Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Living life like you might die tomorrow….

Recently I’ve been thinking about death during some of my training.

I’ve watched the Steve Jobs Stanford speech many times. It’s one of my favorites. In part of it he discusses death and the spirit of it is “to live each day like it’s your last. Time is precious and finite”.

For him that wisdom resonated. Deeply. He near died, or still knew he was going to die. It was very real and personal to him. I think it’s very difficult for someone to truly understand the depth of the wisdom he was sharing about death unless they too have experienced something similar.

Less than a year ago, November 2012 I was hospitalized for blood clots. I was travelling and it started to feel like I had a collapsed lung. I almost drove myself to the hospital in Albuquerque, where I travelled for meetings. I was in such pain I couldn’t sleep. I waited, flew home and was immediately went to the hospital after I picked up a keg of beer and rolled it down the side of the house and into the walkout basement. I could hardly breath, could have died, but I didn’t want to spoil a keg holding 180 beers. Crazy priorities I know.

I got to the hospital, they immediately admitted me and got me a bed. They do that for 47 years old with chest pain. Those symptoms are a go to the front of the line card. I spent the night. In the morning they gave me a CT scan with dye in my veins and found blood clots in both lungs. I was out in the morning with blood thinners and back to work by 10 am after picking up medication from the pharmacy.

I was so focused on work, enjoying it, having fun, moving mountains, people relied on me and I didn’t even stop to do a gut check about the seriousness of what happened. I blew it off. Only later after doing some research did I realize how serious it is with a high death rate.

Fast forward to my training for Ironman Mont Tremblant. My weight is up, my fitness by normal peoples standard is outstanding, and by my standard it’s poor. I can do the miles I used to do but not at the speed I used to do.

Then after 7 weeks into training for the IMMT, I’m starting to experience some over training symptoms. I can’t get my heart rate up during some training sessions, primarily on the bike. It starts to scare me. I start wondering if the years of heavy training I did from 2007 – 2011 screwed up my system. I did have major issues during the end of that time, had they not went away? Could my cortisol levels be out of whack? Could my Thyroid be a problem because I train a ton and find it near impossible to lose weight without strict dieting, could my testosterone be a problem?

Last week I did a stress test. I outran the machine, with video to prove it. The max they will let the treadmill go is 20 minutes. Normal people spend 6 – 12 minutes on it before they hit the high heart rate the doctor is looking for and they shut down the machine. I did the full 20 minutes and my heart rate didn’t exceed 166 bpm. At first I thought this was great, I was proud. The next closest guy was a 28-year old Kenyan runner who made it to 19:31 and then they shut it down when he hit 191 bpm. I definitely was bragging after that test.

After this weeks poor training sessions, I started to wonder if it was not good that I beat the machine? Could it be because I have a problem and it’s not because I’m so fit? I searched the Internet, which is dangerous, you always find the worse case scenarios. I found one that said 7 out of 8 people that beat the machine like I did with a low heart rate ended up eventually getting heart disease.

Then, what caused the blot clots? I’ve read a lot of endurance athletes get them. Many die from them. They are serious. Often caused from stress fractures. Other feedback is due to regular dehydration, it causes the blood to become thicker and stickier and even scar the blood vessels. I also read that excessive sweating causes magnesium levels to be low and that is a problem because it encourages clotting. Who’s to say my clots don’t come back after I stop the blood thinners? The doctor says there is a 10% chance. Other stats are as high as 50% of people who experience blood clots can die during an episode. Yikes!!!

Add to the madness it’s well documented that endurance athletes have a higher than average mortality rate. All the over oxidation is not good for you as it causes free radicals, breaking down the body, causing all kinds of problems. Contrary to what people think, us physically fit people are not necessarily healthy.

Now that I’ve been back to Ironman training for the last 7 weeks it’s been giving me some time to decompress and think. Lots of time. I’m starting to realize that my blood clot episode was serious and I didn’t take it serious. I’m realizing that my lifestyle of training hard for Ironman’s is not necessarily good for you. I’ve come to realize that my mature 17-year-old mind and partying like there is no tomorrow when I do party is also not safe. Then you add them all together and it makes for a dangerous cocktail. Not to mention the possibility of getting hit by a vehicle when biking on the road.

I didn’t even touch on the aspects of work stress and travel health lifestyle. A plane could also crash. I could get my iPhone stolen in Atlanta and get stabbed or shot when I confront the thieves about stealing my iPhone from the change room in Bloomingdales.

Just last month my younger brother by 15 months was hospitalized. He had two heart attacks and they put in stints. Like me, he didn’t take it too seriously and was working from his hospital room.

So I’ve started to think of my own mortality. I’ve had many thoughts. Do I stop what I’m doing? Do I re-prioritize my life? How long do I think I’ll live? What do I think I’ll die of?  If I lived my life like it was my last or that it would end soon, what would I do differently? Would I act differently? Would my personality change?

There has been glimmers of fully understanding what Steve Jobs meant by live you life like it was your last, or with the understanding we have limited time on this earth. Frankly I've been a little reluctant to go down that rabbit hole too deep thinking about it. I don’t know why, I probably should. It could only bring positive results.

This past week Alice and I had our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We are not really too overly focused on stuff like Anniversaries. Many times we’ve near forgot and my sister would remind us. We pretty much try to be good to each other all year round and not sweat those societal special occasions. Neither of us usually wants anything for birthdays or Christmas. If we want something we usually just get it.

Like most years, for birthdays, Christmas’s and anniversaries I don’t go shopping for gifts until the day before, or the day of. This week was no different. I walked into the Mall not knowing what I was going to get the day of our anniversary. I assumed it would be jewelry.

As I walked in I was on the phone and it was Al and he suggested a trip. Boom, it hit me, yes a trip, a vacation together. We went to Kona for our honeymoon and I did the Ironman there, it seemed like the perfect gift. We had a beach vacation for our honeymoon and now we could have a beach vacation for our 25th.

I went to the travel agency in the mall and started looking for a trip. It then hit me as I was sitting there, this is our 25th wedding anniversary. It’s not something that happens everyday. It’s a big deal. I almost didn’t take it seriously.

I knew the minute I sat down it was going to be a first class, no holds barred trip. Normally I get off on seeing how much money I can save. This was the first time I’ve used a travel agent and all I said was I don’t want third world all –inclusive, I want something with a white beach with first world amenities, service and food. It took a while, but when she suggested Barbados I knew that was the place, it felt right.

Cost was not an object. I didn’t even ask the price. I was starting to think, “this is one of those moments you need to live life like it could end tomorrow and do it right”. I wanted the best room, best location and it turned out they didn’t have it, or so the agent thought. The one I wanted with the Jr Suite with butler service. I had to settle for regular room but then as she was going to purchase the tickets, miraculously the junior suite popped up. Someone must have had it on hold and let it go. The minute she said it was available I said “yes” without even knowing the cost. I felt it was fate.

This was probably the first time I’ve thought of my mortality and making a decision based on that and knowing Alice deserves more than a great first class vacation. Especially since I could only get away from work for four days, I wanted to make sure it was a relaxing and most enjoyable four days.

So here I am, I think I’m going through a transformation. At least I hope I am, that would be cool. I’m starting to look at life differently than I did a month ago. I’m piecing together my health issues and better understanding the fragileness of life and am feeling real motivation and purpose to change my perspective.

What that means or evolves into I’m not sure. Sunday I signed up for another Ironman in Cozumel in December. I thought about it and did it for two reasons. The first is I need a goal to keep me in shape and two, I felt life is short and I want to do it, so do it. Of course it sounds romantic now until I have to start training in the cold October and November weather.


  1. Yes, scary stuff. Took me back to my little hick up. Had the same mind games and yes, never know when it's your last day. Different outlook now

    Enjoy the vacation


  2. Ironic your post is about this topic. I have been in the same struggle for 6 1/2 months. All I can say is I am a better man for it. Keep looking....keep searching!

  3. Freaky stuff Bryan. Loving the new blog (especially the background picture!). Enjoy your trip! And come back all hungry to get back into training. All the best.

  4. Hey Bry,

    Scary stuff for sure. But good stuff here too. Glad you are blogging again! Have a fantastic vacation!!

  5. Hey Bryan,

    I love the new blog and I too am happy that you are getting away for a great vacation. I didn't know about your blood clots, until right now and it really is a concern. Please do take care and keep on keeping on.....Yes, live each day as if it is your last, life passes by with the speed of lightening as I can attest, but I just keep on keeping on.......

    1. Hey Bryan, it's me Tammy Jensen from St George, Utah. Haha, my reply got posted with no name. Sorry about that :D