December 02 2020 – Neil Wood-Mitchell
It's easy to take good health for granted, training hard is part of the job - and we assume, so long as we don't take a fall or have an accident, we'll just crack on. We believe the outcome is within our control - and we decide when it's time to take it easy or push harder. However...
We got chatting with Jayson - someone who personifies the kind of training required to succeed on the circuit. An athlete who many look up to and admire. He executes it with humility, quietly getting the job done and not seeking external praise or approval. Also, one of the nicest blokes we know.
He went a little quiet recently - and we wanted to check in and see if all was well. Over to Jayson...
I got into triathlon in 2018 when I signed up for Ironman UK (Bolton) - it was on my bucket list since I was in the military and a couple of friends had completed one. What I didn’t expect was that it would become a huge part of my life and actually help save it. When I left the military in 2012 I had PTSD from my tour in Afghanistan and struggled with anxiety & depression. At the beginning of 2017 my mental health deteriorated, and I finally saw the doctor for help. I was prescribed medication and referred to a therapist, but things didn’t actually improve until I started my Ironman training later that year.
Whilst on holiday in South Africa in October 2017 I signed up, I didn’t own a bike and the last time I had even been on one was years before when I cycled my mountain bike from one end of the military camp, where I was stationed, to the other. With the excitement of signing up I thought it was time to start training and took myself for my first run, a measly 5k which nearly killed me.
Running has always been my strongest discipline, when I was at school I ran for my county in cross country and was running at a high level before packing it all in after getting involved with the wrong crowd and partying become the priority. Growing up in South Africa I was a very confident swimmer as it was part of everyday life and although I was not used to swimming long distance I knew I would be fine with some practice.
When I returned from holiday I bought my first bike with cleats. My first ride out on the road was interesting to say the least; I’m sure my wife would send the video of my first attempt to the highest bidder! I then bought a training programme from training peaks and got to work.
Being the competitive person that I am I threw everything at it and was hooked instantly, training as much as possible and as hard as possible all the time and that’s when the problems started.
I had entered the Southampton half marathon which was in April 2018 and ran a 1:29 which was way too quick in such a short time of training and resulted in burning pain in my hips. I continued training through the pain and did my first triathlon (a 70.3) the month before Bolton and finished in 5:18with having to walk for most of the run due to the pain in my hips. I thought the pain was just from putting my body under so much stress from the long training sessions but saw a number of physios who all said it was a tight piriformis.
Now slightly worried I headed to Bolton not knowing what to expect and whether I would finish, after a strong swim and bike again I found myself walking for most of the run but crossed the line and my passion for the sport was even greater. As the pain didn’t get any better I decided to see a Chiropractor who referred me for x-rays and a stress fracture was diagnosed. I needed steroid injections in my lower back and I wasn’t allowed to train for a few months which I found really hard but made me determined to come back stronger. Although it’s not something I’d recommend – not everyone can say they completed an Ironman with a stress fracture in their back!
In 2019, I struggled with knee pain caused by my ITB. I was excited to race in Challenge Lisbon but shouldn’t have even started. I dosed myself up with ibuprofen and hoped for the best. After the race I posted my DNF on Instagram and got a lot of messages congratulating me for giving it a go. One follower told me I was an idiot for even trying, he wasn’t being unkind but reminded me of what I was risking. It actually made me realise I was an idiot and had potentially written off the rest of the season all because I wanted a medal. After that race I saw a fantastic physio, Faith Fisher, who is a Team GB Triathlete herself and physio to the Paralympic team and she helped fix me. I had Ironman Staffordshire booked in which she said I could race but I wasn’t to even attempt the run. But guess what…I did! This set me back again but I learnt a lot about ensuring injuries are taken seriously and not to rush anything – triathlon will still be there when I’m better.
Faith got me ready for my first race of 2020, Challenge Salou that was supposed to be in March but then Covid hit and no-one could race.
To say I was devastated was an understatement. I had finally learnt my lesson to slow down when injured, I was at my fittest and so excited to see what time I would get. At this point there was a tiny glimmer that Ironman Staffs would be going ahead so everything went into training for that. In early May, during lockdown, I went for a run and was surprised by how tight my chest felt, I couldn’t breathe and we worried I might have Covid but had no other symptoms. The weeks passed and every run felt harder, I was out of breath, felt weak when doing any exercising, was absolutely exhausted and started losing weight at an alarming rate. I lost 9kg in 3 weeks and all my muscle mass just went. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid which has since been confirmed as Graves disease. I have been on medication since July for it and am pretty much back to normal now. I stopped all training until September which I found really difficult but my previous experiences had taught me some important lessons. I have committed to myself that I will do things differently by doing more strength work, something I neglected previously and also and probably the most important for me is to slow it down in training. What I mean by that is not every session has to be at flat out pace. I used to treat every training session as a race and never gave the body time to recovery.
The change in my mental health when I am able to train is huge, just a couple weeks of doing nothing and I can feel the difference. I think that is also partly why I’ve been rubbish at taking time off when I’m injured as I know I need to train to stay mentally healthy. But when I do come back I probably find it easier than others as it benefits me in so many ways. Having spent a lot of time away from training and racing due to my injuries, some say it’s maybe time I give it up and it’s not meant to be, but for me when I’m not training or racing, I’m thinking about training and racing and I need that discipline, distraction and all those endorphins to keep the dark days away.
When I started in triathlon I had goals I wanted to achieve and I won’t stop until I achieve them and that’s what keeps me motivated.
Huge thanks to Jayson for sharing his personal story with us. Jayson's come back can be followed here: @ironman_Jayson