My 110lb Journey

On the surface, you could say that I am your typical guy. Yes, I want to be a pro triathlete like every other twenty something triathlete out there.  Yes, I want to win Kona one day--forget just qualifying. Yes, I would love to have a few houses (one in Boulder, one in New Zeland, and maybe one in Florida), have a bunch of sponsors (like Whole Foods, Cervelo, and Newton to name a few), date another attractive pro athlete (Sarah Piampiano or Chrissie Wellington if you are reading this...),  and do nothing but eat, sleep, and train--and not necessarily in that order. But unlike (or maybe like depending on how honest the guy you are talking to is),  I seriously struggle with my weight.

People get into triathlons for many reasons. Some join charity groups like Team in Training and Team Fight to raise money and awareness. Others are suffering from mid life crisis and want to prove themselves. Others just want something to do. The most common reason that I hear though is so that they can get in shape and lose weight.

There are many great and inspiring blogs out there chronicling triathletes' weight loss journeys. This unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your interest) is not one of them. This blog is in fact the exact opposite. I did not get into triathlons and now blogging to lose weight; rather I started to gain weight. Let me explain...

For the past 12 years (since middle school to be honest although the seeds of it were planted well before then), I have wrestled with a severe eating disorder. Yes, you read correctly: I, a straight guy, had an eating disorder and still do to some extent. In 8th grade, I went from a happy 130lbs developing teenager to a 110lb calorie counting, exercise obsessed, fat phobic, underdeveloped, and extremely unhealthy prepubescent guy. I was running cross country which provided the perfect cover up for my unhealthy habits. When people would question my extra miles, secret workouts, or limited food intake, I could simply say I was "in training." I had to be lean at any cost. In my screwed up mind, thinner equalled faster, and therefore no matter how much it hurt, tired I got, crabby my mood became every pound had to come off. Total cereal, perfectly measured out, for breakfast, spinach salad for lunch, and another one for dinner with plenty of diet coke scattered throughout the day to keep me attentive and mask my fatigue.  

My parents finally caught onto the problem and put me kicking and screaming into outpatient therapy. Therapy is great and works too but ONLY if you allow it to. I, unfortunately, neither wanted it to work nor allowed it to work. I grudgingly gained some weight back to appease my parents and keep them from worrying but I was still suffering tremendously inside. Whenever someone would say "You are way too thin, Chris" I heard "You look great! Keep up the hard work!" These types of comments were trophies to me and kept my desire for perfection alive.
This pattern continued for a good three years until my junior year, I collapsed at a cross country meet. I had had a minor heart attack because my heart was too weak to put up with the exertions of the race. I was 109.2lbs exactly that day. I was taken to the emergency room. I still remember laying in the ER watching my pulse on the computer monitor pumping faintly along at 36bpm.
and  where I the doctor took one look at me, one look at my scarily low pulse and blood pressure and said "Chris, if you go on like this you are going to kill yourself. You have two options: leave here tonight, keep on doing what you are doing, and I will see you in the morgue in a few months or get some help." Even with the threat of inpatient treatment looming, I still wanted to hold onto my thinness and my disease. Then, my doctor played her trump card: I couldn't exercise until I gained weight. I had to be 120lbs to be exact.

"But what about, yoga? Or weight lifting?" I pleaded.


"Power walking? Abs?"

"No. Nothing"

Oh, the cruelty! Oh the unfairness! I wanted to revolt! I wanted to say to her "Screw you. I am fine! I can exercise!" My mind instantly began to scheme on how I could subvert her orders and sneak in secret workouts. If she wanted to play games with me, I could play. I knew all the tricks in the book from getting up in the middle of the night to run, do abs in my bed, fill up my plate with a bunch of food only to throw it up after or put in my pocket and feed it to the dog or flush it down the toilet. During the months following my collapse I may not have gained weight but my dog certainly did.

I was in therapy once or twice a week, saw a nutritionist, and had weekly weigh ins, but my mind was just as stubborn as it always had been. I gained weight slowly so that they would not put me in inpatient care and eventually got back to 120lbs, which was my set point for exercise. Although I had gained the weight, my disease was still in control. I still exercise so that I could eat. If I overate, I would make sure I worked extra hard to work it off. If I was not able to exercise, I would get so anxious that I would need to take a sedative.

This continued throughout the rest of my junior year and then I got a note in the mail from Team In Training, advertising their kick off campaign for spring races. I told my parents about it, and my mother immediately looked skeptical.

"I have read and heard that kids under 21 shouldn't run marathons. It will hurt your growth and, Chris, you really are not healthy enough to handle the training. Your weight it still really low."

"If I can't do the marathon can I do the triathlon?"

"Hmm...I don't know."

"What if I gained weight. What if I promised to get to 130lbs by the race."

"I guess. How long is the triathlon?"

"Not sure" I lied. I knew exactly that it would a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run--sounded like heaven. "I will check."

"Chris, you also will need to learn how to swim"

The next day I emailed TNT and signed up for the Gulf Coast Half Ironman. I had to lie about my age, telling them that I was 18 so that they would let me on the team without my parents having to come to morning swim practices.

Over the next 5 months, I trained and raised money for those fighting cancer, but I was really training to conquer my own disease. In the beginning, I struggled with the workouts. With my low weight, I could barely get through the easy sessions and the hard sessions left me exhausted. Not eating and triathlon training do not go well together. I quickly began to see that I had to end the war on my body. This was a journey and my mind and body had to do it together. If I did not work with it, neither of us would make the distance. It had been a long war and I was gladly waving the white flag.

Training, though, acted as the perfect peace maker. It taught me that if I treated my body with respect, it would respect what I wanted to do. It was a mutual loving relationship. Triathlon training is a journey and the mind and the body have to walk together at the same pace. My mind could not sprint forward wanting to do a 4:30 mile, 1:20s in the pool, and sub 8 hour Ironmans, while my body was just starting. My body also could not gallop forth without my mind agreeing to where it was going. If my mental motivation was not there, then my body could not move forward.

As my training progressed so did my weight. My training team helped significantly with this. One of the great things about triathlons is that it embraces all body types. Looking around the start of any triathlon and you will see people with beer guts, muffin tops, six packs, barrel chests, "sandwich" asses (one of my running partner's favorite terms and I will not tell you what it means unless you ask). Triathlons, and triathlete culture, accepts all of them though regardless of their size. How a person looks does not matter when you cross the finish line. As I gained weight I slowly saw that no one on the team cared. They didn't care if I was 119.5 or 139.5. What they cared about was me and if I was happy and healthy, which I was for the first time in many long years. Moreover my performance was getting better at my higher weight and I was enjoying it more too! No longer did I get tired at mile 3 of a run because I had skipped breakfast.   When you take care of your body, then workouts should feel fun.

I completed that first triathlon in 5:15 and came in 5th place. Like so many triathletes, I was immediately hooked and wanted to do the next one. I immediately signed up for Eagleman the following year (2008). My plans going into college were to take some time off from running, focus on triathlons, and not run competively. I would be a recreational runner, but half way through the summer I got board and emailed the cross country coach at Sewanee. On the first day of practice, I came in third in the time trial with a 3 mile PR and was locked into the team. My freshman year I tried to do both cross country and track training in addition to triathlon training with morning trainer and swim practices and then running in the afternoon then long rides after Saturday races. The schedule was tough to manage to say the least and chances are that I compromised both my potential to be the fastest runner or triathlete that I could be. I most likely went into Eagleman over-trained and on the verge of injury but I got through it. I finished Eagleman in a record PR of 4:45.
I tried to do a similar program my sophomore year but it did not end well. My coach turned to me and said I had to chose between triathlons or running--at least for the time being. I naturally chose running. While I loved triathlon, I had the rest of my life to compete in them but I only had four years of being on a cross country team. Triathlons had to be put on the back burner until my Senior year.

The Monday after my last cross country race my senior year, I became a full time triathlete again. My journey continued....

To sum things up, I know I have dribbled on too long about my journey here, I have been racing "competitively" for the past two years. My focus is primarily on long course work/70.3s with the eventual goal of winning Kona (2020 maybe). Far flung? Maybe. But that is the goal. It may take many many many years to do but that is what triathlon is about: taking the long term perspective and understanding that you are a journey, which is more important then the end.

That said, I am shooting for the moon but am compeltely happy falling among the stars.

Well I have dribbled on for too long and if you made it through this whole autobiography, you are truly an endurance athlete, and I am amazed!

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