If you can’t change the situation, you can change your perception
8th Feb 2017
I know I have been quiet on the blog front for a while - I kept starting something and the next day feeling different so never finished! It is hard to know what to say about racing at the moment, but I guess as usual honesty is the best policy!
It's that time of year again when athletes get our calendars out and start planning the race season. A lot of people asked what races I'm doing, and I never know how to answer this simple question!
In my head I'm thinking "actually, I hope I won't race at all, what we really want to do is start a family instead. But who knows when or even if that will ever happen? We've been trying for 18 months already... But I can't keep putting my life on hold while we wait and see! So chances are I'll be racing, but I don't want to commit to too many at once..."
It's not what people expect to hear around the water cooler at work, and it's much easier just to say "well, Xterra Malta looks nice..."
2016 was emphatically the worst year of my life. I have blogged about having a miscarriage before so I won't repeat the details, other than to say it was a bloody long and hard journey through depression to recovery. I guess I am still on that journey!
Racing helped a lot in this, and the first time I felt something like normality again was when I did my first race (the ETU Duathlon champs in Romania) 4 months afterwards. I was not fit and performed well below par, but I had accepted this and at least I was back out there living life again.
But as time goes on, I realised it is much easier dealing with acute pain in a short-lived situation, than what had replaced it. Instead a chronic kind of pain with no end in sight and which gets worse over time not better. That never ending cycle of disappointment - Do not pass Go, Do not collect £200 - No! - It's another month in jail for you (for a crime you didn't commit). No appeal for another month, and that will probably be denied just like the last 15...
I started to think something must be wrong, but every test we had came back as normal. In hindsight I had unrealistic expectations, largely based on anecdotal evidence and the fact another friend / acquaintance / celebrity seemed to be announcing their 'news' on social media every week. It is a strange emotion to feel pleased for someone because they're your friend, but at the same time as if you have been knifed in the stomach. But - this was news to me - in Age Group 35-39 our chances are only 5% per month. I had thought it was something like 30% - so no wonder all the disappointments!
I also felt terribly guilty as to why I felt so shit, like every day was torture and I had no reason to get out of bed. Nobody had died - or had they? Does a few cells count? I had not been diagnosed with a terminal illness, I had not lost my entire family in a war or natural disaster or any of the other horrific things you see in the news every day. I could not justify this feeling of blackness - yet another thing to beat myself up over! But depression is not logical or rational, so my scientific brain struggled to understand it. There has to be some way to break this cycle, but I cannot change the situation. It took a lot of convincing me, but when you cannot change the situation, the only option left is changing your perspective...
It is not easy, but luckily I had already had years of practise working on sports psychology. Challenging your own thoughts is a transferrable skill to other areas of life. I was fortunate to find a good counsellor / life coach who I still work with on this. At the same time it was actually my sport psychologist Andy who suggested trying meditation. Coming from anyone else I would probably have told them where to go in 2 short syllables! But if it's good enough for Jessica Ennis, it has to be worth a try - right?
None of this is an instant fix - it's not like one day I woke up and everything was suddenly fine. It's a lot of hard work and gradual progress. And training the mind is just like training the body, you have to keep working on it. I wish it didn't take a year of hell to get here, but what in life that is truly worthwhile, comes easy? I believe it has changed my outlook on life for the better, forever. If we ever do get to have children I believe I will be a better parent for it.
But until then, I have to make the most of other opportunities available. And right now that means racing, spending more time and holidays with Simon, seeing friends & family, even appreciating my job. I know I will miss this freedom from responsibility - even going to work, when it is gone!
I am also taking forward the lessons learned from last year's race season. Last year I was living month by month, and left booking every race till the last minute. This only made things more disappointing when nothing happened, I ended up paying more or not being able to afford the flights at all. This year I will just enter races as normal, and if it turns out I can't do them, well... I will be happy anyway!
The only limitation is I still can't book any races outside Europe. I can't make such a big financial commitment or plan the season around one big 'A' race. The plus side means affording to do more European races and (yes really!) some non-race holidays instead.
Other consequences of last year meant I lost some of my sponsors. I left Zone 3 voluntarily - but I would like to emphasize this was entirely my choice, and I thank them for their 5 years of great support. I simply felt I didn't have the energy to keep putting positive spin on social media or attend any trade shows.
Sadly in other cases, being honest about my situation was met with the judgement that I was "not committed to being an elite athlete". It's hard not to take this personally, and I do believe top level racing and trying for a family are not mutually exclusive. Can you imagine this being said to a male athlete?! But I didn't argue. And as is often the way, it was a blessing in disguise which has opened the doors to better opportunities.
Finally I know some people might wonder, as I did myself - surely you're harming your chances of getting pregnant by training so hard and racing? I have asked this question of my consultant, my GP, every coach/nutritionist or sports/medical professional I work with, and the answer is unanimously - No, it will not make any difference!
On the contrary, if you deny yourself doing what you enjoy, it is *less* likely to happen because you will be more stressed and resentful!
Of course this goes with the proviso (for any female) of not getting too low in body fat, loss of periods, or anything that would upset hormonal balance. But that is sensible for health and long-term performance regardless, and I have trained within those parameters my whole life. The only differences I make now are being (even more) careful with supplements, not using caffeine at risky times of the month, and listening to my body even more than usual in terms of tiredness.
There will always be well-meaning people who give (unwanted) advice, but I refer them to the above! And ask on what basis are they qualified to judge the informed decisions that I have made?
It has been a long time getting to this point, but finally I'm looking forward to the coming year, knowing that I will be doing something good. Even though I don't know yet whether that will be racing or family! All I can tell you is I have just entered Xterra Malta... ;)
Thanks as ever to Mountain Trax and David Lloyd for their continued sponsorship. My coach Mark, and everyone else on my support team. You know who you are and I couldn't have got here without you!
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