Ch. 23 – New Shorts. Same size – Wrong belly.

It’s Monday 3rd May 2021 and it has been 19 months since I felt like I was on a ‘Journey’; my journey. How could it have been so long, how could I have left it so long?

The truth is rather difficult to explain and for a while, I didn’t even know the reasons why. I even gave up searching…

However, in darkness there is always light, and for me it came in the strangest and most unexpected form; A Donkey, Elton John and a new pair of cycling shorts.

Rewind to October 2019.
Off Season after Ch. 22 The journey to H. I. M. Weymouth.

Throughout the Summer of 2018 I had achieved amazing things, things I never thought possible when I started this journey… I lost a lot of weight, became a runner, learnt to swim and overcame a crippling fear of the ‘Dark end’ of the pool.

I swam in lakes, quarries and the sea and had finished the year off with a clutch of Triathlon medals. I took this sense of euphoria and achievement into 2019… Ironman was no longer an if, but a when, and the start line was no longer my target; I had eyes on the finish line. I even spent the most amazing two weeks in Majorca on a training camp and came home buzzing about where the journey was heading next.

So where did the Mojo go?

After H. I. M. Weymouth (And my experience at H. I. M. Staffs) I needed a break; my body was tired. I had been swimming some big distances and I was in the lakes and quarries every weekend. I was in the pool most days, sometimes twice a day and where possible, I would fit in sea swims. I was swim fit and achieving some great times.

With the medals bagged it was time to recharge. So I decided to take my ‘Off Season’.

This is a normal and sensible process, professional athletes always take a rest before the next season. Footballers may play Golf, some Tennis Players play football… Anything for a rest from what they do as a day job. I decided to do nothing!

My Off-Season?

My ‘Off-Season’ was only meant to be two weeks initially. However, one catastrophe seemed to lead to another and for a variety of reasons I needed a break. Initially to let my body rest, but then it transpired I owed myself some time out in general.

As you have read, during the summer of 2019 I suffered an horrendous injury, perhaps more of a devastating one? My Patella Tendon had torn as I was preparing my transition area for H. I. M. Staffs, the simple motion of getting out of a car! This was the closest I had been to the Ironman start line at the time, and also the closest I had been to giving up. You have read how I overcame this and ultimately how I got back in the pool. That was my journey to H. I. M. Weymouth and without that focus the winter may have been much darker (Thank you James Miles and Fran Gay – Team Tri Harder). The whole process had taken it’s toll. I was taking a break!… Rewind to my injury…

The Mind

The injury, whilst physical, served to expose some real truths behind the people I had chosen as friends; work colleagues who I had trusted, helped their families, socialised with and had known for a number of years… I felt they were more than just colleagues and I needed them now, more than ever, to help me recover from injury.

Instead; my absence from work seemed to bring their true feelings to the surface and it seemed to be fuelled by their own variety of wild fire, the kind where the absent become a target. I was foolish enough not to see it coming, blinded by my own faith in humanity. It seemed that despite being a fellow human being, I was now a dead weight to them, one they were not prepared to carry. Worse than this, they chose to voice their own version of the truth through management without ever thinking of speaking to me, and in doing so had made my return to work incredibly difficult.

I was alienated and alone, injured and confined to the house, barely able to walk and my initial period of sickness had quickly developed into a dark period of anxiety and stress. A real eye opener for a guy who was brought up that big men don’t cry.

Despite my return to work being my sole focus, my doctor began to notice something deep within and for the first time in my life I had been diagnosed with ‘Work related stress’ – “You need to heal the mind before the body can begin to heal” he told me.

My GP is a veteran of Afghanistan and through work, we had many conversations that will have led to this diagnosis.

I was unaware just how deep rooted my colleagues feelings were, until (after twelve weeks) I started my first phased return. I hoped for a bit of banter, I was well prepared for the usual kind of savage banter, in fact I missed it. What I wasn’t prepared for was alienation, the whispers and the underhanded bullying. They simply didn’t believe I was injured, let alone mentally unwell. I was barely acknowledged on my first day back, and before I knew it I found myself working in isolation from an increasingly volatile and threatening environment, ultimately accepting my phased return had only increased my stress levels and doubtless enraged my colleagues further. I suffered my first Migraine of my life and the odd experience of crying whilst having a nose bleed at the same time, all this in the eyeshot of my so called work friends who never offered a single word of comfort. I even found myself crying in a toilet cubicle unable to attend a (Pre Covid) conference, waiting until everyone had gone home, before I left. There was no escaping the bad feeling toward me, the majority of my other colleagues had chosen not to intervene, or preferred to turn a blind eye. My phased return was failing and my circle of friends was becoming increasingly small.

My professional life had now became a roller coaster ride from hell, it was a relentless show of the survival of the fittest and on all levels, I was far from fit. After eighteen weeks of being pulled from one emotional pillar to another I was at rock bottom, 12 rounds with Muhamed Ali, my emotional frailty in tatters.

I had to find a new job. There was no alternative… A change is as good as a rest?

But how do you even begin to find a job when your self confidence and self esteem are so low. How do you even know what the right role is? I began the search regardless.

When you hit rock bottom – The only way is up.

Rich Keyzor, Shrewton Running Club

The heroes hide in the shadows.

During this period I was fortunate to have my wife Sue, some close friends within my Running and Triathlon Clubs and in particular two colleagues, from a different department, indeed a separate building, who would help me through some of the darkest times and most difficult days at work. Sometimes a problem shared, really is a problem halved and without those lovely chats with Sian and Dawn over a cup of tea, the dark would have become increasingly darker. In fact I was able to build enough strength to see that my skill set had for some time been focussed away from my core role and that this in it’s self was message that it was time to move on. I had become stagnant, bored and professionally I had reached a zenith. Perhaps I needed a new career.

Dire circumstance stays dire unless you are bold.

It was time to reverse a trend, reverse the polarity, to apply the Ying to the Yang. The doors of opportunity needed to be opened and I needed to find a vacancy. The job I loved, after twelve years was now dead to me and the trade I had gained man and boy, was no longer mine. At 42 years old I was about to make a very bold decision. I would no longer go within the comfort zone of my trade, I would start applying for a new trade, not just a new job. Caroline Whitehorn opened this door up for me, realising I was relying on one skill set rather than the many I had learned through life… Transferrable skills… Thank you Caroline.

I had a few rejections, applied for some silly and perhaps even ridiculous roles. Before I knew it I had had two interviews within a fortnight. I was broken and on my emotional knees, but somehow I had found some strength and it was beginning to blossom.

I had reached a peak with Ironman training, and now I was in the lowest trough of my life. Something had to give. I made the decision to focus all my energy on my new job, whatever that was going to be and took the tough decision to pause my training. I simply couldn’t do both. Billy had always told me that success comes through commitment and consistency. I needed to apply that to my employment.

Writing, or rewriting a CV is in it’s self a hugely rewarding exercise. Being asked to interview, and then discussing your experience with a potential employer, so much more. I felt I was turning a corner; amazed that I could pull off two interviews, amazed at just how positive the feedback was…

A matter of weeks

It was only a couple of weeks later that I got a job offer (after some constructive feedback and inevitable tweaks to my CV) my now employer had asked me back to a second interview in January (2020). I nailed this and the test that had been snuck in. The suit was tight through lack of training but the mind was starting to sparkle.

I was given an opportunity and have not looked back (Another reason why writing this has been so hard), I have grown from strength to strength professionally and Rich Keyzor was absolutely right… The only way is up. I recently qualified with the highest score on record and am now a member of the associated institute… Letters and all that.

Back to the Donkey, Elton John and a new pair of Cycling shorts…

So Christmas 2019 was my off season, which, as it turned out included 2020 and the first two months of 2021, mostly for reasons you have read… But then one day in February 2021 I looked in the accountability mirror… Lockdowns had also taken their toll and I now had a Reebok belly.

I had been reading inspirational books since Christmas, trying to find that spark… One was by David Goggins Can’t Hurt Me (Recommended by my good friend Caroline) and described how he went from being overweight to becoming a US Navy Seal, running Ultra Marathons and so much more… Give him a read and think of me looking in the mirror that day… I needed a new challenge and it was starting now! The job was good… Why not. The biggest challenge would be finding and dusting down my watch… Garmin must have thought I had died.

The following day I set about creating a Turbo (Indoor cycling) training plan for twelve weeks, just easy spinning to start with, three 30 minute sessions a week. Once I had completed the first four weeks I would start C25k and build running back into my weekly plan, progress to interval sessions on the bike and absolutely no more biscuits.

Well, any challenge deserves a bit of retail therapy so I bought myself a new pair of Cycling Shorts… Same Size – Wrong Belly, I would be training every other day now and would need to be smart with my laundry, so I had convinced myself a second pair was needed. Fortunately Lycra is a bit forgiving and I would be training in my Man Cave away from the all seeing eyes.

The first week was tough, the saddle seemed so much harder and just getting through that particular discomfort was enough, let alone the sweating and breathing. I stuck with it and reminded myself of the trade label of my shorts… DHB (Don’t Hold Back), I wasn’t going to be smashing out any PB’s, but I certainly was going to be turning on the positive vibes and wouldn’t be holding back my enthusiasm. I selected a few playlists and found some new podcasts… It was ON! The second week I started to feel a little more at home with a half hour Turbo session, it wasn’t meant to be pretty and I knew if I stuck it out for the first week I would be on it and back in the game. Week three and four felt comfortable, so I extended the sessions to 45 minutes and put a little intensity in. Before long I was already researching a suitable, progressive programme I could follow on with afterwards and delved back into the world of Garmin Connect. Billy was right, training really does need to have all the other ducks aligned before you can really get going.

After week 5 I received a text message from my friend Caroline (Yeah the Osteopath that started this crazy journey). She was about to embark on her next challenge, with a bid to get fit for the summer of 2021. She had been listening to a podcast about 75 hard (By Andy Frisella) and was looking for someone to do it with. I didn’t need a second message… I barely even researched it, yet I was in and wanted to start that night (DHB). But the challenge is to do 2 x 45 minute exercises, drink what seemed an obscene amount of water throughout the day, zero booze, read two chapters of a non-fiction book and follow a diet… for 75 days.

I would have to wait until the following day to start. But start I did….

The Donkey and Elton John

I said I would get back to them…

So 75 Hard requires you read two chapters of a non-fictional book (plus other stuff). I had one book left to read and as I said before, every challenge deserves a bit of retail therapy… I asked friends in my Running Club chat group if they had read any inspirational books recently, doesn’t have to be run related… I got a few responses and was blown away about the story behind Sherman the Donkey.

Hello Amazon…

Sherman (Running with Sherman) is an amazing story about a rescue donkey who after recovery goes on to run World Championship Borro (Donkey) races with his running buddy. I won’t spoil the story but Serena (Running Club) said I’d be wanting to get up at 0600 hrs and grab a donkey from our local sanctuary and go for a run after reading it. She was not wrong, and I was soon joining the breakfast club run as I progressed through my C25k plan and kept chipping off days of 75 Hard.

Elton John? Well why not? I love a good autobiography and it’s non-fictional, so ticks the
75 Hard box. It’s such a great read, so much so, I immediately watched Elton’s movie Rocket Man. In both cases this was the first time I had cried since the issues in my old job. I don’t know if these tears were symbolic and in recognition of my own ability to overcome, or if it was in general admiration for Elton (Reg) to overcome his problems and ultimately lead a better life.

Regardless of what is true, both are great stories and made me realise if they can do it… I certainly can.

I read a couple of other books during my 75 hard challenge, but the thing I loved most was I was once again committed to a goal, a fitness goal and one Caroline, Jules and I went on to smash. We were all so much fitter for the summer, mentally and physically. It was tough, but we felt awesome and it was now time to get some bling…

I had been back swimming with the Tri Club for a few months now, was reasonably bike fit from the Turbo training, and had successfully navigated C25k again. We even chucked a few Rocky runs into our breakfast club sessions now… Rocky runs up the steps in the movie… Yeah we would be doing the da, du du, da to the theme tune whilst smashing it up those steps… We called them Adriene’s Wall… I was back running with my running club, even smashing out training sessions… Times were steadily improving… The time was right for my comeback into Tri and it would start with a visit to Vobster.

Cotswold Triathlon 9th September

Off the back of 75 Hard I felt mentally strong and physically strong, work had settled as I had been there for a year now and no longer felt like the new boy. I knew I was ready, but somehow hitting enter didn’t come as easy as I thought. I had chosen the Cotswold Triathlon for a variety of reasons… Mostly because it was the first Open Water event for me and it felt symbolic to go back to it. Two weeks passed before I got my wallet out and there was just 6 weeks of training left. No biggie, I was entering after a good block of training and wasn’t going to feel pressured to do anything other than finish. I would have to get out of the Pain Cave and onto the roads to refresh my bike skills, but I had already been doing some transition training with Runs off the Bike (ROTB) as an added challenge to 75 Hard. I had even completed a couple of my own Duathlons… Nothing official, just run/bike/run from home and back.

I would also have to re-familiarise myself with rubber. There really is nothing like a workout that leaves you smelling of rubber for the rest of the day… and a swim in a wetsuit, in cold lake and quarry water is not to be taken lightly… Vobster is also a symbolic place for me, because it is where I truly overcame my fears and once I had done that, the gains just kept coming.

Sadly, shortly after entering the Cotswolds, I started to develop a niggle in my feet, which at first would ease off a short while after exercise. I discussed this with my Osteopath and together made the decision to stop running. I could still train on the bike and swim. If needs be on the day of the Tri I could run/walk. There was no need to be a hero and I had certainly learnt to listen to my body.

Despite all my best efforts I couldn’t shift this niggle and by the time I got to the August Bank Holiday (1 week to go) I was in crutches and unable to walk. I had to pull out of the event and cease all training… Again!

The journey doesn’t end here it’s just a blip. I do allow myself to feel sorry and fall off the wagon, but I do get back in the pool… Look forward to reading chapter 24… Challenge Nemo.

Thank you for reading my blog. I loved writing chapters 1 to 22 and throughly enjoyed the process. This chapter has been somewhat harder to pen, I started it back in May last year! Society has changed, Covid has changed us, and no doubt we have all had similar or worse battles these last two years. Mine is only an example of many, but I hope at least one person reads this and thinks to themselves… Yeah! It’s a bit shit, but I am the only one that can change things.

Get out there and get moving. Yesterday is just that. Thank you for reading.

Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”


2 thoughts on “Ch. 23 – New Shorts. Same size – Wrong belly.

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