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I think when you’ve been training for a number of years and you pay close to attention to how you fuel your body, maximise recovery methods, measure performance gains and generally raise your consciousness about what ‘feels healthy’, you become pretty in tune with your body. So for me, when something doesn’t feel ‘quite right’, it’s time to pay  attention to it.
Probably most of the population feels ‘a bit under the weather’ most of the time – all you need to do is walk in any office to realise that! But when you are a so-called ‘athlete’, it’s a bit different because you notice the tiny things. We are always paying attention to such small details, these elusive ‘margins’ we like to talk of, so when something miniscule shifts in us, it feels significant.
During my last race in Texas in early April, I knew something wasn’t right. I couldn’t even pinpoint what – I was even saying to myself in my head that something wasn’t right – not the type of negative self-talk you need during a race but I couldn’t help but acknowledge it. I knew something was off, I wasn’t hitting the power targets and my run fell apart a bit.
It didn’t stop there though – I was a wreck when I got home. For that whole week after the race I was struggling with life in general, I felt exhausted and totally flat. My friends and family noticed – my mum was convinced it was just jetlag but I wasn’t so sure – I mean I am used to travelling and hadn’t felt this bad before.
Then I became ill with another cold – exactly 12 days after the race and the exact same period of time that had elapsed after Dubai 70.3 in January before I fell ill with a cold. Ok immune system, what are you playing at!?
I felt tired during supposed steady, level two training sessions. It may not sound like anything worth mentioning – I did have a cold, after all – but you just know when you know.
I wanted to cover all bases – literally anything that went wrong during and after my race, so had a really comprehensive Retül bike fit with James at Ride Harder, got my wonderful mechanic Lee at OTEC bikes to sort some new bits out on my bike, saw my brilliant chiropractor Ian at total Balance Clinic and my biomechanics coach Chris at The Human Body Project – we looked at everything to refine it all.
I wanted to enter my next race knowing that no matter what, I had explored every possible option and eliminated any possible weak points.
Furthermore, I had chats with my nutritionist Renee and my coach Mark, and decided to get full blood profiling done. I also spoke to a few medical experts such as endocrine experts and a sports and performance doctor to look into getting all manner of things such as hormone and sweat tests done, but ended up getting blood tests at my local GP. I have to say, I felt like a bit of an idiot going in and saying, “erm, yes, so I don’t feel quite right at the moment although there’s not really anything in particular wrong with me.”
To be honest, it got to the point where we sort of decided it was likely to be over training. This was devastating news. It was the weekend after Easter and I just sat around feeling miserable – I wondered whether I might need to take weeks off training, which would mean missing my next race in Mallorca.
I drafted up a contingency plan for Mallorca if I couldn’t race. I started taking every imaginable health food under the sun to get my immune system back up and running, I explored nutritional support from Emma Patel of North Norfolk Nutrition, who is super focused on micronutrients and general wellness. I was doing everything in my power to make sure I could get through this.
It sounds extreme – after all, I only had a cold! But when you know your body so well that you know there’s something else going on, it’s hard to ignore. And I wanted to make sure I was in the best possible health so I could continue this season while minimising any setbacks.
My blood tests came back and I went to chat them through with my doctor. When I originally looked online it looked like my white blood cell count was low and that iron might be low. He quickly dismissed that and said they were totally normal and there was nothing to worry about at all – in fact, my blood profile looked strong and healthy.
There was, however, a red flag. My Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) was above the normal range. Apparently, this suggests that it’s working overtime to try and produce thyroxin, and is indicative of an under-active thyroid. We looked at my graph and it was high even seven years ago in 2009, just scraping within the normal range (which it had now breached).
It explained a lot – I was tired, sometimes (although not always), and very often cold with poor circulation. I also seem to struggle to lose weight, even when I am making every effort to do so. Plus, my mum has hypothyroidism and it is genetic.
So, medication for life. Well, hormone replacement, as it’s not truly ‘medicine’. I was so relieved I practically danced out of the clinic – I was so happy that I had found out what the problem was, that I wasn’t being perversely paranoid or would have to spend months worrying about what was wrong with me and whether I was doing the right thing. It was a simple solution to a problem which could have strung out for months, as these things can sometimes be very difficult to identify, especially when the ‘symptoms’ are pretty non-descript!
It’s that funny thing when you just have a feeling that something is up. In my humble experience, it’s better to catch these things when they simply present themselves as something which doesn’t quite add up – before it becomes a full blown issue and you really are forced to rest or reassess your training.
Maybe it’s also the reason I haven’t been injured in four years of competing in triathlons – I listen carefully to what my body is telling me, then adjust, readjust, and refine until we have a solution and can move confidently on.
So now it’s time to wait and see whether the Thyroxin will have a positive effect – we are having blood tests retaken in six weeks’ time to monitor and measure, plus I’ll be looking out for any of those strange feelings of ‘not rightness’ that we all get from time to time.
In the meantime, head down and back on it as I have another race to tackle in just a short few weeks!