This blog is additional information on an athlete that got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS. There will be four individual athlete blogs and a two-part column. Part I can be found here. Part II will be available May 4th.
W.H. was different than the others in that he was not attending school at the same time he was participating in sport at a high level. His time was spent at more training, high volume and high intensity.
Prior to the months leading up to when the illness struck him, he was traveling the globe training and racing professionally. He was among a handful of top triathletes in the world. What if he could be better? Perhaps the best?
With two years of reasonably successful racing under his belt, he returned home for a break. With no races or travel for a six-week block, he decided to take advantage of that and train, train, train. He was logging 25 to 28 hours per week and many of those workouts, multiple workouts per day and multiple days in a row, were at very high intensities.
Following this big training block, he went into a big racing block where he traveled to and competed in seven races over nine weeks. This included travel overseas. His performances were soaring and he was achieving personal best placements in the field, consistently. He was on top of the world.
He trained hard between the races, so he wouldn’t lose any fitness. He returned home for a two-week break in racing. When he returned home, a fellow racer was there too, staying with him for six weeks. Training sessions became races of sorts, each one pushing the other.
Like most achievement-oriented people, there is a foundation concept that the more you work, the more you are rewarded. This concept was paying in spades for W.H. as he accepted invitations from more race directors to race at their events.
He was beginning to feel tired, though. He decided to take his training easy before the next race. At that race, he crashed on the bike. Accepting that it was just an off race, he continued to rest and heal his wounds.
Heading into the next big race, he found the media was his friend. There were lots of interviews and predictions that he would be the big race winner. The spotlight was on him.
As much as he tried to psych-up for the race, he felt tired. His body was tired all over. He ignored the feelings, passing them off as part of the normal cycle.
At the race he had an average swim; but, he planned to make his move on the bike. Putting the hammer down in the first 10K of the ride, he was surprised that he wasn’t dropping people. In fact, people were catching up. This wasn’t normal.
Not to worry. His run was his new weapon and surely this is where he would seal his fate on the podium. Out of the second transition and off to the run where he felt he was moving…backwards. Screaming fans urging him on, but he just couldn’t move faster. No energy in his legs.
With one disappointing race behind him, he looked ahead to the next opportunities to race. Plenty of races and travel were lined up. At the next race, he was still tired, so tired that he dropped out. It was the first time he didn’t finish a race in his career.
While traveling to the next race, he realized something was terribly wrong and cancelled plans for upcoming races. He said this was one of the lowest points of his career.
He consulted nutritionists, internists, acupuncturists, Chinese medicine specialists, took vitamins and herbal teas. Piles of tests and consultants, he did research and did what he thought was right for him.
He did low intensity training limited to four to six hours per week. For six weeks, nothing changed. His muscles ached and through his own research he determined that CFS was the culprit, though no “expert” diagnosed him with the disease.
At night he couldn’t fall asleep, though he was completely exhausted. Once asleep, he would wake up and remain awake for several hours. During the day, exhausted, he felt like he could fall asleep, literally, while riding his bike.
Because he was in the Pro Tour Series, he felt that he needed to race to maintain his points standing.
With little intensity training and lots of rest, he did a race. He placed reasonably well in the race and was surprised. Seven weeks after his initial fall into the chasm of fatigue, he seemed to recover and began racing again – though he would never be as strong and as fast as he was before he was struck with CFS.