One and Done: My (Half) Ironman Life Is Over

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • Never one to shy away from a challenge, I became intrigued by the concept of triathlons about two years ago. I entered my first race in April 2012. It didn't go well. Let's just say that there was a mountain bike involved (and a lot of tears) and leave it at that.


    Still, a fuse was lit. I couldn't go down like that. I needed to prove to myself (and to anyone else who may have had an interest) that I could be a solid competitor. I've always been in pretty good shape, but the fitness level of a triathlete takes the level to, well, a whole other level.


    By the end of the summer, I had competed in a smattering of other races, mostly improving my times but also increasing my distances (and my training). I decided that the next challenge would be competing in a half Ironman in Miami, FL for my 41st birthday that October.

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    I wanted to prove to myself that not only could I do the race, but that I could also swim in the ocean despite my profound fear of the ocean and the creatures in it. A double ego-boost: If I could avoid/survive any of Jaws' relatives lurking off the coast of Miami, I could also prove to myself that I am physically able to accomplish such a feat of endurance. And for someone with a spine that is fused from the second thoracic vertebra down through L4 for scoliosis, I wanted to be able to do what "other people can do" and not feel limited by my physical challenges.


    So I did it. And it didn't go well. Let's just say there was a tropical storm brewing (and a lot of tears) and leave it at that. But, I did finish and wasn't last. So, there's that.


    I did a few more, shorter triathlons throughout 2013, but so far, none are planned for 2014. I had the thought that maybe I should check in with my orthopedic surgeon early this year - pretty much because I've not had a check-up on my spine for over a decade. "That's crazy. You have no business doing that kind of sport," he said when I told him what I'd been up to. Rather, I could do it, but at what consequence to my one free disc space at L5-S1? What kind of future could I anticipate if I continued to beat up on my body like that?


    My initial reaction was that this didn't apply to me. I could do any kind of sport I wanted (maybe not well, but I could do it) - those risks/outcomes only apply to other people. But then I started seeing not one, not two, but regular news items on other potential adverse outcomes that can come with overtraining or too long/too vigorous endurance exercise. Stuff like poor cardiovascular health - likely due to a stress-related inflammatory cascade set into motion by overdoing a good thing.


    There is also a link between stress-inflammation and premature aging. So, let me get this straight: I can be running hard and long, riding like the wind, swimming my heart out -- and hurting my back, possibly setting myself up for additional surgery, hardening my arteries, gaining weight, and looking older than I am?


    Yep. One and done. Bring on the yoga.

Published On: May 12, 2014