Athletes and Hyperthyroidism
Ok, this is a post I have been meaning to write for a long time. And since I am currently on vacation, I have all the time in the world to hammer it out. (I wrote these words before I was struck down with a nasty flu, but more on that later…)
I had mentioned in a prior post that I am an endurance athlete with hyperthyroidism and I have received a number of emails from you sharing that you have thyroid issues of some sort. It is one area for endurance athletes that is not widely researched and doesn’t have much background on. Any medical professional that I throw out the words “endurance athlete” and “Graves disease” to looks at me and says “Ohhhh, that’s tricky…”
You best believe it.
So backing up a bit. What exactly is hyperthyroidism? In a nutshell: Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism can accelerate your body’s metabolism significantly, causing sudden weight loss, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, and nervousness or irritability.
Reread those symptoms and then think marathons. It just doesn’t stack up.
How long have I had it? Well, in high school, I was a fairly average girl but during my final year of high school, I began to lose weight at an extremely rapid rate. It wasn’t until I went to the doctors and they saw I had lost 30 pounds in a month that they realized it was something actually medically wrong with me.
This photo was taken in 2007 right before I was diagnosed with what is called Graves Disease, which is a form of hyperthyroidism that is most common in young women.
So… lucky me.
Managing it has not been an easy task and there have been times when my training has been affected. I was given medication to treat the symptoms which include severe weight loss, enlarged thyroid, over heating, lack of sleep, hand tremors and more. I have needed to take blood tests every 3 months and report back to my endocrinologist to see how my levels are doing because the medication they put me on is not overly safe for long periods of time.
But the alternative is something called radio active iodine treatment or surgery to completely remove your thyroid. And there is NONE of that happening on my watch!
So what have I done to treat it? One of the most notable things I did was see a naturopath.
I am pleased to report that I visited my endocrinologist for the first time in a long time and she informed me that my levels are perfect and I have reached a second remission. (I had another in university). There is a huge chance that it may never come back. This means no medication, but regular blood work.
What does this mean for my running?
Because I am predisposed to hyperthyroidism, my metabolism will always run high and which ends up giving me a ridiculous amount of energy to do things, but it also means I burn through my nutrients much faster than others. I operate on adrenaline much more that I should, which explains why the moment I try to relax on vacation, I come down with the flu. It also explains why I am predisposed to injuries like stress fractures because I need to have more everything than most athletes to keep my nutrition levels normal.
I often need to eat more than my peers in a race. Heck, it means I eat more than my peers in general. (I was once on a date with a guy who was in the gain stage of his body building and he was humiliated that I out ate him. I was humiliated that I out ate him without noticing.)
I guess what I am trying to say is that we all have our thing that is stopping us from being a perfect athlete. The year I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, I was told I couldn’t run a marathon because of the extra strain on my body, so I ran an ultramarathon instead. Limitations are a part of being human, but running has helped me to be too busy doing the things they told me I couldn’t do to mind. (I feel like this needs a disclaimer… There are some instances where you SHOULD NOT run when a medical professional tells you not to. This just wasn’t one of them. And, as always, I am not a doctor, this is just my personal experience with Graves Disease).
What is your “achilles heel” in running?