An unplanned break from Triathlon and an abandoned Ultra. What the hell happened?

I first got into triathlon in 2019.

And when I say I “got into triathlon”, what I really mean is:

I fell down a rabbit hole and became completely obsessed.

In my first year, I completed my first Sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman races. I was hooked, and entered my first Ironman. This was postponed (twice) and after nearly three years of waiting and training, I raced Ironman Wales in 2022.

I’ve written quite a lot about that journey over the years.

What I haven’t written about are the parallel health issues that began in 2021 and sapped increasing amounts of joy from sports, and to some extent, day-to-day life until this year.

In 2021, I started to experience frequent pain around my abdomen and lower body. It was fairly mild and I just lived with it. When I saw a doctor about it, they told me I had a relatively common condition and that I shouldn’t worry about it.

In 2022, the pain got worse, and it was heavily exacerbated by cycling, running and lifting weights.

I pushed through my Ironman training plan, finished the Ironman in pain, then took some time off structured training in the months afterwards and focused on cross country, which was fun.

By the time 2023 rolled around, the pain had become a daily occurrence.

The pain would be triggered simply by sitting down. It reached a point where I couldn’t focus on conversations due to being distracted by discomfort, so I saw a specialist, who suggested I have an operation.

NHS wait times were long, so I waited a while and tried not to think about it too much.

Then, in May 2023, I raced Outlaw Half Ironman.

I hadn’t been training at all so my swim time was embarrassing, but I was delighted by my 35kmh bike split.

What I wasn’t delighted by was the pain I experienced during the second half of the bike ride, and into the run.

Not a happy bunny

The pain was so intense that I immediately booked the operation privately just a few days after the race, and had it completed just two weeks after that.

This meant doing absolutely no exercise for a few weeks afterwards to recover. After I’d waited, I started to ease back into training again, and the pain was significantly reduced.

But it wasn’t entirely resolved.

I had a second operation in early August. Again, this meant I had to take two weeks off afterwards to recover, and I had to abandon a 50-mile ultra I’d been tentatively preparing for.

All of this meant an extremely disrupted summer without any structured training at all.

My mental health over the Summer was a lot better after the first operation. I hadn’t realised how much the daily pain had been dragging my mood down and causing me a lot of subconscious anxiety.

However, my life had been missing a core dimension for nearly six months, and I longed for the daily endorphin hit that triathlon training used to give me.

Averaging 30-55hrs per month in 2022 vs a monthly peak of just 30hrs over the last 12 months. (when I spent a week cycling around Skye)

Finally, after giving my body time to properly recover, I’m able to train almost entirely pain-free.

Any discomfort I do feel is about 10% of what it was before the operations, and it’s far less frequent. It also seems to be continuing to diminish over time.

I look back on the discomfort I tolerated for years and wish I’d done something about it (or had the means to do something about it) sooner.

So, what now?

I stopped working with my triathlon coach in March 2023, and took six months off that I’ve affectionately called my “tribernation“.

As well as needing to heal physically, I think I needed a mental break from triathlon after 4 years of increasingly rigourous structured training.

I miss it a lot, so my coach and I started working together again three days ago, and I’m really glad to be back on a structured training plan again.

I’ve lost a lot of fitness, strength, speed, stamina and swim technique, which has undeniably bruised my ego, but I know I can get it back if I put in the work.

I’m also excited to see what sort of heights I can reach in triathlon when I’m not battling intense pain during the second and third legs of the race. It was definitely hampering my performance.

What are my goals?

I don’t have any concrete targets yet.

Ironman 70.3 Alcudia-Mallorca

Most likely a Half Ironman in the first half of 2024 (maybe Mallorca?), ideally a sub-3 marathon at some point in 2024, and hopefully a 50mi ultra before the end of ’24 too.

It’s good to be back.

Oh, and I welcomed a new member to my two-wheeled family around the time of my 30th in September. Rides like a dream. More on that another time.