Adrenal Fatigue in Athletes: When the plug gets pulled

This might be the hardest blog post to write, yet somehow the most important for my own self-development and for others to understand how my triathlon season unfolded. Instead of exciting and motivating details of how I endured and persevered some crazy endurance event this post is about the mistakes I have made and how I plan to use this experience to further me as an athlete, a coach and a person.

I started my 2014 triathlon season after a few weeks of R & R from Florida Ironman last year. I was eager and excited to extrapolate on the base I had set from finishing my first Ironman. I irrationally signed up for Ironman Boulder in August tickled by returning to my old stomping ground and swimming, biking and running in the high altitude mountain air.

I knew I had to be selective about my races focusing on quality training sessions. I chose Eagleman 70.3 as a “B” race in June to test my progress (A+ here, 1 hour improvement from my previous half ironman time) Along the way I also took a small jaunt to Kenya for another high altitude marathon and training camp which was an integral part in my 12 minute marathon PR in Boston in April. I did a couple of local triathlons as well to practice on transitions and the art of racing. All good decisions and nothing I regret. Around about April, Ironman Maryland was announced and I (again irrationally, anyone seeing a theme here?)  registered thinking how perfect it would be allowing me to have a strong performance at sea level, closer to home….I would just extend my season by 7 weeks, no sweat….

Boulder was by no means my dream Ironman performance, but on a significantly harder course at altitude was a definite improvement on Florida last year. The week after the race my body felt physically ok, but my heart rate was uncontrollable, pounding as I demonstrated light exercises at the gym. About 10 days after the race, I had the most delayed case of DOM’s (delayed onset of muscle soreness). I was well and truly pooped.

For someone with boundless energy (my Mum has often told me she is grateful for Ironman for being the solitary thing she has found that can somewhat exhaust me!) it is humbling yet worrying to struggle to get out of bed and have to fall asleep at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. This experience will allow me to relate to people who I know struggle with this problem chronically and help them to see that this just doesn’t have to be the way! I tore myself up going back and forth about how I should proceed, plugged the plug on training and took another week off to try and regain my energy. I had some blood work done as well which came back with nothing alarming (considering the extreme endurance training I do..)

The next topic brings me to discuss something that I think is a huge problem in our society and something as I get older I know I have to learn to combat: stress. I’ve always been big on telling people, our bodies don’t know how to differentiate good and bad stress. So the good stress from an exhilarating 6-hour bike ride or the adrenaline rush from a job promotion is not different to the negative stress of working overtime or family stress. Too much is stress is too much stress, simply put.

I have always been an all or nothing person, 100% or 0% to a fault. If I commit it has to be my best effort, or I would rather not do it at all. When I first started personal training I would do up to 12 sessions a day, and I quickly saw that workouts were compromised, I promised myself from then on that quality trumped quantity, I would rather do less sessions but give 100% to every client I see. Same goes with coaching. A lot of people deliver “training programs” with weekly workouts. My coaching programs are health and wellness programs, I want to make sure my clients are well educated on recovery, nutrition, and other aspects of life that ultimately effect training. My plate was too full in July but unfortunately the changes I made to mitigate the chronic stress was too late and I went into Boulder extremely consumed and preoccupied. However, mistake number 1, I learnt from this and the week before Maryland took some time off to prepare and managed to have 2 full days before the race to clear my mind and be mentally clear going into the race, something I will definitely take into next year.

So, what happened? After the ups and downs of the 7 weeks, emotional roller-coaster Milly decided that I needed to finished what I started on the off chance that my body was “saving itself” for the race. This is the first athletic endeavor I have failed to complete, but I have come close so I am no stranger to controversy. Last year I had a car accident and suffered a pectoral strain 2 days before NYC ½ marathon, I left for Peru to do the Machu Picchu marathon with a stress reaction, and had a bike crash 10 days before my first Boston Qualifying marathon….yet somehow robotic Milly always pulled through…

I could not have endured the roller coaster without the guidance and support of Josh Lander, my Mum and sister. They are literally my rocks and I couldn’t do it with them. Josh was amazing and he gave me the encouragement I needed to make the right decision. My Mum was great, never saying she thought I couldn’t do it, but never saying I had it in the bag. Despite Emma’s crazy schedule she kept checking in on me, and having their support helped me to make the right moves. So on Wednesday afternoon (after a few delays with some minor hiccups) my Mum and I left for Maryland.

We got down to our Air b n b spot in about 5 hours; this was an experience in itself. We pulled up in the pitch-black darkness to find a derelict house. We found our rental with the door and windows open and stumbled around trying to find lights in the musky smelling antique filled room. Nothing. When we finally regrettably found a light and spotted a mousetrap we were out of there at the speed of light. We proceeded to “find a room at the inn” and went to a few local B and B’s pleading our case. Eventually I convinced the Holiday Inn Express to give us a room that was out of order being serviced! The stay was unreal, Jackie the breakfast host was so sweet and the manager David was incredible. On Sunday morning he called to find out how I did in the race and then proceeded to come to our door with wine and chocolate for my condolences!! Highly recommend this spot for any other Ironman athletes!

Thursday and Friday were pretty relaxed; the logistics were a breeze compared to the nightmare of Boulder. Having done Eagleman in the same spot we were familiar with the area. We picked up my packet, I organized my bags and we went to get some amazing afternoon tea in St. Michael’s, really lovely spot. I love having a kitchen pre-Ironman but because of Air b n b flop I had to make do with the microwave. I was well known in college for making gourmet meals in the microwave so I had some tricks up my sleeve and survived well.

Emma arrived on Friday night and we decided she would sleep in as she was a bit “burnt out on Iron spectating from Boulder.” I told her she needs some Ironman offseason too and will be fighting fit next year. Saturday morning the alarm was set for 4:30 but my Mum and I were up beforehand and I ate breakfast before getting situated. This was the first time in my life I have ever been nervous for an event. I am normally anxious of how it will play out or excited and bursting at the seams with stored energy from tapering! This morning it was pure and simple; I was scared out of mind for the outcome of the day.

We got to transition in great time and I calibrated my power meter, pumped my tires dropped off my special needs bag. I was clingy to my Mum like a baby monkey! I waited until the last minute to get warm-ed up, accidently inappropriately took a warmup jog right as the national anthem went off and blasted my hit song of them moment “All the way.” I reminded myself the advice Josh gave me, “Remember the end goal, and do what makes sense for that.” The end goal is to get to Kona and to try and make it as a professional triathlete at some level and if today was to jeopardize that, I would pull the plug.

I did my warmup routine and a couple of people stared as my Mum looked over and said, “Yes, she’s a runner.” HA. She is really getting into the triathlon scene now! I normally like to have some transition between being Milly with my family and turning into robot racing machine. When I am racing I rarely think about anything else other than the task at hand and hours seem like seconds. Yet, today I couldn’t let go of my Mum and I went back to hug her in the swim line what seemed like countless times. Pathetic I know…

I dove in the water for the most physical swim I have done to date, I was pleased when I saw my pace at 1:55/100m but my lack of focus caused me to over swim at 2.75 miles. I moved like a slug through transition knowing I didn’t want to burn any matches at this point and at least see what I could pull off on the wheels. I got on the bike and it felt good to be riding, I told myself to take the first loop easy (good practice for any Ironman btw) and see what I had. I was holding a pretty good pace considering I knew I was holding back and proceeded with my nutrition practice of hourly Skratch bottles and bonk breakers. I was closely monitoring my heart rate and knew that it was higher than it should be for the wattage I was putting out. I felt like I could have gone all day but there was no life in my legs and when I took a surge to overtake a woman and avoid a penalty I knew there was no go in me today. Around mile 40 I began to visualize the rest of the day and could only see the death march that the marathon would be. At this point, with my heart rate as high as it was and a pounding headache (something I had been suffering with since Boulder) I veered off at mile 60 at special needs. I should add here that with all the up’s and down’s of persevering through endurance events, I was fully aware that these negative cognitions were out of the norm for me.

I headed to the medical tent where I called Emma and my Mum who were with me shortly. They were one of the reasons I stopped; I knew exactly what my Mum would say. “I am so proud of you. Making that decision was harder for you than completing the race.” She gave me a big hug, I had a few crocodile tears and Emma made some jokes to make me laugh. My face was really swollen and puffy and my jaw was achy and I knew that I made the right call, today I came to win not to complete and my body wasn’t on board with the plan.

The night before the race I was reading a great book by Mark Allen called “The Art of Motivation.” It is some gorgeous photography with motivational quotes and one said, “Millions of reasons will beg you to quit. Wait and listen for the one good one that requires you to continue.”

I thought about this during and after the race. I could do Olympic triathlons or just marathons and be successful, so WHY Ironman? What is it about this race that has me hooked? I truly believe that I was made for this distance, for this challenge. Yes, I love to run and it is natural for me. But I also LOVE to swim and bike and my inherent endurance combined with my eagerness to suffer on shorter intervals is a good combination for this distance. Ironman is my challenge, and I will not give up. It might be crazy that my challenge is a 140.6-mile endurance event but it is my passion and I will continue to give 100% as I do in everything in my life.

We salvaged what was left of the day by going to St. Michael’s and found an amazing local winery and brewery. We had dinner by the river and enjoyed some local famous crab, yum. I am so lucky and fortunate to have their support, we debriefed the day and my future in this sport and in life and I felt better and confident they are behind me. We also had a good laugh and after the pressure of the will I wont I for the past 7 weeks I finally felt well and truly relaxed.

So, the old age question, what’s next? Despite what happened my mental motivation is high. I have been plotting my map for next year for the past couple of months and I have a few options that I am still mulling over. One of my motherly clients reminded me to allow myself to grieve; although others might see this as trivial it is a big deal to me. It is not just a race or just a hobby to me; it is my passion, my focus and my challenge. So yes, am I sad? Of course. I love this sport and I love what it has taught me and allowed me to look at my life from a different perspective. You can live you life in the middle of the road and be content but to quote Hunter Hayes “I don’t want easy, I want crazy.” And to revel in the high of post-Eagleman glory I had this year I have to be mature enough to embrace that the low of this race will lead to a higher high next year. Stay tuned. 

18 views0 comments