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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Why would you ever want to leave Europe? 

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A memorial in Denmark to remember those who fought and went to war. “One moment, one person, one place.”

Here’s a question for a British citizen:

“When was the last time you visited another European country on the continent?”

Because I can hedge my bets on if the answer is: “in the last year or so” one may have been more likely to have voted “remain” in the EU referendum.

As a pro-European, I sit here in a European country surrounded by people I have met from all over Europe to read an article on the progress of Brexit so far, and I still cannot understand why just over half of the voting population would vote to leave Europe, and nor can they.

Our location in the UK, coupled with our British values make us actually quite far removed from Europe already. We have our own currency, we predominantly govern ourselves, and we make our own laws; yet we are part of something bigger.

Think of the company Virgin. The parent conglomerate is Virgin, and the branches are Virgin Media, Virgin Airlines, Virgin Trains and so on. Each is almost an independent company which sets it own rules, and is each directed by a different person, but it it is overseen by the vision of the founders of Virgin.

So the UK is its own company, and we look after ourselves like we are our own company. But ultimately we are a branch of Europe.

When Virgin Airlines was in decline, Branson sold Virgin Records to invest the money back in the Airline. When Britain was in recession in 2008, we were bailed out by our fellow branches from the same tree (as well as other non-EU countries). And when Greece suffered financial problems throughout the last few years, they were bailed out by other European Union members.

We have European laws. However, the vast majority of our laws did not change whenever we joined the euro zone in 1973. European laws do not have to be implemented in every country. If a country decides it does not want to comply with a law, it doesn’t have to, but it has to show that it has something put in place instead. Just like in the UK when a bill is passed through the Parliament: it has to be voted on in the cabinet in the commons and in the House of Lords, if it is not then it is  passed backwards and forwards until it is.

This is why in the UK we drive on the other side of the road and the other side of the car to other European countries–and the rest of the world for that matter.

It is unclear what the percentage of EU laws are implemented in the UK, as there is no distinct definition of what is an EU law. However, in research conducted by the BBC in the referendum campaign: of “945 acts of parliament implemented between 1993-2014, 231 implemented were of EU obligation.” And of over 33,000 statutory instruments implemented in the same period, 4,283 were of EU obligations.

But why is it important to show the number of EU laws the UK has opposed? The EU are the not the enemy, and the whole point of an EU law is so countries in the union can operate on the same level.

To apply for EU membership is difficult, and the country in question has to show that it respects the common values of the member states. Article two of the Lisbon Treaty outlines these values as: “Respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights”.

For example, Turkey is geographically in Europe, yet it has never been recognised as European by its neighbours. To quote the Author Tim Marshall: “Istanbul was European City of Culture 2010, it competes in the Eurovision Song Contest and the UEFA European Championship”; but it is not part of the European Union despite applying for membership in the 1970’s, it has been continually rejected. Factors include its record on human rights, its economy, and the disparity of living conditions.

Here in the EU there are so many opportunities for people of different nationalities within Europe to have free movement, to live, work and retire in a different country while still receiving all of the benefits of their country like pensions.

Being in the EU has given us cheaper and safer holidays without having visas, as so much security is invested in EU airports and online for things like buying a ticket abroad. We have European health insurance, free trade deals, access to the single market, and access to one of the biggest economies in the world.

We pay a hefty membership to be part of this member state, as one does for a club. But just like in your local athletics, darts, or Harry Potter club you receive something in return: a cape, a club house, weekly training sessions, equipment, subsidised entry fees, insurance, and membership to the worldwide Harry Potter alliance.

EU money pays for our roads in areas like Cornwall as part of the regeneration scheme, bridges and infrastructure in some British cities, investment to the NHS, renewable energy infracstrure, and some government schemes are partially funded by the EU. Wales is the biggest benefitter of EU funding (in terms of UK countries) as it goes through regeneration.

Why wouldn’t a tiny island in the sea want to be part of that?

The EU was set up after the Second World War as a peace organisation between member states. In the 1970’s the UK became a member of the ECC (now the EU) and a few years later had a referendum vote. The British public voted to stay in the EU, so what has happened since?

The nonesense debate about taking control of our borders has been going on since the 1960’s and it will continue to go on forever more. But if we have free movement to places like Spain, Germany, France and Portugal, why should those citizens not have free movement to the UK?

Let’s not forget our country is surrounded by the sea. There are exceptions to the rule on how people enter illegally, (such as the immigration crisis in Calais last year) but that happens in every country, and yes changes need to be made to prevent this but the numbers are minuscule in terms of the bigger picture. For anyone to get in, unless they arrive by swimming they have to go through a border.

To obtain a UK visa for non-EU citizens is now extremely difficult. First of all it is not a simple as just getting a visa, there are so many different types. Which cost different amounts and the individual receives different benefits, such as receiving NHS care the same as a UK tax payer.

In Germany I met an Australian girl who applied for a visa, it her cost $1,000 AUS dollars, (the price has recently gone up) and she has to sit a test. This is not a girl who is coming in the country to “take our jobs” she has a profession and is looking for a place in Europe to settle in, and to simply pass through the UK to visit some friends in Edinburgh, she still has to go through this process.

An EU source told the BBC: Everyone in EU parliament think “the Brits have lost it.”

Back to Brexit, the leave campaign did make some good points, and there are so many things that need to be improved in the EU, such as all of the problems surrounded by the migrant crisis last year, trade deals, and so on. But look at the way the referendum ended…

The Leave campaign was taken to court over “knowingly misleading” voters over the figure of £350bn paid to Europe every week, which was found to be purely mythical. In addition to this, take a look at the politicians who were heading the campaign: one is the former and current, and former and current leader of the UK Independence Party. Another is a former cabinet minister who was sacked after the by-election. And the final is Boris Johnson: a once good Mayor of London who stood for two terms, but since failed on his dream to become Prime Minister. Instead settled for a role too far out of his depth as foreign secretary, as a result the international reaction was “overwhelmingly negative”. After the news of Johnson as foreign secretary, an EU source told the BBC: Everyone in EU parliament think “the Brits have lost it.”

This is not to say the referendum was a waste of time (and money–whose money?). The Brexit campaign posed some good arguments and the EU is by no means a model union. If it were, the UK would have implemented a lot more of EU laws, right? And we might drive on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car.

The Switzerland model works well for the EU and Switzerland. But Switzerland have products and an industry to trade. Much of the British industry has been sold off to foreign companies either in Europe or the rest of the world such as the French energy company EDF who own many UK power stations. The outstanding Chinese trade deal for nuclear power stations, the steel works in the North East is now owned outside of the UK. We have our British farming industry to trade because the produce we consume in this country is imported, yet farmers subsidiaries come from the EU. Where will it end?

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A quote from a prisoner at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Berlin.

On my travels in Europe, I have so far met people from Germany, Portugal, Denmark, France, and Brazil, and I have been in three cities for less than a week overall. We learn by meeting people from all over the world, seeing how different counties operate, and how people communicate. A cosmopolitan Europe is a good thing, but in the UK we seem to be scared of growth, and regeneration. Of Brits under 24, 75 percent voted to remain in the EU. That means a variety of things, that people under 24 want a diverse Britain, they want access to other European countries, because that means more opportunities.

In Copenhagen I made friends with a Portuguese guy, I asked why he settled in Denmark and he said because the wages are much higher and the living conditions are much better. In a medium scale job (not a manager or a supervisor) in one day he earns a the equivalent of a week’s wage in Portugal.

One day I would hope to do the same, to move to a different country for a while, work in a different industry and experience life in a different country. Being part of the EU makes that much easier.

As I discuss the brexit situation with these people from all over Europe, I feel embarrassed to say that nearly 52 percent of the UK voters voted to leave the EU.

 

And so the adventure begins…

 

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Photo by: flamingotoes.com

Travelling is (so far) an experience I feel like I have done before. Perhaps it is familiar from the expedition around Romania and Bulgaria I did back in 2012; that was a proper experience of travelling: communicating with new people, completing the project and challenges we were set as a team, and trying not to get mugged in the process.

Or maybe it is the cluster of exotic holidays I experienced growing up? As I always reiterate, I am grateful for being able to see the world. Trips with my parents blurred the lines between ‘holiday’ and ‘travelling’ as we have never been the sit-on-a-beach type, but always the explored the places in the world with history and culture–much to the dissapointment of my brother and I who always longed to fit in with every other family and lie on the beach. But instead, every day was and still is a school day. So mum and dad for all those churches and museums you made us look at, you can say: “I told you so.”

Speaking of parents, it was an odd experience departing from the airport to set off on my travels.

Never have I seen my mother look so concerned. Even after the time I got hypothermia in Scotland during a triathlon, and leaving the country for other trips on my own, this one seemed to worry her more. The look sheYou  gave me was the one every parent gives their child when they realise they have grown up and wonder where the time went. But I couldn’t hover around for too long, as all my energy was spent trying to appear enthusiastic and confident which at 05:00 with no sleep or caffeine is difficult, and is a skill I am learning to perfect.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

Ever since, I’ve had texts asking how I am and what I’m up to. But challenge no.1 of the trip is to think of more creative ways to reply to those messages to test the old ticker. But for now: yes mother, it has been less than a week, I’m fine.

Saying goodbye to my dad included the normal exchange of insults and bickering, not to mention the similarity of what I can only describe as hugging a bear with the furry jacket he was wearing. A bear who has always encouraged my brother and I to travel and live a bit closer to the edge. Although concerned in his own way, I think he is quietly confident I will thrive. Knowing I inherited his ‘fun’ and nonchalant side, I’m sure he is convinced I won’t do anything he wouldn’t… or is he?

Out of all of the airport trips I’ve had, this one was the most anesthetized. What I expected to be a rollercoaster of excitement, nerves, worry and tears, was mainly just numbness as I watched my bag disappear on the conveyor belt, along with the blood from my face as I went numb and thought: “Shit. There is no going back now.”

I waved goodbye and went through airport security, drank a cup of coffee with a shaky hand (although a whisky would have better calmed the nerves) as I contemplated my awaiting adventure, and boarded my flight.

I woke up in Hamburg and during my first few steps in the city I thought: “There actually is no going back now… I also wondered why I decided to leave the cossiness of my bed at 03:00 to start this cliche of a few months. Then, I saw a quote in the window of a yoga shop which said: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” that seemed to give me all the motivation I needed.

The worry disappeared and the excitement began. Hamburg is a beautiful and lively city!

Education cycle comes full circle

I write this on final submissions day: 18 May 2016. One of the most important days of the year. The day when officially my university friends and I begin the transition from students to graduates.

Graduation isn’t for two months and one day yet… but as from today there will be no more studying, essays, deadlines, or university work to do, just pure freedom and relaxation for a little while until the real world catches up with us.

It is a strange feeling, and it hasn’t yet hit me that 17 years of education is finally over. Pressing the “submit” button for the final time was an experience in itself, knowing that everything you have worked for in the last three years is summarised into one grade, one day of wearing a fancy cap and gown, and one certificate. THREE YEARS. And it took 14 years to get there, non-stop; always looking ahead towards the next thing. In primary school it was taking SATs in the summer to get ready for high school, high school it was taking GCSE’s to get into sixth form, and then the pressure was on in sixth form to get the grades for university. Always, always, always aiming towards the next thing, and now it is done, it’s all over, no more education.

I’m going to take the opportunity to recover from the stress of final year. It’s difficult to explain this kind of stress. There are many who say university is a walk in the park, think there is no hard work involved; it’s all about partying, drinking and sponging off the government. Anyone who has been to university understands the pressure that final year students are under, particularly now tuition fees have risen. There is the cost of living for starters, in my personal experience of living as a student, if I didn’t work alongside my degree I would have been homeless, because my loan was never enough to cover basic rent. Students now have to justify  the £40k worth of debt in one grade, and if you don’t achieve that grade then… well you have a lot of explaining to do for a start. Then there is the academic pressure, the deadlines, the procrastination, the countless hours sat in the library trying to inject knowledge from a text book into your head with an empty can of red bull at three in the morning. Then there are the dark times, every student goes through the motions at university, some feel the pressure more than others, and as I learned, that’s what personal tutors are for.

University is not just a learning experience it is an expensive life experience. Learning to move to a new city and find your way around, live with a load of strangers, and if you go when you are 18 fresh from sixth form or college, you start as a teenager and you leave as an adult! You learn some independence, you discover what stress is, you find out what the small hours in the morning are, and by trial and error you teach yourself never to make big decisions after 2am.

You also discover some amazing people who will stick with you for life, whether that’s just one person, or a whole group of them. You experience some funny alcoholic combinations, you lose your memory on multiple occasions and you do some pretty scary and daft things, all in three years. And at the end you find yourself, your experienced, knowledgeable, wiser, more educated self, and you will treasure those moments for the rest of your life, and sometimes wish you could go back and do it all over again because three years felt like three weeks and it all slipped by too fast.

The person who moved to Salford three years ago doesn’t exist any more. I feel like Niamh Lewis version II. I found some confidence, I learned how to date, network, meet new people, look after myself. I learned how to look after my finances, how to drink, (and how not to drink), how to work nearly full time alongside studying full time, how to write, and how to be a journalist. Now I leave three years later, older, wiser, stronger, more confident and mature, and with a greater sense of life experience and achievement. For the time being I’m going to enjoy the time off. Concentrate on enjoying the fresh air riding my bike, and running on the fells without following a training plan, or without worrying about studying. Just enjoying the freedom at the moment until it runs out.

At the moment I’m not entirely sure what I want to do next, maybe a Masters, maybe go travelling, maybe look for work in my appropriate field, or maybe take a gap year of just working and training and take some time off to decide. Who knows, and who cares?

Here’s to the future, and thank you for the past.