“Training is like fighting with a gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.”
– Greg Henderson
Cycling – and by extension triathlon, or any endurance sport really – is full of overly macho quotes like that. Fighting gorillas. Pain is your friend, it keeps you honest. Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail. Hard work. Hard work. Do the fucking hard work. Or, y’know, take all the drugs; or do a little bit of column A, little bit of column B but hey! Who’s judging. It’s all about the quest to see what threshold one can reach before one keels over. It’s all about taking more pain than is comfortable, or sensible, to prove something unmeasurable to the dwindling pile of people in one’s life who still give a shit about one, when one has spent the last few years socially hermitizing (it’s a word shut up) one’s self in order to go wrestling gorillas in every free moment.
I fall into that trap a lot when training. I do a lot of ‘climbing to power’ at the moment, which essentially means that rather than looking around and admiring the view when I’m cresting this or that hill, my head is down and I’m spending the whole time staring at a 1.5” LED screen, analyzing my 1 second power, 3 second average power, 10 second average power, 30 second average power, whole climb average power, cadence, heart rate, wind speed, horoscope and full NHS records. It is exactly as dull as it sounds. Where’s the struggle in that? Where’s the realisation that you’ve bitten off way more than you can chew halfway up, but you’re halfway up so you’d better just learn to live with it? Where’s the lesson-learning and limit-breaking? I crave, sometimes, the chance to rush off and fling some haymakers at upright simians.
All of a sudden though, I am very, very tired of testing my limits. The thing is, depression is also kinda like fighting with a gorilla. You don’t get to choose when it comes and goes. Prepare all you want, you aren’t going to win, and let’s be honest, you’re not about to tire the gorilla out – you just hope the gorilla gets bored of your pathetic efforts to ward it off, and wanders away into the undergrowth to find something else to torment. The moments spent not fighting the gorilla are then mainly spent either in fear of the gorilla returning, or in sweet, simple complacency when the gorilla has been out of sight long enough that you think it’s buggered right off. See, it hasn’t. It never does. You’re trapped in a cage with this gorilla, and it’s a large enough cage for some hide and seek, but it’s still a cage. There’s only so much manoeuvring one can do.
Lately, the gorilla’s been winning, and I’m scared. I am not myself. I haven’t been for days, on and off for weeks. First came the lifelessness, the sitting on the floor for hours, nothing but inertia; watching my to-do list grow alongside my anxiety, having no energy to do a damn thing about it. I have ploughed on with training. I continue to plow on with training because it’s my ‘me’ time; and it’s the routine that should be a choice, not a responsibility; and I’ve got Ironman Lanzarote just around the corner now, and I chose that path, and I’m stubborn.
Sleep is the next thing to go, and gone it has. Not completely, just so infuriatingly on and off. Out of control. Losing control is the worst aspect of it, the feeling of complete and utter helplessness when it comes to your own body and mind. The third thing the depression kills is the appetite. I’m praying that one doesn’t flare back up, because if I’m sleep-deprived AND carb-deprived then there’s no hope of keeping anything happening, really. Plus I’m already skinny enough, I don’t need to be skinnier. I’m suddenly far less focused on ‘race-weight’ than I was a couple of months ago.
And this triathlon shit. Each day, it feels less and less like something that completes me, and more and more like an albatross around my neck (and not just because I have a 4k pool swim to do on Friday, ugh). Here’s to hoping that’s just part of the usual Ironman training cycle, and in another 4 weeks I’ll be raring to go again… but that feels like an easy lie to believe. Maybe the scepticism is just too ingrained at the moment.
I know that I am an unreliable narrator, and I know I don’t trust myself to find an answer that’ll solve this. As soon as I come to a conclusion on anything part of me will always look for what agenda could be behind it and convince myself that I’m lying to myself. That’s not a fun way to look at the world, and it’s been largely what every therapy session at the moment is coming back to. I’m not sure if that, in itself, helps or not: the constant reminding and ruminating. I dunno. Maybe there’s an element of things having to get worse before they get better. After all, you have the get cosy with the gorilla if you want to out-wrestle it.
Listening: the complete Lord of the Rings film trilogy score; yes, all of it.
Reading: Philip Pullman – The Subtle Knife; I’m still trying to face up to reading La Belle Sauvage for fear of it destroying my favourite trilogy of books ever (bar possibly the Twig Trilogy of The Edge Chronicles).