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".