Consistency is key. Consistency is King. The best way to train is consistently. All of us who train to race know this. Most people exercising for general fitness or for weight loss know this too.
But what about when consistency becomes something else? What about when it becomes a crutch and you just don’t realise it until that crutch is put to one side for one reason or another? Well folks, I have just come to that realisation over the past few weeks and it’s quite a difficult, but not insurmountable, realisation to have made.
Lately I’ve been struggling with some pretty bad anxiety, a lot of negative thoughts and a depression that, although not debilitating, has me feeling like somebody has wrapped me in a large, damp towel. I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this because that is what I always do when things feel this way and I’ve come to the conclusion that this particular incidence is more keenly felt than it might have been due to change and lack of consistency.
When I run 5 or 6 days a week, as has been my average pattern for a number of years, it gives me time and space to both think things through and process my emotions or, conversely, it just gives me time and space – quiet, uninterrupted time and freedom to roam. This, I have realised, is my anti-depressant. It’s my mood stabiliser. Or it was. Because at the moment I am transitioning from being a runner to becoming a triathlete and this is entirely by choice – I wanted a change, I wanted to increase my longevity by spreading my aerobic activity across a number of sports and ranges of motion, I wanted to see what else my mind and body could do aside from running very far on trails. So I set some short, medium and long term goals for each sport and for triathlon as a whole and did a bit of training for fun and to semi-prepare for my first Sprint triathlon – this was my ‘off-season’ following Lakeland 50 and my usual summer of long distance racing and training.
I took to open water swimming and loved it, I rode a Sportive and loved it and then I did my first Sprint triathlon and loved it. And then something happened. I haven’t quite put my finger on what that is or was but my mind seemed to turn on me a bit and is now in open rebellion against the changes I’ve made to my routine of the past 5 years – run 5 or 6 days per week, race quite a lot, repeat… – it seems my mind is not quite ready to let that go, or something else within me isn’t quite ready to let that go.
I have thought a lot about this over the last couple of days of what has been one of the worst and least consistent training weeks of my life! I’m fit, I’m healthy and I am still able to challenge the negative thoughts that sometimes pop into my head singularly or sometimes en masse. So why is it that this week I’ve managed to complete just one aerobic workout of the four that were set to take place from Monday through to Friday? One run and two short strength sessions completed but one bike, one swim and another run bailed on – this equals a grand total of ZERO for consistency and much less time and space to process thoughts and/or just ‘be’. The sum of my thoughts on this are:
- Swimming is a technique sport and prior to being coached I just used to jump in the pool and hammer out laps as hard as I could for 1000 to 3000m and not very regularly – this gave me the time and space I mentioned above. Now that I am determined to improve my technique and thus my competitiveness I have found that when I’m in the pool and swimming my thought processes are entirely dedicated either to the drill I am executing or to the timing/pacing of the interval and rest period I’m on.
- Going out on the bike, solo on the road, has been a real I did my first sportive and my longest ride to date about 2 weeks after getting my bike and four weeks after Lakeland – I’d done no training and very little practice on the road but I loved it. I followed this a week later with the bike section of my first triathlon and I loved that too. Afterwards I went out solo and almost got hit by a very fast car on a main road very close to home. It freaked me out and I’ve not been able to get past that fear so far. So, when I’m out on the road my thought processes are pretty well taken up by trying not to panic and trying to get the thing done and out of the way. I’ve pretty much abandoned road riding these past few weeks and opted instead for the trainer and I have to say this is soothing and I do enjoy it – some of my thought process is taken up by timing/pacing intervals but a lot of the time I’m free to process my emotions and other thoughts – but it’s way too easy to go way too hard on the trainer and that does not bode well for keeping burn out at bay.
- The build-up of unprocessed thoughts and emotions, pretty much since Lakeland, has led to an increase of negative thoughts in both intensity and frequency which has impacted quite a lot on my motivation and my self-belief. With little self-belief and low motivation I have struggled to even go for the easiest of runs this week and for the three weeks after my first triathlon.
Writing this post is one way I am combating the negative thoughts I mentioned above. I acknowledge them but I don’t accept them as truth or reality. I can’t isolate and write down all of the thoughts that come and go but the most frequent over the past couple of weeks have been:
- You’re fat (In fact I’m lighter than I’ve ever been)
- You’re slow (I’m not – I set a road half marathon and 5 mile PR this year already)
- You can’t do this and you know it, why are you even trying? (I can do this [swim/bike], I’m trying because I know I can do this more efficiently and faster)
- You’re too big for this bike/this bike is too small for you but it wouldn’t matter even if it was just right because you’re useless (In reality I’ve no idea if my bike is the right size – I just need to take the time to readjust what I can and see how that feels)
- Get over yourself, even kids can ride on the road (Yes, they can but they have parental guidance and the innocence of youth. I am learning my bike skills from scratch and with probably too much knowledge of what can go wrong!)
- You’ll never do this on your own, but you’ll never cope riding with other people (This is my mind playing on my social anxiety. I can ride with other people and I will probably enjoy it, I just need to take that initial step and reach out to join others)
- You’re going to really hate triathlon; I don’t know why you’re bothering (I loved my first triathlon, and duathlon for that matter. I’m bothering because I love to race and I love to see what my mind and body can do when they work together)
The thoughts I’m not processing are personal and relate to my family but judging by the reaction I had to my last post which went into detail about why I stumbled into becoming a runner I feel a bit more comfortable and confident writing openly about these personal things.
The thoughts, emotions and experiences I’ve processed over the last 5 years of consistent running were at first with my own experiences with alcohol and drugs and then to do with my experiences of caring for alcoholic parents and the impact that has had on me and my brother over the years. My brother is pretty stoic about it all and says he doesn’t really think on it too much whereas I am faced by the harsh realities and difficulties of mental ill health and addiction almost every day at work. I feel like I have to think about it and I have to process it – in fact it’s part of my professional life to reflect on my own personal experiences and how that impacts on the services I used to provide directly through 1:1 work with clients and now as a services manager.
I think it is fair to say that for a long time I struggled with my relationship to my parents and I still struggle with one of them more than the other. My Dad has become a fatalist, trapped in his own negative thought cycle. He looks and sounds older than he is and he is constantly living in the past – a time when things were good, when things were right and a time my brother and I have very little recollection of because we were young children. Bear with me here dear reader; I never intended this post to be a bearing of my soul and my personal life! I’ll get back to consistency and change in relation to endurance sports and anxiety management in a moment. But what’s happened since I made the realisation that consistency in training became my crutch is also the realisation that I feel I don’t really know my Dad; I miss the man I don’t think I ever really knew. Often conversation is either going to be a storied retelling of the past or a maudlin vision of the future. I miss talking to the Dad I’ve had good times with on occasion in his moments of sobriety or ‘controlled’ drinking. I worry that his maudlin vision of his own demise may come true before my brother and I get to spend more time actually getting to know the man behind the alcohol. My real Dad. I’m going to leave it there as I don’t really know where I’m going with it – I could write a lot more because I feel a lot more and I’ve experienced a lot more but I want to get back to the original intention of this post and to the core terms of this blog as a whole!
So then, a conclusion!
If you’re training consistently and have been for a long time that is great! But if like me, you began your training or exercise regime as a healthy outlet to escape an unhealthy life and to build a better future, please take note and find other outlets and utilise them regularly. Don’t let running, biking, swimming or any other single pursuit become your only way to effectively process thoughts, feelings and emotions! Because when something rocks that consistency – a house move, a change of job or shift pattern, a change of sporting direction, a new coach – and you don’t have anything else in place, you might find yourself in a difficult place. Personally I am going to attend AlAnon support groups as and when I feel the need to talk about my experiences and feelings, and I’m going to my first this evening. I am also going to carry on writing about these things honestly and openly but don’t worry, I won’t share every thought, feeling and experience through this blog! The truth is when I started to write this post I didn’t expect to write about this but writing about it has been cathartic.
In relation to regaining my consistency in training and becoming a stronger all-round endurance athlete, I am going to work hard on my technique in the pool and embrace that and equally I’m going to embrace the time and space I’m given when I get to do an endurance swim session. In addition, I’ve already reached out to my triathlon club to arrange mid-week group road rides through the winter ostensibly to improve bike handling/technical skills and to build weather resilience but also genuinely to help me get over my fears of riding on the road and riding as part of a group! With practice will come confidence and with that will come a bit more time and space in the pool and on the bike, and with that time and space self-belief will return, motivation will increase and then I’ll be less likely to bail out on a run which will always be, for me anyway, the best anti-depressant and the best mood stabiliser.
Well, that’s the end of that post! I didn’t expect to write it and I’m sure you didn’t expect to read it. I think my next post will be a little lighter and will likely be a race report as I’m running a local 10k mixed trail and road race tomorrow.
Please do feel free to drop me a line if you want to talk about anything I’ve mentioned above – a problem shared is a problem halved.