Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cold Turkey - a retrospective

I've been meaning to write this article for a while but wanted to make sure that I was where I wanted to be before I penned it. I came up with the title at Christmas and since the title is very apt for the content the Christmas pun also amused me.

So, you may have seen one or two (or far too many for that matter) witterings from me about having lost my MOJO. If you don't know what MOJO is then let me explain. First off I googled it and realised it has hundreds of meanings and nothing specifically along the lines of what I and others in sport have been using it for. My MOJO (or lack of it) related to loss of motivation, fitness, interest, energy, drive and most of all EXCITEMENT about my sport of triathlon.

The loss of any one of these elements can cause you to derail but when you lose all of them then you're really in trouble. What comes with losing my MOJO is also rapid and monumental weight gain - you can only imagine how that compounds things!!

Last year I competed in Ironman Langkawi, Ironman China, Ironman Kentucky and represented the British Age-Group Team in the ITU World Long Distance Championships. Plus many other run races and triathlons. I was ninth amateur in Langkawi but only 5th in my age-group so didn't qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

I talked my way into Ironman Kentucky after it was full in a last ditch effort to qualify. I had a good swim and bike but was destroyed on the run and was so far down the field that I didn't bother going to the Hawaii roll down. You can imagine what a gut wrenching feeling I felt when a few weeks later I viewed the results to see that a qualification place rolled down to an unbelievable 130th place in my age-group - Arrrrrgggggghhhhh!

After all this I was physically wrecked and knew that I wasn't in great space mentally either. I bluffed the Miri Sprint and Olympic Distance tris with a 2nd and 3rd place respectively but had to pull out of going to Powerman (dualthon) as I doubted I could have even finished let alone defended my title.

Every night I struggled to sleep with intense pain pulsating through my body and especially through my legs. This was the case EVERY NIGHT pretty much from September through November and I was only training twice a week, one bike and one run.

I thought that as soon as Kona came and went in October that all my issues would fade away and I'd get back into training. After all, I'd set out in 2010 with a 2 year plan to qualify for Kona. If I made it in 2010 then it was going to be a bonus but my real target was 2011.

Kona came and went but if anything, things got worse, mentally, physically, the pain at night and to top it all the weight started to pile on. For Ironman Langkawi I was 69kg by Christmas Eve I was 82.5kg. OH MY GOODNESS!

A friend of mine who did actually qualify for Kona had to pull out of the race a few weeks before, due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. How dreadfully sad was that? Listening to the symptoms I seemed to be suffering from some of them and ultimately I concluded that I also had CFS, albeit a milder form than my friend's. I started sharing that conclusion with people and convinced myself this is what was wrong with me.

A few weeks before Christmas I mentioned it to my unfortunate friend and was told in no uncertain terms that I didn't have CFS, she was blunt, too the point and there was no doubt in her mind that wasn't my problem. So I did a little more research and concluded that she was probably right and so my only conclusion was that I was suffering from CHRONIC BURN OUT. Pretty obvious now, although the pain at night wasn't totally resolved and I theorise that this may have been due to muscle atrophy due to the massive reduction in consistent training.

So, a little more room for optimism you might think! BUT NOT AT ALL. I just had a different name for it, the feeling was the same. During these months I did a few 10k run races and as time went by my results went along these lines 7th, 37th, 84th, 191st.

The last race I did was the steepest, hilliest run race I've ever done, it was a 12k hillfest. I'd had 3 hours sleep the night before due to a dinner party and I was sporting a hangover from hell. I was well over 80kg at this point (see photo above) although I'd stopped weighing myself (always a sign that things are very very bad).

I somehow managed to run from start to finish without stopping but it was miserable, I met up with loads of really cool running and tri friends but still I was so down, I wished I wasn't there.

AND THEN CAME THE TURNING POINT...As I was running down the very step hill to the finish, overtaking a lot of people but only because it was downhill and I desperately wanted to put an end to it, I ran past someone who shouted out "Hey Simon, it looks like you've found you're MOJO". I felt like stopping, I needed to explain to them that they couldn't be further from the truth, in fact my primeval instincts were far more angry than simply wanting to explain - I wanted to scream it at best and explode into a violent rage at worst (violence isn't my thing so there was never a danger of that happening but I am just trying to share my emotions of the moment). I certainly felt like crying, literally. (The photo above was taken less than a minute later).

It happened in a split second and soon passed and within a dozen strides I was ashamed of myself, here was someone (sorry I've no idea who it was I didn't even get a look at your face) who clearly new me, a friend, they knew about my loss of MOJO so probably read this blog and to cap it all they were enthusiastically encouraging me as I went by, happy that I seemed to have come through my dark period and rediscovered my MOJO. I felt 2inches tall.

I don't recall when the eureka moment hit me but it was within minutes or just a few hours of that moment. I suddenly realised that what had angered me so much was not that my friend had got it wrong, not that I hadn't found my MOJO but that MY MOJO HADN'T FOUND ME! It dawned on me (as I well know anyway), that nothing in life comes easy, nothing worth having anyway. I'd actually been waiting for my MOJO to find me but I needed to pick myself up, kick myself up the behind and really go find my MOJO.

And so I did, the very next morning I forced myself out of bed at 5am and did 1 1/2 hours hard interval swim, followed by a spin class at lunchtime and then a 1hr11min maximum resistance turbo session in the evening. Day 1 of Ironman training was in the bag - no easing into it, just full on, I went COLD TURKEY, hence the title. This continued the next day and the next and has continued ever since.

Yes I've found my MOJO but only because I dragged it kicking and screaming back to the core of my heart and sole. Fortunately I started the week before Christmas which minimised the negative impact and potential overindulgence's of the festive period and as I usually do I stopped drinking on January 1st. Usually I do this until March 18th which is my birthday but I have now committed to giving up the booze until I qualify for Kona. It might be at Ironman China on 29th May or it might be 5 years time...haha. I have also given up pizzas and ice-cream. Desserts and sweets too, although I don't really like those anyway.

So far it's been 6 weeks and I've lost 6.5kg (14 pounds). I'm eating 5 small meals a day, working out 2, 3 or 4 times everyday. I feel great, I'm looking much better and I had a good result at the Singapore Duathlon on Sunday despite still being many kilos over race weight.

The only issue I have is that I'm not sleeping well and I can only put that down to the huge increase in training and the reduced food intake. Some people would (and have) called that over training but then none of those people have trained to win their age-group in an Ironman. I'll stick at it and the sleep will come I'm sure.

I have an overriding philosophy in life which is this: - "The point of life is singular and uncomplicated - TO BE HAPPY"

Now I AM HAPPY AGAIN - I have my MOJO back. I'm still a work in progress but that's called life!

I love quotes and there's a couple that I've come to love in the last couple of weeks. One was posted on Bryan Payne's Blog: -

"ALL OR NOTHING" - sadly (or happily) that's who I am. The switch is either on or it's off. If it's off it's not pretty but if it's on I'm happy and I can do amazing things - as indeed anyone can.

The other was posted by Jocelyn Wong (The Wongstar) of TBB. I think she was quoting Brett Sutton (arguably the best tri coach there is): -

"MODERATION = MEDIOCRE" - I've been told more times than I can possibly recall to live my life in moderation and I've never had a good retort, now I have. Moderation is just not me, it's not how I tick, yes that's how I became a 107kg (235 pound) fat slob but remember "ALL OR NOTHING" is who I am. So if it's channelled in the right direction then I'm gonna be unstoppable and I downright refuse to leave this planet as MEDIOCRE.

Thus the sermon ends.


plee said...

Goodness Simon!
I was taking pics at the 12k race and cannot rightly remember if I said something about yr mojo being back at the time!!!...I was surprised you were further back but thought it cud be a bout of mild bronchitis (like you had in 2008-same 12k race)

But I am glad you have the Ooommph! again.

Goes to show though we can't tell whats going on inside when we see you run and just assume all OK! it can be hard to differentiate between ecstasy, pain or anguish/frustration on the face of a "redliner"

sorry u had to go thru that bit of hell! But yeah! All or nothing rules!! Congrats again on the duathlon!!


Simon said...

Thanks Paul, great to hear from you and if it was you that shouted out then thanks for the support and thanks for the kick up the backside (however unintentional) - that shout out got me on the road to where I am now.

skierz said...

Awesome post! Our life is dictated by our goals and dreams, they determine our purpose and make it meaningful! When we are distracted from our goals and dreams, we blame it on everyone else and make a million excuses. In order to justify our lack of focus we make up stories so that others do not see us as failures. Ultimately, we have full control of our own greatness, we just need to focus on it and move forward!!
Congrats on moving forward and getting back on track! You are an inspiraiton to many!!

Simon said...

Thanks Skiers, a very profound comment that I totally agree with. Here's to continually moving forward.

Cheong said...

If you think you can, You CAN.

Miracle Man from China (not sure if you came across this inspirational story b4)...Many links but this is just one of them.

Bryan Payne said...

S, loved the post. Raw and I feel and understand your pain. As I was reading it I was thinking that once both of us figure this out THIS time we will never have to again. I think this is the last wall we need to crush and then we will be free. Your post gave me this inspiration.

In terms of the not drinking until Kona? I like the way you were able to set it up so you didn't have to lose the drinking challenge with me at IMLP. Touche. Nice touch.

On a serious note, nice job on the weight loss and you are the man. You are definitely not mediocre. Unless you compare yourself to me. hahahahaha


Simon said...

Hey Cheong, what an amazing story - inspirational, thanks for sharing.