Turns Out I was a Drug Addict…. What I did about it and the unexpected results

Clawing my way out!

My first step on my journey to “getting my groove back” was supposed to be conquering insomnia and getting a good night’s sleep.  But…  I stumbled upon a somewhat bigger concern right out of the gate.

You’re doing WHAT?  Are you KIDDING ME??

Too exhausted to even walk on the treadmill, the subsequent conversation with my trainer started the way it always did… “Why aren’t you sleeping?” “How’s your caffeine intake?”  “What about stress?” “Are you managing technology?” …  And then the big one…   “What are you taking?”

Karen's nightly drug routine

Karen’s nightly drug routine

I thought he was going to have a stroke as I recounted my nightly medication regimen. Yes, of course I knew that Advil Cold and Sinus tablets and Afrin are stimulants.  But, given a choice from staying awake from the stimulants or staying awake because I couldn’t breathe, I chose the stimulants.  Yes, yes, sure my doctor knew.. In fact, throw in a doctor-recommended double dose of Zyrtec and an occasional Benadryl for good measure as well – this in spite of the fact that the allergist declared my sinus issues non-allergy related.  And then came the question that knocked me over, “How long have you been doing this?”

No one had ever asked me that before ….

As long as I can remember; that’s the answer. As long as I can remember, and I’d not ever let myself think about it until that moment.  I’d been taking Advil Cold and Sinus, often multiple times a day, for over 35 years.

And, that behavior brought with it some pretty serious consequences.

“Insomnia and other sleep issues, headaches, constipation, dehydration, hormone imbalances, mood disorders, stiffness… possible major organ damage…”  Those are just some of the side-effects of taking the medications I was on for a prolonged period of time, and they pretty much summarize the major issues I’d been battling for years.  I think that somehow the fact that a medication is sold “over the counter” gives us a false sense of security that it is safe and a license to misuse it.

It was time to make a change

I quit cold turkey.  The first week off the medication was hell; thank goodness I was on vacation at the time.  My sinuses swelled shut, my head was pounding, I was only able to sleep about 3 – 4 very restless hours a night.  I developed a mantra that I would repeat to myself over and over as I lay in bed awake and miserable, “My body knows how to fix this; my body will fix this.”

By the second week of being drug free my headache was completely gone, and I was able to sleep longer, but still restless.  I went through 2 days of intense itching and period of time each afternoon when my head felt foggy and my throat would hurt a little.  This was my cue in the past to take a pill; it would clear me right up.  But, I wouldn’t let myself do that, and I just paced until the foggy feeling went away.

Unexpected Outcomes

I’ve been off the medications for over a month now and some of the results I’ve experienced have been quite surprising to me and very positive.  Almost immediately my chronic constipation cleared up and my sinuses have improved. One of the biggest gains is that my depression lifted; most of the time now I feel optimistic and well, … happy!

Hiking in Moab

Hiking in Moab

The biggest surprise though has been a quite notable improvement in my athletic performance.  My endurance and strength have both improved significantly; I’m running up the hills I always used to walk, and I’m enjoying getting out there again!

Unfortunately, I’m still struggling with some sleep issues. It could be that I just need to give it some more time.  The next steps I’ll share include participation in a sleep study, experimentation with meditation and a look at some holistic remedies.

Karen Adler is…

An educator by trade, runner, hiker and adventure-seeking fitness enthusiast by passion. She explores what it means to be fit after fifty along with the multiple joys and trials that come with age. She is truly an Athlete On Fire!

Why I Fight – Some Thoughts on How to Get Your Groove Back ….

Fighting to get my Groove Back

My biggest challenge as a new athlete is truly understanding what that encompasses.  I get what it is to train hard and know what it is to compete.  I understand commitment and dedication; I’ve had the satisfaction of winning – even if all I beat was my own record.  I’ve fought through physical challenges such as plantar fasciitis and a strained Achilles..  I’ve worked through pain and have experienced success.

 But, what I had not experienced, at least not until recently, is what it is to really struggle.  The idea that all athletes have physical and emotional battles, hit peaks and valleys, have set-backs and experience failures from which they must fight back is new to me.

For me,  this struggle quickly led to despair –

I mistakenly attributed the fact that I was recording slower times, experiencing more pain and having less energy to my age and to my recent diagnosis of degenerative arthritis in my hip.  I was ready to give up and had decided that my last half marathon would be my last.  

Last mile of the Bear Chase Half Marathon

Last mile of the Bear Chase Half Marathon


But, in fact, it marked a new beginning. …  

It is true that I’m getting older and my hips hurt whether I run or not; I might even be slower.  However, it is also true that when I was training for my last half marathon, I was running exhausted in the hottest part of the day, dehydrated and on poor nutrition.

Being an athlete is so much more than training hard.

What it really means is getting the mental, physical and emotional aspects of our being all lined up and working together.  For me, that means focusing on 5 key areas as I move forward:


  • Sleep – I need to vary both my schedule and my routine to ensure that I’m sleeping well and getting 7 – 8 hours a night.  If I don’t get this right nothing else will be.
  • Nutrition – I’m only just beginning to understand how incredibly powerful proper nutrition is, not just to our performance as athletes, but to our overall sense of well-being.  I’m addicted to diet soda, sugar and processed foods.  It’s time to get “real” when it comes to food!
  • Recovery – It does take me a bit longer to recover than it does a younger athlete.  For me recovery means mixing up my routine, stretching, foam rolling and rest.
  • Strength and mobility exercises – Other than maintaining a healthy weight, this is one of the most important things I can do for my hips – and for aging well in general.
  • Reflection – Even if it is only five minutes before I go to bed, I know that I must take time to unwind, reflect and to express gratitude every day.

IMG_4296 (3)

All athletes struggle; all athletes age.  Most of us will eventually have arthritis if we live long enough.  Ultimately, I fight to continue my journey as an athlete not for the events or the races, but for the quality of life that I have now and that I want to continue to have for many years to come.  I fight for the sheer joy of running on a mountain trail, riding my bike around the reservoir or paddle boarding in the ocean.  I fight to continue to experience new adventures and for the simple happiness that comes with wellness.

I plan to journal and share my experiences as I work through each of the key areas mentioned above; I’ll start with sleep.


Karen Adler is…

An educator by trade, runner, hiker and adventure-seeking fitness enthusiast by passion. She explores what it means to be fit after fifty along with the multiple joys and trials that come with age. She is truly an Athlete On Fire!

FIT>50: Time to battle my inner demons.

Inner Demons. They are real.

I knew I’d hit a new low last week when I clicked on the FaceBook link advertising magic diet pills and actually bought the damn things.  Last June I hit all of my weight-loss and athletic performance goals, and my biggest struggle was what to strive for next.  Now, a year later, I find myself 10 pounds heavier wallowing in potato chips, chocolate and diet soda, and eating cookie dough ice cream straight out of the carton.  What is wrong with me?


My Journey

My journey as an athlete has been filled with many highs and lows and unexpected twists and turns.  I’ve learned that I’m not unique in this respect; we all have inner demons.  Mine center on mental toughness and poor nutritional choices.

Depression and…

Depression and self-esteem issues have plagued me most of my life.  Even though I’ve overcome so much in the last four years, my thinking can still get in my way.  I sometimes image my thoughts as the titles of “self-help” books:  Crisis of Confidence ….. How to Sabotage Months of Gain in a Sort Time…… How to Convince Yourself You Can’t Do It…….  etc., etc.  Add a newly developed sleep disorder, a stressful job and the hormone surges of menopause to the mix and, well, I’m a mess.


Eating is tough, for all of us.

As for my nutritional choices, I’ve actually come a long way in terms of my ability to think of food as fuel and understand my body’s needs.  But, alas, I don’t often make good choices.  Intellectually, for some time I have connected my craving for potato chips in the afternoons with my body’s need for an energy boost.  This, I felt, was fueled by my inability to sleep and get my stress level under control.  I didn’t believe I was really going to be able to get my nutrition on point until I could successfully deal with my sleep and anxiety issues.

Did I figure it out?

Then suddenly it hit me. What if I had it backwards?  What if poor nutritional choices were driving my mood and sleep disorders and not the other way around?  Could changing my diet change my outlook? I’ve decided to test my theory; I trashed the magic weight-loss pills and bought a journal.  For the next few months I plan to document my nutritional choices and chart my overall sense of wellbeing (based on sleep, mood and energy level) in order to see how the two are inner-connected.

I will be basing my nutritional choices on the following assumptions:
  • The FDA food pyramid is probably upside down; I will focus on eating lean protein and lots of colorful vegetables and fruits.
  • Processed sugar is every bit as dangerous to your body and as addictive as cocaine or heroin.
  • Modern-day wheat is poison; it has many negative consequences for those that are sensitive to it – and many more are sensitive to it than know it.
  • “Good” fat is good for me.
  • Logging what I eat works for me; it holds me accountable.  But, I will not obsess about calories.
  • Some cheating is OK – even necessary at times.


Currently, I’m four days in.   I’m sleeping a bit better and my depression/anxiety level is much improved.  But, the cravings for candy and other processed carbohydrates are strong and at times overwhelming; I’ve already cheated. Yesterday I wanted to hurt somebody.  This is going to be a fascinating and challenging journey and I hope you can relate along the way.


Karen Adler is…

An educator by trade, runner, hiker and adventure-seeking fitness enthusiast by passion. She explores what it means to be fit after fifty along with the multiple joys and trials that come with age. She is truly an Athlete On Fire!

FIT>50: Post Go Ruck Reflections On Memorial Day.

What in the heck are you thinking?

“Why are you wearing a backpack?”

“What’s that for?”

“What in the heck are you thinking?”

Those were the questions I answered over and over when training for the GoRuck Challenge last month.  A big part of the challenge was to carry a backpack chockfull of bricks (mine weighed about 30 pounds) for the duration of the 12 hour trek. So, about a month before the challenge I began wearing my pack to work, and subsequently fielding questions left and right. My favorite scenario went like this: During a down moment someone would pick up the pack and say, “What have you got in here, bricks?” “Yep.”

Karen Rucking

And this is me rucking in Moab.

Then there were the questions I asked myself.

  • Why would I purposefully sign up for an event designed to “break me?”
  • What made me think I could do this? I wasn’t sure I could stay up all night, much less carry the brick-laden backpack and whatever else I’d have to endure. I questioned by my age and my ability; at times the self-doubt was paralyzing and an impediment to my training.
  • How did I get myself into this situation? Upon reflection, there were several compelling reasons why I committed to this and why I will continue to seek future adventures and challenges.

The first was ego, pure and simple.

When you’re 55 with hip problems and lingering self-esteem issues from high school – and some young(er) male athletes ask you to sign up because they somehow think you can hang with them – you say yes and worry about it later. There is a sense of pride that has come with my new identity as an athlete, and the mere notion that this challenge was within my reach brought with it a feeling of accomplishment.

The second was the opportunity to be a part of a team.


The idea of working with the entire group, as one team, compensating for one another’s weaknesses and encouraging each other to finish was appealing; The GoRuck Challenge did not disappoint. But, I find the same to be true when I’m running a race or even just out for a run on my own. There is that special little head nod that runners exchange that says,

“Welcome! You’re part of the club.” “Way to go!” “You’re out here; you’ve got this.”

The last reason I signed up for the GoRuck challenge was honor.

GoRuck is run by members of our US Special Forces and taking one night to experience just a taste of what our men and women in uniform go through to protect our freedom was an honor; I am forever in their debt. I approach any event I enter the same way. I do it in honor of my friend who can’t run, or to honor the sacrifices others have made in my behalf; it is my way of expressing gratitude.

Fittingly, that's me with the flag draped over my head about 12 hours into the challenge.

Fittingly, that’s me with the flag draped over my head about 12 hours into the challenge.

Ultimately, we exercise and train to get in shape. We strive to be thinner, leaner, healthier; we do it to be able to enjoy our lives as we age. Training with a purpose, though, adds a dimension that will help anyone reach a new level of fitness in a way that just exercising to be healthy cannot. It increases motivation, provides a blueprint for the training experience and offers camaraderie. The feeling of accomplishment that one feels at the conclusion of an event is unparalleled. Best of all, the journey to get there is challenging, fulfilling and just plain fun.

My next adventure? I don’t know… I’m thinking Tough Mudder in September with a couple of races along the way to help me prepare. We shall see..


Karen Adler is…

An educator by trade, runner, hiker and adventure-seeking fitness enthusiast by passion. She explores what it means to be fit after fifty along with the multiple joys and trials that come with age. She is truly an Athlete On Fire!

FIT>50: And so, I lived to tell about it.

GoRuck Tough


And so, I lived to tell about it.  Just about a week ago at this time I was playing “war” with a bunch of thirty year old men and a few ladies through the night.  It was the GoRuck Tough Challenge in Denver. All I really knew about it going in was that it promised to be hard, was designed to break me, and required me to stay up all night carrying a backpack filled with bricks, do a bunch of military drills, be miserable, and probably get wet.


In the end, 31 people signed up, 25 showed up and 22 finished.  It lasted 12 hours; and, after 2.5 hours of military drills, we covered about 18 miles.  Oddly, we did not get wet. I was the oldest participant, but only by two months because my incredibly fit friend agreed to sign up as well.  In retrospect, the word “grateful” doesn’t even touch what that meant to me.











In some ways it really was like playing war with my brother when we were little.  Jeep Wranglers (and there are a lot of them in Denver) represented “danger.”  When we saw one we had to holler out “Wrangler” and “Freeze” until Cadre Greg (our leader) deemed the area clear and the danger averted.  We only broke character once when a jeep turned around and came back at us producing momentary panic.  When we came to a bridge we had to “pay a toll,” which usually meant some sort of physical exertion such as lunges (even if you happened to have a 200 pound log on your shoulder) or the elephant walk (don’t ask)!


But, in most ways, I would choose the word “drudgery” over “fun” to define my experience.  Carrying the bricks all night quickly became the least of my concerns; in addition to our packs we had to carry three “casualties” that consisted of 2 very heavy logs and a 150 lb. sandbag in a litter.  Add two water jugs and the team weight (a 25 pound chain folded and wrapped), and it became clear very quickly that we all had to contribute and work as a team to get it done.  And when we floundered, Cadre Greg brought us quickly back into focus with burpees or flutter kicks or other such torture.


Thankfully, with about 3 – 4 miles to go, our remaining “casualties” were airlifted to safety, and we were instructed to run (fast walk, shuffle) our way back in.  I remember feeling exhilarated at that point because I knew I was going to make it, running I could do!   I ran in with the team, paid our infractions (more burpees), and received my patch; I turned 56 the next day.  It was the best birthday ever!


“You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.”  The Wizard of Oz


Now, a week later the entire experience feels a bit like a dream.  My texts with my friend have gone from texts of exhilaration in which we recalled every moment of the experience, to texts of commiseration in which we spoke of sore muscles and bruises, to most recently, texts comparing notes on hot flashes.  Life goes on.  But make no mistake about it, I am forever changed.

Time now to re-examine my training, get my nutrition straight and move on to another adventure!


Karen Adler is…

An educator by trade, runner, hiker and adventure-seeking fitness enthusiast by passion. She explores what it means to be fit after fifty along with the multiple joys and trials that come with age.  She is truly an Athlete On Fire!