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!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Rules for the journey

The art of training well is to take it seriously, with full commitment and professional discipline, whilst retaining a lightness of spirit so as not to take it too seriously... obviously not an easy line to tread! All athletes are at risk of the dreaded plague of over-training, none more so than those who have a tendency to seek perfection, which is a large proportion as sport naturally attracts high achievers. Saying that however, some of the world's best swimmers (Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte) have barely taken a day out of training in years, while many other pros have missed entire seasons with burnout.

I put a lot of pressure on myself this year because I've taken physical, emotional and financial risks to try to reach my goals. Had I known I was getting sick with hypothyroidism and anaemia, I wouldn't have pushed so hard to make every training session. Now it's time to redress the balance.

So as I start up my training again I have some new rules to continue my journey;

1) Train softly - let my body command when to exercise and when to rest. Often it's bleedin' obvious when I need a rest day, but for the days when I'm not sure I'll keep track of my heart rate variability which shows whether I'm under stress or not. I can take time out guilt-free.

2) Food is medicine - eat wholesome, nutritious homemade food whenever possible

3) Feed up, not down - now that I'm on a gluten and dairy-free diet I need to be careful that I'm eating enough carbs and protein to fuel my training. That means careful planning around training sessions; more carbs in the morning and higher protein at night

4) Gratitude - when I'm grateful I find my grace. Be happy for every day I can train and accept with kindness the days I need to rest

5) No pride, no shame - I'm not defined by how far I swim, how heavy a weight I can lift or whether I win or lose. My diving is about exploring my own potential. It's about being the best I can be, and no comparisons with anyone else. It doesn't need to be perfect, but it does need to be 100% right for me.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Night terrors

One of my most frustrating symptoms is waking up at 3am, feeling hungry and needing to eat before I'm able to go back to sleep. This was quite acute earlier this year before I was diagnosed, but still blights my nights at the moment, especially after an evening training session.

After some research online and in books I've discovered that we wake in the early hours due to increased cortisol hormone. Normal cortisol levels are highest in the morning and lowest at night. This is supposed to wake us at a normal waking time, but sometimes kicks in way too early, often because we're low in glucose. This hypoglycemia can be due to not eating enough earlier in the evening, however I think it is also linked to poor blood sugar balance and adrenal fatigue.

Courgette spirals
I'm like most people in enjoying my carbs through the day - oats for breakfast, grains at lunch and maybe some potatoes in the evening. Add in my usual sugary snacks and it can lead to a blood sugar level that spikes up and down through the day, resulting in peaks at inconvenient times like the middle of the night. That's the theory at least. I could get my cortisol tested by a private lab but I'm not sure the expense justifies the result. The solution would be the same whether I do the test or not - what I need to do is balance my blood sugar a little better during the day. That means cutting out the refined sugar snacks, replacing them with protein, and always eating carbs with protein and fat. It also means planning meals that are nutrient-dense rather than carbohydrate-heavy. So instead of grains, pasta or potatoes I choose mashed root vegetables or make spaghetti with courgette spirals instead. It's taking a while to re-train my body as it's craving the sugar it was used to, and maybe that where the 'terrors' fit in... it's just my body in the final throes of defiance!

Adrenal fatigue also messes with cortisol levels - in the early stages of fatigue, which is commonly caused by chronic stresses such as work and overtraining, our cortisol levels might be high for far longer than they should, meaning we feel a bit wired and can't sleep well. However as the condition worsens, cortisol drops low and stays low so we struggle to get up in the mornings and remain in a brain fog for most of the day. I've no doubt that earlier this year my adrenals were getting a battering along with the rest of my body, so fatigue could be a factor in my symptoms however the solution is to rest and eat well so I'm on my way to recovery already. There are some herbs worth taking to support adrenal function, such as ashwaganda, which are featured in the green supplement I take daily from Nuzest.

Although many nutritionists advise not to eat within 3 hours of bedtime, I'm finding that a small protein and low GI carb before bed is proving useful in keeping me asleep, especially after a session in the pool. My favourite is sliced apple with peanut butter.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Overcoming mental blocks to training

One of the most obvious symptoms of burnout or over-training is low motivation to train, especially in your competitive sport of choice. As exercise addicts we can often keep training in another sport if the fatigue isn't so bad, mainly to keep the buzz of being fit but steering clear of the mental block around our main sport. That perfectly describes my summer!

Haunted by the black line!
I've enjoyed many swims around the lakes local to Bristol, runs along the harbourside and under Brunel's bridge and a few stand-up paddleboard sessions. What I've been avoiding however is the pool - any brief thoughts of the black line have been quickly followed by excuses to do something else.

So I've decided its time to get back to it. I've been freediving to depth for most of the summer so it's not as if I haven't been holding my breath. What I'm facing is purely a mental block - a bit of fear, uncertainty and shame leftover from June's major disappointment.

A friend of mine contacted me to say they'd be training alone at the local pool and did I want to come down for a session. After a bit of procrastinating and grumbling I accepted. I continued grumbling as I slipped into my pool suit but strangely as I put on my neck weight and nose clip I stepped into a familiar role and suddenly it felt as if I was back where I belonged. A couple of 25m lengths later, which felt super comfortable, I had a smile on my face! Even 50m lengths didn't feel so bad, despite my CO2 tolerance probably being pretty low now after several months break. I particularly enjoyed dolphin swimming in my fins, re-engaging with my inner mermaid!

So that's the hardest step done now, time to start adding a few more training sessions depending on how I'm feeling day by day. I'm still struggling with fatigue so 2 - 3 days in every week I find going to work enough of a struggle so I'm crashed out on the bed or sofa by the evening. But otherwise things are looking positive.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A testing time in Cornwall

I have to admit to not feeling any difference after two weeks on the gut healing diet; however I’ve thoroughly enjoyed cooking all my meals from scratch and trying out new recipes with offal and bone broths. Ideally what I want is to be bouncing with energy after cutting out gluten as so many people seem to describe in their experiences… what I’m starting to accept is that gut healing may take many months and unless I cut out everything that could be irritating my gut and immune system that the magical day of leaping out of bed may never arrive.

For the Bank Holiday weekend we went to Cornwall for some scuba diving and surfing. I took some of my own creations with me, but inevitably I ended up stuck with a small caravan cafe at a dive site with little except burgers and pasties on offer (delicious though!). So I decided this was a good test to see how my tummy would fare after two weeks break. Eating gluten again seemed to have no obvious immediate reactions in my gut or anywhere else in my body. I ran along the coastal path for an hour each way and felt pretty energised, yay!

However four days later I experienced the worst hypothyroid symptoms I’ve had in months - extreme mental fog, fatigue and generally feeling quite unwell. Now it could be a complete coincidence or it could be a delayed/secondary immune response. Is two weeks enough to have made a difference? I’m left with so many uncertainties and questions I’m not sure where to go next with my diet. What I’ve decided for now is to continue with gluten-free and stick with the gut healing foods I’ve introduced. I’m not currently inspired to embark on a full elimination diet like the Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP) - cutting out pretty much everything nice to leave me with steak and carrots to eat!

I do have one issue to resolve with my gluten-free diet at the moment and that is to ensure I’m eating enough carbohydrates to fuel my training. During the Gut Gastronomy programme I had a couple of days where I effectively ‘bonked’ (ran out of energy) on a run and had to walk home. Although I’m eating huge plates of food for each meal, sometimes if it’s mainly salad or vegetables, meat or fish I burn through that energy pretty quickly and I’m not left with much to train on. So I’m working on planning better pre-exercise snacks such as oat cakes/apple and nut butter or a homemade oat/date/seed bar. Although some auto-immune diets refrain from even having brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat I currently can’t see how I’m going to survive without these in my diet. Having a plentiful supply of clean pea protein from NuZest has been a saving grace to ensure I’m getting adequate protein around each training session.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Gut healing diet

I stumbled across a book called Gut Gastronomy in my local library, which offers a two – three week programme of meals to heal the gut. The meals are all gluten, soy and dairy free and have little refined sugar. There’s quite a bit of meat in there, offal and bone broths - a bit daunting for someone who for the last six years has been pretty much vegetarian! And the most worrying was the half-day fasts drinking only bone broth. All I will say is that I tried my best to stick to the programme but fasting is not an option for me at the moment with a slightly haywire blood sugar response and exercise fueling needs.

The first hurdle was getting past the reduced sugar intake as I’m a bit of a sugar junkie - I love fruit, chocolate and biscuit snacks. The first three days of the programme really highlighted to me how strong my snack and sugar cravings were, especially when I’m at work and mainly in the afternoon. I also cut out my regular cups of tea due to the caffeine, milk and sugar content. Thankfully I’m happy drinking herb teas so although I occasionally miss a good brew it’s not too much of a hardship.
I’ve experienced blood sugar issues in the past (which may or may not be related to the developing thyroid condition) where I’ve felt faint trying to do any form of exercise before breakfast and irritable or anxious if I miss meals. Nutritional advice had previously been to reduce my starch/grain carbohydrate intake and have nutrient dense foods at the heart of my diet (i.e. less reliance on muesli, rice and pasta to bulk up meals and more vegetables). So I was already heading in this direction, but the shock of suddenly cutting out most sugar was quite sharp. But by day five it became much easier.
The next issue was coming back to meat. My reasons for being vegetarian have mainly been for easier digestion and because I feel ‘lighter’ eating meat-free meals. However over the years I’ve eaten the odd bit of chicken or bacon here or there, and continued to eat fish. Going back to red meat, however and especially offal is another prospect altogether! But I committed to giving it my best so I cooked up some chicken livers with pancetta and apple salad and actually it was really delicious! Since then I’ve also had kidneys made into a chilli and livers cooked with onions in white wine. To make sure I’m digesting my food better, and therefore absorbing the nutrients, I’m also taking digestive enzymes with acid which seem to help me process the meat a little better.

Lamb Kofte
Coconut & almond flour pancakes

Homemade sauerkraut
The third biggest influence of this programme has been to introduce my own fermented foods. I’m half Austrian and this Germanic influence has meant I’ve always quite liked sauerkraut! However I had no idea that shop-bought sauerkraut is pretty much empty of any nutritional benefit from fermenting bacteria which act as probiotics for the gut. So to increase my levels of good bacteria I was going to have to make my own. 

So far the sauerkraut I’ve made has worked out well – one with savoy cabbage and fennel, another with beetroot, carrot and caraway seeds. I have no idea if anything good is growing in them, but there doesn’t seem to be anything bad in them so I’ll continue producing festering pots of cabbage behind the sofa, much to the bemusement of my boyfriend!
At the end of two weeks I went away to Cornwall for the weekend and had little choice than to dabble in some gluten foods or else starve at the seashore (the little canteen at the dive centre didn’t look like the kind of place to ask for a gluten-free pasty!). I thought it might be a good test to see if adding gluten back in might cause a reaction. I’ll describe my results in the next post.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Initial research

I’m grateful for a friend with the same condition recommending two great books to get started with – Living Well with Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – The Root Cause. Reading these gave me many insights into my condition (see My Thyroid Story), including;
  • My daily symptoms aren’t so bad compared to what some people suffer, so perhaps I’ve caught this early
  • Mystery psychological problems going back years could be attributable to the early stages of Hashimoto’s/auto-immune
  • A bout of gastroenteritis last Christmas may have triggered this condition to show itself
  • My gut health could be quite poor and I’m not properly absorbing important blood-building nutrients that I need for freediving such as iron and B12

When my doctor diagnosed hypothyroidism and prepared the prescription to begin me on a low dose of Levothyroxine, she said that very little could be done about the auto-immune aspect of the disease. Now I’m quite stubborn and I don’t believe that that is strictly true. Saying that, I’m not entirely convinced by the wealth of ‘evidence’ presented on the internet and in books about the influences of food intolerances on auto-immune conditions – such as gluten, dairy, soy, nightshade plants etc.. However I’ve met several people who swear by certain food eliminations to manage their illnesses so although I’m thoroughly confused and overwhelmed by information I do wonder if it’s worth a try. In my next post I’ll describe how a planned two week elimination/gut health diet goes.

Saturday, 1 August 2015


Three weeks before I went to the pool freediving World Championships I was told by my doctor that I was borderline hypothyroid and anaemic, but it was something to monitor rather than a major concern as I was feeling OK wasn’t I? A bit tired – yes, struggling to recover – yes, but I’m swimming OK in the pool, right?

The answer to that was yes and no. It’s taken a bit of time over the summer to look back and see how my training was unravelling for months and that my pivotal moment of ‘failure’ was just the full stop at the end of the first paragraph. 

Preparing for my dive
That ‘moment’ was losing consciousness (known as a black out) in my favourite event at the World Champs and then feeling too unwell to compete at my next best event the day after - nine solid months of training ending in complete disappointment. It’s quite common for this to happen to freedivers pushing themselves, but unusual for me as it was my first ever in competition and ten days earlier I’d swum significantly further and ended the dive very cleanly. I felt no more nervous than I do at any other event, so there had to be something else that wasn’t quite right.

It would be too easy to explain away that moment with a doctor’s prescription and not learn anything for it, and the preceding months leading up to it. Being honest with myself I see a role for stress and intense training in developing the most noticeable phase of this condition, even though it was probably triggered by something out of my control and had been worsening over many years.

186m DYN National Record
I was at my athletic peak in November 2014, achieving my fifth dynamic National Record in my home town pool (Stockport, UK) and feeling really confident about the coming year. I had a forced break over Christmas with a sore back and a bout of gastroenteritis, but was keen to get back into training in early 2015.

Although I tried out a few new techniques, my training programme hadn’t changed much from the previous year in terms of volume or intensity, and it improved in places where I could train and fuel myself a bit smarter and recover better. But alarmingly my ability to bounce back from training sessions declined, my sleep was suffering and eventually I blacked out swimming a distance which would normally be achievable. It felt like I'd hit an invisible wall in the pool, more a physical hindrance than a mental one, and this time recovery wasn't just slow it was pretty much non-existent and I felt fatigued for many weeks, missing the UK Championships in March.

Once I'd got back into training in April I felt as if I was barely maintaining, and even back-peddling on previous results. I'm proud that I kept plugging on through this, turning up to train even though I'd started to hate it and felt miserable although perhaps I should have stopped there and then to rest. My body began to reject evening training even though we’ve had late night sessions for years, which haven't posed much of a problem.

From then on I was just fire-fighting - switching as much training as I could to daytime and being fastidious in recording recovery statistics to make sure I was only training when I was fit to, adapting over and over again. But the love for diving had gone and I was buckling under pressure and negativity.

Moments before my WC dive
In a cruel twist of fate I began to feel more myself at the start of June, my results and recovery improved and I began to hope that I'd be OK for the World Championships after all. 10 days out from the trip to Belgrade I matched a previous PB in DNF, super clean at the end of the swim and recovered fine by the next day. Unfortunately at the event itself I met that invisible wall again in the pool, blacking out at 135m.

I made mistakes on the day, which I've noted and chosen not to use as a bat to beat myself with.  I surprised myself by not being utterly devastated - of course I was gutted in a way I can't put into words but I also had a deep and comforting sense that I’m learning the really important stuff. It's at our most vulnerable times, when our soft underbelly feels raw and exposed that we can choose to stay open and feel the burn of disappointment, until it wipes you clean of all the non-essential stuff of who you are.

What I know I love about sport is the way it brings you to look at the really tough stuff inside - the parts of ourselves we either don't know we have or keep hidden. Being competitive brings a host of ego faces along with it and the best divers have found ways to let go of ego-driven thoughts and behaviour. And so that's a new training goal for me, along with trying to find a way to train more sustainably, taking account of the days when I’ll feel under the weather.