It’s not easy to do anything when you are tired like I get, and I feel like I’ve been tired for most of the last 2 years, and for a significant part of my life since I was 15. And I’m tired of being tired.
Lots and lots of tests never found anything and I learnt a lot about life and what makes me happy over those early years as a professional triathlete struggling to string more than a few weeks of training together without hitting a wall of fatigue. Simple pleasures, days where I felt good and not fatigued, became the measure of my life. Sometimes the fatigue lasted a couple of days, other times it lasted months. But I’ve never cursed my journey, I’ve never wished I’d had it easier, and I’ve never despaired and wondered why me (except when I was 16, young, and couldn’t comprehend being less able than others). I’m usually an optimistic and patient person, traits that were reinforced as I had to cope with many setbacks with my fatigue. I am generally a laid back type of character, and this is where my health makes it hard for others to distinguish between me, and the fatigue affected version of me.
I don’t want to tell you who I am, but just to tell you my side of events and leave it up to you to judge. I think I’m pretty good with staying cool over constructive feedback, while uninformed trolls on the other hand are the biggest waste of space in the digital world, so keep it to yourself if your goal is just to put people down to make yourself feel bigger. Rant over.
After a big break from training I start back feeling good. Hence why my first race of the season is usually my best. Even this year leading up to Challenge Dubai my training had got me fitter than I had been in 2 years (my focus this year was to get fitter and less mileage), from early January until mid February things were great and I was keen to get out the door most days. And then I faded, and I realized I had over-done my training and was now fatigued again. [I knew heading to Dubai the outcome was likely grim, although I held high hopes of coming good in those few weeks before the race, to no avail.]. I hadn’t done a ton of training but I can see where a session here and there that left me a little cooked had added up over a few weeks. The fact that I let this happen again was frustrating, and I can only blame myself, but the following month was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced and has made me question the path ahead of me.
I’m not my whole self when I’m tired. When I get fatigued it is impossible to do anything that requires concentration and physical effort. Things lose their joy and appeal. I don’t want to train, but I also don’t want to go for surf, or walk the dogs. I’m just tired! My brain is foggy, my body is tired, and real bad days getting out of bed is something I do because I know I should, not because I want to for any purpose. Meeting people at the coffee shop sounds like an effort, preparing good food is a hassle and eating chocolate should give me energy, right?! Wrong. But I’m tired, and my self control is weak and I seek a simple pleasure with the hope of energy in return.
All of this and more is something I’ve learnt to cope with over the years and can say to myself happily, “ok I’m tired today so let’s try and focus on other things like recovery, massage, pruning the garden etc.” In my second year as a full time triathlete I was 22 years old and had fatigue that lasted months. On my worst day I got 5 minutes down the road on my bike and was almost in tears I was so exhausted. I just wanted to throw my bike in the bushes, but I turned around, went home and played a lot of Xbox. I now know when I am tired and training is going to dig me deeper into a hole, and I know when I feel good enough to train. The problem is that it’s not so obvious to others and through their genuine care for me put their worry’s about me onto me, and it’s hard taking that when you are too tired to think, talk, and act on peoples worry’s. That’s why March has been a life changing month of fatigue. I’ve realized that whether people understand my fatigue and what I’m going through or not, what they see is what they see, and I don’t like what they see.
For those 4 years that I managed my fatigue leading into October and had solid results in Hawaii, and maybe 1 or 2 other good races per year at the most, made it seem like not such an issue. And I guess my ability to do well there made it harder for people to understand I have a fatigue problem. People have got used to my performances, that when I’m on I’m red hot, and if I’m not it’s just a mess. Like walking on a knife-edge. I do love the thrill of getting in shape and racing at full gas, and training is a joy when I feel good and I love how fast and talented I am despite the percieved lack of “hard work”. But many people assume I’m not motivated, and am lazy when I am actually fatigued and am training very little because I can’t, not because I don’t enjoy it. And although I’m ok with whatever people think of me and don’t care about peoples impression, I’ve realized that I’m no longer ok with being tired and pushing my health over the edge so often and easily (it has gotten easier to fatigue and recovery is now longer), and not feeling like myself.
In March it was incredibly tough to hear Jaimie and others question my motivation, my lack of training plan, or desire to win as possible cause of my problems, which was made even harder to hear while I was down (fatigued emotionally and physically, hence why I was hearing it then). I couldn’t understand why some people didn’t believe me, or hear what I was saying. I felt like I was speaking but no words were coming out, and I became very frustrated. But it made me see how people are effected by me when I am fatigued, and although I’ve always been ok with how I feel I started to see that it’s not normal to be like this, and I don’t want to continue battling like this. Whether I am understood or not, it’s not enjoyable either way, just more frustrating when it’s the latter.
After so many years seeing physicians and getting tested to no avail and still managing a World Championship at one of the toughest on day races on the planet (biased much?), I became good at sticking my head in the sand and accepting I knew how to cope with my fatigue and I knew my body better than anyone else and also knew what’s best for me. It’s also the reason I don’t seek or accept help from others in my training plan, because getting in shape is not hard for me, it’s staying healthy that is the issue and it’s such a grey area when seen from the outside, that if I became fatigued and had to answer to someone else I would not be able to cope with it without more stress. Ignoring things, when fatigued, is my reaction to lots of things, because anything that requires me to concentrate and muster energy for is difficult, let’s say impossible. Ever since I was an early teenager I was good (podium in my year) at english and maths, until year 10 at high school (which is when my fatigue hit) and school required actual extra study to be done at home to keep up, which was like herding cats in my head to try and focus. I could sit there and stare at the page and get no work done. Two years later and I think (don’t remember exactly) I failed my final exams.
Anyway back to my story. I’d become so disillusioned with Doctors and tests to say the least, and currently being partially fatigued and trying to train a bit too, it was only because of Jaimie booking an appointment and coming with me that I have recently seen another doctor, looking at things at a slightly different angle, and some tests that weren’t around many years ago when I was last seeking answers.
My fogginess makes it hard to make decisions, to cope with other emotional stresses, to enjoy things that I would otherwise enjoy even when I have time between training. And as I get older and start thinking about what else I want out of this life I can see that being the greatest triathlete of all time may not be my path. It was once my dream that I could win six times in Hawaii, and win several other races a year – I have strong belief in myself of course as winning Hawaii was a dream for 10 years – but now I begin to think about the cost on my life for those other triathlon dreams. I don’t want to spend the next several years tired and foggy. If there is no positive answer in these recent tests then I will need to approach the rest of my career very differently. Yes, I could train less/smarter and give myself more time between races, and luckily I am in a position to do so and still focus on Hawaii for a couple more years (without having to earn points to qualify because of being a previous champion for 5 years since). I do need to have bigger breaks of rest throughout the year and allow my body to catch up on the 30+ full distance tri’s over the last 12 years. I do need time to focus on working out my health issues without the pressures of an upcoming race. I do need to think about how else I can maximize my career in the tri industry besides racing frequently, and I need this to keep from racing and training too frequently. I do want to think about other income revenues for the near and distant future. I do want to be more active and involved, and grow in other aspects of my life, along with community, friends, family, and of course Jaimie.
I need to change things, not because of how others perceive me, but because I don’t always feel like myself, and I want to be a better me for myself and those around me, whatever that me may be.
So I keep struggling with Hawaii as my goal because I still believe I can win again, and I want to prove it to myself that I am wise and skilled enough to do whatever I want, and triathlon is still (even more so now than ever) one of the biggest challenges with the biggest rewards for me. And the struggle that it has been has made me who I am, taught me much of what I know, and I’m even though it won’t be easy I want to continue with that struggle to get back to the top, to keep learning, to keep passing on what I learn, and to get more out of my life with my good friends and family around me.
Thanks to everyone for their patience and support over the many years. I’m sorry it’s not been easy to watch and comprehend from the outside as you wished me well at every race I failed at. I find it an incredible boost to my soul that so many people I’ve never met wish me well. I will always appreciate your genuine support, and I will always find it hard to face you when I am not my whole self. The same goes to my sponsors, to all of them over the years, every contribution to my self belief that you have given through your support will always remain. A special thanks to those who are with me now in what seem like my darkest years. But after the dark there will always be light. Thank you Boardman Bikes, Amart Sports, Asics, blueseventy, Yurbuds, Alaska Milk, Training Mask Oceania, Sram, Zipp, Flight Centre Active Travel, Quarq, ISM, XLAB, Scion, Northwave, and as always I’m very proud to be involved with the John Maclean Foundation.
Onwards and upwards, to infinity and beyond
All the best to everyone