From the Rearview, I've Got Clear View…
by Kevin Purcell, D.C.
Most of us in endurance sport keep a close eye on our fitness. We have benchmarks we expect to see in specific prep, after a taper and after post-race or end of season layoffs. Heart rates change, power numbers fluctuate, pace and percieved exertion look and feel different as well. Over time we are either trying to improve those benchmarks or maintain them, depending on age and depth of experience.
Do you have an idea of personal health markers and how they might change if you stopped living healthfully? And if you are only giving a part time effort toward being the healthiest you can be, do you have any idea how much more you can do?
After a decade of superior health it can be difficult to visualize what it would be like if we lost our health. What happens if we take our foot off the gas pedal; will the momentum we forged over a decade slip? The answer is yes; if we adopt a less healthy lifestyle our body will quickly become less healthy and maybe down right unhealthy.
Recently I was my own crucible and I have the laboratory data to back me up. I had a nasty injury from a stick in the eye. I could not train and wore a patch. The injuries to the cornea were slow to heal and I ended up wearing a clear plastic bandage in the eye to keep the wounds from sticking to the inside of my eyelid. About this time my mother had a series of strokes and I was driving eight hours round trip to her hospital once a week for months on end. On top of this I was dealing with cervical spine issues that created significant discomfort and arm pain. The coup de grace was the start of trigeminal neuralgia in late 2011 and lasted about eight months. If you Google trigeminal neuralgia you will see it is called the “suicide disease” and “it has been described as among the most painful conditions known to mankind.” They are not exaggerating.
So I was in a lot of pain, under stress and not training. I didn’t watch what I put in my mouth. I put on 35 pounds, my blood pressure went from 110 over 65 to 165 over 110. My cholesterol went from 150 to 285. My doc kept telling me to get on blood pressure meds and statins. I kept telling him, “I can do this myself,” but nothing changed. He insisted, so I filled the scripts but didn’t take them.
At the end of June my neck was feeling better and the trigeminal neuralgia stopped. Phew! I asked my physician to order a stress echocardiogram to check my heart health and screen for coronary artery disease after speaking with Dr. Larry Creswell. I went to the test a little nervous about what I might find. I was wired, put on the treadmill and asked to walk on an increasing incline. The goal was to get heart rate up near max, jump off and do an ultrasound. The heart is monitored electronically and the heart valves, ejection rates, etc. were viewed under duress. During the test I couldn’t get my heart rate up over 157 due to fitness constraints. Not that long before I had hit a HR of 186 on the bike! Ooph! The test results were fine: no diseased arteries and a healthy heart. I was low on fitness and a bit worn out.
I left the hospital alarmed. How the heck did I regress so far so fast? That very day I vowed to change everything -- from what went into my mouth, to my attitude, interests, sleep patterns (early to bed early to rise) and exercise. I started with daily 20-30 minute rides on the flats; daily trips to the gym to lift weights and some short run/walks. Four months later I was able to do an easy to steady 20 hour week of cycling in Kona. I did a bike focus camp during a coaching trip to IM Florida and a cycling camp during the week at IM Arizona.
I have been 100% focused on my health and fitness for six months. I lost the 35 pounds, my BP is back to 110 over 65 and cholesterol is back down to where it was, all through nutrition and exercise. There isn’t anything in my life that hasn’t improved, including the health of my daughters and wife. I didn’t say a word to them six months ago about their lifestyles; I just announced how mine would change. They watched and said “I can do that too.” And they have.
Nothing is guaranteed -- least of all our health -- but we do have significant input that helps determine longevity and quality of life, let alone performance. When things don’t go your way, correct what you can by focusing on what is within your control. Do it for yourself, for your family and those you touch through your circle of influence. And when you stop racing, as I have, resist the temptation to loosen your grip on health.
Kevin Purcell, D.C., works with long course triathletes; from elite to those new to endurance sport. Coach KP has guided dozens of athletes to qualification to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, including over 15 IM age group championships. Dr. Purcell is certified in Active Release Technique (ART) and has completed a medical rotation at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. Coach KP retired from competition in 2006.