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Alex VanderLinden: Boring trail mix


When you see me chewing on trail mix with the chocolate M&Ms taken out, you should immediately presume that something’s up!

Turns out I’m yet another endurance athlete who has low testosterone. After some issues this summer – low energy, poor recovery, lack of motivation – we ran some tests and aside from a B12 deficiency, results also showed the dip in testosterone.

I got to work addressing the problem right away. I talked to my friend Cody Beals a few times (Cody had some similarly low levels a few years back), I listened to podcasts that addr3essed the issue and I got on the forums and heard from others in the same boat. Basically, I tapped into the triathlon community to see what could be done to fix the problem.

The remedies? More polarized workouts, lift some heavy weights and clean up the diet – hence the sad situation I find myself in each week as I scramble through the aisles of Zehrs to find chocolate free trail mix.

For the most part, the remedies have worked. They’ve helped boost my energy for sure, but I’m still struggling to recover after two good, hard days of workouts.

And as a triathlete who likes to live life close to the red line, those are the days that I look forward to attacking when I check my Training Peaks week.

So some days are better than others.Last week, for example, my coach Rich Pady at Healthy Results loaded up a knockout session on the treadmill: 4 X 2 kilometres starting at slightly quicker then Half Ironman pace for the first interval, then moving through to a 3:30 KM pace, to a 3:10 pace then finishing with a final 2 kilometres at three minute pace. This is red lining at its finest. I had a solid pool session earlier that morning so I was coming into that run workout with some definite fatigue in the body. I wanted to call Rich up and ask him what the hell he was thinking when he devised this sadistic workout. But I didn’t. I tried to attack the workout but after a few strides I knew I’d have to modify it to get through it.

The coach in me says Rich added this workout to help me find my limit. It’s one of those workouts that if you can get through it and survive it, it helps mentally in a very big way. It sets you up to break to the next level.The thing with the low testosterone though, is I find I’m second guessing myself quite a bit. Not necessarily with that treadmill workout from last week, but in general, if I’m feeling sluggish during a session I’ll wonder if it’s the low testosterone or if I’m just being a bit lazy. Knowing the difference between genuine fatigue and being weak mentally is a fine line. It takes some experience to make the right call.

But I’ve pushed on since finding out about the testosterone. I won a low-key race in Georgina, Ontario which set things up going into the Barrelman half distance in Niagara. I had no expectations before Barrelman. The pressure was off, which made for some unusually relaxed preparation.

I knew that Jordan Monnink and Jackson Laundry would be the guys to beat and in my head I did the calculations. Good day: third. Bad day: top five, maybe top seven.

Turned out I was first onto the bike and I put my head down. Every ten kilometres or so I’d expect to see Jack or Jordan pass me out. I made it to the half way point on the bike and allowed myself to look back. I didn’t see anybody and it gave me a shot of confidence.

I put the head down again and tactically, overall, I biked well. I pushed at the right spots on the course and going onto the run, I had some cramps but nothing that some calories and water couldn’t get rid off.

I held on for the win and for many reasons, it felt special. Mainly, from a professional perspective, it taught me that I can win even when I’m not firing on all cylinders.It also helped that I had a couple of months between the discovery of the low testosterone and Barrelman. I basically had two months to alter my training and this is where having a coach really helps. Rich and I talked through what needed to be done during those two months. He was a support and a calming influence.

We’ve re-grouped again heading into the A race of the season, which is Ironman 70.3 Los Cabos this weekend. The field is far deeper than Barrelman but that Barrelman experience will be pinned to the front of my brain when I jump into the waters of Palmilla Beach right off the Pacific Ocean on Sunday morning.