ATC 350: To Train or Not To Train Through Hormonal Imbalances (With Healthy Comebacks), High Heart Rate Concerns, Heart Health Check, and More

March 10, 2023


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Intro Banter

Ragnar SoCal!
  • It’s coming and there’s still time to join the team for the race in Southern CA on April 14-15th, 2023. Email for details.
Athlete Retirements 
IM World Championships
  • Our thoughts on the new race format with rotating locations and moving beyond just Kona.



Luke asks:

How High is Too High? (HR)


I’m 29 big fan of ATC.
Recently I did an olympic distance triathlon. It was hot, about 30 degrees Celsius on the run.
I took it easy on the first half of the bike and then pushed the 2nd half and was still feeling good going into the run, when I got out of T2 my heart rate was 196 on my Garmin. It’s only the wrist monitor(so could be wrong), but I was still a bit worried.
My legs felt fine though so I kept pushing it. At the end of the run I checked my stats and I had 195 bmp average with a max of 204. I was dead by the end but I didn’t think it was possible for me to run 50minutes at that heart rate.
In training I barely get up to that HR unless I am doing really hard running intervals. I am kinda fit, the race took me 2h35, and that was better than expected.
Should I have slowed down and waited for my HR to go lower how dangerous is it to hold that HR for that long ?

What the coaches say:

  • For quick & direct heart rate reading: Take your pulse for 6 seconds and add a 0 to get an immediate read and you can compare this against your heart rate monitor to gauge accuracy.
  • Feeling your lactate threshold is usually very easy to do, as it is correlated with ventilatory threshold (shift in breath), but feeling “max” efforts or HR over 200 bpm has a different feeling.
  • Couple ways to look at this:
  • Accuracy of heart rate monitors–they are pretty good at this point, usually not off by more than 1-2 beats for the latest technology.
  • Garmin Forerunner 45s is what Lucho uses and finds that the HR readings are very accurate.
  • Consider your HR in training vs. racing, fitness levels (e.g. how’s your MAF pace and aerobic bace? Are you training your high end, what do you see?)
  • At the end of the day, it’s your heart, so if there is ANY concern then follow that and get it checked.

Dana asks:

To train or not to train?

Hey Team! I was experiencing extreme fatigue so I decided to get a DUTCH test. Let’s just say everything is low – sexy hormones (estradiol, progesterone, testosterone), DHEA, and neurotransmitters for dopamine and adrenaline. Also cortisol was off – my body is just not making enough which I was told is a later stage of adrenal burnout or HPA axis dysfunction. I have regained a period, but it’s irregular with difficult symptoms around the time I start (it’s typically every 35-60 days). I also have frequent anxiety and trouble sleeping.

The problem is MY MIND! I want to keep racing and I’m at a crossroads on what I should do… I am signed up for a marathon this fall plus some other small races prior to that, and I honestly don’t want to pull the plug and lose the fitness. I think I’ll feel a bit lost and also fearing having nothing on the calendar and not any real training. Also, I have dealt with a hamstring injury issue that I am keeping at bay but wouldn’t say they’re healed fully (low hamstring by the back of inner knee).

I know Tawnee gets this question quite often: how can i still train while working on healing?! HELP!!!

What the coaches say:

  • Total (metabolized) cortisol vs. free cortisol–what is the difference. And looking at different cortisol patterns.
  • When your body is not producing (making cortisol), it’s usually indicative of burnout in the form of HPA axis dysfunction or adrenal fatigue. Body depleted.
    • Harder for athletes to recover, constant fatigue, low level depression, etc.
  • DHEA is a steroid hormone and precursor, also aids in our immune function, bone health among other issues.
  • The decision to make: do you push through and keep going with training? How effective, fun and quality will training even be?
  • Dealing with our demons, and getting comfortable with letting go, if that’s what we need to do.
    • Races
  • When HPA axis dysfunction takes place we have largely lost touch with ourselves, our body and our needs.
  • Part of healing is learning to reconnect with our body and getting our intuition back when we’ve lost the ability to do so.
  • Adrenal issues often correlated with HIIT; thyroid can often be affected over a longer period time of chronic endurance.
  • Volume & intensity–those are the variables that need to change.
  • So we can still exercise and move, but understand that our body is starved–starved of proper nutrition, starved of parasympathetic activity, etc.
  • An example of still training, as Tawnee did back in the day:
    • Adhering to strict MAF Method about 90-95% of training (but also cap volume–you cannot be doing big big volume as MAF often is).
    • E.g. 20-30 mpw max for run volume for a marathon, and allowing some crosstraining at healthy levels, healthy intensities that promote healing and building back up: walking, strength training (but not HIIT circuits), time/mindful activity in nature, and so on.
    • Shut it down if red flags pop up, like a missing period.
    • What about the signs between each period to look for?
    • I other words if you still want to train for a marathon while healing these things let go of the idea of peak performance and even if you run your slowest time ever that’s ok, rebuilding your health is more important in the long run and you can get back to faster racing again.
  • Adrenal/HPA Axis healing basics:
    • Supplementing helps (adaptogens, bioidentical hormones, etc.) but the priority is lifestyle and nourishing yourself with nutrient-dense foods, stable blood sugar, etc.
    • Get sunlight upon rising for cortisol awakening response (CAR).
    • Stillness and full quietness at least 5 minutes a day, even if not meditating.
    • Adrenal drink in the AM: high-quality sea salt or Himalayan salt with lemon in filtered water.
    • Don’t sacrifice sleep! 8-9 hours is non-negotiable. Have good sleep hygiene.
      • E.g. what lights are on in at night? Bright white/blue lights aren’t ideal.
    • Look to nature, not your phone.
    • Break the cycle that got you into this rut in the first place.
  • Low neurotransmitters:
    • We will be more likely to seek out activities that give us a dopamine hit, which just makes it harder for us to let go from our training and racing.
    • Low dopamine and adrenaline often go hand in hand with low cortisol or later stage adrenal fatigue.
    • Dopamine made in gut (~50%), so look at that as a factor.
    • Don’t let yourself be addicted to exercise where you can’t even let go or shift how you do it for your own well-being.
  • Overall, training/exercise while healing:
    • You can give it up and go all in. That’s the fast track…
    • Of you don’t have to give it up; Tawnee always exercised while healing, but also had many huge transformations and major shifts to her approach, and you’ll heal but it just takes time… up to a year or more.
    • How long does it take? Just depends how hardcore you go with your healing; how “all in” you are or not.
    • And once you heal, can you come back and train and race at a high or elite level?
    • This process allows a self-discovery process. You gain self-awareness in this process, and that’ll serve you so well going forward! Will help prevent mistakes in the future or setbacks. Or if you do have a setback you can bounce back more quickly.

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