentally), I've made some changes.  I've added some near-daily easy walking, just to get me out of the office at lunchtime.  I am scaling the CrossFit workouts extensively, often doing them at an easier level than the easiest on the board.  I'm going to CrossFit less often than I would otherwise be going.  Lots of 3 day weeks instead of 4 or 5 days.  I'm trying very hard to get extra sleep.  I'm napping on the weekends.  I'm trying to be better about what I eat, and I've simply quit drinking alcohol.

Is it helping?  Three weeks ago, I felt horrible pretty much all the time.  Now, I'm having good days and bad days.  I'm trying to see how the good and bad days correlate to sleep and my diet and any training I do.  I've been tempted to just stop CrossFit for a month or so to see what would happen, but I don't feel that bad.  I'm afraid the downside to that would be way more than the potential benefits.

I've dropped 10 pounds in the last month, without really trying.  I am simply skipping meals when I'm not hungry, and that's been a lot of the time.

I see my doctor again next Friday.  This time, I'm going to ask for those blood tests he didn't do last time, especially the CMP and CBC-Diff.  Maybe a thyroid panel.

I'm hoping I'm just over-trained after a long winter of skiing hard and training hard.  Maybe another month or so of low level training and lots of sleep will be enough for me to feel strong again.  Losing weight and avoiding alcohol can't really be bad for me, I would think.

But, this hasn't been fun.  I have a busy life.  Many of my friends can't believe I do all that I do.  Long commute.  High stress job.  High stress exercise.  No downtime at all.  Skiing all winter, and on the rivers fly fishing all summer.  Although the fishing is relaxing to me, there's no doubt that 8-12 hours of wading on a warm day is a lot of physical work.

I refuse to think this is just an age thing.  Maybe it's age plus my intense lifestyle, which is why I'm trying to back off a bit.  We will see.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Peaks and Valleys

All through my so-called "athletic career", my fitness has oscillated.  As a runner, it was often tied to my weight, which also oscillated a lot.

I remember running my first and only sub-3 marathon in 1995.  I had trained incredibly hard for 6 months to pull it off.  I'd avoided restaurant meals, many glasses of wine, and many social events to make sure I got enough rest, so I could train properly.  After that race was over, I took a break.  It wasn't deliberate, but in the next year or so, I gained a lot of weight and didn't run very much.

At the 1996 Boston Marathon, I lined up in my corral with a fairly low number.  I think it was 1576, out of 35000 runners.  I was fat and out of shape, and I was also fighting a cold that day.  I remember one runner coming past me early, looking at my race number, and sarcastically asking me who I bought the number from.  I told him that I'd earned it with a 2:57 marathon and he laughed at me.  For a moment, I thought about going after the guy, trying to start a fight, and just giving up on the run.  But, the reality was, I looked nothing like a sub-3 marathon runner.

Even on the day I ran sub-3, as I passed a group of 3 runners in the early miles, 1 of the 3 told me I should slow down.  He told me I was going too fast, too early "for such a big guy".  I weighed 168 pounds that day - about as low as my racing weight ever got.  I told him that I'd trained hard to run sub-3 that day and I intended to do it.  He didn't respond, but he didn't need to respond either. I knew what he was thinking.

I eventually finished 19th of 499 finishers that day (Avenue of the Giants Marathon in northern CA), and the runner who'd made the comment found me after the race and asked how I'd done.  After hearing my result, he graciously apologized for his comment.

As I've gotten older, I've found that any setback gets tougher and tougher to overcome.  Since my prostate surgery 16 months ago, I've managed to set a number of new PRs in the gym.  But, my two heaviest lifts - deadlift and back squat - are not back to where they were.  My best deadlift since that surgery is 415 vs. a best of 440.  My best back squat is 365 vs. a best of 375.  But, other than those 2 lifts, I've improved on a lot of other lifts.  I recently improved my front squat from a best of 275 to 305, and I probably could have done 315 that day if I'd had more time.

But, since that PR, in March of this year, things have gone the other direction.  I've found myself feeling more tired at times.  I was sick in March and I had lingering effects from that illness for 4 weeks.  I'm scaling the CrossFit workouts more than ever.  I'm basically just trying to get through the workouts, not lose any more fitness, and just be consistent.

Last night, one of our coaches, a woman my age, asked me how I was doing.  I responded "old, fat and tired".  She laughed and walked away.  And then, she came back to talk some more.  She reminded me that "at our age", we can't expect to always be at a peak.  If we are smart in our training, we will recognize when we feel up to training hard, and we will also recognize when we need to take it easier.  I'm certainly not capable, at age 53, of re-producing any of my racing times from my younger years.  I'm OK with that.  What I most want is to be healthy and active for a long time.  To do that, I've got to be smarter in my training than I was when I was younger.  I also need to remember that the long-term timeline is going to include some peaks and valleys.

This week is a valley.  The next peak is just over there somewhere.