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When 100% is too much

How do you do it all? I always laugh when I get asked that question. The self critical side of me never feels like I am doing enough. As moms, we compare ourselves to other moms and feel the eyes of judgement on us all the time, waiting for us to screw up. As special needs moms, even more eyes are watching our every move. Will we lose it completely in the grocery store when our child is having a meltdown and destroying loaves of bread beyond recognition or knocking over an entire shelf in the checkout line when we're creatively trying to block everything from their reach while we unload our cart and pay for our mangled groceries?
Picture taking with an Angel... always an adventure. Can someone this cute be so challenging?
I am fortunate. Not only do I have an amazingly supportive husband who takes the night shift with our daughter when she chooses to have a party at 2am instead of sleep (that is what we Angelman Syndrome parents call the bewitching hours when our sleep disordered children are awake during the middle of the night) or clean up her ungodly messes (I'll spare you the pictures and details of some of them), but I have found an outlet for my need for identity outside the role of mom and special needs advocate. I am a runner and triathlete.

While running and triathlon have been a source of escape from the day to day grind for me, these sports have also helped me find joy and fulfillment. I have loved escaping to the trails for a run or ride, climbing mountains, feeling breathless but accomplished once I reach the top. I have loved knowing that my hard work has allowed me to stand on the top of the podium at big races. I remember sobbing in my husband's arms last year after crossing the finish line at the Xterra PanAm Championships, exhausted, but beyond overjoyed that I pushed my body to its limits and it responded, rewarding me with being the 1st amateur female to cross the finish line. Me, 42 year old mom of 2, special needs warrior, former high school introverted band geek, awkward insecure me. I can do something beyond the limits of being a mom of a child with special needs.

That feeling and the desire to push harder, train more to see where I could go in 2017 lit a fire even brighter in my belly that fueled me through winter training out here in Colorado. While I was training at a higher intensity with a new coach, doubling up on workouts, most of the time back to back so I could get them in while the girls were at school and not take away from time with them in the evening, feeling like I was a walking zombie, the results began to show. I traveled to Alabama by myself (the 1st time I have ever gone to a race without my husband/bike mechanic/sherpa/voice of reason) for the Xterra SE Championships the week before school got out to test out the training and came home with the Overall Amateur title, besting the next female by 4 minutes. 2 weeks later, on a whim, we 15-hour road tripped to the USAT Off-road National Championships at Xterra Gator Terra in Arkadelphia, Arkansas and again had an amazing race, coming out of the water in 3rd position, passing 2nd in transition and 1st by mile 5 of the bike, winning by over 10 minutes.

Top 3 Overall Women at Xterra SE Championships, Pelham, AL
I wanted so much to train hard over this summer, knowing my big goal races loomed ahead: Xterra Mountain Championships in Beaver Creek, CO in July, ITU Cross World Championships in Penticton, Canada in August, Xterra PanAm Championships in September and closing out the "big race year" with Xterra Worlds in October. But summer is tough for juggling workout schedules and family time, not to mention the non-existent downtime when you walk in the door after a hard run or ride because your Angel is devilishly getting into things. As I said, I have been spoiled with having an amazing husband who works double duty taking care of our daughter when I am tired, but this summer, he started travelling out of town more and more for work. The schedule and underlying stress of our life that I desperately try to minimize to others, started to take a toll on my body no matter how hard I fought it. I wanted to believe I could do it all, be 100% mom, wife, and athlete, juggling and balancing it all... until it all came crumbling down and smacked me in the face at the Beaver Creek Xterra race.

Puking at the finish line at Xterra Beaver Creek... Tough day out there on the course.
We are athletes, athletes who push our bodies to go faster, further, and stronger with each training session, race, and season. But how do we know when what we are doing starts hurting rather than helping our bodies? I am not talking about the obsessive compulsive exerciser (for more on that syndrome, read Simon Marshall's "The Brave Athlete", chapter 8) .What I am referring to is a condition commonly referred to as overtraining syndrome.

Overtraining syndrome, in a nutshell, is pushing the body in training, usually with the goal of competition, beyond its ability to recover. It is not merely the result of training too much or too hard without recovery time. When you add life stress and lack of restful sleep to help recover, a downward spiral can occur. Its tricky and often not quickly identified because the body tries to keep up with the demand placed on it. It feels tired, but gains are still made and results are promising -a faster bike split, PR's at races, looking strong, fit and lean. We athletes teeter on a fine line of optimal fitness and overload with our training. Too much overload or not enough recovery can begin to have detrimental effects long term if not caught early and can lead to adrenal fatigue and hormone imbalances.

Common Warning Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome

Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
Mild leg soreness, general aches, and pains
Pain in muscles and joints
Sudden drop in performance
Decreased immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
Decrease in training capacity / intensity
Moodiness and irritability
Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
Decreased appetite
Increased incidence of injuries.

Did all of this change really happen in 6 weeks? -of course not. It was a culmination of months and months of stress (both physical and emotional) put on the body from training and life. It is hard knowing that there is no "quick fix" for it, but there are steps that I am taking now to help pull my body out of the dark spiral it was tumbling down.

Wanting to take a nap as soon as the bike-run workout was done.
So, what can you do to fix overtraining syndrome and/or adrenal fatigue? The #1 most important thing is to rest. I didn't do anything at all, except get the girls out the door to camp and maybe go to the grocery store for good, healthy food (more on that below), for 2 full weeks. I allowed myself nap time -I joked with my doctor that I have become a "closet napper" -just like a closet eater, but I can sneak in a nap here and there without missing a beat. I booked my 1st massage in over a year and started seeing a friend of mine who is an acupuncturist to see if she could help rebalance my body from the inside out. When I was awake, I researched natural remedies like it was my job. I also fired my current coach, even though as I person, I love and respect her. I just had to take a step back and start listening to my body more and I know my personality... if she put workouts on my schedule, I was going to try my hardest to get them done, even if they were breaking me down even more.

I had all the classic signs of overtraining syndrome, most especially lacking sleep at night (seriously, for the past few months I would wake up 4-5 times each night and not be able to fall back to sleep), but feeling like I could fall asleep anywhere at any time during the day. Even more so was the anxiety that I would feel leading up to any workout, even my favorite runs or long rides on the mountain bike, fearing how terrible they would make me feel during them. Old injuries were flaring up and bouncing around -one day my shoulder would ache fiercely during a swim, the next day, my hip would be on fire during a run. I tried yoga -which became a daily habit just to get out the door to attempt a workout (one more thing to add to the schedule). I was miserable come race day, dreading it rather than eagerly anticipating it. How could this happen in such a short time? I felt like the race in Arkansas was a year ago rather than 6 weeks before.

I already was eating well and balanced compared to most Americans and I suppose it is my "off-roadie" nature, but have always rebelled against all the triathlete fad diets and beliefs -I am not on a gluten free diet, I do eat meat, I indulge in sugar, but I am sure not excessive compared to most, eat fruit (yes, some of my triathlete friends have tried to lecture me on how fruit has too much sugar in it -to this I want to scream!) and have a secret vice, fountain Dr. Pepper drinks (this bad habit I do blame my husband for and he will fully admit he's corrupted me). But, I have always trusted my body and listened to its cravings, believing that what I crave is possibly from a deficiency in a vitamin or mineral. Some days I crave avocados, other days I want to go to the store just to buy salmon and sweet potatoes.

Oh how I love to indulge in cookie batter!
Funny thing about my "cravings", most of them (aside from my hunger for chocolate chip cookie dough - my comfort food!) fall into the category of foods that a fatigued body should be eating more of. So, just like in training, I threw my heart and soul into researching and implementing/eliminating foods into my diet. Here are a list of a few foods that I have been attempting to eat more of:

Olives (I skip this one... you either love olives or the taste makes you gag!)
Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.)
Fatty fish (e.g., wild-caught salmon)
Chicken and turkey
Nuts, such as walnuts and almonds
Seeds, such as pumpkin, chia and flax
Kelp and seaweed
Celtic or Himalayan sea salt

These foods help overcome adrenal insufficiency because they’re nutrient-dense, low in sugar, and have healthy fat and fiber. In addition to incorporating such foods into my diet, I cut out caffeine and limited sugars, especially refined sugar.

Along with diet modifications, I started taking a couple supplements that Josiah Middaugh, who not only is an incredibly talented athlete, is also a brilliant mind in the area of exercise physiology, my doctor and acupuncturist all recommended. I started taking a daily probiotic, l-glutamine -an amino acid that helps boost immune function and muscle rebuilding, magnesium and my 1st Endurance Multi-V (which I was already taking and probably why I escaped illness with the rundown state this summer, thankfully). Magnesium can also be absorbed into the body via Epsom Salt baths so if taking the pill form turns your bowel movements into overdrive, I recommend taking a bath instead. Plus, it helps you relax, which is HUGE for those of us who go 110mph and burn the candle at both ends.

Speaking of relaxing, this is something I struggle with. I don't know how to veg out on the couch, mindlessly watch tv, read a book, or just chill out. Of course, our daughter makes some of this challenging with her nonstop movement, but I knew I needed to schedule time in the day, just as I do for working out, to slow down. I downloaded a free app, "Headspace", after reading about it in Simon's book. For 3 minutes before going to bed each night, I would click on the app and do the breathing meditation exercise for the day. After a day or two, I started looking forward to those 3 minutes and have learned to incorporate the controlled breathing before situations where I feel the anxiety creeping in. It is amazing how much it has helped. I also set my Headspace meditation time as an appointment on my daily calendar so I get a chime every evening at 9:30pm reminding me it is time to start wrapping up things and get ready for bed. Going to bed at 10pm instead of 11pm has been another goal that I am really working on, so even if I wake up during the night, at least I am unwinding and resting my head earlier.

Finally, one somewhat bizarre sounding practice that I am doing most evenings when I get the kids to bed early enough is sitting on the couch without phone or social media (its amazing how much stress social media can add to your life -and how much time it can zap from your day), soak my feet in as hot water as I can tolerate and sip a small glass of red wine. An acupuncturist at my Ob/Gyn practice recommended this to me 2 years ago when we 1st moved out to Colorado. Not only is it a forced slow down, but from an Eastern medicine philosophy, he was attempting to warm my body. My tongue was and is again whitish and pulse thready for a person who is active and lives and trains at altitude (even though my red blood cell count is wonderfully full out here).

Exhausting reading, eh? Tell me about it! Just writing it all down (which has taken me 3 sessions of typing) makes me want to take a nap!

How am I feeling now? I am still not back fully to the "old me"but I am having more days where I see glimmers of the Deanna from a few months ago when I am able to hit times and paces in training that I did earlier this year and not feel like I need to lay on the couch for hours to recover after. Other days it is much more of a struggle. On those days, I try to listen more to my body and allow it time to sit or if lucky, take a nap. My husband has been amazing and really has tried to minimize work stress (which I know he still has, but he tries to close his phone for the evening and not carry the negative energy from work frustrations around with him as much) as well as do even more to help with Hayden when he is at home or when we go out with her.
Dave is so good with Hayden

The exciting thing is that those glimmers are getting brighter and I don't dread the next couple of races. Instead, I look at them as a challenge. I want to see how the body performs with these changes. In Penticton last week for the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships I had a crazy bizarre swim. I started out strong with the lead pack up to the 1st buoy, then people began passing me like I was standing (or swimming) still. I couldn't grab onto feet and go with them. My arms were moving and pulling, my feet kicking, but by the time I exited the swim I was 10 min behind the leaders and honestly, had the slowest swim of my life. The swim wasn't wetsuit legal and even with a good warm-up, my body violently shook while waiting for the start gun to go off. My core must have been cold and that thin, thready blood was not getting to my extremities and muscles. I exited the water 69th of the females (ouch!!). On a positive though, I hopped on my bike and pedaled hard, partially to get the blood flowing, but also because I thought, what do I have to loose? Just leave it all out there, fight past the bikers ahead on the tight single track climb, and let it go on the descent. Truly, this course, although technical from an off-road triathlon standpoint, was perfect with my kind of training and trails out here in Colorado. I had the fastest female bike split and 2nd fastest run split of the day, passing 65 women and probably 100 men out there on the way to the finish line. I know my swim, if I continue to train (and stay warm), will come back. Its just taking a little longer than the bike and run.
Never ever give up... and smile!
This has been a roller coaster of a season, but even in the midst of it, it has taught me so much about gratitude for the things I can do, for the people who are in my life who have reached out to help (and learning to accept that help), and how no matter how much we think we can handle and do it all, its okay to admit that we can't.

So, my friends, keep pushing forward, work hard towards big goals, but remember to smile, take care of yourself, rest, and enjoy the journey.
With my girls at the finish of ITU Cross Worlds in Penticton, Canada. Go USA!


  1. From a former band geek and special needs Mom, this is great. Thank you for sgaring the challenges in balance as well as the drive to do more. You are an inspiration!


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