No Pain, No Brain: Overexercising can have psychological ramifications.
No Pain, No Brain: Overexercising can have psychological ramifications. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Late on Oct. 15, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty showed up at a meeting of the Capitol Hill North Neighborhood Association and promised to work on police staffing, nuisance properties, and other workaday issues.

But attendees noticed something amiss about Hizzoner that night—slurring his words, tuning out of conversations, losing his train of thought. One attendee put it this way: “He was drunk.”

Hardly: Fenty is famously a teetotaler with a weakness only for chamomile tea, and LL sees no reason why the good folks of north Capitol Hill might have sent him to the bottle.

Here’s LL’s armchair diagnosis: Fenty is suffering from an acute form of exhaustion stemming from overexercise and the stress of his mayoral duties. He ain’t right.

A hard-charging triathlete, Fenty maintains a rigid and ambitious training regimen—before dawn on Wednesday mornings, he’s been known to do interval training with his AOAT (“All Out All the Time”) track team at Dunbar Senior High School. Other mornings he embarks on runs starting at his Crestwood home and proceeding all across the city, often 10 miles or more. He’s a regular in the water, too, doing his triathlon training in various city pools.

And then there’s the cycling. As WTOP’s Mark Segraves documented this week, Fenty takes frequent midday training rides of two hours or more with his cycling team, D.C. Velo. For the rides, Hizzoner has requisitioned police motorcycles to protect his hide and ease his way through busy city and suburban streets.

Why the compulsion to work out? This is what he told a Delaware newspaper over the summer, after completing the Rehoboth Swim/Run Biathlon: “It’s almost essential that I begin my day with an athletic release.”

Another essential part of the Fenty daily regime is a lapse in judgment. For such a skilled campaigner, he’s proven to be a singularly tone-deaf governor—whether it’s marshaling cops to escort bike rides, refusing to meet with Dorothy Height and Maya Angelou, being unduly secretive about his travel schedule, etc.

Could all the exercise and the bad judgment be related?

LL consulted Keith Kaufman, who has a practice in sports psychology with Parkhurst Associates in Dupont Circle. He says that exercise is normally a good thing, that “in general, it’s one of the best ways to put balance in your life.”

But, yes, there is such a thing as too much exercise.

Kaufman says the consequences of overtraining can run the gamut from “staleness,” where “things don’t seem as fun anymore; you’re lacking some of that same fire, same interest,” to a point where the symptoms “start to mirror depression—you get lethargic, get disinterested.” And, if you push it far enough, Kaufman says, “the endpoint is burnout, a state of physical and mental exhaustion.”

And it’s not just the workouts you have to take into account, says Kaufman. “Stress can be cumulative,” he says. “There can be other things going on.…I think one of the big things I have with these people is time management, finding time to work recovery into the schedule when you can.”

If you don’t, Kaufman says, the depressive symptoms will start showing themselves: withdrawal. Sleeplessness. Lack of concentration. Irritability.

Let’s take a timeout on that last one. ’Cause if there’s one trait that the mayor repeatedly shows to those who follow him, it’s a hair-trigger irritability. Just this week, when he faced questions from Segraves about his cycling habits, Fenty went berserk, right in front of the D.C. press corps, accusing the WTOP reporter of running afoul of the law by taping the bike rides while driving.

Hizzoner’s patterns may be familiar to Alayne Yates, who has brought attention to the pathological dimension of exercise.

Yates, a former psychiatry professor at the University of Arizona, published a book in 1991 titled Compulsive Exercise and the Eating Disorders: Toward an Integrated Theory of Activity. In the book, Yates ties together mostly female anorexics and bulemics with mostly male “obligatory” exercisers—runners who overtrain to the point that it ruins their family and work lives, not to mention their bodies.

The book, in fact, begins the example with a politician—then Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, who found it hard even on a family vacation to give up his superpacked schedule. Compare that with Fenty, who was photographed training in Jamaica during a family vacay over the summer, before returning there last month to compete in a triathlon.

Yates’ book offers other analyses of the compulsive exerciser—descriptions that will read awfully familiar to John A. Wilson Building denizens. Obligatory exercise, she writes, “fosters a state of apparent narcissism,” complete with a “lack of empathy [see: teacher firings], a sense of self-importance [see: chauffeur Keith Lomax], indifference about the feelings of others [see: Clark Ray dismissal], and preoccupation with a successful performance [see: his ever-improving triathlon times].” Furthermore, they become “more and more egotistical as they become enveloped in a cloud of intermingled plans, lists, and actions [see: CapStats].”

Sure, to a point, the compulsive athlete’s habits can have a positive effect on his professional life. “They commit themselves to diet or running in the same manner that they commit themselves to vocational or educational activities,” Yates writes. But truly “disordered” overexercisers, she writes, become “seclusive, depressed, distrustful, hostile, and egocentric [see: administration’s response to virtually every FOIA request that comes its way]. Eventually, they assume a position of embattled autonomy and extreme overactivity [see: Fenty’s mountain training interlude after arriving at the 2008 Democratic National Convention].”

On Monday, LL reached Yates in Hawaii, where she’s retired. LL went on to describe Fenty—his ambitious workout schedule, his fatigue, his increasing inability to get along with others.

Her first question: “This guy is an overachiever?”

Indeed, the types of high achievers who end up in top executive roles, Yates says, are particularly susceptible to exercising to the point where they imperil the rest of their lives. “It’s very much a part of our culture,” she says. “People that we look up to are overachievers, and they push themselves, and that’s why they’re so successful. So we can’t say that on that basis that it’s pathological. It’s just when they push themselves into a corner where they endanger their relationships or endanger their physical health.”

So has Fenty pushed himself into a corner?

Hard to say without a full examination, Yates says. But she notes that “being a well-functioning person is different from being able to do your job. Usually the criteria is that he’s not functioning well on the job.”

And that can manifest itself in a dearth of professional relationships. In fact, Yates surmises, “He probably doesn’t have much in the way of close relationships unless they’re running with him.” (LL then mentioned that Fenty is in the habit of naming his training buddies to various boards and commissions. Asked Yates, “Are they qualified?”)

So what to do before Fenty burns out for real?

Kaufman says that “sometimes a light adjustment can be enough,” but “sometimes it can take something a little more sweeping than taking a day off here or there.” If a person’s a particularly bad case, he says, there’s a need to “really make some behavioral changes, to really cut back on the hours.”

In her book, Yates says that overexercisers, when embattled, “become even harder on themselves and they focus more on self improvement.” But she suggests a gamut of therapeutic options, from one-on-one counseling to inpatient treatment. But, in her book, she warns that obsessive exercisers “are not likely to accept help initially from a pudgy out-of-shape therapist.” Or a pudgy, out-of-shape political columnist.

Yates tells LL there are other options for Hizzoner: “They have sports medicine docs that deal with this, who can sit down with him and say, ‘Hey, you know you’re pushing it too far, don’t you think?’” Yates says. “And they aren’t as threatening as psychiatrists.”

Fenty’s Bulldog?

In the pages of this newspaper not long ago, Ron Moten announced his retirement from Peaceoholics, the group of gang interventionists that’s attracted a lot of government dollars and a lot of scrutiny in recent years.

But if you thought that Moten would slink off into the sunset, he put that notion to rest last Thursday. At a D.C. Council hearing on the millions of dollars in parks construction contracts shipped off to the D.C. Housing Authority and in turn handed to Fenty supporters, Moten showed up to testify—and to announce that he’s not going anywhere.

In his testimony, Moten made it a point to paint the ongoing power struggles between the D.C. Council and his old buddy Adrian Fenty as just another beef—like the ones Peaceoholics has been paid millions to squash over the years. But there wasn’t any beef-squashing in Moten’s remarks; it was more like beef-marinating.

Moten started off by calling councilmembers “masters of deception” before comparing their treatment of the parks contracts to what’s happened with the approval of the city lottery contract. He singled out Chairman Vincent C. Gray, accusing him of misdealings and dropping the name of “Bruce Banero”—by which LL assumes he meant Bruce Bereano, the Annapolis superlobbyist who’s also an old college frat buddy of Gray’s (and, Moten did not neglect to mention, who was convicted of a federal fraud charge in 1995).

“When I come in to this chamber I need to wear my Teflon vest, because the real gangsters are in here,” he said in closing.

The remarks prompted Gray, who had been in his office suite down the hall, to come to the council dais and go all Native Washingtonian on Moten. He insisted that Moten repeat his allegations to his face.

Gray started by demanding that Moten be sworn in. “For what?” Moten asked.

“’Cause I asked you to,” Gray replied. Moten protested that no other community witnesses had been sworn. Gray refused to back down. Moten proceeded to essentially dare Gray to have him carried from the chamber.

Then Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry got in the act, bringing up the incident where Moten, in a confrontation outside the Wilson Building, called Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander “trash.”

“You come to your friends, Ms. Alexander and myself, and curse us out and defame us!” Barry told Moten.

“Who did I curse out, Marion Barry?” asked Moten. “Marion Barry, who did I curse out?”

Said Barry: “You cannot interrupt me, Ron. Don’t interrupt me now! Stop it!”

Eventually the drama petered out. It helped that Moten was without his usual coterie of kids and Peaceoholics employees to back him up. (He’d brought more than 50 to a hearing the week before.)

“As of Monday, I won’t be with the Peaceoholics,” he said. “But I tell you, people down here are going to have to deal with me. And If you think I was raising hell, well, now I won’t be under no government contracts. I’m going to work for my people. I’m going to slave for my people. If you think you’ve seen something, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Political Potpourri

• Another day with no public appearances by Fenty last Friday meant another day of reporters wondering where the man has jetted off to.

LL learned that Hizzoner was in San Francisco—first off, to attend the Urban Land Institute’s fall meeting in order to drum up interest in next year’s shindig, to be held here in D.C.

But while there, he attended a fundraiser to benefit his re-election campaign, thrown by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, fresh off his decision not to pursue a gubernatorial bid. LL is guessing that of all the Frisco big shots invited, developer and ex-D.C. United owner Victor MacFarlane, whose plan to build a soccer stadium on Poplar Point was spurned by Fenty, was not among them.

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