A few days ago, I was laying on the living room floor around 9 pm with a stomachache. At that point in the day, I wasn’t sure what to attribute it to - the 7 mile run earlier in evening, or something I ate, or something I didn’t eat, or something I should have drank and didn’t, hormones, seasonal allergies. There are so many things it could have been that I stopped trying to diagnosis it and instead rode out the waves of pain. Just chalk it up to another mysterious side effect of IM training.
Surfing the waves of discomfort and pain, I created a disorder specifically to describe those of us training for IM. Finally, my degree in psychology is useful to me. I thought back to my college days reading through the DSM–IV, the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. With something for everyone (the oppositional, the eating-impaired, the socially inept, the sad, the lonely, the confused), there is definitely not something for the Ironman. You would think Ironman training, or just the thought of doing an Ironman, or the fact that I paid $450 to do Ironman, is so mentally disordered that it would have by now made it into the DSM-IV.
This new IM-specific disoder would be called IM-NOS. I’m willing to sell it to the DSM-IV for just the right cost. Or at least $450 to make up for that darn IM entry fee. The disorder 'IM', training for an Ironman. The NOS stands for ‘not otherwise specified’. According to the DSM-IV, the abbreviated ‘NOS’ can be used when the mental disorder appears to fall within the larger category but does not meet the criteria of any specific disorder within that category.
In other words, we have a larger category of those training for IM. And this IM person in-training gets a little disorder in their stomach. Normally you would attribute it to eating some foul food or monthly cramps. However, with IM training you can never be sure just why something hurts so you attribute it just to the larger category, IM training. Hence the NOS.
Though I didn’t know what caused my stomachache, I was entirely certain it had something to do with IM training because it seems like everything that is currently happening in my life and body is in some way affected by the hours upon hours of training each week. At this point, I’ve just gotten used to saying “it’s par for the course.” Though I’ve got to tell you, I am so over par on this course someone should just kick me off the course, take the keys to the golf cart, and never let me near the course or the cart again.
A few days later, I found myself in the bookstore reading through some sports-related books. In one book, I read through a section about overtraining. Not that I think I’m overtrained, but I was starting to feel a strange kinship with the listed symptoms:
Change in appetite
Persistent muscle soreness
Fatigue, washed out feeling, drained, lack of energy
Heavy legs, especially when walking upstairs
Insomnia or sleeplessness
Increased sensitivity to emotional stress
Feelings of irritation or anger
Restlessness, inability to relax, fidgety, twitchy
I couldn’t help but feel like they’ve been watching me. And taking good notes. How could they know exactly what has been going on in my body?
Then I started thinking, is overtraining just naturally a part of IM training? How can you ride 342 miles, swim 13,000 yards, and run 44 miles in 8 days and not consider that overtraining? In the past 8 days, I nearly rode my bike to Columbus, Ohio. And then when for a swim. And then went for a short jog to Dayton. Why is it that thousands of people keep signing up for this exercise in extreme endurance and overtraining – some of them multiple times per year?
As I contemplated these questions, I started to think that although the overtraining list was a good starting point for IM-NOS, it was clearly devoid of the most defining symptom:
Complete loss of common sense
This symptom would be the key diagnostic factor for IM-NOS. In other words, any triathlete can present all of those symptoms listed above but if they come to you and say, I swam 4,000 yards then hopped on my bike for a 4 hour ride while eating nothing but bars and salt tabs last Saturday, a day when you should be doing nothing but eating doughnuts, drinking coffee, and recovering from late night bar-hopping with your friends, you could safely assume that they have a suffered the complete loss of common sense often associated with IM-training and indeed have IM-NOS.
The cure for IM-NOS? Doing the IM, of course. And then after that, they will probably begin to present symptoms for my next new disorder, PIMS (post-IM syndrome), indicated by uncontrollable muscular contractions, inability to stomach any food, and incessant thoughts of doing another IM. Which might be construed as yet another example of complete loss of common sense which means you should probably diagnose them with PIMS-NOS.
I'm going to spare myself the doctor's bill - diagnosing myself with IM-NOS and just riding all of this out until the IM. And as soon as I cross the line, I'm going to have Chris hit me really hard in the head so I can forget the whole thing. When I wake up the next day and ask what we are doing in Hawaii and why I feel like hell just rolled over me, he'll say something clever. And hopefully I will regain my common sense.