Thursday, 31 December 2015

Looking back at 2015

My 2015 has had it's highs and lows for sure. Highs were definitely seeing the Spanish Riding School horses in Vienna with my mum in April, spending three weeks in Bali in July and moving in with my partner, Nick, in August. Disappointments include missing the UK freediving championships with illness in March and then getting disqualified at the World Championships and coming home early in June. The first half of 2015 was so frustrated by my ailing health and poor recovery from training that I almost gave up for good.

Relaxing in Tulamben, Bali
Being diagnosed with hypothyroid condition was a great shock, although the gut issues I've had since then have caused more problems than my thyroid as I've responded well and quickly to my medication. The great news is that my stomach now seems to be back in good order and I can eat everything I used to eat with no apparent issues...just in time for Christmas! I'm hugely grateful for this improvement, and I can now look back at 2015 and see that my health issues have actually been a gift. Had I not been diagnosed at this early stage I may have become much worse before the condition was picked up.

Now we're on the threshold to 2016 and I'm feeling happy and excited about what next year could bring. The next few months will hopefully see us buying our first home in Bristol. With more time on my hands, having stepped away from intense training, I plan to enjoy some horse-riding lessons, open water swimming in the summer and trips to the beach. I also have my 40th birthday coming up in May, giving me plenty of excuses for a trip away or two as a treat! Bring on 2016, I can't wait!

Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

In Transition

Since my decision to stop serious training for freediving, I’ve begun to enjoy the distinction between ‘training’ and ‘exercise’ but the inner athlete is still lagging behind. I’m still mindful of my carb intake before a workout (to the gram!) and pack my recovery drink and protein for afterwards out of habit.

I’m lost without my bag of floats, fins and paddles at the pool. My foam roller is getting plenty of use and I’m still checking my heart rate daily. I’ve stopped following a training plan, but when I go to the gym or the pool I still do the same workouts. The best bit, however, is that moment I decide the TV thriller that’s just started is far more appealing than sweating it down the gym, and not feeling guilty!

You can take the athlete out of training but you can’t take the training out of an athlete.

love to move, so I’m never going to become a coach potato giving up committed training, but it is a blessing to be able to pick and choose when I feel like exercising rather than be compelled by a spreadsheet. Exercise to me means being free to run for as long as I like, knowing it won’t affect the next training session as I’ll wait until I’m ready for that. Exercise means playing with the new equipment at the gym like the heavy ropes or punch bag, knowing its not really relevant to my sport but it’s a giggle nonetheless. Most importantly, exercise means staying healthy and eating well, sleeping like a log and smiling often. That’s why the first thing I’ll do on Christmas morning is run through the woods, feeling totally alive and happy.

Merry Christmas everyone! x

Monday, 30 November 2015

Why I've stopped competing as a freediver

In May I downloaded an advice note called ‘When and When Not to Quit your Sport’. I’d lost all enjoyment from training and was finding it harder to motivate myself as I felt increasingly tired and despondent. It basically said: don’t quit in the heat of battle. So I carried on, counting down the days to the Worlds, trying to find little ways to reward myself for each session done and I made it to the competition and out the other side. Other blog posts here describe what happened. At the time I didn’t know I was ill, although I knew deep down I’d trained too hard considering my body’s ability to recover. Lack of enjoyment and motivation is a key sign of burnout.

That note also said: quitting is the right decision when you’ve stopped enjoying your training/sport. I spent the summer waiting for my mojo to come back and in September I felt a glimmer of inspiration to have another crack at training for a competition this month. And so I met with my coach, updated my training plan and set to work. Unfortunately stomach problems, workload and travelling scuppered many of these planned sessions. As I got closer to the competition I realised that I could fit in training if I really wanted to – the problem was that I didn’t want it enough.

Thinking back to why I started this, I remember I wanted to see what I’m capable of achieving; how far I could push my potential. It was all about me, my body and my mind. In the last three years I’ve done that and more. The records and wins weren’t essential to meet that goal, but it felt amazing to be recognised as one of the best in the UK. I think my competitiveness and intense motivation drove me to dig deeper than ever this year; I wanted to be one of the best in the World. Unfortunately, I lost touch with where my ability actually was at that point (impaired) and focused on chasing others. I dug up some pretty ugly emotions.

I see my declining health as a gift in a way as it’s a sign from my body that I’ve stretched too far and it’s time to recoil and heal. I think it may take a while and that’s why I’ve decided to step away from competition and intense training for a few years. My healing is through yoga, meditation, spending time with family and re-building my social circle after several years of sacrificing time for training. I going to buy a house to store my growing collection of fins, wetsuits, floats and weights! I also want to share what I’ve learnt from my experience with others to help them find their potential – through writing, teaching and coaching. I’m quite excited to start a new chapter.

Sunday, 15 November 2015


I'm two weeks away from a freediving competition and by now I'd normally be training hard and specific to prepare for the event. There was a time I could write a training plan for six days out of seven and hit every session spot on. Those days are gone (for now). There's no plan at the moment as there'd be little point, I'm missing more training opportunities than I attend... sigh!

What I'd ideally like to do:
Monday - monofin apnea e.g. CO2 tolerance training
Tuesday - swim (am), strength & conditioning (pm)
Wednesday - apnea or finswimming
Thursday - swim (am), strength training with PT (pm)
Friday - club pool session e.g. Low O2 tolerance training or static
Saturday - cross train e.g. run, then yoga
Sunday - rest

And here's how the last few weeks actually went:
Monday - monofin CO2 table week one; second week I'm exhausted despite a quiet weekend and just watch TV
Tuesday - week one - recovering from the training night before; week two - I ate the wrong foods and felt sick all day - just managed some yoga
Wednesday - the first week I'm stuck in Birmingham overnight for work; second week I manage a 7km run at lunchtime which feels great. Only problem is I'm a freediver not a runner!!
Thursday - strength session with PT goes well, the week before I'd wanted to train in the hotel gym but too exhausted from travelling and a full day meeting
Friday - week one I'm home after 2 days away, just flop in front of TV, exhausted. This week I'm feeling more energised and have been in the office or at home for work, no travelling. Head off to the pool for a tough CO2 tolerance table 16 x 50m no fins
Saturday - duvet day last week. This week I manage a pool session doing longer distance apnea swims.
Sunday - resting

Ever the optimist, I'm glad I'm managing some sessions, and getting OK results. 

The hardest part of this thyroid condition in my view is going from a previously active person to such variability in energy levels. I don't remember travelling being so much of a drain but it is now. Eating away from home is challenging and I invariably end up eating something I shouldn't which adds to the fatigue or belly discomfort. Still, I know I'm lucky as some people suffering from hypothyroid have little or no energy and worse symptoms. I'm learning to accept what I can do, and love myself when I can't.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Active & Distracted

I've noticed that my yoga practice has changed over the last year to a slower and more restorative approach, without conscious intention. I trained as a teacher (and spent much of my own practice) in vigorous Power Yoga with plenty of sun salutations and strengthening poses. I still do this on some days when I have the energy, but it's rare I'm able to splurge this energy on my mat rather than at the gym or in the pool. With hypothyroid I've learnt to capitalise on the days I feel OK.

I love how our body guides us in the right direction if we listen. For me it's to slow down, unwind and let go. Much of my past training mentality revolved around pushing harder and going further, which is OK in part because you need to explore the limits of your potential in sport just as we can sometimes do in yoga.

However, there is another way - to rest in a pose and invite the body to open up, so you can move deeper, and deeper still.

This also applies to freediving - a sport where you can't force your body to go further on one breath. You can only explore your 'edge' in a relaxed way to see if body and mind are optimal to allow you on further. I've never seen myself as a natural freediver as I've always been like the Duracell bunny - keep going until the batteries run out. Freediving has taught me to relax whilst also facing my fears and overcoming nerves. I think I gravitated towards the pool events because I could keep moving all the way through my breath-hold, keeping myself active and distracted. The one freedive discipline I dislike the most is the best training for me - to lie still in breath-hold and encourage my mind to drift into stillness (known as static apnea).

So now my yoga is mainly still and focused to counter-balance the active and distracted. My favourite is Yin Yoga where each pose is held for around five minutes at a time. That gives me plenty of opportunity to watch my breath, feel both the stiff and comfortable parts of my body and rest. It's not physically challenging, but does bring you face to face with your need to be distracted. I only need to look around at everyone staring at their phones, tablets or TVs to see I'm not the only one!

In her book 'Awakening the Spine' Vanda Scaravelli says "You have to learn how to listen to your body, going with it and not against it, avoiding all effort or strain. You'll be amazed to discover that, if you are kind to your body, it will respond in an incredible way". 

Friday, 30 October 2015

Rest Is Training

I'm exhausted this week trying to juggle training and full time working, and my recovery stats are not looking good. I use Heart Rate Variability to check my recovery every morning using an app on my phone. I used to use a heart rate and recovery app called Restwise but I'm finding HRV is a better gauge of whether I should be pumping iron or taking a duvet day.

HRV measures the time between successive heart beats rather than the average heart rate over a few minutes of rest. I record this for 2 1/2 minutes every morning before I get up. The reason it's more sensitive is it gives a view of how the nervous system is working and whether you're in 'fight or flight' (sympathetic) or 'rest and digest' (parasympathetic) mode. My reading today was 4 towards the stressed side of the scale. And it's been the same for three days.

I've put in a couple of good quality training sessions this week, with two days on a work training course in between and lots of travelling. This always tires me out, and it's been worse since my thyroid diagnosis. It's also been an emotional week with plenty of self-reflection and role plays on the course.

I've read that intense activity >70% heart rate can reduce your thyroid hormone production (T3) which is why we're often fatigued the day after a hard session. This is double-bad news for me given my thyroid is struggling to produce hormone at all. I've noticed that a hard run or gym session can take one - three days to recover from, compared to a day previously. I'm learning to accept what I can do, and enjoy the hours with my feet up watching tele or reading a novel.

I'm not the best at putting the 'Rest Is Training' mantra into practice but it's clear that a duvet day is definitely in order, along with a good dose of yoga, deep breathing and healthy food.

Have a great weekend everyone, see you on the other side!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Dropping acid (and other weird diets)

My gut is a confused and hypersensitive place at the moment, so in an attempt to bring some calm to my system I've been trying a few suggestions out;

- Taking Hydrochloric acid with meals... yes I've been dropping acid at mealtimes! The supplement is called Betaine with pepsin and it supports digestion when stomach acid isn't as low as it needs to be. Without the necessary acidity we may not absorb nutrients that well leading to malnutrition. The more tablets you need to take before you feel heartburn, the weaker your acid composition. I went up to 10 pills (about 3.5g!!) which isn't much fun to take three times a day however it's only really for meat, which I still find hard to digest after being veggie for a few years. Fish and veggies go down much easier.

- Herbal gut cleanse. Since suffering a bout of gastroenteritis last Christmas I suspect I may have unwelcome microbiota on-board so I've been trying a herbal gut cleanse. This means taking berberine and oregano oil around every meal. Not seen much of a change in approx. 3 weeks however.

- Dosing with probiotics. I'm regularly eating homemade yogurt and sauerkraut to add probiotics to my diet in addition to a pill supplement. Again not seeing much change.

I'm left a bit confused as to whether to continue. One morning I looked at the huge pill box I was preparing for a day out of the office and thought 'this is ridiculous!'. The latest results from the doctors show that my thyroid health is improving quickly (yippee!) but I now have IBS-like symptoms which are more frustrating than the thyroid fatigue.

It seems that for IBS there is a scientifically-backed diet intervention which is recommended by doctors and dietitians (unlike some of the auto-immune diets) with the catchy title of FODMAPs. It's based on the premise that some short-chain carbohydrates are poorly absorbed and as a result cause bloating and gas in the intestines. It takes out a couple of my favourites such as onions, garlic and avocado but still leaves me with plenty to eat.

On the first day of my trial I had a blissfully flat stomach until 7pm when it ballooned after taking an electrolyte drink for a training session (contains sorbitol sugar). Lesson learnt and this diet is looking promising. You're not meant to stay on it permanently, but rather introduce foods back in at tolerable levels after a month or so. I'm glad for that as a world without garlic seems rather bland!

I've also recently had some blood test results back that show I'm sensitive to yeast and dairy. These blood-antibody (IgG) tests (take it yourself and send to a private company) are not thought to be the most accurate, however with several recommendations from people who had tried it I thought it was worth a go. Although many gluten-containing foods also have yeast in them it may be I can explore adding some flatbreads back in to see what happens. I do miss having wraps and pitta bread but I think pizza might have to stay on the shelf for now. Bizarrely I'm also sensitive to Brazil nuts, cashews and redbush tea.

The yeast is the one that concerns me most as this knocks out wine and beer... nooooo! But as every cloud has a silver lining apparently champagne is OK. Cheers to that!