Choose one: career or sport. Not both

We all have our things we do might makes you – ‘you’, and me – ‘me’.

Without sport I wouldn’t be ‘me’.

It’s a good 50/40/10 split respective of work, sport and a tiny bit left for social beer drinking.

Returning to sport after a break, feels like coming back after an injury. Trying to get into the swing of things again, and formulate some kind of new routine in my new city. This feeling is heightened with added frustration when it happens over and over again.

More often than not, injuries occur when you’re close to your peak fitness, so the last memories you have – the last performance markers you have – are of elite performance. David Millar

Taking up triathlon and endurance sport was a big lifestyle change from horse riding and team sports. Not only in terms of physical changes: exercising more and changes in body shape, but change in mindset too which transpires towards everything else in one’s life.

Endurance sports give you the understanding that to succeed in anything one has to be dedicated to the cause and committed enough to overcome the hurdles in order to achieve the goal. Whether that’s in a race, in the workplace, or as a general rule in life. Good things come to those who work for it.

Yet, this attitude is rare, and many people give up too easily. In fitness, it can be a bad day at work which results in a missed run or a missed gym session. For some, that’s a one off; but for many it spirals out of control and in order to get back ‘on the wagon’ one must be seriously motivated.

Often my friends ask how I have the motivation to train after work. The answer is it’s mostly just a mindset and a lifestyle, and many people have the same mindset and lifestyle – if I didn’t train I would feel like something was missing.

I love my industry, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. However my frustrations come from starting over and over again when there is an interruption, whether that be injury or career. Injuries (which are non-self inflicted – in that they weren’t planned) and tend to appear when training is going well and the peak phase is about to begin.

New jobs are good in every other reason of your life, except the sport part, and every single time I’ve had one it knocks me out of the running for peak performance.

It’s certainly true that the 9-5 kills all hopes and dreams, but if one can endure the pain to go to a session regardless of a long or bad day at work, there is a genuine guarantee that exercise will turn those bad feelings into good ones. Nobody ever regrets a workout.

Don’t stop training

When an athlete stops training abruptly, the effects aren’t just mental with the stress of knowing it is going to be harder to get back to the performance state you were in , but physical too. Their body goes through an array of changes from weight gain and water retention over short periods, to muscle atrophy, a drop in metabolic rate and a loss of fitness for longer periods.

In addition to all of that, for me: my muscles ache, my sleep becomes disrupted, my eating habits change because my body stops telling me what it requires as fuel and I become extremely grouchy and even more short tempered than usual.

So not training isn’t as simple as missing sessions and relaxing instead – when all of that is going on in the background.

Love-hate are the strongest relationships

Fitness and exercise is something I dedicate so much time and energy towards. I wholeheartedly love it; but there are things I hate about it too. There are times when I wish my life could be ‘normal’ and didn’t revolve around exercise and nutrition.

Sometimes, I don’t like that 40 percent of my life is sport related, and I wish the majority of that 40 percent could be socialising, or just hanging out and not doing a lot, what it feels like the rest of the world does.

My way of switching off is suffering on the turbo or a weights session in the gym. Not relaxing in its most popular form. But, the burning of the body often means relaxation for the mind.

I would like to learn the art of doing nothing. For once be one of those people who after getting home after work, is happy vegetating on the couch.

That is the ultimate luxury for an athlete, especially in winter when it’s cold and dark outside. It is a luxury I hardly get to experience, but it never feels like such a treat as the when the feeling of guilt and disappointment sets in, the realisation arrives that one could spend their time more wisely by training and not lounging around, then outcomes the time management diary and the vicious circle starts again. Looks like I can slot in aimlessly browsing the internet, talking bollocks to friends, and watching trash TV three weeks on Thursday after the gym.

Moving jobs and moving cities isn’t easy for the average person. It’s even more difficult when new gyms, /running/cycling/triathlon clubs are added into the mix. On the bright side, exploring new routes is a good way to get to know the new local area, but since I came from one of the best swim/bike/run/gym locations in the country, the bar is set and as much as I love the city, my new found sport routine will never compare to the old one. Besides, I don’t even know where the nearest swimming pool is.

#strongnotskinny •• I get loads of comments on my #thunderthighs. Often at time trials folk will say "you've got powerful legs" which I'm never sure is a compliment or an insult. 😳 However, despite looking a bit odd in shorts I wouldn't have achieved any of my finest moments if they were half the size. •• They can squat almost 100kg, carried me around 4x half ironmans (one of which got me a European silver medal) I've scaled a massive proportion of Lake District peaks either walking or running, they can put out a load of #watts and do well in time trials, as well as countless other physical challenges; so they might be #thunderthighs but they're functional and bloody powerful 😏🍑🙌🏻 • • • • #hatersgonnahate #fitisthenewskinny #stronglegs #strongisthenewskinny #strongissexy #strengthtraining #strength #endurance #legs #pins #gym #health #fitness #fitnessmotivation #squat #peachy #squatbum #leanin15 #strongwomen #healthybodyhealthymind #cycling #cyclist #tri #triathlon #trife #athletelife

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New beginnings

Which brings me to my main frustration.

Eight weeks ago I was in the best shape of my life. I was healthiest I’ve ever been with a resting heart rate of 47bpm and the leanest I’ve ever looked. I had some good results constantly coming through on the bike, with my power output steadily growing, and my time trial results getting quicker.

I wasn’t the strongest I have been in terms of kg lifted, (earlier on in the year, I claimed a 97.5kg squat) but I had more all round body strength.

I spent the end of the summer stripping back my weight workouts to focus on technique, stronger individual muscle groups mastering body weight strength, and working on weak points before I wanted to lift heavy again. My body was very much being fine tuned to being a good cyclist, runner, and strong and functional.

I had the balance of nutrition down to a tee because when you focus on the food vs fuel concept, your body eventually tells you what it needs and you feed it, simple as that.

Since I came back from a long break in April I was very happy, and full of mojo to have a successful season, and to really be able to peak.

But, at the ripe age of 22, I decided it was time to take my career a little bit more seriously and got a new job – in other words, eventually I had to listen to my mother.

Here we are now

My 50 percent is happy and has significantly increased to take the majority, but my 40 percent has shrivelled into a measly 25-30 percent, while the social beer drinking has increased slightly.

All of those physical and mental effects took over. And as I’m in the biggest city in the North of England, I spend a lot of my training time stuck in the car.

I reluctantly said bye bye to my low resting heart rate and my bike which now lives further up North. I watched the power in my legs flitter away as my strength and leanness faded. Anytime I get back on the WattBike I look despairingly at my new low FTP, and wonder how we got here.

Now, I now sit in the traffic envious of the runner/cyclist commuters.

At the beginning, I was happy to take two weeks off to adjust to my new job, and the short period of rest would do my body some good, before starting to wind down into winter training.

But my days were too long, the commute to far, and eventually I had to move to a different city which resulted in a shift in everything. Finding a new gym, finding a running club, finding routes to run and trying to find time to cycle is impossible.

I love my work, it was an excellent risk and decision to I needed to make, and it means I have new projects to focus on. Despite it being no more hours than before, it is more mentally taxing, and the commute takes the most time.

I certainly still bat for the shift workers. The dreaded 9-5 makes one feel totally lazy. It drains the life out of you along with the motivation to do any exercise. Eight hours minus lunch never seems to provide enough time to be productive – the day is over before it has began, the weekend comes and goes, and Monday is spent waiting for Friday. Then there is the lack of movement while hunched over at a desk staring at a computer screen.

The dreadful effects of eight weeks off is a sad reality of sport and fitness. One cannot expect to stop training and still be lean and lift one-and-a-half times their body weight. Achieving the goal, as well as maintaining that physical shape takes hard work, and hard work I am willing to put in every time.

Again and again and again

David Millar’s description of coming back after an injury is the most accurate. Although this isn’t an injury, the last eight weeks have felt like some form of rehab:

“Returning from an injury is hard, though that’s not really due to the injury itself, but more to do with your head coping with the total inability it has to make the body do what once came easily.

“More often than not, injuries occur when you’re close to your peak fitness, so the last memories you have – the last performance markers you have – are of elite performance. Comebacks are at the opposite end of the scale, which is humbling for a professional athlete, but also it makes coming back an interesting and affirming experience.”

I’m all for change and new beginnings, I realise I’m in a fortunate position to be able to change jobs and re-locate as easily as this; but my frustrations lie in the drastic amount set backs and multiple times starting over and over. Every time, I will stand up and go back to it because it’s my 40 percent, my non-negotiable and I would be very different without it.

Every time I will build back up to where I was and more, but every time it makes me feel less enthusiastic and more exhausted to achieve something I once loved. Set backs make us stronger, but stronger for what?

The most upsetting part is in seven years of training, I have never managed to reach peak performance and reach my true potential in triathlon, cycling or power lifting. Something has always had to give, whether it be opportunities or injuries, they come along and wipe me off my feet like a game of snakes and ladders. And in every stretch, I drive to reach my potential in any given sport… until an opportunity comes along and the last tier to peak performance fades away.

I often wish there were more hours in the day, longer days would mean I wouldn’t have to choose between sport or career. I want to see a time where I can have both, not one or the other.

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The dark side of athlete injury

Day 25 of having a broken foot. I wondered how long it would take for me to feel like this. Personally, I thought it would happen sooner, so I’m impressed I made it this far, that’s a sign of improvement, right? But this is where I feel it all spiralling downhill…

All athletes go through this with injuries, and only other athletes can sympathise. It becomes less about not being able to do your sport and more about turning your life upside down. Exercise is not just my hobby and interest, it is my escape from the world, my focus, my coping mechanism, the thing that makes me feel happy and it keeps me the person I am.

Continue reading “The dark side of athlete injury”