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Q&A with Hal Higdon

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Thursday
May032012

How "Swim Bike Run" Changed My Life

My name is Steve Howard. I am a mechanical engineer and own and operate an engineering company in Lafayette, Louisiana. In November 2007, I weighed just over 300 pounds (136 kg). Today, I weigh 175 pounds (79.38 kg) and have completed two iron-distance triathlons. This is my story.

Steve Howard in November 2007 (left), and September 2011 (right)

In 2007, my wife insisted I go in for a physical. My life insurance had recently been renewed, so I told her if the insurance company thought I was low risk, I saw no need for another physical. Well, I ended up going and I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. Below is a summary of my medical test results at the time of the 2007 diagnosis: 

In summary, I had high blood pressure, early stage diabetes and high cholesterol. My height is 76 inches (1.93 meters) and I weighed 136.1 kg. This meant a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 36.5! This is considered drastically obese.

My family physician told me that, if gone untreated, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol complications could include heart attack, heart bypass, possible loss of my kidneys or losing a foot or leg, and/or becoming blind. After the short conversation with my doctor, I decided to drastically change my lifestyle. I chose the “True Grit" approach: no medication, workout out every single day, and eat right for the rest of my life.

In 2007, I was told I needed to lose a daunting 100+ pounds. I remember Thanksgiving Day 2007: no turkey, no mashed potatoes, and no pecan pie. I ate a salad and some green beans and then walked (sauntered) around the short 1/8 mile city block at my daughter’s house while everyone enjoyed their dessert. That walk seems much harder than a recent 26.2 marathon I completed as part of the 2011 Redman 140.6 Triathlon. 

I could not bend over and reach the handle bars on a road bike comfortably, so I purchased a mountain bike. My first ride was 4.6 miles from my house to work, and this ride was made with some difficulty due to my weight hovering around 305 lbs. This first bike ride to the office was at approximately 5.5 mph and took 50 minutes, including one stop to catch my breath. The irony of the situation is that now, as part of my regular training, I run/jog this same bike course (house to office route) in 44 minutes (9:30 minute miles)! I know this run pace is slow, but the point is that now I can run from my house to the office on the 4.6 mile route faster than I could initially ride the same distance on a mountain bike!

After I lost a few pounds, I purchased a road bike. Initially, on the road bike the best I could do was 8-10 mph (no wind). On the weekends, whichever direction the wind was blowing, that would be the direction I would ride. I would ride anywhere from 35 to 85 miles at a snail’s pace! I knew nothing about cycling. However, the snail’s pace long rides were at a low heart rate – suitable for base building. I was literally teaching my body how to burn fat!

I also worked with Peggy Pletcher, a licensed dietitian, a certified diabetes educator and health coach. I learned that eating a high-fiber, low-fat diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and unprocessed grains would greatly help me in lowering my weight, cholesterol, and glucose levels. Peggy helped me develop a diet that ensured that I was getting a suitable balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and proper vitamins. The graph below shows my progression back to health and fitness. 

In September 2011, I completed my first iron distance triathlon at the Redman 140.6. My time was 15:34. It was such an incredible experience, in February 2012, I took part in the Corpus Christi HITS 140.6 triathlon. At the HITS athletes’ dinner the night before the race, Dave Scott advised us to break up the race into segments and to not start off thinking about the 140.6 miles ahead at the beginning of the swim. Dave Scott also told us that it was our duty as a triathlete to compete and do our very best. Lastly, he said find some humor in the race and have fun. I made sure I did all three! I shaved nearly an hour off my time at 14:36.

Today, soaking wet, my weight is 175 pounds (79.38 kg), with a BMI of 21.3. According to the Center for Disease Control, the normal BMI is defined as 18.5 to 24.9, so I am back where I need to be. Over 33% of my body weight is now gone. Physically I am a different person now, but beyond that the process has also changed what is in my heart. I am no longer an obese, unhealthy baby boomer headed for major health problems. With much family support and some "elbow grease," I am now a healthy 59 year old who does long-distance swimming, bicycling, and even marathon running. I also recently became a Total Immersion Swim Coach and am in the process of completing my USAT Level 1 Coach certification!

Steve on the bike today - a far cry from that first ride in 2007!This whole time, I used TrainingPeaks software daily to chart where I have been, and analyze the effectiveness of my daily training to help me get to the level of health and wellness where I am today.  More importantly, I use TrainingPeaks software each day to help maintain a very high level of health and wellness and to help me achieve my goals and get to the next place I want to go.

The ironic thing is that with our new diet and active lifestyle, my wife Debbie and I are having the time of our lives. I now have what seems like endless energy and am more productive professionally. Also, now I can swim, bike and run farther than I ever could have imagined. The doctors tell me my athletic capabilities won't peak until age 65 due to my late start at athletic training. And I used to think my active life was over when I hit my mid-50s!

The most important result for me in the Redman 140.6 and the HITS 140.6 was finishing the race knowing that my good health will enable me to spend many more decades riding, swimming, and running with my family; and that maybe, just maybe when Debbie and I are 100 years of age, I will still be able to take part in endurance events.

The key message is that training daily and staying healthy and fit are "enablers" for all of us to choose between many fun adventures. The events for me are a celebration of everyday health and fitness. Also, by having a number of event options, if my work schedule prevents me from taking part in one event, I can shift gears and catch another.

What a fun way to live life! Training is part of my wife’s and my daily life and recreation - it is not something we have to do, it is something we have the privilege to do. Each day that I get to train even for an hour, I consider it a gift.

 

Steve used TrainingPeaks to track, monitor, and analyze his incredible journey. Learn about how TrainingPeaks can help you achieve your fitness goals.

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Reader Comments (3)

This is truly incredible. Thank you for sharing this story!

May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaula Kiger

Damn Steve - you are a walking, riding, swimming, biking, running testament to exercise!

Great job - Charlie Hoolihan

August 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Hoolihan

Wow! Are you for real? It's just amazing how you transform into that fit in just less than four years. Now I am very inspired to join triathlon. You proved to me that it is never too late to start. Thank you very much and long live.
go to hypergh14x website

August 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlorra

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