Sanjay and triathlon: A Reset button
August 5th, 2011
08:41 AM ET

Sanjay and triathlon: A Reset button

Since January, six iReporters have been training in the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. We’re following along as they prepare to compete alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the August 7 Nautica NYC Triathlon.  During their last week before the race, we asked each of them the following questions: What's the biggest change you've seen in yourself since kickoff weekend? What are your personal goals for the tri?"

This weekend, "Sanjay Gupta, M.D." will be live from New York at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and Sunday. Watch the culmination of our team's training

A couple of years ago, I was worried I had become too complacent and full of too many excuses. A bowl of ice cream was justified almost every day. Hadn’t my day been so busy? A little treat was warranted. Exercise was always the first thing to fall off the map with a busy work life and a house full of three small children. “Tomorrow will come, and I will make a change,” I kept telling myself. Problem is – the tomorrows always came, without fail. And, the changes never happened, without fail.

I needed a reset button, and I had a pretty good idea how to do it. It would need to be drastic, in my case. It would also have to appeal to my inner competitive spirit, and changes would need to be visible immediately. I decided to sign up for a triathlon, and to tell everyone about it. After doing that, I would need to own it. 

Two years later, as I finish training for my second triathlon, which is this Sunday, I write this blog as a changed man. Besides the obvious fitness benefits and the compliments from my wife, which come more frequently, I have become better at managing my time, setting priorities and practicing what I preach. My diet improved, because it had to improve. I simply felt too sluggish during a training ride if I had indulged the night before. I came to enjoy exercise, relish it, almost need it. Remarkably, despite adding another significant time commitment, I found I was getting more done in my life overall.

That’s the thing about making big changes in your life. It can cause significant unexpected and positive changes, in places you least expect it. I have been thrilled to share this simple lesson with viewers from around the country, and our six-pack – six viewers and readers  we selected to join us.

Kas Seerla (@TriHardKas) had never done anything athletic in her life. She told me she was so focused on academics, she never had time. A few weeks ago, she swam a full mile across Lake Michigan while being a full-time mother of two small children.

Kendrick Henley (@TriHardKendrick) works in the health care profession, yet had a hard time eating anything other than fast food. Just 25 years old, he was quickly on his way to becoming an abominable statistic. He biked 30 miles and lost even more pounds over the last few months.

Dr. Scott Zahn (@TriHardScott) a pediatrician, now weighs what he weighed in the mid-1980s. More importantly, he has been able to demonstrate the use of exercise and food as health therapy. He is off all his medications, including one for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Like me, Joaquin Brignoni (@TriHardJoaquinhas three daughters, and he was worried about balancing family, work and training. His strategy: have his daughters train with him. Now they all eat healthier: one of those pleasant, unexpected consequences.

Stasia Cirricione (@TriHardStasia) is just 23 years old and wanted to make changes not only for herself, but also for her husband. He joins her on bike rides now, instead of sitting around and watching television.

Nina Lovel (@TriHardNinawas an immediate source of inspiration for me. “58 is the new 28,” she said. And, she proved it, as she dusts people half her age on the track.

None of us are complacent any longer, and I feel like we have all learned a secret that we want to share with you. Hit the reset button, and watch the changes unravel in front of you. I promise you this, you will never regret it. Just make sure to own it. Wish us luck this Sunday, as we start another chapter in our lives.

Follow Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Twitter

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Joe in Colorado

    I like the strategy of doing something extreme and telling everybody about it. If it's not extreme, I would be complacent about doing any real training (if any at all); if I didn't tell everyone, then I know I would just quietly drop out.

    I'm 37 and haven't really exercised since high school. Full-time single dad of a 10-year-old son, employed full-time– I feel I have no time to do anything. My cholesterol is abysmal (very low HDL number: 9).

    This inspires me, Dr. Gupta.

    August 5, 2011 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • iamthefredman

      Your son is a perfect age to start running himself and he can get you off the couch and you can do it together. Not talking marathons here , just a run 1 or times aorund the HS track ever y couple of days. Then change it up with a run around the park. Distance?? Who really cares at first. If you KEEP DOING IT, you will find it easier and more enjoyable. Hope fully your son will ike it too. Another good dad-son thing to do. After a while you can ask him if he wants to run a race with you. 5K only to start. Then start a more regular running routine 3-5 days a week to prepare. Again, time or winning is NOT the goal. Finishing is as good as winning. Good luck. Have fun.

      August 5, 2011 at 15:33 | Report abuse |
    • teresa


      October 17, 2011 at 22:06 | Report abuse |
  2. Deanna

    I watched your show a year ago about the triathlon training you and the six viewers undertook. I had been working out regularly for about a year; but that really inspired me and I vowed to start running again. Since then, I've run my first half marathon and completely changed my body. Thank you for showing me what is possible!

    August 5, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. j.grubner

    A very well written and inspiring article.Sanjay,good luck on Sunday!

    August 5, 2011 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Frank

    It all sounds good until you realize science does not support that such exercise extends your life. It does support injuries to the knees, back and some times when done under inappropriate conditions your life is loss. In a society where BMIs are over 30 and for 1 in 10 over 40, your lofty goal is in no reach for 99.999% of the real world. A walk one block would be a major accomplishment for most. Yes lifestyle change is healthy. But if you add all the hours you spent training and traveling to the events – you will find that you lost some precious life time. So it is all about quality of life. Some would prefer a good book, healthy diet, a 30 minute walk every day and a BMI of 25 and in the end will be at the same point you are in 20 years without the total knee replacement. Risk versus benefit. Remember doctor, do no harm!

    August 5, 2011 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Linda

      if you train properly, it is not harmful..also many that do such sports ENJOY the training, it's not "losing precious life time" to those that do it. Plus, where in the article does it state everyone should go to such extremes??

      August 5, 2011 at 13:59 | Report abuse |
    • TriChick

      Just six months ago, I was one of those people for whom the goal seemed out of reach. My BMI was 29 and I couldn't jog a half mile. You don't go from that to doing triathlons overnight, but you start with what you CAN do and build up from there. Today my BMI is 22.5 without dieting (I'm eating better because good food fuels my workouts) and I'm about to do my first Olympic distance triathlon. I don't consider one minute of training time a waste of my life because I enjoy it, I'm accomplishing something from it, I enjoy the REST of my life more because I look and feel better, and I've met a bunch of great people. Even if my life expectancy isn't increased, the quality of the life I am living today is better. Also, no injuries because I've built up my intensity slowly and steadily. For me, it's win-win-win-win, and if I can do it, it's in the reach of anyone who is willing to start small and put in the work.

      August 5, 2011 at 14:24 | Report abuse |
    • TriChick

      Oh yeah, and I'm 41. I *am* the real world!

      August 5, 2011 at 14:26 | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      I wish you were the real world but you are not. Take a moment out of your training schedule and walk around your local mall. You will see obesity like you never saw it before. More than 1 in 10 Americans are 100 lbs overweight and in some parts of this country this is approaching 1 in 5. So your REAL world and the actual world is two different things. Then stop by your local sports medicine clinic and see all the atheletes like yourself sitting and waiting to see the doctor due to their endless list of injuries. I see lifetime joggers who look older than me – too much sun has destroyed their skin so they are wrinkled to an extreme and they are already s/p their first TKA. You might be great at 40 but watch out for those late 50's. The body can only take so much abuse. When you are running down that pavement remember the knee is feeling four times your body weight every time you land on that leg. So if you weight even 100 lbs – that is 400 lbs of pressure on that joint. It will give eventually. We are not made indestructible. Nothing like a rupture Achilles tendon to set back to the real world too. Have known several runners with this injury and they are very knowledgeable about fittness, too. It is never as easy as it appears in such articles.

      August 5, 2011 at 16:47 | Report abuse |
    • Clinton Huff

      Way to suck the fun out of life.

      August 5, 2011 at 17:19 | Report abuse |
    • Darren

      Frank, I have heard all these excuses and even used a few myself. You can now listen to that book on MP3 as you run. If you are content with "AS IS", fine. But don't mock the rest of us who are DOING SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT! It really is a better, more fulfiling life.

      August 5, 2011 at 18:02 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      what if the travel and training and events add rather than take away from your precious life time? perhaps you feel it would be better spent walking around the block and then hunkering down on the couch with a pint of ben and jerry's?? people like you are ignorant. don't have goals or train for anything because you might tear your ACL someday? well guess what? you might slip or trip on your walk around the block and you could wind up with the same injury. Dr. Gupta isn't suggesting an unfit couch potato should become an ironman athlete...just expounding on the benefits of stepping up one's fitness regime. you apparently can't figure out the difference.

      August 5, 2011 at 18:37 | Report abuse |
    • dsk

      "...a good book, healthy diet, a 30 minute walk every day...."

      Is this what this guy is doing with his "precious life time?" Endurance sports fitness has gotten me to new places (to race and thus socialize with other human beings in a forum other than the internet). Exercise, even the "extreme" forms of it such as swimming, biking, and...oh my gosh...RUNNING, can be done almost anywhere that one is currently experiencing their "life time."

      I hope this is just a bitter, defensive, and possibly jealousy-tinged rant about something. Just because lots of people are fat does not mean that the society in which they live has to accept it.

      Oh, and by the way, I AM a doctor.

      August 5, 2011 at 18:43 | Report abuse |
    • John

      Diet is more important than exercise. If you do not like to run, you will quit. Do something that is fun for you. I've lived in many countries and people DO NOT exercise much at all. Generally, their diets are much better, but this is not always the case. Western Europeans, minus Germany and southern Italy, have a good diet and east Asians do as well. Latin Americans have an awful diet for the most part. If you want to stay relatively fit and healthy, simply replace "bad" (processed) carbohydrates with good carbohydrates and eat meat sparingly.

      August 6, 2011 at 19:00 | Report abuse |
    • John

      The benefits of intensive exercise are mainly psychological. Intensive exercise, getting your heart rate over 60 percent max., lifts your spirits and gives you energy. I see too many people in the gym and outside jogging or walking that are wasting their time.
      I am 39 and I can run a 5K under 18 minutes. I took the Marine Corps physical fitness test, on my own, and got nearly 300. People ask me how I can do this at my age. I tell them it is because I love what I do. It is not for everybody.

      August 6, 2011 at 19:05 | Report abuse |
    • John

      Yep, injuries are almost certain. You will develop some chronic problems, but you are an athlete. It is a part of your character or personality. You have to learn to train smart and quit or slow down when your body tells you. This is an integral part of learning how to run long distance races, especially marathons. Conditioning is extremely important. I see too people trying to run a marathon without sufficient conditioning just so they can brag about it and tell everyone their touchy-feeling story of how they were compelled to run it. It takes about one year to condition your bones and muscles sufficiently to run that distance.

      August 6, 2011 at 19:12 | Report abuse |
  5. Jim Day

    Besides the health benefits, I have met and become great friends with so many of my fellow riders. Since getting on a road bike I have become involved in the MS150 rides (8 years), 24 Hours of Booty, and these things have had a trickle down effect for many more than me. Get healthy, give back, and spread the news of better health.
    Go Sonjay!

    August 5, 2011 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Audrey

    I have been battling weight issues since having my two boys (4 and 8) and as a working mother never seemed to find time to exercise or eat healthy. It seemed that everytime I started a diet I would give up after a month because I wasn't losing weight. I finally decided that my goal should not be to lose weight but to be healthy and happy and to show my children that exercise and balanced diet is important by setting a good example. I set a goal for myself to be able to run a 5K (something I have never been able to do) and moved on from there to training for my first triathlon. Although I haven't lost any weight, I have more energy for my children and it has greatly improved my mood and stress level. In addition, my eight year old decided to follow in my foot steps and came in 4th in his first triathlon last month!

    August 5, 2011 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jeffbaseball

    Exercising 3 times a week. Resting in between is excellent. If you can get a 600-700 calorie burn each session you work out and eat 3 apples/day, 6 portions of fruit total/day, fresh vegitables with an occasional dark chocolate bar, it will be a dramatic difference. Work on keeping up muscle as well. Subway works!

    August 5, 2011 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jeffbaseball

    The most important thing is to stretch AFTER exercising not before when muscles are cold. When running or biking remember to foot stretch to protect the achiles tendon.

    August 5, 2011 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      Jeff I am in my 60's and just ran a 5 km race under 20 min. I have run compretively since my 20's and I never stretch before or after and see no benefit to static stretching in terms of running (I have an exercise science degree and am a practicing NP). I do intervals though at least twice a week and when you run hard you stretch your muscles in a functional manner. The problem with so many runners as they age is they stop doing intervals and slow down their training runs. The real key to longevity aside from running hard a few times a week is strength training so skip the stretching and do squats, lunges and bench press.

      August 7, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse |
  9. DougTriedAndTried

    In 2005, I was in the place Dr. Gupta describes. I too decided to sign up for my first triathlon. At the time I was 50lbs over what I know to be my healthy weight. I could not run a mile, liked to bike but hadn't been on one in years and I was never a good swimmer. Over the next six months I trained hard, lost 50lbs and finished my first triathlon. I've done nine tris since, including two Olympic-distance triathlons one with almost a mile swim in the ocean in Maine, another one-mile open swim race, two half-marathons, countless 5K and even a couple of marathon relays and an ultra 200mi relay.

    There is nothing like the fear of race day to keep you motivated.

    Sadly, despite all this, now six years later, I've now gained back 40lbs of the weight I lost (even while training for all that stuff). My triathlon training stopped changing my body. I also got completely burnt out. I went back to neglecting my diet because I thought with all the exercise I could get away with it. Also because of all the focus on tri and run training never made time for things like yoga and weight-lifting so my strength and flexibility suffered. This has led to multiple injuries. In 2008 during on of those triathlon I developed Paroxymal Atrial Fibrillation and I've been on meds and dealing with that ever since. That might have happened anyway but I am convinced pushing myself too hard and not taking care of myself (kidding myself thinking by training that I was) was the cause.

    So, what's my point? You have to deal with the underlying issues at the same time. You can't hide behind the exercise and hope to change. The change has to happen on the inside as well or when the excitement over triathlon wears off you'll go right back to where you were. It worked for a little while but I now know it was just another diversion. I was still treating myself the same now I was just doing it with exercise.

    This year I am resetting myself and starting over again. This time I plan to be more well-rounded and kinder to myself. I've put away the watch, the workout logs and I am going to enjoy it instead. I'll get back into triathlon again I am sure - I really did love it - but it's not going to be the end-all be-all or who I am. I am just doing some fun races and the 200-mi relay again because that was fun. I don't have to be so focused on training all the time. I have to be nice to myself first.

    August 5, 2011 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Frank

      Good not agree more!! The point of my previous post. People think all you have to do is run a triathlon and you will be fit as a fiddle. Sport injuries occur every single day and most people who are serious about these extreme sports have suffered many injuries which were acute and 20 years later will be a TKA to just keep you able to walk. Moderation is the key mixing aeorbics with isometics and a healthy diet you can stay on – not just do to loose weight. Don't make it an obession where nothing else ever seems to get done outside of work than training for the next event. Balance in life is key. For those few winners who succeed in completing such an event – congratulations!! Yet there are hundreds if not thousands who tired and were injured or simply found it all way to extreme for their lives. For them, do not give up on exercise or activity – pick something that is right for you and it does not take a 58K bike event to be healthy and fit. Also make sure you get yourself checked out if you begin any program for exercise when you are over 40 years of age, have HTN, high cholesterol, smoke or diabetes. Premature CVD might take you out on your first day out for a run.

      August 5, 2011 at 16:40 | Report abuse |
  10. Stef

    Good luck everyone! It's been fun watching you all train!!

    August 5, 2011 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Sean

    Sanjay – so pleased to hear you are now an active athlete/triathlete. I look forward to a run/ride sometime when you are next in town. Sean

    August 5, 2011 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. starr


    You do not know what you are talking about.

    August 5, 2011 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. George Cesar

    I am wondering when this guy is doing his surgical cases..seems to have plenty of free time..

    August 5, 2011 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Coffeeclue

    My high school had an after school program where everyone had to participate. I still remember two hours of swimming back and forth every day. I was ready to just drown to get this over with. I've started new routines from time to time. Every time it was fun at first, but then the boredom of doing the same thing over and over took over.
    I can't imagine spending this kind of time training every day. Maybe if I was single and needed dates...

    August 5, 2011 at 21:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Kevin Morgan

    Well done! Staying in shape will improve your performance in many other areas of your life. I still enjoy triathlons, and I plan to continue for a while. -k @FitOldDog

    August 5, 2011 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Rebecca

    Frank, you don't 'run' a triathlon. And any one can undertake a sprint or supersprint distance tri. These aren't IMs, they do not require 30 hours a week of training. In a few weeks my 60 year old mother will become a triathlete. She was once overweight and I never remember her exercising when I was a child. She chose to make small changes to her life, and so can you. You've obviously taken the time to read and comment on this article because you are missing something from your own life. Find a local charity training group. I'm certain with a bit of education, discipline and dedication you too can reach your fitness goals. The endurance sport community is one of acceptance and support and we would love to welcome you to our sport.

    August 6, 2011 at 06:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. David

    Frank, I am an Orthopedic Surgeon and know of no good data that supports your claims that training leading to osteoarthritis or total knee replacements. There is good support that genetics and obesity play a causal role. The primary cause is aging. I would much rather see patients who sustain treatable soft tissue injuries while demonstrating motivation and discipline in their life. And you are just plain wrong that science does not support the benefits of exercise extending one's life. There is good evidence that exercise and an appropriate diet lowers the incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol – all of which play a role in athlerosclerosis.

    August 6, 2011 at 08:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie

      I used to work in orthopedics and I saw first hand the joint damage excessive running placed on knees and hips and I heard our athlete specialist orthopod constantly advising professional and amateur athletes to stop over training and pay attention to (as opposed to pushing through) the pain. Daily ice baths and ibuprofen are NOT normal lifestyles.

      August 6, 2011 at 13:13 | Report abuse |
    • Michiganian

      I agree, Dr Dave. I just completed a trail run/obstable course called "Warrior Dash." I finished just ten minutes ahead of an 85 year old woman. I am 55 . She shamed me into working harder! Use it or lose it!

      August 6, 2011 at 21:04 | Report abuse |
  18. Indy609

    Good luck, all, and great job. Getting involved in triathlon has changed my life – I'm sure you'll be able to say the same.

    August 6, 2011 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Kevin

    Two weeks ago I just completed my first Ironman up in Lake Placid, NY. I have been asked on several occassions since the race how hard it was. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life... but I would reccomend that everyone does at least one in their life. The gratification from completing what is considered one of the hardest races to complete is beyond words. My body has never been in this good of shape before (I'm 25 and in the best shape of my short life even with being a college athlete). Yes your body takes a beating and you get hurt and people can't stand you sometimes because you are so focused on training, or you just smell bad, but in the end those things pale in comparison to what I would feel like if I spent the entire day sitting in front of TV and eating horribly.

    The ultimate goal is lead a healthier lifestyle. I am also a Physical Education teacher and I spend so much time telling other teachers and students to just do something! It does not have to be an Ironman or even a triathlon, just do something that you enjoy that gets you outside and moving. The endurance sport community is great because so many people are involved and always willing to help out anyone looking for it.

    To anyone who dares to say that what this CNN team is doing is just plain dumb (Frank... cough, cough) should look themselves in the mirror and try moving around a little bit!

    August 6, 2011 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Judy Zuege

    Thanks for your comments about running. I have been trying to do brisk walking about 3 times a week, usually a mile or more at our air conditioned YMCA. I have been including some jogging and I intend to work up to joining the LDR ( Long Distance Runners) at the Y. They include some of the most friendly and encouraging people I have ever met.

    One factor that makes running/jogging/walking any distance is having group support. Our Y in Rocky Mount, NC, does not officially sponsor these people. My husband started running a bit a few years ago and noticed the group running together. When they were done he asked one of the members and was welcomed into the group. They often run 5 miles each day and one day a week he and another member run 10. I don't doubt that other members do the same.

    August 6, 2011 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. amarjit

    Imports from China need to be reduced drastically to force people to cut down over spending & keep within their means. Credit cards use should be made limited & cap introduced based on income & expenditure for each individual. Preventive health checks should be made compulsory & periodically as per plan to reduce emergencies. Visits to doctors should also be limited under Medicare, Medicaid except real emergencies with reduction in investigations of pathological nature. Too much freedom to Doctors to prescribe increases expenditure by tax payer. Retirement age should be increased like France & UK to take the financial liability further up with survival age except in cases of disability & from 70 yrs. above. It must reduce substantial expenses however could affect the healthcare industry of hospitals & insurance sectors to some extent. Congress study group & recommendation task force should evaluate these options readily available to cut expenditure. Deploying abroad of military should be maintained with reduction in fructuous operations & training exercises which could be shifted to more cyber & simulated technology in in-house rather than in the fields on recommendations of military commanders of the region so that security of America is never adversely affected. Sale tax on essentials should be maintained at current level & increased in luxury items to increase revenue to state & center. Extra care on individual bases with incentives should be rewarded with less medical bills.

    August 6, 2011 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Michiganian

    My high school daughter got me back into running after many years of claiming "my knees were too bad." After running dozens of 5 and 10 K races (putting the money into entry fees kept me motivated) I decided to join the tri crowd and started sprint tris 3 years ago at the age of 52. I am a busy mom and even busier emergency physician, caring for 2 aging parents , but the anticipation of training for a tri made me more efficient at managing other responsibilities. And training for the three parts of the event was excellent cross training. Last year I took my couch potato husband along and he finished quite respectably! I hope more adults will jump onboard the tri wagon. I am amazed daily in my medical practice at how physiologically "old" many patients 10 years younger than I am, on half a dozen meds to control their lifestyle related ailments. Very sad, really. Keep up the good work at getting the message out, Dr Gupta.

    August 6, 2011 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Jessy

    Good luck, Sir, this is just the beginning ! Later on you should take the kids and wife with you, if it's possible, at races, and you'll have, I guess an enormous satisfaction !

    August 6, 2011 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 23, 2011 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.