Well, except for those relatively close to me, I have been pretty quiet on how races have been going, blogging on various topics, and training targets and goals, so after some reflection, I thought I would post some of my experiences this year, and what I have learned from them, how I can use them in a positive way in the future, and hopefully offering some take away pointers for those reading this.
Its pretty common knowledge that after a blistering 2015 of racing, I ruptured a ligament in my ankle just before the World Champs in Austria 2015. I still lined up to race, and honestly, had a horrific race from start to finish. I couldn’t ride, couldn’t run, just hobbled my way around, and at the end it was only really for the T-shirt and towel! I had been in denial for a few months but that race illustrated that I had to take action, and quick! Well, not that quick with the NHS waiting lists, so July 2016 after a fair few DNFS (yep still kept shifting back into that denial box Kubler-Ross) I eventually accepted that I was doing more damage than good by racing, so packed away my tri gear and had the op. So, First lesson, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY, accept it, there is always another race, another year, but your health and fitness comes first! 6 months later, and still no running, I was rehabilitating with S and C swimming and turbo work, alongside the fantastic Mr Joe Parkes, to get me to a place where I could start lining up at the start line again. Honestly, it is (still!) taking a lot longer than I thought to come back from this surgery, its almost 2 steps forward 1 step back all the time. However the journey has taught be some really good lessons. Firstly, patience! (….and I am not the most patient of people) I have actually surprised myself at how sensible I have been, not taking risks and subsequently recovering and progressing better. I have the propensity to be slightly destructive, and in the past this has resulted in injury, illness, poor performance, and actually disappointment! Learning to really evaluate situations rationally is not always easy but it is important, whether its in a race, training, or life in general. For example, after slowly re-climbing the ladder in competition this year with a 3rd and two 2nd places at IM 70.3 events, I raced in an Olympic event the week before IM VICHY. Flew on the bike despite riding a few miles off course – love riding my Planet x EXO3 sponsored bike, and was 2 secs off a sub 40 for the 10k run, and won the race – a first triathlon win since 2015 – which meant form was returning. Unfortunately I turned my ankle over. It blew up like a balloon and damaged the muscles down the side of the knee to the ankle. I revisited my denial box in the week leading up to Vichy, and still put myself out there, even though it was cramping just swimming! Retrospectively, should I? Well, I do not regret starting at all, I had a horrific swim, but got through it and actually the first 70k of the bike was ok. Only then did it go pear shaped! The old me would have battled through, got off the bike and hobbled a marathon. For what? potential damage to a new ligament, plus further damage to my muscles down my leg? OR call it a day, accept the disappointment, get treatment, and hopefully get back to racing in a few weeks and actually get a good training session in the bag. Now that sounds like that decision was easy….it was not! I had a long discussion on the bike, I even shed a few tears! I knew people were tracking me, and I just felt I was letting myself down and others. Especially as a coach, I certainly do not want to portray an image, that if its not going your way you quit. Absolutely not. This is where you have to find your rational head. Is it just a tough day and you need to find some mental strength? or is there something more going on?. Developing an understanding of your body, and its limitations is really important if you want to maintain consistency and progression in this sport, and avoid continual set backs! I would have loved to have crossed that finish line, in fact it was my challenge to myself, after watching my dad fight his battles with cancer, so it was a hard decision in many ways, but now? the other side, and one more week to being pain free? It was a good decision!
Now time to look at the power or emotional stress on performance. On top of recovering from surgery, I have had an emotionally challenging 18 months(as briefly mentioned above) my father was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer, which led to a roller coaster year of surgery, chemo, hospital visits and finally hospice. This has such an impact on your ability to just function, let alone train, and here I have to give a HUGE thank you to my amasing supportive friends, and family, Ade and the kids who were constantly picking up the pieces at home, made sure I didn’t skip meals, whilst juggling hospital visits, work, and what ever training was possible. I have thought long and hard whether to post on this, because it is such a personal journey, and quite honestly heart wrenching, still is. However, it has taught me a lot in terms of understanding your limitations, rather than taking the “…I will be fine” approach and revisiting that slightly destructive nature, which to be honest, a lot of triathletes have! Yet again, you are not any use to yourself or anyone else if you are permanently broken. I knew emotional toil can take it out of you, however I underestimated how much. Its huge…..like the dementors in Harry Potter! Sometimes you feel everything is being sucked out of you! So, at those times, do you then go out for a 90 mins interval run set? Back to the rational head. Remember exercise can help, BUT it can hinder as well…. and physical and emotional strain will have a huge impact on your immune system. This is when you need to regulate your body, be at one with it. Note what your heart rate is doing, observe sleeping patterns, and actually maybe yoga or pilates could replace an interval session. Look at it as building on a foundation to come back fitter and faster, address your weaknesses. As mentioned before, there is always another year! And make sure you talk to your coach about these things! They are not psychic, and feed back is essential to make sure that the training prescribed is right not only for your fitness but your mental health as well. They really do go hand in hand.
For me, yep, I am not back to where I was a couple of years ago, and at the end of 2015 that thought panicked me. Now? Not so much……Its been a tough few years, and even though I am probably not running and biking as fast as I was, I do think I am physically and mentally stronger, and my perception, mental approach to racing and training is actually very different. It has taught me a lot as an athlete, and subsequently helps me as a coach as well. So, a few more 70.3 distance events this year, then a winter block of training which I completely missed out on last year, will hopefully put me in good shape for 2018. However, there are no crystal balls, and like all of you out there, there will be challenges and obstacles that you face on your journey. But doesn’t that make achieving your goals even more special