The big hole

This summer was not so much about racing as it was about getting my sorry ass healthy again.  I came back from UK 70.3 at the end of June so far in the hole I was seriously considering calling it a career.  I tried a few weeks of recovery type training but never quite came around so mid July I pulled the plug and decided to take as long as I needed to fully come around.  It was the first time in 15 years that I have not made it through an entire season.

The deeper I got into the recovery the more i realized I needed it.  Eight weeks later I was still out of commission and the the thought of doing anything was still not appealing.  I haven’t taken a break that long since I started back in 1995 and even prior to that it was 10 years of focused training on the ski hill and tennis courts.  Sport has been one of the most significant aspects of my life, in fact the primary aspect since about age 8.  My passion for it had not changed just the will to do it.  Mono had been the primary cause of the fatigue and I think repeated attempts to get rid of it just weren’t working with travel, family and coaching.  This led to other hormonal issues as well that were clear indications of some serious burn out.

For the past two weeks i’ve finally been moving every day.  I still have not been in the water since June 20th but have been on the bike and running.  Doing one thing per day and on the rare occasion two things.  In the past week I’ve finally been feeling normal again.  The main change is actual willingness to want to do it but there are other subtle changes that I’m noticing like sweat response.  I’m actually sweating and feeling invigorated by exercise, something that eluded my body for upwards of a year.  Workouts were typically a source of great high energy.  Feeling smashed came with an endorphine rush and a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  Recovery usually took 24-36 hours and after you would feel even better as the training effect happened.  But in the last year it was the reverse.  There was never any rebound from the tough sessions, they just seemed to pummel me deeper into the hole.  My low back would never recover, just get more and more sore and agitated along with my mood.  When I look back and join the dots I think the catalyst was Ironman Canada 2009.  I ran from well behind into 4th and I think I just went deeper than I’ve ever had to.  Normally the run is punishing for about 8km, this time it was punishing for about 21km.  Post race I felt different, like I’d taxed my body more than it was willing to be taxed and put it into a downward cycle.  That night I ended up in hospital with blood pouring out of my ass which was a very new experience for me.  This led to numerous tests and exams, the most ridiculous of which involved a very long camera being inserted where the sun don’t shine.

Move ahead 6 weeks and I found myself in Hawaii desperately trying to convince myself that I felt great but I think my fate had already been seeled and I remember dreading the race, did not want to go through that again…..needless to say I quietly packed it in after the bike.  Two weeks later I thought I would bounce back and do well at Xterra Worlds but if any race should have been a clear indication of the hole it was this one…….I finished so far back it was actually quite humorous.  A smarter move would have been to take 8-10 weeks off last fall but as is the case with many of us in the endurance community we rarely trust that rest is as important as the work and that a longer break post season is a good idea for a long career.  I often wonder how much time the NHL guys take off the ice.  I would hazard a guess that it’s longer than 3 weeks but that’s just a hazardous guess.

Funny, it wasn’t the training load that was getting me it was the other life commitments that seem to invade the sacred recovery time that were the toughest to manage.  Life things that you can’t or wouldn’t want to change but that certainly affect your ability to recover and therefore perform properly.  When I look back and check off the “stress boxes” I just had a few too many……travel, coaching, kids, training……too much in the stress column to handle and two years of it caught up to me in a big way.

So here I sit on September 18th finally feeling like I’m not quite ready to pack it in and maybe there are a few good years left.  I figure this break will either give me a few more really great years or will be the beginning of the end.  Either way the break was hands down the best decision I’ve ever made.  I spent so much time with my kids this summer.  Gave me a chance to really be part of the daily happenings of parenthood and what my wife is usually dealing with.  It was the greatest time in the world……time you never get back.

It’s a huge risk losing all that fitness but an even bigger risk to lose your sanity and your health.  Moving forward I think it becomes a matter of learning how to manage a new life structure and figure out how to maximize performance in that box.

And so the journey back into shape begins.    I plan on using the cross country season to get back on track but also plan on structuring my week such that there are more opportunities to recover while making sure the sessions are more focused and more productive.  I ran last weekend with a few speedsters and was sore for 3 days but at least I felt like being out there.

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  1. Jazz:

    A great post.

    Today, I picked up the Andre Agassi autobiography and I see some parallels between the story you tell here and the story that Agassi describes in his final US Open. Your experiences are likely shared by virtually all pro-athletes. It’s a tough way to make a living.

    I remember traveling to races with you and hearing the age groupers whisper when they saw you. I remember hearing some of the family men on the startline, with great lives no doubt, wish to have your abilities. I remember wishing the same. But, I also remember a great conversation with you at the Bullring in Guelph. You explained what it meant to be a professional athlete. The sacrifices, the difficult lifestyle, the travel, the restrictions on your day to day living, the hours of punishment, the attention to every detail from the largest to the smallest. I asked myself: Do I really want that? That conversation set a lot of things straight for me. It was that moment that I began to see what i truly wanted.

    Now, I find myself under a roof with a hot, brilliant, awesome woman, a wicked awesome son and a dog that thinks he’s a human. Tomorrow, I’ll be up at 5am, or 6 or 4:43, whenever my son decides. I’ll play with him because I love it. The family will walk down to the lake, because we love it. I’ll head to a local trail race and as hard as I can for the day and be happy with the effort, because it’s a blast and because the family will be waiting for me at the finish line. We’ll go home before the results and prizes are given out. The next morning, I’ll run before work with my boy in a stroller, enjoying the fresh air. It’s a great way to start the day. I am living the life that I want and that I love.

    Our conversation years ago, helped me to realize that you have to love what you do. It sounds like your break helped return the love of what you do. That’s awesome. I hope it stays. In the end, I think that’s the only thing that matters.

    You’re a wise and lucky man. Enjoy it all!

    Shit, ass, bitch, dwarf. (Do you remember saying that on the way back from Peterborough?)

  2. Hey Jazz, it is a very brave thing to write about your feelings (maybe a little too graphic at times….). You are a great athlete and from what I have seen a good friend to others. I have never seen you without a smile on your face and a welcoming disposition. You are a great dad and I am sure a caring spouse.
    I have no doubt you will rise to the challenge whatever life throws at you. Sometimes we are in control of our destiny and sometimes we just have to wait for a while to see where we are going. Looks like you have turned a corner and maybe there is a signpost you can follow. Enjoy the build back and stay healthy.
    I still owe you a beer as I managed to leave T2 before you finished IMC 2009, maybe sometime you will collect it.

  3. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us.
    Sounds like you have your priorities well sorted out.
    Hope your Victoria weather is as glorious as our weather in Kingston has been lately.
    BTW…I love cheering at XC races…XC racers remind me of my hound dog…focused on the trail and oblivious of all else.

  4. Great article! I have just gone through a similar (but much shorter) experience. I took the better part of two months off and did little or nothing. I had a couple life moments with my duaghter have spine surgery and my Dad passing away. That seemed to trigger a “shut down” of sorts and I found myself really just burned out totally.

    Today was my first day back doing anything and I managed a nice 40km on/off road bike ride. No land speed records…just a fun, enjoyable ride. As you said…the sweat felt good!

  5. Mate I am always around if you want someone to hit a session with. Most the local guys are done for the year so it pretty just me and Magali still pushing on late into the season. Wed hill repeats are calling your name!!! Also, 70.3 Port Mac next March!!! Ill be back in Aus for a few months so you should conside it, ill be racing so you will ahve someone tobeat up on. Course will suite you, tough bike and good for a runner.

  6. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us. Sounds like you have your priorities well sorted out. Hope your Victoria weather is as glorious as our weather in Kingston has been lately. BTW…I love cheering at XC races…XC racers remind me of my hound dog…focused on the trail and oblivious of all else.

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