Last weekend I travelled to Albi in the South of France and rode in the World Championships and for my country for the first time. In short, we had an amazing time and waxed lyrical about the place and GB camaraderie from Friday until Monday morning when we left. That was the case despite a disappointing race on Sunday. I finished and now have a world ranking of 46th but it did not go to plan. I was dropped off the main pack after 20 miles due to excruciating pain in both feet.
When I was first motivated to write about being an academic athlete the idea was prompted by Marty P when we were chatting over tea about the difficulties of early career research or research in general. Of course, closely connected was the notion of rejection, the painful and hurty bit and this was one of the direct things that we were discussing and how being an athlete may help academic life.
But, things can also go wrong in sport too and I’d known from the beginning of starting this blog that one of the closest interfaces circumventing both realms is dealing with defeat or rejection (talk about the words later) and how my worlds support each other. And then telling you lot about it. I didn’t know when that moment of writing about the less nice bits would come, but I knew they would and this would be a very incomplete blog and idea if I just wrote the rosy bits down, right?
Here comes the story/excuses.
I have been playing with my shoe and bike set up recently to try and eradicate foot pain. It had been going on for a while but getting progressively worse during the season and through the roof bad in the three weeks leading up to Albi, though long term should get better.
So, why was I grumpy about finishing a World Champs race towards the back, even though I had been in so much pain?
Because I was having to ask the wrong questions. I spent my time querying foot pain, asking why my feet hurt so much when ultimately, I wanted to be asking my body what it was capable of doing in its fittest state of my life. Nine months into the year I had ridden almost 4000 miles. One way to describe racing is a bit like when normal (don’t know what that means) people start exercising again after a period of time. It hurts, not necessarily painful like an injury, but the exertion feels very uncomfortable, heart rate up, muscles straining, lungs burning etc. However, when one is deflecting pain in the body (rather than exerting themselves) it becomes very difficult to push your body to its physiological limits. I was bursting with fitness but I couldn’t answer the questions myself and my legs wanted to find the answers to. i.e. how fast can they go and for how long? The reason I race!
I had succumbed to the biggest rookie error: doing something new or different on race day. It couldn’t have all been avoided but an easier pair of shoes could have helped and I didn’t travel with them. The temperature was 37 degrees which makes my feet worse but I couldn’t turn that down and was enjoying the tan anyway.
And what else went wrong?
I wrecked the balance of academia and athlete. I hadn’t slept properly for weeks due to writing, with 3-4 hours a night being the norm. Whilst less sleep may equate to more deep work and writing (good!), it also means a tired Charlie who still has to train (probably at 5.15am) on those few hours sleep. These things have to work together, not against each other. A firm lesson to be taken back from work/life balance here. Agreed, sometimes deadline chaos happens, and having sleep apnoea and being on excellent medication it means my sleep pattern is very well in sync and can take it. I can get away with one complete sleep cycle of 4 hours for a night or two and I can still race at the top of my game. In fact, I do that for nearly every triathlon due to race starts often being at 6am, but the clear message is that I cannot make an enduring pattern of that. It’s not an excuse because I should have known better but I can’t imagine that it helped.
Writing this a week after the event I have had time to see how my emotions and reflections on it have changed. It might not sound it from the above but I am overall very happy to have finished and extremely proud to have ridden for my country. In the days after the event you would have found me pretty miserable and that was because I was very tired and more worried about the long-term prospect of what might be going down with my feet. I have trained this week but today was my first outside ride and in short it was better. OK, I have had a fair bit of painkiller, but, I am sat writing this after 100 miles (of sublime power and cadence) and my feet seem a bit more settled. There’s a long way to go but it was amazing to experience the endorphins and be reminded of why I ride.
Just in case you might be wondering, my application for the qualification ride for 2018 is already in.
Yours in health and fitness.