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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What makes our greatest athletes?

Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr
Chris Froome became the first person to ride through the channel tunnel. Photo by: Jaguar Mena_Flickr

Where does the grit come from at the very beginning of an athletes career? The grit which is the very reason they have won a gold medal at the Olympics, became a world champion, and won the yellow jersey.

The same grit, that shoehorned them into the sport, to put their focus into something positive. Channel the energy into something constructive; causes blood, sweat, tears and shows where they have come from, and where they are going.

Teams at the Olympics are handpicked. With a vast amount of reasons for competing in their chosen sport. Many, because they were told they would never be good enough, they don’t have the mental capacity, their body is not the body of an Olympian, or they fear the very sport they compete in.

Continue reading “What makes our greatest athletes?”

Everything happens for a reason: what’s the reason?

Week five of having a broken foot.

I got in my car for the first time today in 33 days. Despite everybody telling me not to drive, I just wanted to see if it was painful or not, and to have some sort of grasp of ‘normal’ life before the injury. I only drove to the doctors to get my sick note…

But for that 15 minute drive I felt free, the way I did before the injury. Going about my business in the car as usual. I rely on my car so much and I appreciate having it because of course others do not have that luxury.

Continue reading “Everything happens for a reason: what’s the reason?”

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”

First step to dealing with depression: understanding it

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem over the course of a year, with mixed anxiety and depression the most common mental disorder in Britain.
Statistics from the charity Mind show that British men are three times more likely to die by suicide than British women. In addition to this, self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe (400 per 100,000 population).

Depression is misunderstood by many people and as it affects a quarter of the population in the UK, it is a topic we need to talk about more. Depression can mean feeling low in spirits, having major mood swings and extreme behaviour, and clinical depression can be life-threatening. Continue reading “First step to dealing with depression: understanding it”

European champs: Challenge Paguera race report

10730905_10152801801128656_8938323613375215012_nMy first ever European champs representing Great Britain’s U20 team, and it’s up there as one of the hardest races I’ve ever done; more for the ‘new experience’ rather than the race.

After myself, my dad and many others from the British team trained for a flat and fast course, we were in for a surprise. I’m not sure of the exact elevation of the bike and run courses, but I’m certain that they weren’t “flat” like advertised!

SWIM

During the week leading up to the race it was bordering being a wetsuit banned swim, and at 24 degrees C on race day, it certainly was! However, the race was in the sea and despite the salt, it was fairly pleasant to swim in. The surfer waves we were paddling in on Friday afternoon had disappeared by Saturday lunch time when the race started, and I was on for an open water PB, despite my Garmin saying afterwards I had done 1.6 miles instead of 1.2!

Disappointingly, my dad was out of the water just before me, but transition isn’t his strong point and I was in and out before him in no time.

CHPE1202-20x30

BIKE

Onto the bike, and the first of the two lap course goes through the town center scattered with supporters, until you begin to climb the 151m climb up to the turn around point and the first aid station. The roads get narrower as you climb higher and reach the first town making it difficult to overtake and not to be seen drafting!

After the turnaround point my dad left me for dead on his road bike and I didn’t see him again until the run. After the biggest climb at the beginning of the laps, the course was littered with slight inclines that damaged your average speed and required a little more power–enough to make it harder than you had planned and expected.

Cycling on closed roads was a brilliant experience, it was well managed by the police, and despite the hills, the course was scenic. The support through the Magaluf strip was brilliant with people sat in bars drinking all afternoon and shouting “go GB!” And I can now say I’ve been to Magaluf twice…

10001483_10152808694503656_2865468149819653921_nThe descents were fast and technical, and if you had good handling skills, that’s where you could make up your average speed. I flew through my first lap and got considerably slower on my second after losing a bottle and having back and neck ache, probably due to having to re-build my bike after the flight.

It was a very hot day, something around 31 degrees C, and with no clouds in the sky and direct sunlight on you all afternoon, staying hydrated was incredibly important. The race got harder as I was getting dehydrated after decanting a bottle from the cages on my seat a couple of miles after the last aid station, but soon enough 56 miles came along and T2 was waiting.

RUN

Transition was huge, with three racks of bikes that went on for a good few 100m, we had to run to the end and back before we could collect our run bags, so there was no chance of a quick T2.

The run course was an undulating four laps of the town center with the main hill getting steeper each time you went up it; or at least it seemed that way.

My first run lap was difficult with little energy left in my legs and being thirsty for water, I took on everything: water, Pepsi, and isotonic drink and soon enough, my pace picked up and I felt better.

With it being late afternoon it was still very hot, but much of the run course was shaded, and with sponges and bottles of water being thrown over us by spectators the heat wasn’t a problem, and it was pleasant being out. Except squelching shoes as I plodded on for 13 miles dripping wet.

The ‘new experience’ was meeting Peter Whent on the second or third lap when I was beginning to get delusional and zone out, when he introduced himself and I muttered some tangled words before asking if it’s acceptable to wet yourself during the run (we all know that’s a yes on the bike) and as he said yes, I grabbed a few bottles of water at the aid station, and it is one of the hardest and strangest things I’ve ever tried to do. I didn’t fail, but I didn’t entirely succeed and I came to realise that when you are really trying to wet yourself while shuffling down the  prom in Mallorca, and pouring water all over you, you really do have problems.

CHPH1574-20x30The support at the finish line and the start of each lap was incredible, with spectators handing out a Union Jack flag as you were about to cross the line, and throughout the whole of the run I planned my finish line face, when actually I sprinted across the line with my arms half in the air and a look of bewilderment because I had just come second in Europe for U20 middle distance, and it was difficult to take in the electric atmosphere.

But the best feeling of the day wasn’t standing on the podium waving my flag like a lost child, or receiving a silver medal. It was watching the last two women cross the finish line a minute or so apart and seeing the entire place light up and cheer them on to congratulate them on a very tough and in some parts, a lonely day out.

For one of them it was her second ever triathlon, and to see that almost everyone in the town was there cheering them both on is what makes this sport so fantastic.

Reminiscing

I enjoyed my time at Heysham, I would not be as hardworking and have success in sport and academics without the support and encouragement  of certain members of staff, as well as the incentives that the school has.

I chose to stay at Heysham for sixth form, after I had been a student for five years. During this time I made friends, I had good relationships with most of my teachers, everything was accessible and I knew by staying I had opportunities such as being Head Girl, that I would not have had elsewhere.

I believe that Heysham has helped to shape me into the person I am today. As it was a Sports College, I was always involved in sport throughout my time there including: hockey, netball, representing the district at cross country, and I represented Lancashire in athletics in 2010. We were encouraged to volunteer and give back opportunities to other children with the Sports Leaders scheme, as well as other awards such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

One of my favorite aspects of the school is that they award students for outstanding effort, most improved and many other awards in all faculties of the school; no matter what your talents are, you are recognised for it.

In addition to this we have opportunities to travel abroad to train and compete overseas, as well as academic trips all around Europe! Ranging from ski trips to Austria, Club La Santa training resort in Lanzarote and educational trips to Disneyland!

The first trip to Lanzarote sparked my interest in triathlon. When I came back my interest in fitness and sport had blossomed and I took part in my first triathlon. Moving forward three years I have now qualified to represent the GB Middle Distance Triathlon Age-group team, and have returned to Club La Santa many times–without the first taste in July 2011, I wouldn’t have known about the resort, or the ultimate challenge of Ironman, that I am wound up so very tightly in, on the little volcanic rock; and wouldn’t have found a sport I was actually good at. For that, I thank the opportunities given to me from the school; in particular Mr and Mrs Kirby for organising the trip every year and Mr Kirby for the many cycling trips to Famara beach and the cafe!

Aside from sport, I became head girl in my last year. A lot of people knew me at school as being sporty and hardworking. Studying there for seven years taught me maturity and to focus on the more important things such as education, and future prospects. So many times, we were told that if we didn’t get the qualifications we wouldn’t get the job. Even at university we hear that phrase–because it’s true. Education enables you to better your knowledge and stand out from the crowd, and education is as much as learning as it is personal development. To be at school for seven years is a large part of life. Then to continue and complete a degree or further it enables you to better your lifestyle and give you more opportunities–make use of it!

If I could change anything about my time at Heysham, it would be to have worked harder earlier in my GCSE’s, to prepare me for A level and university. And to have worked that little bit harder in Club La Santa!

To come back and visit staff at school is a reward as well as a reminder of how hard I, and others, have worked to get into higher education and use all of the opportunities we had. It is also a glimpse into the past at how far we have come since being there, and how much there is to go.

Lancaster Duathlon Race Report & Week 5 Training

Photographer: James Kirby
Photographer: James Kirby

Yesterday was Lancaster Duathlon hosted by My Tri Events. My first ever duathlon and for now I’m saying possibly my last.

Looking back now it was quite enjoyable, just as any race is to a triathlete or duathlete, the bigger the challenge the more enjoyable and satisfying it is to have achieved it afterwards.

From somebody who has never raced a duathlon before, and predominantly does triathlons, theoretically it seems strangely easier than a triathlon. Seen as there is only two sports instead of three. However, as you replace the swim with a run to start off with, making it run/cycle/run the gap is filled. As somebody who’s running is their weakest discipline this becomes a problem. So I thought I would make the time up on the bike…

During the race briefing we discovered that the two runs were actually slightly longer than 5km and as we already knew the bike route was a hilly 13 miles.

Just like a sprint triathlon, sprint duathlons are also three legs of pain.

Now, whilst training over the last year or so I discovered that my body has adapted to endurance rather than sprint. Therefore I can last longer at a lower intensity rather than going all out, fast. (Don’t be confused with endurance and Ironman… that’s on another level)

Which makes sprints even harder especially after no speed work for many weeks.

(No excuses I promise… read on for a modest report)

Overall, I was slower than I thought I would be. As I expected the first run would act more as a ‘warm up’ to the bike and second run, being unable to push any harder in the first three miles.

But again lack of cycling over the last few weeks proved itself as the lumpy bits seemed to drag out. The first few hills within the first two or three miles of the bike leg were difficult — especially when these are the roads I usually come down and not up — however after this, my bike legs came out to play and I was flying, despite more hills and a headwind.

The beginning of the second run was similar to the bike, with my bike legs on and my running legs beginning to engage. After the first mile, my run legs were back, yet the pacing was horrendous and being completely knackered, as well as still attempting to sprint made it even harder.

But a hug from Andy Holgate halfway round the second run made it all ok, and made me realise that it is just a race, I’m racing against myself and I should be happy with trying my best.

As I came round the last corner at Halton Training Camp towards the finish line, it became clear that I had pushed myself hard as my breathing was now uncontrollable and I had a severe look of pain on my face that could not be removed.

I finished in 1:58, about 13 minutes slower than I wanted. I was disappointed, but sometimes these things happen and you just have to let it go. It was the first race of the year, the beginning of the season, my first ever duathlon, a training race, lack of speed and hill training, and also a bloody tough course! But… I still did enjoy it. It was a beautiful day, with some very scenic views, with my friends and club mates, and it felt good to be back amongst everybody in the club, and made me proud to be a COLT. (City of Lancaster Triathlon)

I also had to apologise to my boyfriend Jack for saying his sport was easy. It was certainly harder than a sprint triathlon and I shall not be entering another duathlon for a while.

Run 1: 30.02

Bike: 53.33

Run 2: 33.14

1st in my age-group

overall position 79th/ 115

11th female

Week 5 mileage:

Swim: 1.2 miles

Bike: 19 miles

Run: 18.2 miles

On target?

More cycling needed!

Photographer: James Kirby
Photographer: James Kirby