How does your thyroid affect your endurance training?

— By Raúl Andrés Pérez

Being a triathlete is demanding, and to meet your goals in races you need to ask a lot of your body in training. So what happens when we (triathletes) suffer from a condition that doesn’t allow us to complete our training as expected?

For me, by the end of summer in 2010, I had had several months of being unable to complete my training because I felt so lazy (not intentionally) but I was not doing anything except sitting on the couch, I also had muscle pain frequently, cramps, and feeling that all my body ached; I had never felt those symptoms before so I went to see my family doctor to understand what my problem was.

I always was a really “active” person, full of desire to discover life in different ways, practicing all kind of sports and being happy most of the time.  It was like in the movies when all happens in slow motion and it seems you are a spectator of yourself. The doctor said that word that I never heart before —“Hypothyroidism”, describing what I had after analyzing the routine blood exams I had done.

Hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid or low thyroid, is a disorder of the endocrine system in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. It can cause a number of symptoms, such as poor ability to tolerate cold, a feeling of fatigue, tiredness, constipation, depression, and weight gain among others.

This was not good news at all for me. My doctor gave me a prescription and said, “We’ll see how it develops from now on”. You will have to take this medication for life. ..  After a few seconds of silence, I still did not understand anything. The doctor handled me a few brochures with related information about the thyroid. That day, started my battle against this “athletic killer”– not literally a killer, but it is very easy to give up and let the symptoms step over you.

Once I got home and started to read all the info received, I called my mother and asked her if she had ever been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Unfortunately, it was in my DNA — my mother had when she was younger.

In time, after taking my medication for several months; I started to feel better, closer to the person I used to be, but never ever the same “me” again.  Since then, the battle continues every single day of my life, every morning I start the day taking medication (… and … do not forget it, it will be a bad day).

It’s a challenge to get through busy days of work with enough energy and then try and fit some good training in as well. Only in time, after so many years, I have been able to rethink my approach to life and continuing to be an Ironman triathlete. My advice for anyone with this condition — absolutely don’t give up training or racing! It’s probably better not to, probably it will be a reason to be excited about yourself having some clear objectives and goals to complete. Additionally, if we stop training, we tend to put on weight more easily and lose it more slowly than others despite the medication. Some people have knee problems to beat, we have thyroid problems. Don’t let the thyroid win 🙂

If you’re anything like me, you’ll wake up one day and have a bad training session and then realize, “hang on, I’ve been having bad training sessions for 6 weeks now”… and then it all clicks. If you get to a point where your training is not progressing, you’re falling asleep during the day for no apparent reason, feeling fatigue after a good night sleep, you’re putting on weight changes despite no alterations in training/diet or you have other factors that led you to look for diagnosis, go and see the doctor again and again, and insist until agrees to check your thyroid with the corresponding blood exams. A big number of people (women and men) are underdiagnosed since it is easy to get confused with other similar conditions. Unfortunately, it’s going to get worse over time (assuming you don’t want to have it surgically removed).

Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
  • Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
  • Coarse, dry hair
  • Dry, rough pale skin
  • Hair loss
  • Cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you)
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss

It’s been almost eight years now that I‘ve been battling hypothyroidism and despite all complications, I was able to complete my first full Ironman – 140.6 miles – at Mont Tremblant in 2016 (this is considered one of the most challenging races) and also six other Ironman 70.3 races and about 20 Olympic distance triathlons.  Currently I’m training to participate in Ironman Frankfurt this year. Hopefully I will be able to finish it. My thyroid does not control my life. It is me the one responsible for my own actions. I won’t quit. I won’t let my thyroid control me.

Hope this provides some guidance and help to any other fellow triathletes in a similar case like me eight years ago.