From Illness to Ironman
Want to get better? Take it one step at a time. Big strides or small, every step makes us better, stronger, healthier. Dream-set and start moving!
This summer I found myself staring out of a bus window looking at the mountains outside of Whistler BC on my way to the start line of Ironman Canada. Normally I'd be pretty psyched at that point in time. What's not to like about hours and hours of endurance based pain and suffering? This time was different. I was thinking about dying. No not the holy crap I’m running up a hill and I’m dying but actually dying. I know - not the best psyche-up routine. But nonetheless it was going through my head. Funny enough I had the same thoughts 12 months before lying in an emergency room.
You see 12 months earlier I had a heart infection that left me completely wiped out for months. I got it because I was working like a madman, moving houses, my wife was finishing grad school and we had a 2 year old at home. I was exhausted and my immune system was like an open rotating door. What started as a simple cold ended up as a heart infection that kicked my butt (exhausted, sick, tired, heart pain, etc…). This was my wake up call and my chance to really implement what I’ve long been preaching. To get better and stay better by focusing on the complete health picture: nutrition, exercise, stress, rest, AND most importantly actually taking small steps and getting better by small increments. I set a dream and then move towards it slowly and with lots of 1% gains! So to make this happen I ended up grabbing my iPad from my bag while I was in emergency and registering for ironman on the spot.
It helps you to achieve your goals when you tell other people about them. So the first thing that I did was to go on CTV Canada AM and to tell the story about getting sick and training for ironman. Hundreds of thousands of people informed of goal. Check. Next thing I had to do was to get a training partner. I called my friend Mike Rutledge and told him we were doing ironman. His initial reaction was "No we're not" then a few days later he registered. Training buddy. Check. Then the hard part. I had to start training again. I was pretty messed up so my first few training sessions consisted of 20 minute walks. I thought that this was a low point for me as a former competitive swimmer, water polo player and marathon runner. Then I got passed by a couple of older women having a conversation. New perspective. Check. That rather embarrassing moment was actually a turning point. I saw two people out training together, having fun and so fit that they could jog and chat at the same time. Clearly they did this every day. And now look at them. Healthy, happy and fit. I kept walking. Walking eventually turned into running.
To support the return to training and health I slept a ton. 8 hours a night religiously. That’s a lot for most people these days but research shows that that is the amount that we need to eat well and to recovery properly. Sleeping better helped me to work better too. Eating really well was also huge. My family went vegan for a while to help improve my immune system and to improve body composition.. I ate loads of anti-inflammatory foods to help my heart recover and also to help with post-workout recovery. Once again eating great food helped me sleep better, train better and to work better. It took a lot of time though - even though I was training better and eating better it still took almost 4 months before I started losing weight on the scale. So if you're trying to live better stick with it! Changes take time.
Slowly over time the training, eating and sleeping better added up. 1% at a time. It was amazing how much I was able to change my body, my mind and my life by getting outside and exercising a little bit every day. Sometimes we only make the changes we need to make when we hit the crisis point. My crisis point was staring at a heart monitor in an emergency room and thinking about dying and then deciding that was not going to happen (yet!). I hope that by reading this I can inspire you to get out there as well. Eat better, sleep better, move better, live better and work better! All it takes is 1% a day and amazing things can happen. Then maybe you'll find yourself staring out of a car window on your way to an event thinking about life and smiling. Just like I ended up doing this summer.
PS I finished the ironman. It hurt. A lot. BUT I feel great! More 1% gains to come. New Dream already set… beat my time next year!
Good luck and BE BETTER!
Greg Wells Ph.D.