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

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erniefunrun

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.

erniebenchmark

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.

ernietired

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.

knee

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.

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6 thoughts on “So, I’m into fitness: The best illness I’ve ever had

  1. John

    Nice blog, Ernie! EBV is in the herpesvirus family, so it’s a DNA virus. True that there is no curenyet, but with genome editing technology taking off (CRISPR-Cas9), I would not be surprised if it happens in the near future. Glad you keep track of your health and have a great support system. Thanks for sharing, hang in there!

    • Ernie W. Webb III

      Thanks, and that’s good to hear. I’m not used to being sick, so this has been a valuable lesson.

  2. John

    Oh, and your experience with the nurse practitioner is why WU Biology does not apologize for its
    Scientific rigor! 😃

    • Ernie W. Webb III

      Yeah, I didn’t mention names or facilities, but I’m pissed about my experience with the NP and the company.

  3. Joe

    Prednisone suppresses your immune system (I learned a lot about that drug when I was on it for three months last year). So in light of your diagnosis, that probably did more harm than good. Glad you’re on the road to recovery, though.

    • Ernie W. Webb III

      I’m extremely irritated about that experience. In addition to that drug, I was told that working out was OK. Probably added weeks to my recovery time.

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