A different kind of off-season
14th Jan 2018
It’s been a few months since I wrote a blog, so it must be time for an update… even though I’ve only done one race since September to write about!
2017 triathlon season ended for me with the final Xterra European Tour event - 2rd September in Denmark. I would have liked a few more races, as my season hadn’t got going until June, but the off-road calendar is limited beyond this date, unless you can afford to go to Maui! (Sadly not this year as you will understand later...)
It was natural then, to take my end of season break right after Denmark. Normally I take 4 weeks beginning with pretty much nothing, building back up to cross training and whatever unstructured swim/bike/run I feel like. Then I’ll go back to my coach Mark, eager for a structured program again!
But it’s now been 4 months and I am still not back to a training program, let alone planning any races. The questions get harder to deflect, so it’s easier to just tell the truth! Some parts of the story I have told when asked - all are true - I’ve had surgery twice since September. I’ve had several blocks of 3 weeks where I’ve not been allowed to swim or run. I’ve been on medication that means I’m not allowed to mountain bike either. But why?
Anyone that follows me will be aware that Simon and I have been hoping to start a family for the past 2 years. We have been through periods of hell along the way including 2 miscarriages. After the second one in May we decided we just needed a break from it all and enjoy other things in life for a while. Thus I finished the 2017 race season without any distractions - and with some surprising successes!
But there is no escaping the fact in September I was turning 37, and while I cannot stand the cliché of a woman’s biological clock ticking away, we have to be realistic. We already had in mind that if we had no success after 2 years, we would resort to IVF. So...that is what we have been doing since September.
It is not a decision I imagine anyone undertakes lightly, or without some serious saving up. We were fortunate enough to confide with several friends who have already gone through this, and shared their experience. Everyone agrees that IVF is not for the faint hearted! For most, it has been the toughest ordeal physically and emotionally (and financially) they have ever gone through. It’s an even greater sacrifice as an athlete, as it means extended periods where you cannot train due to the medications and surgery.
The clinic we have attended has been great and understanding that as an elite athlete, I am not a ‘typical’ client. What is normal for most people is not normal for me. It was agreed my body is used to exercise, all my parameters for fertility are healthy (body fat, periods, hormone levels etc) and psychologically it would be better for me to keep exercising where possible. But I wouldn’t be able to train hard as that would be detrimental to treatment. At certain times certain activities were banned altogether because of impact or infection risk. Thankfully I was allowed to cycle to work throughout, and do pilates at One Physio (apart from on surgery days!) This is about the minimum requirement for my sanity!
Not everyone will want to know more details(!) but for anyone that does, I decided to keep a diary of “interesting” things I might forget... Maybe this would be useful to anyone else considering or currently going through the same!
8 September - A giant refrigerated box arrives - 5 weeks-worth of medication. It looks pretty daunting with over 100 vials & needles (and no instructions)
11 September - First day of injections. My hands are shaking so much I can barely draw up the correct measurement. I pinch my skin as hard as I can so I can’t feel the needle go in. It doesn’t hurt that much but afterwards feels like a mosquito bite. It makes me appreciate the fact that many diabetics must have to do this every day...
12 September - It occurs to me I should check the 5 different drugs on WADA banned list! Interestingly some are banned in men, but fortunately none are in women. Can’t imagine how any of them could enhance performance - I feel like absolute shit on my lunchtime jog. I thought the effects were going to be cumulative not immediate.
18 September - Happy birthday to me. My body has adjusted to the drugs so feeling better in that respect, but it is one of those months where period pain is so debilitating all I can do is lie on the floor, hearing white noise in my ears and trying not to throw up. Simon has to sort the medication because I can’t even sit up. It’s supposed to be my day looking after the dog but he has to go to Claire (doggie day-care) instead :-(
19 September - My stomach is covered in micro bruises. One downside of being slim or athletic - there is not much fat to stick the needles into.
27 September - I have had a persistent headache for a week now. This is one of the main side effects they warned me about - basically experiencing all the symptoms of the menopause! Great to know I have this to look forward to for real in 20 years time! My brain is literally not working either and I can’t think straight. I can’t take in anything in at work in the development meetings, and I know this is going to come back and haunt me at some point. Literally fed up already.
28 September - First day my brain feels normal again, and I can see all the stupid mistakes I’ve made in my code...hopefully I’ve found and fixed them all before someone else does!
29 September - The blood test results finally come back - the ones I had taken months ago to see if there was any underlying cause to the multiple miscarriages. I had completely forgotten about them to be honest - the consultant said he was ruling things out rather than expecting to find anything. But I had tested positive for a form of thrombophilia - this gives an increased risk of DVT, pulmonary embolisms and miscarriage. Brilliant. Thank you God (not that I even believe in you).
6 October - Actually excited to be on the next medication, another step closer. Even if it does mean 2 injections per day. Had to excuse myself from a meeting at work though as I felt like I was going to pass out.
11 October - I bet none of the other ladies attending the clinic cycled 20km to their appointment... Feeling pretty uncomfortable now though and it’s probably the last time I’ll be able to.
16 October - Surgery day. Or “harvest festival” as one of my friends has nicknamed it! I find the whole thing pretty freakish to be honest and rather not think about the details... I just hope this means the worst part is over. Best case scenario would be having enough embryos to freeze, and I never have to do this again.
The worst part of surgery is having the needle put in for anaesthetic, I always get cold hands, then the veins close up and it hurts/they can’t even get a needle in. The consultant initially looked surprised when he walked in on me doing press ups to get the blood circulating, but I explained and he said fine, carry on! I think they are getting used to my odd athlete habits. Sadly the press-ups weren’t sufficient and it still took several attempts to get the needle in.
I thought the swelling and discomfort would go down as soon as egg collection had taken place. I thought I could run again in like 2 days, but now I’m told I have to wait another 10! Swimming is out as well thanks to the infection risk :-(
17 October - Well so much for optimism and being told we had a good prognosis for IVF. Yesterday we had twice as many eggs as the average couple, yet only two of them fertilised. We have gone from great odds to almost nothing overnight. I feel sick to the stomach, shock and disbelief.
19 October - The calls from the clinic are so nerve wracking to receive. They tried to reassure us that embryo quality is more important than quantity so we have been keeping everything crossed for the quality of the two we have... but unfortunately it’s not good news. Ideally the clinic hopes to allow them to develop for 5 days in the lab before implanting. But ours are not going to survive that long. I had literally just got to work when I got the phone call telling me I need to come back and they will do the transfer now. All I want to do is smash myself on the bike to take out this frustration, that all of this is probably for nothing. But no, I’m not allowed to do that either. I do have a quick smash on the punch-bag though and feel better. Thankfully I didn’t break my toe this time...
So - both embryos have been transferred, but no-one is expecting it to work.
25 October - Technically I could be pregnant with twins, and it’s easy for other people to say think positive, but we have been told not to get our hopes up. Plus I don’t feel pregnant at all and I’m sure I should by now...
28 October - Finally I’m allowed out on the MTB again...it feels good, but my physiology feels normal. I’m certain I would feel different if I was pregnant. The last 2 times it had felt like I was exercising at altitude. It’s impossible not to have these mind games with yourself, imagining symptoms of one outcome or the other and it’s enough to drive you crazy!
29 October - Now I’m seeing blood. I’m sure that’s the final nail in the coffin, even though the consultant says still keep taking the medication.
1 November - Finally, we can take the pregnancy test and find out for sure. Negative. I knew it would be. All the emotions - anger, frustration, sadness, despair...already came out of the system when we were told the bad news 2 weeks ago. In a way I feel relieved - I’d rather have a negative test than a miscarriage of poor embryos further down the line.
So what now? My gut feeling is I just want to try again straight away. What’s the point in wasting time? I can’t plan a race season or anything else in life. I can’t train properly or maintain fitness while doing IVF. You can’t just dip in and out of the process - either you give up, or commit for as long as it takes to succeed. I would start tomorrow if I could, but we have to wait a couple of months for my body to recover.
I guess I may as well do some training, and also enter the Gorrick (Mountain bike XC) 25th anniversary edition which is this weekend! I know I’m totally out of shape, but it’s on the doorstep in Crowthorne and I have missed racing, I need a distraction. I feel it will also be cathartic! To my huge surprise, I won the race! Even though I felt horribly unfit. I’ll be honest, the usual big names were missing, but you can only beat who’s there.
Simon and I also thought f*** it, we need a holiday, and it will be something to look forward to while we wait to start again. We have wanted to visit our friends in Philadelphia and my brother in New York for 2 years and have never managed it with all of the setbacks. The long weekend of Thanksgiving, everyone’s dates seem to align - it’s a sign and we would be crazy not to go!
Our flights are all booked, when I have my scan to check recovery. A big benefit to being fit and healthy is that I have recovered much quicker than expected. We are given the go-ahead to start again a month sooner than originally planned! Great news... Except that we will now have to fly out to the States with hand luggage full of syringes, ready for the next cycle!
It was a much needed break, and refreshed us ready to start again.
So what happened next? I will continue the story soon in Part 2...
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