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2020… A Challenging Year

3 January 2021

2020… A Challenging Year

Well if you are reading this now you have made it to 2021, and that’s an achievement in itself. I hope it’s not been too rough for you all and there have been some positives to take away!
My 2020 without doubt has been the toughest year of my life by far, but has also made me a stronger and better person in many ways.

The first few days of January began positively; I was making good progress in recovery from glandular fever (July 2019) and starting to get back to some consistent training. But as it turned out, glandular fever was the calm before the storm.

5 days into my training camp in Portugal I was struck down by another virus and was close to being hospitalised. Then in mid-March I caught Covid-19. Initial infection was very mild, but after 3 months I was feeling worse not better, and it was clear I was suffering from ‘Long Covid’. At my lowest point I could barely walk up the stairs or look after myself. I could have accepted multiple diagnoses at this point, but I did not want anyone else putting limits on what I could do or achieve.

Things began to change for me when I started to ask the right questions – What can I do to get better? What aspects of my life do I still have some control over? What is my starting point? How can I draw on all my knowledge and experience in my life so far to overcome this? How can I change my mindset and mentality? How can I stay hopeful and positive?

I took a holistic approach to evaluating my health – accepting where I was at physically and mentally and engaging in psychological and spiritual practices that would reduce symptoms and enable me to ‘feel’ better.

I had to redefine who I was, what I could do and due to my limited reserves of energy, I had to prioritise what was most important – my health. Training was only making me feel worse and had to take a back seat until I was healthy. I was pretty much on a couch to 5km training plan at this time – starting with 15-minute easy walks. Strava and training peaks were well and truly deleted. But I was able to apply the processes that had led me to succeed in triathlon to this new version of myself.

Obviously ‘Long Covid’ is a very new condition and for that reason relatively poorly understood by the scientific community. With lockdown in full swing, and no pressure of training and racing, I was able to commit to my new ‘training’ – reading and researching the latest developments in science and research around Long Covid to get to the bottom of what was going on! In this respect lockdown was a blessing in disguise for me.

It started to become clear around December that ‘viral persistence’ was the key factor at play with Long Covid, meaning that the virus (or at least viral debris) was still ‘hiding’ in my cells. This meant that anything that encouraged cell growth (including any training harder than light exercise!) would also lead the virus to grow and thrive. This made perfect sense and explained the constant cycles of feeling better then crashing. It was reassuring to know what was going on, but I also realised recovery would likely take years without ‘treatment’.

As you have no doubt experienced, it can take science a while to understand the presentation of a novel virus, so I knew it would be at least a few years before any formal treatment was on the cards. The only way I could get better was through self-treatment – I really wouldn’t encourage this! I had to radically overhaul my diet (I’m probably the healthiest unhealthy person you’ll ever meet) and started an ‘autophagy’ protocol recommended by an immunologist who had recovered from Long Covid. Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning out damaged or infected cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells.

After a few weeks on this protocol I am feeling so much better and very close to being fully recovered. I have started to return to light training and am confident my best years of training and racing are ahead of me (I’ve completed my couch to 5km now don’t worry – and yes, I ran the whole way!). Back in the summer this would have been viewed as impossible. I have never appreciated being healthy as much as I do now, and I know this experience will make me a better athlete in many ways. I’m so excited to be able to stand on a start line again and continue to compete in the sport that I love. 

Thanks for reading, and here’s to a brighter 2021!

Chris

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