I remember being asked a lot why did I move to Switzerland? Why did I move to Zurich, away from home, family friends and what I know. It’s interesting you get asked that a lot in the first year you are abroad, and my answer usually changed, was offhand or generic. Something new? To learn more? Because I wanted a change? I think the more I answered this question the more I began to ask myself why?
I’m quite a deep thinker, I overanalyse a lot of situations and decisions I make but when I look back, packing up my life to move and change what I knew was a fast and easy decision. I didn’t take much time to ask myself why, over think certain situations or start to look at the what ifs.
I’ve been abroad now for almost a year and a half, I’ve been home once and gone through many phases of missing home, people, familiarity, and my “old” life. It comes in waves and moments; weeks and months go by without much thought and looking back. Then you wake up one day and it hits you like a riptide; it can feel suffocating and can overwhelm anything else going on for a certain moment of time.
But I think as I sit here and reflect, I’m beginning to feel content, happy and possibly more at home. There is a famous phrase that home is just a feeling, I’d disagree with this but there is a small part of truth. It’s easy to be away and to feel you are missing out, look back on where you could be or what might look “easier”. But harder to do is to change your energy and focus, take stock of where you are, what is right Infront of you and make the most of those opportunities and moments. It’s easy to say you haven’t met people, you haven’t found your feet or your rhythm, to feel out of routine and structure. But then what is harder, but more rewarding is to create change, to look for chances and times to move forward. To put yourself out there and to begin to make the small steps of change.
I do believe it doesn’t happen overnight, as humans we aren’t best programmed to always be positive and look for the good, it’s easier to be negative, to give up and accept a bad situation. It takes strength, character, and confidence to make changes. To look in the mirror and decide you want more and will work for it.
Honestly, I can’t give you one reason I moved abroad, I can give you a good few reasons why I’m still here but I could have given you just as many as to why I have felt like leaving, why I’ve had moments of tears and pain and questioning what I’m doing.
If you read my last article, you would know I’ve spoken about strength of character and resiliance before. I don’t want to keep banging the same drum, but I do feel proud of myself and where I have gotten too. Change takes time to adapt, it can take a while to feel yourself somewhere new and be the best version of yourself. To move forward, look ahead and not back. I’m nowhere near the end of the process but to feel on the road feels pretty good. Keep your head down, keep going and you'll be surprised where you can end up.
My last blog post was in October. It was never my intention to leave things so long between updates but it’s probably a fair reflection of how the winter has been and where things are currently at. I’ve had a few attempts at writing this post and I’ve thought hard about whether I should even be publishing this at all, however, I always try to be genuine and believe if you want to show off the good it’s important to also share the bad, to give an honest account, away from Instagram stories and Strava feed. I also believe that being open can help you accept and make sense of a situation, and begin to move forward.
In October I was in training for Frankfurt marathon. I wanted to run a marathon ‘fresh’ to see what I could do and I felt like I wasn't quite finished with racing for the year. The build-up was going well; 120-130km weeks and consistent improvements to my fitness. It did feel a bit of a slog for that time of year, but the prospect of toeing the line and pushing hard for 42kms really drove me on. After a couple of strong weeks I travelled to Chamonix to switch off, catch up with a friend and do some trail running. I've always been a big advocate for mixing up training and swapping some structure for to try something less familiar and far more adventurous, so couldn't really pass on the opportunity.
On my last day in Chamonix I went out for a solo trail run. I was hugely inspired by the landscape and feel of the surroundings and this probably allowed some fatigue to build, unnoticed, and for me to lose focus for a moment. Coming down a descent I took a fall and landed on my knee.
Honestly, this nothing I haven't done before and I was able to keep running and get back even with tired and tight legs. The knee felt okay, I dusted myself off and headed back to Zurich to continue marathon training.
A few days later and my knee was seriously stiff, hard to extend and painful. I figured it was just fatigue from all the miles and so dropped intensity and mileage but kept running. However, a week or so later the knee began to lock up and collapse on runs and I knew something wasn't right. I’d already planned to return to the UK for a few big marathon training weeks at the end of the regular triathlon season, however, this turned into several appointments with my sports therapist and Physio. Opinions were mixed and confusing and I was now trying and failing to run, desperate not to give up on something that meant so much to me. I finally saw a Physio with whom I had worked with many times in the past and the news was quite distressing. Stop running. You need an MRI and possibly surgery. I won't lie, the news hit me pretty hard and I struggled to deal with it and make sense of what it could mean. As gutted as I felt, I knew this setback would be manageable with a plan in place and I started to draw out timelines of how it should all work out.
Back in Switzerland things moved quite fast. An MRI and a series of consultations with a specialist in Zurich. The main concern was a meniscus tear or cartilage damage but, although the MRI did show a very small tear, the doctor did not think this was of much concern and prescribed basic rehab and rest. Skip forward 9 weeks, however, and there was no improvement. My knee would hurt even when cycling and swimming and running was still not possible. There really was no improvement and mentally this was draining. I was willing to accept the injury, but felt it would be much easier to deal with a clear diagnosis and timeline for my recovery.
I decided to head for a second opinion and met with a new Orthopaedic surgeon. Although nothing new was spotted on the MRI or X-rays, we tried a couple of new treatments which seemed to get more mobility into my knee and very slowly I was able to start running. I spent a few weeks building mileage but would still be running with stiffness and pain in the back of my kne. Some days it was okay but some days would be bad and the continually changing symptoms was frustrating. My hope was always that after another 6-12 weeks the knee pain would clear and things could move forward, that I could start to build intensity and work towards a normal season. Unfortunately that didn't quite happen, weeks rolled into months and I'm still not much further forward. Timelines continually redrawn and then pushed right, I finally had to stop making plans.
I'm regularly doing physio and receiving good treatment but the pain doesn't seem to change and adding any intensity to my run training is a long way off. I've struggled to constantly to build mileage and even maintaining fitness with swimming and cycling hasn't been easy as I even sometimes experience pain and discomfort during those activities. We’re now trying another treatment, but if this doesn't work the only option left would be arthroscopic surgery, a fairly un-invasive surgery but nevertheless something I'd rather avoid if possible.
I've gone through various stages of being down and possibly depressed about the injury, sometimes feeling I should give up or let go and then suddenly being objective, accepting the injury and feeling motivated to work hard and build back stronger. I've tried to do other activities to take my mind off regular training but it’s hard to be missing the miles, the key sessions and the winter build I've relied on for so many years. This is my first proper injury and unfortunately seems to be fairly complex and long lasting. Mentally, it’s a daily fight to not let it bring me down and hold me back but the effort it takes to get past this is equally exhausting.
This week I was starting to feel a bit more positive, the knee wasn't much better but I'd been able to do some good skiing, build some fitness and had a warm weather camp with work to look forward too. A chance to build some bike fitness and strength in the sun felt like the reset I had been looking for.
Then another setback. I woke up on Thursday incredibly sick, high fever and weak. After avoiding if for three years I had finally caught Covid, and at quite possibly the worst time. So I have spent the last few days in bed, seriously cold then hot, weak, dehydrated and generally feeling pretty terrible. It's hit me pretty hard in a way I did not expect and the physical and mental toll has been particularly draining.
I have always prided myself on being incredible resilient and able to deal with most situations but I truly am running out of patience and hope for this year. I had some big goals and ambitions building on from the success of last season, but right now I feel incredibly far away from these and with no idea of the timeline moving forward. It’s difficult when other people ask what races I'm doing and how training is going when it feels so far from where it should be. It can be hard not to compare yourself to others, what they are doing and how fit and fast everyone seems to be already this year. And as much as I know these comparisons are wrong it’s hard to always remember that especially in the world we now live.
I truly am unsure what this year will bring, if anything. I’ve been very fortunate in the last few years to be extremely consistent and done quite well but it does not make this setback any easier. I chose not to really write or speak much about this before now, almost because of my lack of acceptance of the situation. I truly am not looking for sympathy or excuses. I'm hoping in some way by writing this and putting it down it helps me process it all, take stock of where I am and where to go from here.
I'd love nothing more than to be churning out 20 hour weeks back to back and feeling like my fitness is building. I'd love to be completely pain free in my knee and I'd also love to be fully healthy. I don't have timelines or many answers and it has felt like one thing after another. I will continue to show up, push on and do what I can but this year will certainly not look like years before.
I think many who read this will understand and know how this feels, others may say it’s just sport or racing its part of the package. It's hard to explain the deep feelings that come with this, the feeling of not being able to push how you want or be at the level you should. The sport and training for me is part and parcel of my life and lifestyle it's simply not something I can just switch off from or let go. Overcoming setbacks is part of being a coach, an athlete, a person, but sometimes all you want is a bit of a break and some positive momentum forwards.
So there we are, in the trenches of what life can throw at you trying to dig my way out with what feels like a small spade and endless falling dirt.