Slipped the Surly Bonds

I’m currently sat in Bristol. It’s the European City of Sport 2017, so this seems kind of fitting. Did you know that? I didn’t know that, until I walked past a giant banner proclaiming it. I never really knew Bristol had such a rich sporting heritage, to be honest, but why not? If Hull – Hull – can be the UK City of Culture 2017, then anything is possible. Hull is a motivational lesson to us all that we should never stop pursuing our dreams, no matter how irrational, because one day you will wish hard enough and it’ll happen to coincide with all the other options being used up or irrelevant or dead and you will be all that’s left. Which, by the way, is my plan B for Kona qualification. In 2060 or so. Providing Trump hasn’t killed the world.

Bristol’s sporting excellence isn’t exactly what’s drawn me here, though. I’m on a two month exodus from London due to work, and Bristol is a nice centrepoint for my travels to base myself. Also Mum lives there, so I can stay somewhere where it’s possible to actually get stuff done occasionally rather than another bland hotel. Living out of hotels is awful when you’re a dedicated athlete av excellens. All those tempting breakfast buffets and what do I get to eat? Porridge. Porridge because I’m a sodding athlete and on the days that I have a choice (ie non-match days), I can’t bring myself to go for the fried stuff. Porridge followed by fruit salad and yoghurt because I’m not allowed to touch the pastries, either. I’m going through a lot of fruit in the mornings.

And where the hell does a tri suit figure on the laundry form? You know how every remotely serious runner/cyclist/whatever jokes about the colossal amount of laundry they have to do each week? That becomes a serious logistical issue when you’re limited to 5 items of clothing a day and you’re factoring in work clothes as well. Oh Lord, have I been in some sticky & sweaty situations over the last month.

Crusty the clown.

The above was the result of me rocking up to race my hometown triathlon last Sunday; the race I’d watch with some vague amusement as a young’in, a good decade before I ever found myself doing the sport myself. The first time I thought, ‘maybe I could do that’, ‘maybe that’s fun’, ‘maybe… nah’. Me and Bude, we got some history. Not that it needs to be delved into much, anymore, but there were a few good solid reasons – both old me and new me – on why I wanted to be really, really not shit on the day. Turns out if you wish hard enough for something it does happen – the Hull City of Culture of results, one may posit if one were so inclined.

Without much doubt, this was the most solid all-round performance I have put in a race, with a testing sea swim, an absolutely thundering (by my standards) bike effort and typically strong run catapulting me into 9th out of 219. It’s the first time my swim has been in the top quartile in a race, and also the first time my bike split has come close to matching the standard of my run. All that in a sprint triathlon, the complete opposite end in triathlon terms from what I spend most of my life training for, focusing on and preparing to do. Two hour’s worth of post-race stomach cramps probably demonstrate that. Also, it was very hot and I sweat a lot (refer back to image above).

Yet, all of this feels in spite of and not in addition to, if that makes any kind of sense. The last few months have been… oh god, these sounds like an awful repeat. It’s been tough. I have come straight back from a couple of month’s of injuries, straight into trying to adjust to life in the sports events world in the middle of a couple of major tournaments.

A warning note to all the wide-eyed youth who clearly read this: sports events is not a job to do if you have any personal sporting ambition. You can kiss goodbye to any kind of structured training. If the 16+ hour match days aren’t enough, and the complete fatigue you’ll feel any other day as a result will play havoc with what you can achieve – with what little free time you have, when people expect you to be on call and answering emails/texts/phonecalls 24/7. Then there’s the schedules and travel plans that can change on a moment’s notice; and the diet, which is pretty hard to maintain when you don’t have any control over the on-site menu; and the hassle of finding new training locations & routes in every new city you get sent to…

I wrapped up my training for Challenge Roth – what started the year as my A race – yesterday with a chunky 95 mile bike and a 10 mile run. That is probably the only day… no, that would be unfair and needlessly pessimistic. It’s one of the few days during my entire peak training period that I’ve done anything I feel worthy of a peak training period. The rest of it has been confined to short sets here and there when I have the effort and inclination to get them in after work, which is not as often as I’d like. Of that non-professional work I have got in, none of it has been structured sessions. This is where we’re getting to the bit of this specific post I’ve written, re-written, ad infinitum.

There’s some basic facts that don’t change, but my position on them and how I want to present them does, on a daily basis. Today I’ve finally been given a day off (typically, as soon as my training actually finishes), and have mainly been sat in cafes and idly browsing in Bristol’s many wonderful bike shops, so am in a good-ish mood. Maybe this will help me write something without sounding like a modern-day narcissistic Eeyore.

The problem with my working commitments is that they have taken over my life. As discussed, my training has fallen apart – just as I recovered from injuries and was ready to tie everything back together. My triathlon coaching is on hold because I had no time to complete any of the coursework and couldn’t make the assessment day after a last-minute change to my travel itinerary. I’ve been trying to write this post line by line for about three weeks, a long time before I did the Shoreline triathlon, and there’s no chance of me getting together any of the other bits and pieces I wanted to add to this site. I feel so disengaged from my role as Head of Tri at the Chasers, right at a time where I was beginning to make some real progress on a couple of key projects, and haven’t seen another member of the club in months (barring a couple of them that bumped into me whilst I was working on site in London).

Identity theft, this is what it comes down to. I came to the conclusion a few years ago that I never wanted a job that dictated what I did with my life, because I never wanted to be that boring (says the long-distance triathlete with social anxiety and wildly fluctuating self-esteem). It feels like all of the progress I made over the last couple of years in making some kind of person out of myself, which has almost exclusively happened outside of a professional environment, has been taken away very suddenly. I’m existing in a place where I’m expected to be on call 24/7 to deal with problems in a field that I don’t love. How can one love cricket? They don’t even wear skin-tight uniforms (and have some serious gender issues). Before 12am yesterday I’d had 9 separate work-related people call my phone. On a Sunday, where I was meant to be working on no rota I’ve seen other than that of general expectation. Not saying they were wrong to call me, as there were some pretty big issues afoot, but it’s very anxiety-inducing trying to actually train for a race in this environment.

There was something I was trying to express in a post at some point this year, about how the main takeaway I’ve got from everything I did around Ironman Kalmar last year is that I no longer think about suicide. I haven’t had a thought about self-harm in so long that I’ve forgotten how those thoughts work. I kinda imagined these bits and pieces would come with a fanfare, and bells and whistles, and a smug sense of accomplishment. One should never aim to be smug, it’s awful. I’m blaming this on smug-overload karma.

I’ve been very much dipping in and out of heavy depression over the last few weeks. I keep trying to tell myself that it’s just a temporary situation, which it absolutely is. Cricket tournaments don’t last forever, and part of it all is just that I’m new to this and didn’t know exactly what to expect, was naive, got blindsided. Things happen like that (swim at Kalmar last year, anyone?) and you/I just have to try and adjust as best as you/I can. There have been no suicidal thoughts or contemplation of self-harm; I’m very happy on my wagon, thanks very much, even if it is a bit rickety and held together with spit and bailing wire. Still winning in that respect. But I have questioned if this is the right job for me to be working in, if I haven’t maybe just over-reached a little bit and tried to be something I’m not. Maybe I’ve just been listening to songs about the Challenger disaster too much.

It’s been a long decision wondering how much to expand on that. If any of my ramblings have a ‘selling point’ it’s that they are honest. Which is a little bit awkward, because one of my bosses is a pretty keen runner and kinda sorta stalks me on Strava and there’s a link to this blog in my bio (Hi Damian, doing okay boss if you’re reading this, Leicester isn’t).

I have no idea where I'm gooooiiiinnnnnggggg

On a rare free evening in Cardiff I toddled along to the Goodgym group run that’s recently sprung up there. Turns out the trainer guy, Ben, is a cool dude, so we went for a quick beer the next night and had a good chat. He’s an assistant psychologist and we had a good ol’ chinwag about therapy and I mentioned absolutely none of my own experience in this discussion, and I’m still wracking my head trying to work out why. I dunno, maybe at a time when I’m a bit preoccupied with my own mental health, it was nice to not have to think about it and over-analyse it for a change. Well, at least for that hour or so, because now I’m doing exactly that. Whoops.

So, to Roth, now less than a fortnight away. Psychologically, I have given up on Roth. If you compare how I felt right now to how I felt around about this time in the schedule before Sweden last year, I’m just not there. Sure, I’m still going to go and give it hell – partly because I’ve been accidentally trash-talking Belinda Granger on Twitter (she’s been very gracious about it) so it’s time to put up or shut up. But realistically: I am under-trained, nutrition all askew after I made such efforts to turn that around, and just don’t feel like I have that same fire/grit/pig-headedness that I had last summer. With Ironman Wales only a couple of months around the corner, I’m already looking past Roth to a time when I can effectively train for a race again, and that’s dangerous.

Roth has become a testing ground, rather than the season-defining race it was intended to be. I fully intend to go out way too hard and just see how it goes, because if I blow up mid-race, who cares? I’ll have learnt something about where my limits are, and it’s not like in my head I’ve got this great performance built up anyway. I will test my new nutrition, and bed in my new sexy Halfrust 2.0/Alice Acreman designs race suit to see how it fits (and how pretty it looks). You can’t see it yet because it’s in production.

If I do well in Germany, it won’t be because I’m prepared for it. It will be done out of anger and spite, like a Saturday night in Hull. Hopefully even when the inevitable happens and I do fall apart 90 minutes into the run, I can at least conjure up an amusing tale about it. Or just beat everyone else to the bar. That’d be a win in itself.

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