I’ll admit, I haven’t been all there at any point in the last couple of weeks, but I’m pretty sure I’m right in saying that I’m currently hanging out in a bed in Wanaka, NZ, ready to head back to Melbourne tomorrow. That’s like, my first time in New Zealand, everrr. I’m proud of my immune system for hanging tough this long, but for the first time since Vegas last July, it’s given in to a minor cold after a crazy couple of weeks.
As mentioned in the last article, two weeks ago I’d gone through test results with the doc and we’d identified some issues, including folate-deficiency anemia, that had been giving me some grief. By that stage the effects on sleep and mood had become quite severe, and for the next 10 days while waiting for supplements to arrive (damn you Americans with your next day Amazon Prime deliveries!), it felt like I was in a bit of a holding pattern, just trying to make decent decisions while achieving little and attempting not to stress my body further.
Then, nearing the delivery date, came an unexpected announcement: RunItOnce Poker was launching... in just a couple of days. I’ve been making training videos for RunItOnce since its inception many years ago and am all about what Phil Galfond (CEO) and the company stand for, and this was highly anticipated, long awaited news for the poker community.
When the Galfonds made it clear just what they’d been through to make this happen, and how important it was that people play in the first days, I heard New Zealand calling (online poker is banned in Australia). It was interesting timing for me – I’d been in a flat spot mentally, had just had a nice win backing Rickie Fowler in the golf, and my crucial supplements were arriving! Perhaps a short getaway was a great idea anyway.
If there’s one thing that’s been really important to me recently on my journey toward vibrant health, it’s to stop finding excuses, take risks and embrace the unknown. I’ve spent enough time not living that I can’t get back; I don’t much care for any more. So, plans were made.
I didn’t leave in the best condition it’s fair to say... the only direct flight that day was early morning, which resulted in an all too familiar 1-hour sleep after my first day back in the gym for a long time. Nevertheless, we made it to Queenstown, and perhaps due to being awestruck by the stunning views at the airport, I pushed the deliria to one side and asked out a striking woman at the rental car desk. Perplexingly, she insisted that her having a boyfriend was a satisfactory reason that we shouldn’t meet up. Not to worry, I was slated to be playing a stunning golf course the next day... best go figure out how to get a good night’s sleep.
The course was breathtaking, and I couldn’t have been more excited to play. It was somehow my first round in about a year... golf’s taken a back seat lately unfortunately. Yet, I have to say, it was unmistakable from the beginning that I wasn’t able to enjoy the experience to the extent I should have been. The DOMS from the workout and club-fitting session was real, and despite one decent sleep, my hormones were clearly out of whack. Also, while walking the course I managed to get sunburnt and dehydrated, despite efforts to avoid those fates! It was more a physical grind than the exhilarating, empowering experience it could have been... and I’m not OK with that.
I finally started listening to “Primal Endurance” by Mark Sisson recently, and it’s given me a lot of food for thought about how I’ve been training. In the last 6 months I’ve had phenomenal gains in strength, power and mobility, as well as in how I’ve been hitting a tennis ball. However, my aerobic capacity still sucks, and it’s been what’s held me back from progressing with tennis for a long time.
A lot of the information is not exactly new to me; Ben Greenfield’s “Beyond Training” is a great book I’d listened to multiple times ages ago. Though I tended to skip the fitness nitty gritty chapters to focus on the health ones due to where I was at, the concept of not overtraining was always at the forefront of my mind. That focus morphed my training toward simply ensuring long recovery periods between exhaustive workouts (with some yin yoga sprinkled in), whether those were PT sessions, intense yoga classes or hits on the tennis court.
The blaring fresh piece of information to me hammered home in “Primal Endurance”, however, is that, according to the author, any high intensity training belongs strictly after a lengthy aerobic base-building period. That means, a minimum of 8 weeks with all training at or below maximum aerobic heartrate – and the recommendation is to not involve strength training in this period either.
This is something I’ve certainly never tried since my health challenges, and there are many particulars about my history and condition that lead me to think it may be the most important change I ever make. Interestingly, the book also promotes a high-fat, low-carb diet for endurance exercise – something I’ve been adhering to for 5 years to help manage my diabetes. In theory then, calling upon my fat-burning pathways for so long should have helped me develop a strong aerobic capacity. The problem is that, almost whenever I exercise, I’ll go anaerobic quickly, due to poor health and fitness (or strength training being anaerobic by nature), negating the potential aerobic gains.
As well, facing so much chronic stress as a poker player and sports bettor has meant chronically elevated cortisol, which also short-circuits the fat-burning pathways. Ergo, I’ve never actually properly trained my fat-burning to be that much more efficient than it is at a resting rate, and the book reports that that efficiency can increase ten-fold with proper aerobic training. Then, considering my carbohydrate metabolism is compromised (in part due to diabetes), it makes a whole lot of sense why my endurance has remained so poor. This, to me, also explains very well why I’ve had such a torturous time with sugar cravings and recovery, even when life stress has been absolutely minimal.
A lot of good has happened in the last 6 months, and there’ve been a lot of lessons too. I have to listen. Now is the time to yoke it all together. The first thing I’m doing when I get back to Melbourne is picking up a juice cleanse, to help my body to reset. Then, I’m sorry to my trainers, but I have to take my exercise into my own hands for a while and focus strictly on aerobic exercise. PT sessions will be on hold for a while again. Concurrently, I need to adhere to my eating plan as well as I ever have. It’s time to find some much needed hormonal stability and achieve awesomeness. One thing I've really struggled with on that front is not having any healthy delivery options, as far out in the burbs as I live, for those moments where you find yourself an exhausted, disorganised mess – I've now found some new pickup restaurant options to incorporate and I'm going to get this bloody right, every day, no matter how much driving it takes!
Goodness knows, with the peculiarity of my personal circumstances, the more I learn about my body, the more I’m going to have to take charge of all of my choices – but I hope there’s a lesson in there for others, too. It’s going to be hard to convince a hitting partner in the next couple of months that I can’t chase down any balls, because it’ll mean I’ll go into an anaerobic zone that will lead to a switch from fat to carb-burning and a stress response – the likes of which have been compromising my endurance gains, due to lacking the aerobic base to respond positively to this increase in stress – but if I'm hitting, I’m going to have to do it. That may not make a lot of sense when I write it, but please do read or listen to the book if interested; the author can’t seem to stress the detriment of any anaerobic bursts in an aerobic building session enough.
The point is though, that we face so much peer pressure and uncertainty when it comes to exercise, or food choices, that it’s so much easier to simply follow all directions from a professional, or to push ourselves unhealthily to keep up with partners... but the more we learn about our own bodies, the more input we need to have on everything we do to take the step from good to great.
It reminds me how, for the longest time, when I’d be having a hit of tennis, despite being less fit than my hitting partner I’d never be the one to call time out of pride. Well, pride can get stuffed. I’m feeling empowered with new knowledge and let’s see how things might have changed in a couple of months’ time.