Sunday, September 28, 2014

Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders: My story

Over the past month or so, theres been a bit of talk around body image issues and eating disorders in our sport. It’s not only our sport where we can see these issues, as they are also present in day to day society. Most of the talk and information is aimed towards female athletes, but also with the non-athletic population. Now, what a lot of people may not recognize, is that body image issues and eating disorders are just as much of an issue in male endurance athletes. For this reason I’ve decided to tell my story of my not so standard issues and what I have seen others go through. I am quite sure this will probably cause a bit of back lash, but I’m just calling it how I saw things.

The issue with it is that in male sports, people either don’t recognize there’s an issue, or if they do, just sweep it under the rug and choose to ignore it. I’ve read about it and seen it first hand. Larger athletes with huge potential and ability all of a sudden fall off the face of the earth. Trying to lose a few extra kilos is often one of the factors to it. With the depth in male sports, these athletes are easily forgotten about pretty damn quickly, usually before there is any time to ask questions.

I can say I am an athlete who has suffered with body image issues and eating disorders on and off for pretty much most of my life. My issues first started around the age of 7-8, with me stopping eating my lunches while at school thanks to endless bullying about my size. Fast forward through my high school years where this habit continued on and off. This mixed with depression often lead to it being mixed with binge eating of junk comfort food creating the ultimate vicious circle. At my lowest points, I would force myself to throw up the junk food that I had just consumed.

Once I finished high school, I started competitive cycling again (I stopped for a bit due to school commitments). Thanks to raw power and a half decent engine, I found myself progressing through the grades and then competing in A grade and NRS races. Now, all through this time my weight was always a issue in the back of my mind, but was something I was able to get around due to the racing I was doing. The big issues came when I started to step up. Suddenly weight wasn't only an issue on the hills, it became an issue on the flats. I just couldn't continue to go with the accelerations. It wasn't that I didn't have the raw power, it was that I was just having to use so much more than others to get up to speed. What made issues worse was that I would find myself with light, skinny riders in team kits getting dropped with me on climbs.

All this lead to me trying just about everything to drop the extra weight, and ended with me at times going to some pretty extreme lengths. One of the stupidest things I did was go as low as 800 calls a day while still doing full training volume of 15-20hrs a week. I lost a little weight but not enough to warrant the effort I was putting in, and ultimately slowed my metabolism down to nothing. This made me even more depressed resulting in binge eating again which lead to weight gain which lead to more starving. The vicious circle again. In the end I think this was one thing that burnt me out from cycling.

The thing is, I never actually got skinny and never got to the weight I “should have”. This was the hardest pill to swallow. The lightest I got was 85Kg, giving well over 80% of the peloton a minimum of a 10kg head start. This is massive in a sport where power to weight is a key factor. If I was 85kg and pure muscle and 7% body fat would have excepted it. I kinda understood my physical limitations, but the leanest I got was around 13% body fat. That's pretty healthy and normal for the average male, but hardly lean for a endurance athlete.

My move to triathlon has helped me deal with these issues a fair bit. No longer was weight a major factor in my performance and results. Sure its still going to be a factor, its a power to weigh sport. I’ve learn to except the fact I’m never going to be light and I’m never going to be narrow. My frame will just not allow it. My size is something that still comes up in conversation and is made fun of. The majority of the time its only meant as a joke, but it’s still not an easy thing for me to deal with at times. Most of the time I try to beat others to it as a way of limiting damage. On the odd occasion I’ll slip back into old habits. These habits don't last long enough to cause any damage. I still have plenty of days where I’m self conscious about how I look. These are things that I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life. The moment I let these thoughts get the best of me is the moment that it start to do more damage.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back to Racing: Hazelwood 100 race report

Last Sunday saw myself take part in my first triathlon in 10 months, the Hazelwood 100. Firstly a big thanks to Noel Fenn and his crew at LaTrobe Vale Tri Club for putting on the weekends racings.  Now onto the race report.

The race started with a solid swim for me. Fairly happy with my time resulting in just over a 7min PB, I’ll take that. With small numbers in the race and my still weak swim ability meant that i ended up swimming the whole way not sitting on feet so was a good test to see where I was really at. First lap was ok, didn't swim the straightest and sighting was fairly poor. This improved on the second lap and started to gain a few positions. A positive sign moving forward.

T1 was rusty to put it nicely. lack of racing defiantly showed there. Onto the bike felt fairly flat in the legs. Just one of those days where it feels like an effort to keep the speed up. First 3.5 laps of the 5 lap bike went well and were very closely paced. After that had a few structural issues show up again in the later half of the bike which was a bit of a disappointed but was much better to find these things out now rather than closer to IMWA. T2 was quick and smooth. The legs never got going on the run mainly due to the issues that popped up on the bike plus due to a bit of training fatigue. Nothing to be to concerned about at this stage.

Overall I was fairly pleased with the race. Got one into the legs and found out a few important issues that now have to be worked through. Big thanks to my coach Xavier Coppock and a few of my training partners for keeping me on track and helping change a few things mentally that I’ve had to get through. Its also been great to see so many of my training partners and T.E.A.M. members racing well over the last few weeks with some pretty big results. No real surprise here that those results have come, the training environment that has been created around the squad is top rate and shares a lot of the same qualities that top programs around the world are reported to have.

Now its back to the training track for me as I start my main training block for Ironman Western Australia. Still plenty of work to be done in the 9 weeks before I reach taper time.