So I’m into fitness: My name is Ernie, and I’m addicted to exercise


From left to right, the Washburn Alumni Association  Fun Run in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In 2013, I set a PR for a 5K. Eight hours later, after running and working a tailgate, I could barely walk due to bruised heels, which I ran myself into by running 40 miles a week without off days.

“Whatever. I’ll work it off tonight running.”

Time and time again, I said that to my wife as I was grabbing a 32-ounce Dr. Pepper or ordering espinaca (perhaps my favorite food vice) at Jose Peppers.

Being the loving, caring woman she is, time and time again my wife simply said, “I love you, honey, but that’s really not how it works.”

I knew that, of course, but I was resistant to going all-in on overhauling my eating habits.

As I wrote in my previous blog, I discovered that if I worked out enough, I wouldn’t gain much, if any, weight. I loved junky, fatty foods so much that I was absolutely willing to pay the price at the gym.

before after

Before and after, from 2009 to 2014.

I conveniently forgot that in August and September of 2011, I dropped 37 pounds doing three things: 1. Running three miles four or five times a week and lifting two or three times a week. 2. Cutting dairy out of my diet. 3. Cutting soda out of my diet.

My exercise goals were modest when I decided that I’d rather not die of a heart attack before I turned 40 (I turn 40 on July 3). When I began running in June 2010, I had to stop after about 50 yards.

By the end of summer, I could run a mile without stopping. In September 2011, I finally ran a 5K. A year later, I could run a 10K. By early 2013, I was running eight miles.

At some point in 2013, I went to two workouts a day. I’d arrive at the campus gym at Washburn right after it opened in the morning, exercise for an hour and go to work. Four hours later, I was back the gym, usually for a three- or four-mile run on the hills setting or high-speed intervals.

Within a year, I noticed my mood would change if I missed one of those workouts. I became irritable. By 2014, my fitness goals were to work out twice a day for a total of at least two hours, burn at least 1,000 calories and run 40 miles a week.

When you consider that less than four years earlier, I couldn’t run 100 yards, that’s significant progress.

train like an idiot

Train like an idiot might have been more accurate. Who burns 10,000 calories a week at the gym other than professional athletes?

But 2014 was the year I crossed the line of addiction. Instead of getting up at 5 a.m., I set the alarm for 4:55 a.m. Why? Because I was arriving at the gym at 6:35 a.m., five minutes after it opened. I HAD to burn those 20 calories (if I was lifting) or 70 calories (if I was running).

I also became obsessed with burning 10,000 calories during a week. During some of those weeks, I’d throw in a third workout, usually an hour of Tae-Bo, to hit that goal.

To reach 10,000 calories a week, off days were no longer an option. I refused to miss a day of exercise. I arranged my schedule around workouts. I was pissed off if I “only” burned 700 or 800 calories on a given day.

Early in 2015, completely exhausted, I took a day off for the first time in a long time. My wife asked when my last off day was. I logged onto MyFitnessPal and began clicking back through my diary, past December, into November. It had been more than 70 days since my last off day.

In 2013, when the clean eating stopped and exercise addiction kicked in, I weighed 195 pounds. Five weeks ago, with two workouts a day and unhealthy eating for three years, I weighed 211 pounds. Some of that is muscle mass, but a lot of it is fat I regained.

A month ago, when I backed off my workout routine, I panicked. I was scared to death I’d get back to 300 pounds. But, my wife helped me revamp my diet. My goal was to maintain my weight until I can exercise again.

A month later, including three weeks without a workout, my weight is 197 pounds. Before long, I’ll be addicted to eating healthy.


So, I’m into fitness: The best illness I’ve ever had


My dedication to working out produced some wonderful results: Running 5Ks, winning medals, getting back in shape and losing more than 100 pounds. Unfortunately, it became an unhealthy addiction.

Long time, no talk. I figured I had it all figured out, so blogging about fitness seemed trite.

After years of battling an obesity problem, I finally lost the weight (115 pounds) and maintained a healthy weight for three years.

So it seemed. In reality, I adopted a lifestyle I couldn’t possibly maintain: the workout regimen of an athlete … and a diet similar to the one that pushed me to the brink of heart disease, diabetes and a slew of other potentially life-threatening ailments.

All along, of course, I managed to continue the admirable family tradition of a borderline crazy work ethic, plus graduate school and a family. A full plate, to say the least.


Two-a-days lead to rewards, including T-shirts for benchmarks during fitness competitions … and fatigue, if you’re not careful.

By the time I hit my goal weight (between 188 and 199, according to my fitness coach at Washburn), I was utterly addicted to working out. No matter what, I was at the gym twice a day during the week, chased by a long run on Saturday or Sunday. I might take Saturday or Sunday off, but not without grumbling about it.


I found that I could eat just about anything I wanted and stay close to my goal weight, so I started taking shortcuts. At first, I’d grab an energy drink here and there in the morning, along with a junky gas station breakfast. Before long, that was breakfast every day.

Eventually, I fell back into more bad habits, consuming too much dairy and drinking far too much soda. I gained a few pounds and a few inches, but I still looked healthy and figured I’d work it off at the gym. After all, I discovered that I actually had muscles!

The thing is, I know better than this. I know 90 percent of maintaining a healthy weight is what you put into your body. Denial is a powerful thing. If I ate poorly, I punished myself at the gym. Before long, I was running 40 miles a week (and into blisters, bruised heels and several other minor, but painful injuries).

Somehow, I got by with this for nearly four years. But I noticed in the last 18 months that I was getting tired earlier during my long runs. Seven miles became five, then four.

Eight months ago, I started a new job. I took the family work ethic there, too. I continued working out as much as I could. I continued eating poorly. In a desire to prove myself, I pushed and pushed at work, arriving early, staying late and taking on extra work.


Our awards night. I received one for “going the extra mile.” Notice the pure exhaustion? Working hard is one thing. Working too much is another.

My body finally said enough in April. The combination of stress, working out too much and a poor diet was too much. I crashed in mid-April in the midst of planning for three important events at work. I had a sore throat, headache, extreme fatigue and other symptoms for a week. The sore throat and headache are gone. The extreme fatigue is not.

Two trips to a nurse practitioner provided no answers. I was told it was an asthma flare-up and prescribed prednisone. I gained NINE pounds in eight days on that drug, a steroid.

Meanwhile, my wife and her boss, a pharmacist and certified clinical nutritionist, pleaded with me to get a test for Epstein-Barr Virus. After resisting, the nurse practitioner agreed to let me take the test. She told me the test came back negative.

I still felt terrible, but I continued to work out, eventually pulling back to walking an hour every day. Three weeks later, I felt even worse. It was time for a second opinion. Maybe my wife and her boss were on to something.

My new doctor, the husband of my wife’s boss and a friend, chuckled a little when he saw my lab results. “You have Epstein-Barr. There’s no question.”

The nurse practitioner did not read my results properly. A normal, or negative, range for EBV is 0 to 17.9 Mine was 427. FOUR-HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SEVEN.

So, what is Epstein-Barr? It’s the virus that causes mono, which I had in college. What I’m battling through now is a flare-up of that virus. Among the leading causes? Stress and over-exertion.

The last month has been a struggle. I have not worked out in three weeks. Going into this illness, I had not gone more than three days without a workout since 2011. Five years.


One of several injuries sustained while running: a torn kneecap suffered five miles into a run.

There is no cure for EBV. Your body, if you treat it properly, will fight it off, with rest and a good diet. Still, the recovery time is several weeks. I will not be able to resume anything remotely resembling my workout routine until a month after I feel 100 percent.

It stinks being tired all the time. It stinks that I can’t work out. It stinks that I want to sleep 16 hours a day, which isn’t plausible. Despite all of this, I see this illness as a blessing.

I revamped my diet. No dairy, no meat, no refined sugar. In the first three weeks of this lifestyle change, I’ve dropped 12 pounds (I can thank the my workout routine for producing a high-octane metabolism, at least). I’m at my lowest weight in more than three years, which is in the healthy range. In fact, I’m about seven pounds away from my lowest weight since 2000.

More importantly, I’ve realized that the stress isn’t worth it. Stop and smell the roses. Enjoy your life. Don’t take shortcuts, especially when it comes to your health.