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Roughly a decade ago, not long before our eldest son was born, I competed in my first triathlon. I’d worked from a home office as a freelance writer for the previous two years, which typically meant I spent my days staring at my computer screen, hoping an editor in New York City would green-light a story pitch. Needless to say, I didn’t get a whole bunch of assignments at the outset, so in an effort to structure my days (and stave off insanity), I filled my spare time with exercise. I rode my bike a little, and then a lot, and after a while I did my first century—an organized 100-mile ride that circumnavigated Lake Tahoe. A few months after that, I decided I wanted to try something new and started training for a sprint triathlon, which consisted of a 750-meter swim, a 12-mile bike ride, and a 5K run.
It was after that first race that I got addicted. Training took up a bunch of those extra hours I had when not bogged down with work, but perhaps more important, it filled a compulsive need I had for organization and control. If I didn’t have command of my work—my career!—well, by God, this was one thing I could actually be in charge of. I bought a book called The Triathlete’s Training Bible and put together a detailed spreadsheet that tracked my workouts. Distance. Time. Heart rate. And miscellaneous notes like, “Especially hot,” “Ugh, stomach issues,” and “Felt amazing!” I would plot out weekly workout schedules while watching TV with my wife in the evenings. I bought a bunch of expensive gear. I loved everything about my newfound hobby. I was accountable to myself—and to the spreadsheet, which I spent more and more time analyzing to see how I could become faster and stronger.
No part of that scenario would surprise deputy editor Lindsey B. Koehler, who spent four months researching this month’s “The Dark Side Of Fitness”. “I spoke with dozens of Colorado athletes for this story,” Koehler says, “and every one of them admitted to being obsessive about their athletic endeavors. In some instances, the addictions seemed relatively harmless. In others, it was obvious to me there was at least some cause for concern.”
Koehler’s feature deftly examines an aspect of fitness few people in Colorado like to talk about: What’s the penalty for caring more about your workouts than spending time with your family? What happens when you train so hard you’re sick all the time—or become depressed? Koehler looks at each of these circumstances and many more, and the result is an enlightening and somewhat frightening look at the downsides of living an unbalanced life. As for me, I gave up triathlons when fatherhood and work became too demanding, but I recently joined a gym a couple of blocks from the 5280 offices, which means getting in a quick workout is now extremely convenient for me. So long as I don’t start compulsively analyzing my painful—and painfully boring —treadmill and elliptical sessions with the fitness tracker du jour, I think I’ll be just fine.