An Athlete with Hypothyroidism

The diagnosis: there’s something terribly wrong with me. But we all suspected that a long time ago. HAHA GOOD JOKE KENNETT.

I just found out that I have hypothyroidism. It explains a lot. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious. It can’t be spread by a cough or anal. It’s genetic, just like herpes. Read along to find out what it is, why you should send me a get well soon care package filled with chocolate and smoked herring, and how the rest of my life will be ruined now that I have a disability other than being a white, upper-middle-class male of above average height.


Choke her out!
“How to remain incredibly calm while being choked out”

As the first image shows, your thyroid is a gland in your throat that has one purpose: to secrete thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones (the main ones being T3 and T4) control your basal metabolic rate, bone growth (in children), protein synthesis, metabolism of fat, carbohydrates, and protein, and how your body uses and reacts to other hormones. Basically, it does a lot of important shit. Mine, however, has fallen asleep on the job. Permanently.

Science talk

The hypothalamus, located up in your head, is the first in the chain of command when it comes to your endocrine system (hormones and stuff). When hormones need making, your hypothalamus gets called up and, like any good manager, delegates the work to other body parts–first the pituitary gland. Don’t bag on the hypothalamus too much. It’s got other, more important stuff to do anyways.

So, the hypothalamus releases TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone), which lets the pituitary know that it should start making TSH (thyroid-releasing hormone). TSH tells the thyroid gland to start pumping out thyroid hormone, which as I described above, tells the rest of your body how to use energy. There’s a lot of middle management in the endocrine system, which is why I believe there are so many problems with it.

Wikipedia, you so smart. Thanks for making me smart to.

Anywho, my thyroid no longer works. It might be that it’s been out of order for a long, long time. According to my doctor, my thyroid is essentially useless and has “shut down.” I discovered this when, a few weeks ago, I went in to get a prescription for sleeping meds. I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately, especially the past three or four months. My insomnia goes back at least a year but had been getting unbearable more recently.

The doctor decided to test my thyroid, with the initial inkling that it might be producing too much thyroid hormone, called hyperthyroidism with an E, which can lead to difficulty sleeping and an overly active metabolism. I ended up having hypothyroidism with an Ohhh–the opposite problem, but can also impair sleep.

To test your thyroid function, they suck out some blood and count how much T3, T4, and TSH is in it. TSH, as you may recall, acts as a signal for your thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. So the higher your TSH, the more thyroid hormones your body craves. The lower your TSH, the less thyroid it craves. The normal TSH range for a healthy person is 0.5 to 5 microunits per milliliter. With a TSH of 5 to 10, you’re considered to have subclinical hypothyroidism, which means you probably don’t need to be medicated unless you’re experiencing a lot of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, which I’ll get into in just a second. If your TSH is over 10, you have overt hypothyroidism, meaning you should definitely consider getting treatment since your thyroid is currently on a downward spiral to hell. If left untreated over the years, subclinical hypothyroidism may eventually become overt, and once it’s overt it’s likely that it will eventually shut down altogether. I think. Remember, I’m not a doctor so you should definitely take everything I say as fact.

My TSH was “greater than” 150. One hundred and fifty. What the fuck. Apparently that particular lab’s test only goes to 150, meaning I was off the charts. My doctor tested me again just to be sure, and the second test came back the same.

Hypothyroidism is almost always due to Hashimoto’s disease, which is a genetic disorder. As an autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s confuses your body into attacking the thyroid gland until it’s dead. You can also have hypothyroidism if you’ve had thyroid surgery, thyroid cancer, not enough iodine in your diet, an inability to absorb iodine, or a few other equally rare scenarios. In my case, it’s almost certainly Hashimoto’s.


There are a lot of them. The blue ones are ones that I’ve noticed.

Muscle weakness
Inability to focus
Carpel Tunnel Syndrom
Decreased libido
Hearing loss
Dry skin
Hair loss/dry hair
Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep
Night sweats or hot flashes during sleep 
Slow heart rate (mine is 28)
Weight gain
Trouble losing weight
Intolerance to the cold
Memory loss
Abnormal menstrual cycles (hypothyroidism is much more likely to strike women than men by the way)
Muscle cramps and aches
And even more. Basically it fucks you right up.

As you read through this list, you can see how I never thought anything was wrong with me, since these are all basically symptoms of training hard.

How did this happen? 

You can’t get Hashimoto’s without a genetic predisposition, which only a small percentage of the population has to worry about. 3.5% of the population has Hashimoto’s (and 5% total with hypothyroidism), with women being 8-10 times more likely to develop it than men. It’s also very rare in young people, with post-menopausal women being the main victims. So why do I have it?

There is a hypothesis that if you’re genetically predisposed to Hashimoto’s (my mom has it too) that hard endurance training or stress may bring it on earlier in life. So I got it when I was in my 20s instead of my 50s due to hard training, maybe. This has not been proven. Another way you can give yourself hypothyroidism is by taking a lot of testosterone or HGH.

Which brings me to the next chapter…


There is a growing number of elite runners that apparently have hypothyroidism. Galen Rupp is on that list, along with a bunch of other Nike runners. You may have come across this Wall Street Journal article that describes the unconventional approach that a certain doctor by the name of Jeff Brown uses when it comes to diagnosing elite athletes with hypothyroidism. Read: “doping doctor.”

At the time of the above article’s publication, Alberto Salazar had coached 30 elite Nike athletes, and 17% of those had been diagnosed with hypothyroidism by Dr. Brown. As you may recall, only 5% of the population actually has hypothyroidism, and most of those people are older women, not young males. My theory is that Brown is replacing thyroid that was originally lost due to testosterone and HGH doping (T and HGH both stunt the thyroid’s output). That, or there may be a small advantage for a healthy, non-hypothyroid person to microdose with synthetic thyroid. This is debatable, as google will tell you. In his rational, Dr. Brown believes that a TSH of 2.0 or higher requires medication. He is virtually alone in the medical world when it comes to this standard. Remember, 0.5 to 5 is considered healthy. My TSH is +150 and I’m still kicking, so I find it very hard to believe that someone with a value of 2.0 needs meds.

Note: synthetic thyroid isn’t even on WADA’s banned substance list since it hasn’t actually been shown to be a performance enhancer. That’s the part that leads me to question if Brown is covering up as well as fixing some of the health problems caused by HGH and testosterone doping.

So how do I deal with it?

Thank you baby jesus for the pharmaceutical industry and America, the land where taking a pill solves all your problems. As long as you have money for insurance. And your problems consist of restless leg syndrome and ED.

I have to take a pill every morning for the rest of my life called levothyroxine, which is synthetic thyroid. It’s the thyroid hormone T4, which the body converts to T3. It takes a few weeks to start kicking in, then a few months to dial in the correct dose. I’ll have to have my TSH values monitored two to three times a year for the rest of my life as well, to ensure I’m continuing to get the right dose. Taking too little levothyroxine will leave me fatigued and depressed. Too much and apparently it’ll be like I’m on crack, without any of the good feelings.

Training as an elite athlete who has hypothyroidism, even while medicated, is supposedly much more difficult than a healthy person’s training. I found some great info about hypothyroidism and endurance athletes from the smart words of world-renown running coach Steve Magness. Check out his website for the goods. His book The Science of Running is incredibly good too. Even if you’re just a cyclist you should still read it.

Anyways, as a runner who has had hypothyroidism since he was 14, Magness, claims that training is made extra difficult by this disease. One day you’re up, the next you’re down. There’s little consistency and it sometimes takes a lot longer to recover from hard workouts than it would for a normal athlete. Looking back, I’ve noticed this.

Since the hypothyroid sufferer’s body doesn’t get a natural, steady flow of thyroid hormones when it needs it, recovery becomes significantly impaired. I’ll take a pill every morning, but I won’t get that steady drip like a regular person, telling the body how to respond minute by minute throughout the day as it encounters stress and physical exertion.

But I’m optimistic. I think that this diagnosis means that I’ll be able to get back to where I was in 2013, and maybe even better. I’ve most likely had this going on for years now, since it’s a disease that develops over a long period of time. If I had to put a date on it, looking back I’d say that I really started noticing that something was a bit off in 2007. I had trained really hard that winter and could never kick the fatigue that came with it. I ended up taking most of the year off to recover, summing it up as just some severe overtraining. While I don’t doubt that I was severely overtrained, I think a part of the reason I wasn’t able to recover was due to my messed up thyroid.

While I continued getting stronger over the years, I’ve always struggled with going too hard and not being able to recover. One week I’d be great in training, then the following week I’d be dead by day two, even on the off chance when I decided to take adequate rest. I’d be shit for two months for some reason and then magically be fast again. This is a natural occurrence for any athlete, especially in a sport like cycling where the season is so long and the training and racing are so stressful. Again, that adds to the difficulty of self-diagnosis.

Things really didn’t start going downhill until 2014, which is when I believe my thyroid might have shit the bed altogether. After a really good season in 2013, I signed for a crappy little pro Swedish team that went belly up part way into 2014. I came home to the States half a year early and really depressed since my dream had been shattered, and I could never get my legs going again that year. I’m wiling to bet that a large part of that lingering depression and lack of fitness was due to my good for nothing thyroid, not just the team folding.

Then in the fall of 2014 my wife Adelaide was out training for an upcoming triathlon and was hit and almost killed by a reckless driver. She was put in a coma for five days and her face was literally torn off. The recovery process took months and months and is still ongoing. My training was essentially non existent that fall and winter, which resulted in even more depression on top of the huge emotional black whole caused by the crash. My complete lack of fitness when the cycling season began in March made me even more depressed. To make things worse, later in the season when I should have finally been able to train hard and consistently, I found that I didn’t have the mental, physical, or emotional energy to do so. I simply couldn’t go for more than a few weeks without cracking. That’s why I switched to an easy sport. Triathlon.

As you can see, from 2014 on it would have been very hard for me to distinguish between the depression/fatigue from all those external issues, and the depression/fatigue caused by something chemically imbalanced within me. Now it seems obvious, but even a few weeks ago, before I knew what the thyroid gland even was, I chalked all those symptoms (depression, fatigue, poor sleep, etc.) to just training or Adelaide getting hit. As I’ve said before, I’m sure there is quite a bit of cross over. But damn does it feel good to learn that there really is something wrong with me and it’s not just all in my head. It’s in my throat.

So to all the cyclist, triathletes, runners, and other sports enthusiasts, remember that sometimes things can actually go wrong in your body and what you’re experiencing might not be the normal side effects of hard training. We think that as athletes we’re more in tune with our bodies, but at the same time we’re deaf and blind to anything that we don’t perceive as training related. That feeling of constant fatigue might not just be from the big hours you put in the past month, and that enlarged testicle might not be caused by your worn out chamois.

Last Hurrah

We obliterated the Steamboat Springs stage race the weekend before last. It was such a dominating performance that I almost felt bad being on the giving end (though in reality the team could have given just as much without me there).

The bike racing season is over and since it was my last race with the team, this will be the last time I’m singing the praises of GS CIAO. If I race bikes at all next year, I’m sure I’ll be cursing and moaning about them like everyone else. So, I thought I’d enlighten my future self and the rest of you about what it’s like to be on a team like this–one that (at local events) is pretty much unstoppable and makes a mockery of nearly everyone else’s race.

#1 None of us take pity on you. We’re a bunch of greedy dick heads who look down on the rest of the field.

#2 It makes us feel good of ourselves when we get to sit on and not work in breakaways, since we have four equally strong teammates back in the field. Spitting on us and yelling for us to pull through when that particular breakaway doesn’t work to our advantage only strengthens the urge to mess with your brake calipers. It doesn’t make us want to pull through. Besides, working in the break is for posers. Trying is for posers.

#3 Winning feels good even if it isn’t you who crosses the line first.

Just so I don’t piss anyone off too much, a bit of that was sarcasm. (It feels best when you cross the line first yourself).

Okay onto the race.

Stage one was a 22km time trial. I sucked, majorly. I started out at an overly optimistic pace, which I held for about four minutes. After that I watched helplessly as my average power dipped down, down, down to China town. The one exciting bit of my TT occurred mid way into the race as I approached a railroad crossing. I heard the warning ding-ding-dings of a train crossing and looked up to see red lights flashing and the barriers starting to lower. I looked left and right and didn’t see a train yet, though there was a a bit of curve to the tracks as well as a high berm that blocked the view. Plus I was going 30mph, was somewhat cross-eyed, and had a sweat-streaked TT visor blurring my vision. I had a split second to make a decision. Should I risk my life for 25th place and duck below the lowering barriers, or do I slam on the brakes and get 75th place and live to see another day?

I swerved around the barriers as they lowered into place and made it across alive, immediately thinking OH FUCKING SHIT THAT WAS STUPID! But really, I think it’s a bigger risk than that just riding to and from Sprouts during rush hour traffic. I finished 25th, only two and a half minutes down on Adrian Costa (Cal Giant). Definitely worth it.

Going into the 80-mile road race the following day, we had Burleigh sitting 2nd on GC just six seconds behind Costa, George at 5th, Josh at 10th, and Chris in 13th–all within striking distance of 1st. Mitch and I would be the domestiques for the day and do what we could to further the other guys’ chances, either pulling our brains out in a breakaway if it was the right mix, or pulling on the front of the peloton if we needed things back together and re-shuffled.

I got the race going with the first attack of the day. Off to a good start. I could have pulled out of the race then and there and been happy with my performance. Instead, I continued trying hard, which I knew was lame but I did it anyways. I went again about half a dozen times but really, deep down I knew that my chances were very slim. I wasn’t even close to being strong enough to be a threat to Costa or Andrew Clemence (Colorado Collective), and I’d need a big size group (with Josh, Chris, and/or George in tow) to be able to work with if I was going to last even half the race off the front.

That scenario didn’t happen. Instead, race leader Costa attacked with Burleigh and Drew Christopher (Champion Systems) on the first “major” (4-minute) climb about 12 miles into the race. I was already blown up from attacking earlier and was sitting 5th to last wheel when this went down. Not an ideal spot to be, though since the climb curved to the left it did offer a good view of things.

The field shattered and I saw the life of my personal race flash before my eyes, but found a burst of anaerobic anger to propel me onto the tail end of the last large group just as they crested the climb. A twisting descent ensued, followed by a few hard minutes of chasing on the flat before we caught onto the field. Burleigh, Costa, and Drew were long gone.

Photo: Bob Simpson

Our plan had been to make Costa work, with the hope that we could put Chris, Josh, and/or George up the road with Mitch or I. This would put pressure on him and hopefully wear him out a bit while keeping Burleigh as fresh as possible to attack in the last 20 miles of the race. In bike racing, things rarely go as planned.

Colorado Collective sent all their guys to the front to pull the trio back for Clemence, who was 3rd on GC. Their efforts, though gallant, weren’t even close to enough. Costa was strong as fuck. Burleigh was just sitting on Drew and Costa the entire time since there was no reason for us to want that break to succeed. Despite that, the gap kept going up, eventually peaking at three minutes. Again, Burleigh was just sitting on so it was only Drew and, predominantly, Costa who were doing the damage.

I spent my time back in the field sitting behind/to the side of the Collective, helping to keep the rest of my team out of the crosswind and yelling about how tired I was. I was pretty certain that I’d be dropped on the main climb of the race at mile 50 and I knew that in order to be of help at all, I needed to do my part sooner rather than later. They probably didn’t need me sitting up there but it gave me something to do. Even 90 minutes into the race, I was hurting.

Up the road, Drew got dropped as they started the climb and it was just down to Costa and Burleigh. Costa attacked again and again, but Burleigh stayed glued to his wheel. No amount of angry snot rockets blown directly in his face could pry him loose. PS: ummm, fuck you for being a douche bag Adrian?

Back to my story: I got dropped on the climb and rode in for 30th or something with Mitch and a few other guys. I took pride in showing everyone else how strong I was and doing more than my fair share in the gruppetto. I attacked a few times to shed some dead weight. Everyone was super impressed when I rode off with one other guy and went as hard as I could to the line. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m talking about someone else.

And now back to the heat of the action: Burleigh attacked repeatedly in the final 15 miles, won, and put a few seconds into Costa, who finished 2nd. Josh attacked 20 miles from the finish to go solo, was joined by Chris six or seven miles later, and the two of them came in 3rd and 4th. To cap it all off, George took the field sprint for 5th. The field at that point was down to about 9 guys.

We celebrated that evening with burritos made by Faith, then sauntered on over to the Moots factory so Burleigh could win a $3000 Moots frame at the BBQ/podium presentation/Moots frame raffle. Everyone booed when he won, including me.

I won’t go into all the details of what we needed to have happen in the crit in order for all of our plans to work out, but here are 99% of them. Nick lead us in a six-hour long pre-race meeting the night before the crit and this is what we’d come up with:

1) We needed Burleigh to win the overall
2) There was an intermediate time bonus (three-deep) that we didn’t want Costa to get since he was just three seconds behind Burleigh
3) There were time bonuses at the finish (10, 6, and 4 seconds), and unless Burleigh got an intermediate time bonus, we couldn’t let Adrian finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd unless Burleigh beat him.
4) We wanted the stage win also because we’re greedy
5) We wanted to keep Josh in 3rd, Chris in 4th, and move George up to 5th GC

In order to do all this, we had to have a break up the road for the intermediate sprint, as long as Costa wasn’t in it. We’d leave it be for the whole race if that was the case. Or if no break had managed to get away before the sprint, we’d have to do a big, mid-race lead out and make sure George and Josh went 1-2 and hopefully someone other than Costa was 3rd. After the intermediate sprint we could just leave whatever breakaway there was off the front if that was the case, or if things were still together we could just sit on the front and make sure it didn’t get too far out of control since I think we still wanted George to win the stage. Or something like that. I’m forgetting exactly what we wanted and even at the time it was a bit confusing since we’d discussed so many different options given the race scenario.

The next day:

During our warm up, George asked me when the last time I’d done any intensity was after I’d told him how hard the first 20 minutes of the road race had been for me. “Uhh, that would have been Winston-Salem,” I replied. George laughed and did a one-legged sprint at 1700 watts. Apparently he didn’t think the fitness I’d gained from a one-day race in May would hold me over till September. Well I’ll show HIM, I thought.

By lap two I was at the very back of the race, breathing like an out of shape, asthmatic bike racer who hadn’t done any intensity for over two months and was racing at an altitude of 7,000 feet at the Steamboat Springs stage race criterium, in the year of 2015. I like accurate metaphors.

I’d pull my brains out for half a lap, get shelled to the back for a lap, work my way through the field for two more laps, pull for half a lap. Repeat.

Amazingly, all of what we wanted to have happen, happened. Just barely. My teammates are all very strong. And smart. Costa, who was also incredibly strong for the third day in a row, almost spoiled our fun. If he’d been one place higher in the crit (3rd instead of 4th) he would have taken a time bonus and moved in front of Burleigh on GC. But that didn’t happen. In some other universe it did, but not in this one. Our secret weapon, The Monster From Fort Collins, won, Josh took second, and Burleigh held onto the lead by the three second margin he started the day with. The Monster also moved into 5th GC. Icing on the pancake. It couldn’t have possibly gone any better.

Photo: Bob Simpson

As an elite amateur team, we get our asses kicked in the NRC.  We know how if feels to be dominated by teams like UHC. It feels pretty shitty. Those guys are the worst. They act like they’re god’s gift and move about in the peloton like none of us even exist. But the same thing happens to them over in Europe, so that makes me feel a little better. There’s always someone bigger and better than you. So on the days when there isn’t, it’s pretty damn nice to win, even if it’s only a local race. You have to soak those moments up. GS CIAO, it’s been a pleasure. I’ll miss the amazing team work we did this year. And Faith’s cooking. Especially Faith’s cooking.

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An inevitability

To be reposted at a much later date. Hopefully.

I died doing what I loved, which is supposed to be a consolation.
I died doing what I loved, which makes it all the more tragic.
Why couldn’t my last breath come during a calculus exam or while standing in an unmoving line at the grocery store?
Why couldn’t I die in the office, staring blankly at the computer screen on a Monday morning, reminiscing of a long summer weekend?
Instead, I was killed on a Saturday. Riding my bike in the sun. With a smile on my face.
I still had miles to go.

You killed me for three seconds. For 10. For 30.
Because you were going to be late, because you didn’t care to look, because I was, in fact, invisible.
To you, my life meant less than an unanswered text.
I wish I could be angry but I can’t. I no longer exist. My flesh and bones will soon burn into ash and come to rest in a vase at my memorial service.

Out of the malice, impatience, and to feel big, you ran me down to prove a point: that two tons is greater than a human being.

I am lighter than a glass of wine, more fragile than eyeliner, quieter than a vibrating cell phone.
You couldn’t afford to make a wrong turn and I wouldn’t want my life to steer you down the wrong path, so go ahead and look up the directions. You were born with two eyes for a reason. One on the phone and one on the road. The road was straight though. So two eyes on the phone, for just a moment.

I was in the way. Out of place, where four wheels are welcome, not two.
I’m now an ugly red smear on your bumper and an expensive, spider-webbed windshield. Drive away quickly before they see what you did. Let me grow cold on the shoulder of your road, to die alone with blood quickly pumping out and air ever more slowly gasping in. I will soon be a bloating, stinking carcass, awaiting flies. Nothing more. Just a cyclist.

Exercise Addiction

I prefer to call it Exercise Dependency. It’s a bizarre condition, if it can even be called a condition, and it’s something that not a lot of people are able to relate to. The avid elliptical user might feel a bit off if they miss a week in the gym, but I doubt that it would send them into a downward spiral of depression. For elite athletes Exercise Addiction is something that a lot of us most likely have to deal with at some point, though I’ve never heard anyone talk about it.

I stole the following from Wikipedia.

Five indicators of exercise addiction are:

  1. An increase in exercise that may be labeled as detrimental, or becomes harmful.
  2. A dependence on exercise in daily life to achieve a sense of euphoria; exercise may be increased as tolerance of the euphoric state increases.
  3. Not participating in physical activity will cause dysfunction in one’s daily life.
  4. Withdrawal symptoms following exercise deprivation including anxiety, restlessness, depression, guilt, tension, discomfort, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and headaches.
  5. High dependence on exercise causing individuals to exercise through trauma and medical conditions.

Key differences between healthy and addictive levels of exercise include the presence of withdrawal symptoms when exercise is stopped as well as the addictive properties exercise may have leading to a dependence on exercise.

I meet criteria #2, #3, and #4 and have dealt with #1 and #5 in the past. The issue I’m going to talk about has nothing to do with confronting the addiction or seeking help to wean myself of the euphoric state that exercise gives me. I’m fine with being addicted. It’s a healthy(ish) addiction. The problem I’m going to talk about and the issue I’ve had this year is not getting enough exercise, which leads to serious withdrawal symptoms.

The more attention I pay to my moods, the more I’m aware that they correlate directly with my weekly training volume. If I miss a day or two of training due to the aftershocks from Adelaide’s crash, I’ll become even more upset, lose desire to train later in the week, feel even worse over the next couple days, and become completely unmotivated and depressed by the weekend. It’s like a junkie not getting heroin, except instead of eventually getting over the addiction, I just feel worse and worse as time passes.

I wouldn’t call the depression that I experience life threatening by any means (as in suicidal), but I definitely get so low that I can’t see a way out of the hole, and life does seem meaningless. A lot of the time it feels like no matter what I do, no matter what happens in life, I’ll never be happy again—even if someone stopped by my house to give me 100 million dollars and the ability to piss refreshing, ice cold Surge.

The only thing that relieves that feeling of hopelessness is training. If I’ve been in a real bad place, a few days of riding won’t even cut it. I’ll need a week to get back to feeling decent. Two weeks to feel happy. And with the passing of years, I’ve needed more and more exercise to feel whole. Sixteen hours a week of hard riding seems to be the absolute minimum. 20 is better. 120/month, I’ve found out, is too much and falls into the category of “excessive or detrimental to health.”

Looking back on my life, it’s apparent that I’ve had this dependency to exercise ever since I was a kid. On the rare occasion that I had a week off of whatever sport I was doing at the time, I remember my dad telling me that I was acting upset and that I should just go for a run. Sometimes I’d continue to mope about, but usually I’d take him up on it and feel better almost immediately. Before I reached the double digits in age, my dad and I would go on 10 mile runs up Parret Mountain behind our house. And it wasn’t like I was even training to be a runner or anything at that point either. Just a 10 mile run with 1,100 feet of elevation gain for the hell of it. I’m pretty sure I was an abnormal child.

Along with the normal sports kids do like soccer, track, and white water kayaking, I also did a lot of martial arts. In middle school I’d rollerblade to the bus stop, take the bus to the dojo, and do four hours of training starting with the kids’ karate class, then jiu-jitsu, then Muay Thai kick boxing, and finally the mixed martial arts training session at the end which ended at 9PM. The last couple classes were almost solely attended by adults and I got my ass kicked for years before I was big enough to start inflicting damage of my own. At home I’d hit myself with a metal pipe to condition my legs, arms, and torso. I eventually fucked my thumbs up so badly from punching that I couldn’t open a car door for half a year. They’re actually still tender to this day.

While that last passage shows the obvious downside to exercise addiction (over doing it), the other side of the coin (under-training) leads to a much darker place, for myself that is. So contrary to what every sports science book, training article, and coach will say, when it comes to working out I’m fine with erring slightly on the side of too much. Results can come second to my mental health.

Aside from not getting enough exercise, there’s another factor that has contributed to my depression this year. It’s underperforming in races and having poor fitness. I don’t feel like myself when I’m not strong on the bike. It’s as if I’m missing part of myself.

Despite that feeling of inadequacy, the lack of success in races is still a lesser issue than the lack of training itself. Feeling strong and winning races is a huge mental boost, but simply stroking my ego isn’t enough. I’ve had plenty of bad years on the bike before and never felt as down as I have lately. That’s because back during those years I was training a lot and had a sense of accomplishment just from that.

As further proof, to myself, that training is the key factor when it comes to feeling good, this year I’ve had a lot of immediate success and recognition in triathlon that hasn’t made me happy for more than a couple days after the race–essentially just enough time for the endorphin tank to run empty.

Exercise Addiction seems like a ridiculous ‘disorder’ to have. It’s well beyond a first world problem, and quite possibly dips down far enough to be a -1st or -2nd world problem. But chemically speaking, if my brain needs X amount of endorphins and it only gets half that, I’m not going to be happy. Simple as that.

I’m lucky that I’ve always had athletic outlets and grew up in a family that’s been so supportive of them. Without sports, I’m sure I would have been prescribed antidepressants a long time ago. Fully realizing the issue and being able to address it will hopefully lead to less time being depressed. It takes a lot of energy to start training hard again once you’ve been off the bike for a while, but training is the only thing that’s going to fix the problem. The last three weeks of hard riding, running, and swimming here in Boulder have completely turned my mood around, and seeing my fitness slowly return has added to the fire in my belly. This is the most normal I’ve felt in over a year.

4J6A8855An exercising Kennett is a happy Kennett. (SmartEtailing photo credit: Alex Lepert).

The second half

From where I left off, the trip got slightly worse before it got better. Bookending two races during a month-long trip was not the best of plans, especially since we didn’t know what our home base conditions and the terrain for training would be like along the way. Unfortunately we only ended up doing six or seven super short rides during the month, which zapped a lot of the fitness Adelaide had prior to our departure. Despite that, Adelaide finished the Vineman full in 12:14, coming in 4th in her age group and 7th female overall. How she did that with so little training leading up to the race I’ll never know. I had ridden a little under half the course the day before her race and was utterly destroyed by it. When you’ve been off the bike that long, it’s hard to do even zone two.

Most of our stress from the trip was from attempting to train and getting shut down. I had trouble sleeping at times as well, which didn’t help things. But the more we stressed about not being able to train properly, the less fun we had, the more frustrated we got, and the less energy we had to train with the terrain we did have.

Instead of doing a long write-up of the second two weeks of our trip, which would take hours of my precious time, here are some pictures with captions. Since the internet is essentially a picture book for adults, I assume you’ll all enjoy this more than a 3,000-word essay anyways.

IMG_0696We drove down to Walnut Grove the day after my race, which is about 45 minutes south of Sacramento, to stay with my cousin Chris for just under two weeks. It was about 100 degrees every day and ample black berries hung ripe from vines for easy picking. The three of us kayaked, played Monopoly and pingpong, made some great dinners, and ate out on the patio every night. The only thing missing was the riding, which was non existent in that area. And I can’t seem to stress how important being able to ride is to me for mental well-being. Even more so for Adelaide, who had the race quickly approaching and legs that needed to be moving. However, the river was a mere five minute walk away. So we swam as much as my shoulders could take, and got some good runs in too.

IMG_0697 IMG_0688This was one of the worst rides we’ve ever been on. After an hour-long drive to get to Antioch in our attempt to find good roads to ride on, I got three flats and ran into a parked car. And that was just the first 45 minutes. At least we got Dairy Queen afterwards. (And then spent an additional 45 minutes driving through town searching for a place to get cash after being turned back at a toll bridge).

IMG_1325 Though, Maybellene was content, with a large yard to run around in and watermelon rinds galore.


IMG_1329 My aunt and her dog Buddy are top competitors in agility training, so we thought Maybellene should try one of the obstacles in the back yard.

IMG_1338We had zero success.

IMG_1342Sushi making with my cousin Chris.

IMG_0676Adelaide doing some studying for the CSCS exam on the dock.

IMG_1344We headed south the the bay area to spend a few nights with one of my old friends Mike. Snaps was the third cat Maybellene has met. The first scared her so badly she peed on the floor. The second she chased up a tree, and I had to climb up and rescue it because it got stuck at the top. This was a happy medium.

11752478_10153525720019292_7164225932515759016_nThe pre-race dinner with our friends Krista, David, and their friends, almost all of whom were racing. I ate more than anyone else by about four magnitudes and all I did the following day was watch them exercise while I sat in a lawn chair feeling like a fat tub of rancid lard.

A few days before, we’d picked up our friend Lindsey Knast (sitting behind Adelaide in the photo) from the airport and driven up to the Motel 6 in Santa Rosa. I finally had some roads to ride on and our spirits did a 180 after being around Lindsey, who was excited and upbeat since she hadn’t been living on the road for a month.

IMG_0704 Finally. Race morning with a bit of fog.

IMG_0706 Somehow this was the best picture I could get of the two of them. My photography skills are renown as my knitting abilities.

IMG_0709IMG_0713A few seconds from the start.

IMG_0735 Fast forward 7 hours later to T2. Adelaide was the third woman out of the water but lost some ground on the 112 mile bike leg. Now just a marathon to go. Easy as pie.

IMG_0742 - Version 2 I think this face was, “Holy fucking shit this hurts.”


IMG_0746 Sprinting past some fool with 100 feet to go.

IMG_0747 - Version 2 IMG_0750 It might not have been the time she’d hoped for but I was super proud to see her finish it off. She was just 30 seconds behind 3rd place in her age group, which was sort of a blessing in disguise since that meant we didn’t have to go to the awards ceremony the following day.

IMG_0752That’s a wrap. She curled up in bed without puking and managed to eat some fries before falling asleep. We visited the beach and then my grandparents the next day, then spent two days driving home to Boulder. It’s good to be back.

Van Life

Frigid air conditioning blasted me in the face and zapped the outdoor heat from my skin. I felt a wave of depression wash over me as I pushed my bike up the stairs of our office building, back my desk. It was a beautiful day outside, yet I had only ridden for 30 minutes instead of the planned two-hour-long ride. I was at the breaking point. For months I’d been stagnant: unable to train at any real capacity, unable to enjoy life, and in a constant state of depression. Adelaide, who works (worked) approximately two feet from me at the facing desk, saw how upset I was when I came back from yet another failed ride attempt and already had a message waiting for me on g-chat by the time I sat down:

Want to quit today?

I immediately replied:


We’d been talking about leaving for over a month but had been planning to hold out until next February. It was a great job but unsustainable with our current mindsets. June is pretty close to February. Close enough.

Neither of us have recovered from the crash last October. I think at this point Adelaide has recovered more than me actually. One of the issues is that there has been no break in our lives to restart, or whatever you want to call it. There hasn’t been enough time to mentally recover. We both jumped back into regular life with full time jobs and me trying to train and race full time as well. That, of course, left almost zero room for Adelaide’s surgeon and dentist appointments, therapy, phone calls with our lawyer, and more importantly it didn’t give us the time to rest and recuperate. (Not to mention a vacation sitting on a beach somewhere).

We’d been discussing what could be taken out of our schedule to remedy this lack of mental health days. The only things we have going on are:

1) sleep
2) work
3) training
4) racing/travel
5) down time
6) time with friends

Decreasing time with friends wouldn’t add up to anything, taking out down time would screw us up even more than we currently are since it’s down time that we need more of, I’ve already drastically decreased time spent bike racing and traveling, not training anymore isn’t even an option. Same goes for sleep. That leaves us with work. Bills be damned.

We gave our two weeks notice that day, with plans on a three-week-long road trip out to Oregon and California to kick start what would become known as van life. The following week we began moving out of our apartment since our lease was ending in mid July and by then we’d already be gone on the trip. The condo we bought this winter, which we’ve been renting out ever since, has a detached garage that ended up easily holding all of our belongings.

The trip so far has included seeing my old teammate Sam Johnson on our way through Boise, visiting my parents in Oregon for three days in Corvallis, and camping in Guerneville, California, where I “raced” Vineman 70.3. The race was a last-minute decision and one that I ended up regretting quite a bit.

IMG_0621IMG_0618My dad, Adelaide and I rode in Mac Forest on trails that my dad helped establish 30+ years ago.

11143505_1064130120264184_7415316933932449416_nMy mom, Adelaide, and I tried paddle boarding. I highly recommend it for a workout and/or mega chi points for relaxation.

11227639_1064130123597517_2075642251520130207_nWhile a Speedo is preferable, a drag suit will suffice. I didn’t lose any tan lines by the way. They seem to be burned into me permanently.

IMG_0628 A highly caffeinated and sugared Adelaide makes a happy and alert Adelaide while driving. Gas station cappuccino stops are a necessity on long road trips.

IMG_0643 Down camping in Guerneville, I was unable to sleep for roughly three days.

photo 1The Hound on Hound duty.

On to the race, which was last Sunday the 12th:

The long days of travel, the stress of moving out of our apartment and quitting our jobs right before the trip, and an ear infection coupled with antibiotics all paled in importance to not being able to sleep the nights leading up to the race. Despite feeling pretty shitty during my recent training, I was confident that I could get into the top eight. One of my only weaknesses, aside from my incredible degree of modesty, is being a super finicky sleeper. I hadn’t been sleeping well at the campsite in Guerneville so Adelaide and I crashed my former teammate Nick Bax’s hotel room the night before the race. Somehow that was even worse for me and I was only able to sleep for 45 minutes that night. The 4:30AM wake up call came way too soon. By the time I lined up to start the swim at Vineman I had already lost.

40 ounces of coffee and a 100mg caffeine gel were barely holding my eyes open when the gun went off. I was dropped instantly and even passed by the lead group of women just after the half way point. Swimming is by far my weakest sport but this was just plain pitiful. I struggled on at a sluggish pace, barely even moving, for the last few hundred meters. By then I had resigned to pull out of the race and skip town. All the other male pros’ bikes were long gone from transition before I trudged my tired bones out of the river in shame. Finishing wasn’t even worth it. I decided I might as well save my legs the 10 days it takes me to recover from a triathlon, sleep if off, and start training for the next one.

photo 1 (1)Contemplating whether or not it was even worth it to start. I was that tired. (It’s always worth at least starting).

At times, it irks me to read (and write) a race report that tells a tale of a race gone wrong but strays from the truth at the end to leave the reader with an uplifting note of positivity–something the author took away from the difficult experience. You know what, sometimes you don’t learn anything from failure. Sometimes you just fucking fail.

Adelaide helped console me as we packed my gear in the van by proclaiming that she’d taken a desperate dump behind someone’s car. For Adelaide, when shit happens, shit happens NOW. We left Guerneville with my tail tucked between my legs, eyes glazed in fatigue while Adelaide drove us to Nevada City to stay with my uncle for a night and let the Hound run free in the woods surrounding his cabin.

Okay I’ll buckle a tiny bit here. I don’t want it to sound like I’m utterly crushed from the DNF. The fact is that we aren’t out here for me to race. My 70.3 was thrown in as an afterthought at most. We came to see my family, get out of Boulder, mentally recharge, and for Adelaide to race the Full Vineman, which is in a week and a half. She’s been training for it since last winter and this whole trip has just been tacked onto it. So other than my race being a fiasco, we’ve been having a blast. Now we’re staying south of Sacramento with my cousin Chris, swimming against the river current every morning, and running or riding in the heat of the afternoon. I’ll post an update in a week or two.

Becoming one with the heat

I’m sick of reading all the stupid, lazy “How to beat the heat in your next race” articles written lately so I’ve decided to write my own. My problem with the mainstream ones is that they all to touch on the same, already-known bits of useless advice like “make sure to drink a sports drink with plenty of electrolytes” and “stay hydrated the day before.” They all say almost the same thing, and although what they tell you is true, they need to go into more depth to really do any good. Without an explanation of why something works, what’s the point? So here’s my shot at it. All of this is firsthand knowledge. Triathlete readers: some of this will only be useful to bike racers.

  • Don’t be fat. I’m not trying to be funny or mean; the fact is that being lean is the single-most important thing you can do to race well in the heat. Fat is insulation. It hinders conductance of your muscles and blood by hiding them deep beneath fat instead of transporting body heat outwards to your skin where it can be cooled via convection by blood and conduction by tissue. When it comes to racing in the heat, the leaner you are the better. Adversely, being super lean in the cold can be a 2My legs aren’t always vascular, but when they are they look as gross as the backs of a 98-year-old’s hands.
  • Train in the heat. Even two weeks out from race day you can make huge adaptations by submersing yourself in the heat. If you know your race is going to be really hot, don’t purposefully train when it’s cool at 7AM, unless you live in Tucson or somewhere stupidly hot. Training in the heat forces your body to store extra plasma. This increases your blood volume and lowers your hematocrit (without getting rid of those invaluable red blood cells of course) so your blood is less viscous and easier to pump. Training in the heat also increases capillary density so you can dissipate heat better through your skin. Capillaries are essentially tiny veins that carry blood, water, oxygen, and other stuff from to the tissue they surround. (If your race isn’t going to be super hot, purposely training at the hottest time of the day may not be necessary or even worth the risk, since you can’t produce the same power in the heat and training in hot temps can lead to overtraining).
  • Don’t just train in the heat. Become one with it. This can only be done in the sauna. Sauna training, which I’ve written about before, is one of the most crucial things I do to prepare for a hot race. Like training in the heat, sauna training drastically increases capillary density and plasma storage. It’s super painful and draining though. 20-30 minutes in 180 degree heat, post ride with no water, is more than tough. It’s brutal. But worth it if you can stick it out for a week. For the full protocol on sauna training, scroll to the bottom.
  • The days leading up to your race, begin drinking extra water. Liters of extra water, not cups. Along with that extra water, pound the sodium. Note how I didn’t say “electrolytes.” The only electrolyte you lose in significant amounts during workouts and races is sodium. You have plenty of potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, etc. stored in your body and they can easily be replenished with regular old food, assuming you eat fruit and vegetables somewhat regularly. When it comes to sports drinks, the only electrolyte you should care about is sodium. And you need a lot of it. Not 50 or 100 milligrams. Shoot for thousands of milligrams. Skratch Hyper and OSMO Pre Load each have over 1,500mg per serving. Leading up to a hot race, or when I’ve been training a lot in the heat, I take a serving or two a day of one of those. This helps your body hold onto extra plasma and saturates your tissues with water, which can be sweated out later when needed. If you’re too cheap for expensive magic bags of salt, Top Ramen works well. You can just drink the broth and chuck the noodles if you want. Be careful when just loading up on regular sodium though. Continue reading below.
  • Skratch, OSMO, and Clif use sodium citrate, which is easier on your stomach that sodium chloride (table salt). Typically, you’ll find sodium chloride in low-quality, sugary sports drinks like Gatorade. Too much sodium chloride (or any type of sodium for that matter) will give you the shits. So don’t overdo it the morning or day before the race, since diarrhea and vomiting tend to cause dehydration. And if you can, stick to the stuff that works (OSMO, Skratch, Clif, and other hydration formulas that don’t just use sodium chloride. You can even just buy sodium citrate by the pound online. It’s not very expensive.
  • During exercise, regular Skratch, OSMO, and Clif hydration mixes have 250-350mg of sodium per serving. One liter an hour for a hot race should be the bare minimum, and should be easy enough to do on the bike. That would be around 700mg per hour. For a four-hour race, that’s just shy of 3,000mg. Considering you can easily sweat out 1,000mg an hour during a cool race, you’re still going to be in a deficit for the next day so hit the sodium hard after the race if there are more stages to come.
  • Before your hot race, don’t do a big warmup unless you’re racing a TT. Staying cool before the race is important, because every minute your body isn’t overheating is one more minute you’re competitive in the race. Once your core temperature goes above 102 degrees, you start losing massive amounts of power.
  • Stay out of the sun before the race. Another duh. Line up somewhere close to the start in the shade. I see people chat in the parking lot directly in the sun all the time when it’s 90+ degrees out. It’s stupid. Don’t start the race already hot and in a deficit. Pound water and stay out of the sun, preferably somewhere with AC as long as you can.
  • Use ice socks during and before the race. Put them down your back or chest during the race (obviously), and your groin before the race (not obviously). Putting ice or ice socks (a pantyhose filled with ice) down your groin hurts like a mother, but that region of your body has more blood flow per square inch than anywhere else on your body that you could reasonably put an ice sock. I use the word reasonably very loosely. Also, building yourself an ice vest out of duct tape and sheets of plastic ice pockets (the kind that look like a sheet of ice cubes) works well and is way cheaper than buying one. They keep you cool for about 30 minutes standing around at the start before on a hot day.
  • Dunk your jersey in cold water before the race. Dunk your bibs and shoes/socks too for that matter.
  • Assuming the team car or feed zone is readily accessible (Elite nationals not included), dump bottles on yourself, especially your legs, as often as you can. The plus side of going back for bottles during a hot race is that you’re probably going to be the best hydrated guy on the team.
  • Shave your entire body and buzz your head. It works. Even small arm hairs trap heat. You’ll feel the difference and you’ll thank me. Plus you’ll look better. Shaving your armpits and groin makes a difference, though it’s not comfortable by any means. I just shaved our dog Maybellene so she could be more competitive at the dog park this summer. Is my dog more committed than you? Probably.
  • Unzip your damn jersey. Seriously, I don’t understand why people don’t do this and then later complain about cramping out of the lead group. That extra breeze could have been the ticket. Unzip your jersey all the way, and if you don’t have to carry bottles for anyone, tuck the ends of it behind your back bib straps before the start so your jersey isn’t flapping annoyingly against your sides for hours on end. It should look something like this:

1044336_10100778653589018_837631576_nTry not to make that face though.

Sauna training

13 days before your event, begin the dry sauna training, which is pretty miserable after riding for five hours or however long your workout was. Sit in the sauna for 20-30 minutes right after each ride for 7 days in a row. Go as soon as you can after your ride. I just park my bike at the rec center, grab a towel on the way in, shower off, and I’m in the sauna within five minutes of finishing my workout. Don’t rehydrate before going in though. Counterintuitive? Yes. Only consume enough liquid to get your recovery drink down.

Sit high up in the sauna (which should be between 170-180 degrees) for as long as you can, only coming down to the lower benches if and when you have to. It’s pure torture to make it a full half our at 180 degrees when your body is already depleted of liquid and energy after a hard workout. Go as long as you can. You might only last 15 minutes the first time.

When you get out of the sauna, don’t take a cold shower. Take a warm one. More importantly, don’t consume huge amounts of water at once when you get out. Don’t chug the water. Slowly sip to rehydrate for the next 3-4 hours so the heat stress you just put yourself through doesn’t go to waste. You want your body to suffer and adapt to the suffering, just like in training. This is crucial and miserable as well. Remember, you only have to make it through a week of this. Make sure to take in a LOT of sodium during this week, and you’ll have to drink extra liquid throughout the day too.

Stop five days before your event to let your hydration levels bounce back and your body super-compensate with extra plasma stores, more red blood cells (in theory), and increased capillary density. I recommend doing a practice run of this protocol during training a few months before your target race, just to make sure your body can handle it, similar to how you shouldn’t use new equipment for the first time on race day.