In this episode of the Racing Mindcast: Chris delves and elaborates more on the past 7 months and his evolution as an athlete.
Welcome to another edition to the racing mindcast the show that helps athletes slow down the mind so that they can race past their limits.
I’m Chris Hague and I am flying solo this week. I asked Morgan not to be on this show because it is a personal one for me. I am going to be diving deep into some emotional stuff and emerging at the end of the show with some points that I hope you can take away and reflect upon yourself. This strikes deep at athletic identity and the whys behind you train. So if you are out doing a workout, keep on chugging and enjoy or if you are tuning in on your commute. Sit back, keep your eyes on the road, and buckle up…..
Last week in our welcome back episode we talked about the last 7 months and where we have been. I briefly alluded to how I went from flying high to hitting rock bottom but really did not go into it, so I wanted to elaborate more on those few transformative months, the causes for my crash and reformation, and then go into ways to spot that you might have an unhealthy relationship going on with your sport.
So let’s get into it with where we normally do: the beginning.
I guess it really began after Tempe 70.3. I had just won the age group, come in 8th overall, qualified for worlds, and really was on top of the world. Everything seemed to be clicking along. I am sure many of you the listeners have had a similar experience of wanting more after that first bite of success be it a race or a job promotion or landing a contract or whatever. Once you have had that taste you want more and that was exactly what I was chasing. So I talked to my coach and we launched into a game plan for Worlds.
Since Worlds was back in the States for the first time in 3 years I knew two things
A) that this was going to be a tough race since a lot of American age groupers wanted to take advantage of it being so close and not coughing up the 1k for flights
B) this was my one shot at possibly chasing my dream of cutting into the top of the age group and maybe proving myself as an elite.
And with those two thoughts burning in my mind, I started training, and I trained, and I trained, and I trained.
At the time, I was teaching full time so my schedule would look something like this:
-I would wake up between 2:30 and 3am to get my workout in and that would typically be a 90 minute to 2 hour workout fasted.
-Get to school around 6:30 prep for classes, teach for most of the day finish at 3 then head home or straight to the gym or to where I would run for my afternoon workouts which would be about 60min
-Head home for dinner and time with Morgan and my little dog Ethyn and then start winding down the day so that I could get to bed by 8pm.
Nutritionally, I was tracking calories and macros and really trying to optimize everything. My macro-phobia de jour was carbs.
This carb phobia had been festering inside me for some time and really started to become infected. I cut our refined carbs, meaning I gave up my beloved rice cakes, Kashi, and granola, and started to retreat into safety foods in particular Quest bars. For some reason, I just found these as a safe food and “satisfied” my cravings for sweets. In reality they never really filled me up and left me craving more despite eating two or sometimes 4 a day.
I also pounded the coffee. It was an on going joke with my students that I rarely could be found without a coffee mug in my hand. I would typically need an afternoon cup at 2 to fuel my afternoon workout but that would keep me going through dinner so I would have to take melatonin to calm down for bed so that I could repeat the whole cycle over again.
On the weekends, I would go out for 5 hr and 6 hr bricks then two hour runs on Sunday. And this was in Arizona so the weather was beautiful and the temps perfect. It was gorgeous.
Everything seemed (key word there) to be going fine. My power numbers were going up, my endurance was building, my paces were great. I felt like I really had a chance at getting that podium slot but the more I improved the more I began to doubt myself and mostly because of Strava, Zwift, and social media.
I mentioned that I gave up Strava in October and I will link to that episode in the show notes, but I went back to it because I was “curious” i.e. insecure as to what my competition and what pros were doing and I would compare myself to them. If I wanted to beat them I needed to know what I was up against but as what typically happens the more I compared the more I felt weak and the need to do more.
In particular there was this one guy really nice guy and a very talented athlete. But he was able to 20+ hours a week of training. His power numbers and swim files and everything else were astonishing and I would look at his Wednesday long rides and just be in awe and really jealous.
I need to start doing that. I told myself. He is going to be at the race so if he is training that much the only way to beat him is to train more.
Then there was another young athlete whom I raced against a couple times and he was doing these awesome training rides, then recovering at this really posh recovery center where he lived. He wanted to go pro and it was as if he already had a pro lifestyle. Early on, he was getting podium at races with really impressive time but the scary thing was that even though his times were good there were people faster than he was. Regardless, he was living the life—at least that is what it looked like on social media.
So I felt this pressure that I needed to boost my FTP. I needed to get my paces down. And it became an anxiety in the back of my head.”Was I good enough” I would typically push it away and let it go but it would still be there chattering away.
That expression right there “Am I good enough is the kiss of death to any athlete”
So I started to cut things back socially to get more workouts in. I became more tight about getting the little sleep I could in. Obsessive with my food which typically meant I would crack in the middle of the night and splurge. Or I would sneak nibbles of sweets in the day. And this went on for Months.
Now all the while, Morgan’s own depression was getting worse. She was having more off days and lethargy. Her nutrition was also suffering. And she was isolating herself from me and events and wanting to do stuff. Eventually, she made the decision to go back home to Canada leaving me in Phoenix to finish up the school year and then we would pack up and move up there permanently.
So I was a bachelor except my own mental demons and my bike trainer. And what did I tell myself “Oh this will be a great time to focus on training.” Which is what I did.
So let’s pick this apart and while I know you can definitely see the problems as I tell you about them, but I was for the most part in denial about them. I did not see this as a problem. There would be moments though that I would ask myself: Am I being too selfish? Am I training too much? Am I not being a good husband or a teacher?
And I would rationalize it all away with saying, if I want to be the best, this is what I have to do. It is not really that much of a problem. It’s not like I am neglecting her. We still do stuff together. And as far as my students, I am still getting all my work done at school. I should be able to leave at 3 if I want. If they need help they can visit me some other time.
So all of this continued until, as I mentioned last episode, the end of February when I woke up on a Monday after a solid week of training and I felt like junk. I did not want to leave my bed. I was tired. I had not motivation to do anything not even go to work. Then I started to worry about getting my workouts in for the day and how it would throw off the whole week. But I brushed it off and said, I will take one day off. It will not kill me. I will bounce back tomorrow and make it up.
One day went by and then another and I was getting worse. I was exhausted all day, sleeping more, doing no training, hunger was all over the place and all I really wanted was cereal and quest bars. It was a dark place. It took a lot of energy to keep it from the students and coworkers. Thank goodness for that job because it kept me sane. It gave me a structure when the rest of my life seemed to be spinning. And a lot of people give teenagers flack for being sophomoric and pimply smart asses but they always knew how to make me smile.
The weekends were the worst though because I had nothing to do. I did not want to ride my bike or run or lift and I really did not want to do anything so I slept and messed around the house and worked on school work.
So this has to be adrenal fatigue. I got a full blood panel and everything came back better than normal. On paper I was perfectly healthy but I definitely was not mentally.
This carried on for about a month when finally my energy started to come back. My sleep returned to normal. Hunger normalized but what didn’t change was desire to train. I still did not want to do anything triathlon related. Instead I really wanted to lift, run, and do yoga. So that is what I did. And I loved it.
There was something about just being in the weight room or the yoga studio that I felt free.
There was no judgement or competition (ironically since you would think the weight room especially the weight room at Lifetime where everyone is full of testosterone or sculpted by a plastic surgeon or both). I could focus solely on how I felt and focus on how I was progressing relative to where I was the day before.
The same held true in the yoga studio. There was no comparisons on my mat. I was able to feel my body instead of imposing what I felt like my body should feel like. All I had to do was observe what was changing and change would come. I did not have to force change down a narrow path of where I felt like I should go.
I was finding a mental clarity that I had never really had since leaving college especially when it came to my identity and who I was as goofy and woo woo and cliche as that sounds.
I had pushed my identity into a box of being a triathlete since that was the only place that I had found joy before. So despite other opportunities to explore who I was. I clung to that and used that fear of losing that identity as my fuel to continue to train. I wanted to be known for it so I put the creation of my identity in the power of others instead of from within. Felt likeI had (big warning sign there) to do triathlon because that is what I was known for around school and in the social media world. Like I had announced I wanted to be a pro or elite and I had to fulfill that goal or I would be seen as weak.
I also was using training as a way to fill the void of insecurities and emotions. Especially when it came to Morgan and here dealing with her own depression I was triathlon as a way to avoid that and avoid those issues. And it was a pretty big void
So looking back at all of this it is easy to see that there was a problem, but in the moment I was blind and in denial.
So what are the warning signs for me going forward? How can I avoid old habits?
Obviously knowing when you have a problem is a spectrum similar to one drink to one person opens the door for a binge while one drink to another is merely a drink. So take these “warning signs” as just my warning signs and no one else’s. Others might have similar red flags but just because you can relate to one or some of these below does not mean you have the problem like I did.
1) When I start to structure my life solely around the sport:
My first thought when Morgan says let’s see a movie or do something fun like go to the Grand Canyon was “how am I going to get my workout in?” Now my workouts are important. They are my time but they cannot structure everything.
-This mentality lead me to neglect all the cool stuff around Phoenix because I was working out (or recovering from my workouts)
-The more I thought about it, the more I started to realize that I had based my whole life around triathlon to the neglect of my work and marriage. —
-Thinking back to my time in LA, if I was completely honest with myself, I boxed myself into a corner of wanting to train that I neglected all the cool stuff there and the friendships and the interactions with students and going out with Morgan and seeing the town All because I felt like I had to train and while the Triathlon training was not great in LA, there were so many things that I could have instead enjoyed.
-Even the move back to Phoenix was partially driven because I wanted a better place to ride my bike and train. It definitely was not the only reason for sure but it was there.
-If one thing was off with my schedule, it would throw everything else off in a chain reaction and I would get irritated.
2) When my identity becomes tied up within the sport.
This is a tough one to spot and to feel. A lot of people identify with their sport. They like to say “I am a triathlete” or the runner or the spartan racer and that is normal. I will not say it is healthy per se and that is a podcast episode for the future. But the defining line for me is when you train because you are afraid of losing that identity or not being known by that label. Morgan brought something up to me in therapy about how I looked afraid when I missed a workout or would see race results and just in general. I was afraid of losing that identity.
3) When I stop enjoying the process and start to focus entirely on the result.
I was consumed by worlds to such an extent that I did not care about how the training was making me feel in the moment. I love sport because of the self discovery that takes place and when you begin to focus too much on that singular finish line, you miss out on those discoveries, which are really what makes the sport.
4) When I try to deaden emotions or feelings.
This makes me sound like an alcoholic but I think I need to be 100% present with my emotions going forward and not try to ignore them like I was or anesthetize them with external stimuli like food or exercise. Once again tough to spot but when you step back and take a mindful minute and a body scan, you’d be surprised at the emotions that come up.
This is a warning bell for many people. Going into significant debt for a hobby is not healthy so I need to be aware of that and realize I don’t need the latest stuff. I can enjoy the sport without it.
I think the above reasons are why I really have fallen back in love with running and lifting and yoga again. They are all so simple and pure as a sport. I know I will never be the best in the world or age group going forward and in yoga there really is no best so having the pressure of that knowledge off me allows me to just focus on being the best runner that I can be and enjoying the obstacles as they come up.
Wow. So a long podcast this time around a lot of rambling. A couple tears. I hope you got something out of this. Please leave a review, share, leave a comment on our website, braveheartcanada.com and you can also reach us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will be back next week with something lighter I promise but until then I just wanted to remind you all….dont forget to breath.