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Sunday, 22 July 2018

Getting back to where I was........

After racing in Mexico I went into a deep and horrible well. My battle with depression had been bubbling away for some time before Mexico. After all it was only a couple of weeks before I went, were I was sat in my lounge sobbing uncontrollably for four hours.

So after the elation of completing my goal of representing GBR in Mexico, it isn’t much of a surprise that I began to unravel.

In the following months, my training suffered, I gained weight but I did not let my depression win.

Nearly 18 months later, in February of this year I had a break through…….

Because of my counselling and the support of family and friends, I began to feel better. Slowly the gloom started to lift and the days began to seem brighter.

My weight was a lot closer to 16 stone than I was entirely comfortable with. Back before Mexico I was a lot closer to 14 stone. But I am glad that I chose food as my vice in my depression because I could have picked something a lot worse…..

So could a near 16 stone triathlete get back to where he was? Of course he bloody could. He’d done it before so could do it again.

I decided to set myself a challenge. Could I qualify for the Sprint World Championships in Australia? I find that if I have a goal, my training is more focussed and I am more driven.

I looked at the qualifying races and decided they might suit me. Both Eton and Cardiff were flat. After all weight and hills don’t exactly mix well.

Now could I string together 3/4 months of good training to give myself the best chance of being able to board the plane to Australia?

The plan was hatched.

My swimming was about where it was in 2016. I was still capable of a 6 minute 400m, my biking wasn’t as good as it had been in 2016. My FTP was down from 312W to 250W. And my running was miles off where it needed to be.

Fast forward 3 months and after a training camp in Mallorca with Off That Couch Fitness and Real Fitness, I had found my mojo again….. I was back enjoying training

I had a good week in the lead up to Eton. My splits at track were getting better. I was feeling strong. I lined up on the start line and felt relaxed.

The swim went okay. I exited around the usual suspects (my friend Duncan) and on starting to run for the bike I noticed tightness in my Achilles. The bike was tough and I could tell I wasn’t as quick as in 2016. I couldn’t hold a wheel and when you’re on your limit there is nothing left to give when a group passes you….. You just can't eke out that burst of speed needed to get on the back.

It was tough work mentally; I leapt off my bike and flew through transition. I started my run and was in agony. My Achilles had flared up. With each stride it was like a burning poker was being stabbed behind my ankle. After a couple of hundred meters, I decided to DNF.

Better to DNF than risk permanent damage.

Over the coming weeks, I tried to massage my lower back (a previous injury site) until I could get in with my Physio. After one session with my Physio I was able to run again. I hadn’t run for nearly three weeks and felt so relieved.

With Cardiff only a few weeks away, I still had a chance to qualify. A last roll of the dice.
I went to race at Woodall Spa the week before Cardiff and was pleased with what I achieved. I managed a 24 minute 5k of the bike. Could I pull of a cheeky qualification?

In the days leading up to Cardiff, there were two last minute entries. After a bit of stalking I worked out they were both a lot quicker runners than me. They were able to run 17 minutes for 5k….. OH SHIT!

Well I could only turn up and do what I could do. I tried to silence my demons. I tried to control the controllables.

I had been fortunate to recently attend a course run by Dean Kirkham and John Wattam, which helped me battle my demons. I will get around to writing a blog about this course at some point…..

I made my way to Cardiff and could only do what I could do.

All I had to do was do my best. If it was meant to be it would be.

I had an ace swim and felt strong. I exited just ahead of Duncan. Now time to see what the legs were capable of on the bike. Duncan caught me and we started to work together but my legs felt heavy, I couldn’t hold his wheel. I buried myself on the bike but group after group rode away from me, I made one pack but after putting a turn in at the front I had over exerted myself and they rode away from me. BOLLOCKS.

I was so frustrated. In my training I had been riding quicker than today at a lower heart rate. My legs had just not turned up.

I dismounted the bike and knew that if I was to stand any chance of qualifying I had to hurt myself, I had to limit my losses on the run. How far ahead were the two new entrants? I ran as hard as I could, the heat was oppressive.

I ran so hard that I blocked out the crowds. I remember hearing people I knew cheering me on but I don’t know who they were.

I put myself in the hurt locker and 24:45 later I crossed the line. Had I done enough? After I’d rehydrated and eaten some food, I got my phone out to check the results. My heart was racing as I loaded the app. I checked the surname of the first entrant. He hadn’t started the race……….

I then reloaded the results page and nervously typed the surname of the other athlete. I was so relieved to find that the other athlete also hadn’t started. Had I done it?

Had I pushed myself as hard as I could to get to Australia?

I was floored by a wave of emotion and had to compose myself. I had finished in the first eligible spot for qualification. I had been chasing phantoms. And I know hand on heart I could not have gone any harder than I did. Was I going?

The next few days were a wave of different emotions. I hadn’t realised that the qualification criteria had changed this year. I wrote an email to the Team Manager asking for clarification.

I waited patiently for some confirmation. Finally after checking  the BTF website for the billionth time, there it was in black and white. A “Q” next to my name.


I had bloody done it.

Against all odds

I had earned my spot on the start line in Australia. I had battled weight problems, injury, my own mental health and succeeded. I would be lining up on the start line in the Gold Coast in September pulling on another GBR trisuit.


Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can and can’t achieve in life. Forge your own path and if you believe something is possible you might just achieve something amazing.


I’d like to thank Huub for standing by me through thick and thin since 2016. I’d like to thank my colleagues at work and my friends outside of work for their support over the previous few months. I’d like to thank my Physio Jenny for helping me get over my injury. I’d like to thank Dean and John and the other people at Totally YOU… Totally Unique! for giving me some of the mental tools that helped me achieve. #YOUnique

And finally I’d like to thank all the athletes and coaches at Doncaster Triathlon Club for their support. You don’t know how much of a part you play in my life.

I’m going to Australia and I can’t bloody wait.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Better late than never.......

I know this is extremely tardy as it’s about a race that was nearly two years ago but it’s a race I can still vividly remember. A race that marked one of my proudest achievements.

The reason it’s late. Oh just that little battle with depression that I have been recovering from.

In September 2016 I qualified to represent my country at the Age Group World Championships held in Cozumel, Mexico. This was a goal that I’d been chasing for 18 months and I was so unbelievably proud to be able to pull on the fabled GB trisuit.

I’d managed to qualify and travelled to Mexico full of confidence as I had been racing well.



I’d arranged to stay in the same hotel as some other people I knew, who were travelling out there and in the days leading up to the race I was feeling great. The Parade of Nations was an amazing atmosphere and it felt amazing having all the crowds cheering us on.



My employer (Balfour Beatty) had paid for my kit.



 Huub Design had supplied with me with some kit to go out with.



I was having a ball, chilling out and enjoying life. The resort I was in was beautiful.


There was one thing that was worrying me. The heat……..

On race morning we made our way over to the race site and it was so humid. Myself and two other athletes in my AG (who were in my hotel) went and racked our bikes and hunted out some shade while we waited for our race start. Even in the shade it was hot and humid and really quote unpleasant.

I was trying my best to stay hydrated. We were called to the holding pen. God it was hot. At the holding pen we sought out any sort of shade. Even hiding under bits of paper, cowering from the overbearing sun.

I was seeking out water. There were these little pouches. I was quaffing them like a dehydrated camel, it was so humid. I was leaking form every possible pore.

Our wave was delayed by 40 minutes. DISASTER. It’s okay I could get water. PHEW!

After an agonising wait we were called to the next holding pen. Time to have one more pouch of water before my race.

We were called to the pontoon. Finally game time.

I leapt into the water. God it was as warm as a bath. At least I could look at the fish. The hooter went. I powered away from the pontoon and had clear water. My brute force and ignorance meant I was leading the race for all of 6 seconds. LOL. I ripped my arms off and tried to distract myself from the pain in my arms by looking at the fish. A mere 12 minutes later and I reached dry land. Christ I was hot.



Not looking my usual relaxed self after a swim

God the heat was oppressive. I jogged to transition. Don’t remember it being that far away. Hmmmm.

Over the bridge, grab bike, run to transition exit, mount bike and get to pedaling.



Hmmm something doesn’t feel right. My legs feel dead and have no zip to them. What to do. Solo my way through the course. Hiding from the wind. Trying to hunt out shade. A lonely 34 minutes (21mph) later and I pull up at the dismount line. Jump off my bike and bam!!!

I felt awful.                      

Grit my teeth and run to my racking point, throw on my trainers and start running. I say running but it was so hot and hard.



I exited transition and immediately the humidity and heat caused me to dry heave. I stagger onwards, stopping every few hundred meters trying to be sick. There was nothing there. After about 2 painful km, I stagger sideways. Christ what is up with me?

I spent the remainder of the 5km trying to cool myself with water, moving slowly forward, unable to run, dry heaving, staggering. This was the hardest thing I have ever done (even worse than the marathon at Outlaw in 2013). It was so……. so humid.



Before this race I had felt good running and had been running 23 odd off the bike.

What happened in Mexico was my worst 5km time in a long time. 33 minues and 11 agonising seconds later I crossed the line.

I made my way to the recovery area and tried my best to cool myself. After I had returned to some form of humanity, I staggered to get my medal. That tiny (read HUGE) lump of metal meant so much to me. I felt such a sense of achievement after collecting the medal.



Despite the fact I had a disappointing race by my own standards. It was still a win because of the fact I got told I would never get there and I proved those people wrong. I made it and even though I finished 83rd, there were quite a few people who DNF’d (which for a sprint shows how brutal the conditions were).

I spent the rest of my holiday chilling out, watching the elites and having a great time.





And the best thing about the trip. The memories. No one can ever take these away form me.





Thanks for reading,


Michael

Friday, 16 February 2018

Its been a while........

So here goes……….

Have you ever been so overawed by life that merely getting out of your bed each morning is a struggle that you never thought you would have to endure? A feeling where you feel worthless. Where you question what is the point in living anymore. Where every waking moment your head is filled with a sense of dread and negativity.

Well I have and this is the reason for my protracted disappearance from social media. I have taken a break from most social media while I tried to heal myself. This process has taken nearly two years to complete. And I sit here today writing as a survivor of depression. I can see quite clearly how this illness can claim people because I was nearly one of them. 

Since March 2016 I have been battling a depression that has shocked me to my very core. I have seriously contemplated suicide on several occasions. I have talked openly about this with my counsellors. I am able to put this down on paper without regret. Why should I regret it? Is it something to be ashamed of? No it isn't. It's an illness. If I'd broken my back people would be able to see that. But you can't see what's going on in people's heads. But that doesn't make it any less debilitating or real. 

What annoys me about mental health is the stigma which surrounds it. I was sat in a Mental Health First Aid course the other week talking openly about my issues. And I got thanked for sharing my thoughts. Why should I be thanked for being honest? Shouldn't we all be able to talk about this horrific illness without fear of reprisal? It's taken me a long time to get to this stage in my recovery. 

In the past two years there have been mornings when I have been surrounded by such a claustrophobic all-encompassing blackness that simply getting out of bed has been a battle. But I have battled because I felt I had to go to work. Because I had to keep a roof over my head. This was stupid. I should have sought help sooner. I wish I had.



I am not writing this for sympathy. I am writing this as a retrospective memory of where I've been and what I've been through so that if I ever find myself at the bottom of a well again I can reread this and remind myself that there is a way out. There is a ladder of hope that I can climb because I have been there before. I have overcome depression once so if needed I could do it again. I just hope I would seek the help I needed sooner. 

I have hidden myself away. I have not fully aired my feelings except to those closest to me.

I have lost friends because I have been reclusive.

In all honesty I should have sought help a lot sooner that I did. But I didn't. Because……….PRIDE. But now I know that this was stupid of me.

Looking back now some of the thoughts I have had had seem like the distant ramblings of a stranger but they weren't. At the time they all felt real and they were me. The me that was struggling but still me and still real even if a little strange. 

I can vividly remember laughing hysterically at my own joke in a meeting at work. I can remember the questioning looks of my colleagues to this day. I can remember the shame I felt as clear as if it was yesterday. Was I losing my grip on reality?

I can remember sobbing uncontrollably for four hours alone in my house before a friend convinced me I needed help, this was the turning point for me. I finally gave in after this because I was at my wits end. 

I can remember going on a night out with friends and being sat outside of a pub sobbing after they had gone home because I had to go home to the all encompassing deafening silence. 

Life threw me a curve ball. I wasn't expecting it. And it caused my to unravel. 

Depression doesn't give a damn about who it takes as a victim. It knows no boundaries and it doesn't care how much it affects people. It is the illness which could pick out anyone regardless of how well off they appear to others. 

I would like to go on record as thanking those who have stood by me through thick and thin. 

From the owners of companies (yes you Deano) who knew my problems but treated me as they always had by standing by me, supporting me and asking for my feedback on their prototype products.



To my family, friends and colleagues who have been there to check in on me, to listen to me, to pick me up and dust me off (more than once), invited me round for tea, made the effort with me, hugged me, been normal with me and gone for a beer with me. I could list you all individually but you know who you are and no amount of words can portray the thanks I owe to each and every one of you. 

I would also like to apologise to the people I have lost as friends. But my actions weren't me. They were the depressed Michael who was struggling with life. 

Around the same time I got thrown my curve ball by life. I got elected as the Head Coach of Doncaster Triathlon Club. I've done my best to juggle this role along with my battle with depression but I know I've not been as effective in this role as I would have liked. My passion for coaching and helping others is still there as it always has been and I hope now that I am feeling better, the people I coach will reap the rewards from my volunteer coaching. 

And now for my last rambling thought. If you're reading this and are struggling, feel free to get in touch via Twitter (@smoker2ironman). I've been there and the first contact is the hardest to make. Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Don't keep burying your head in the sand. Help is available if you want it. I've used the Samaritans more than once in the last two years and they are an amazing charity. 

Thanks for reading. 

Michael 
A survivor. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Swimming - eliminate the scissor kick

Since I've been coaching swimming, I have started to make a theory about the dreaded scissor kick that is the bane of most people who come to swimming from a non swimming background.

You know the kick where when people go to breath they spread their legs to give them more stability in the water.

Well each time that person goes to breath and widens their legs they are essentially creating a massive anchor that they are pulling behind them. They are slowing down their swimming because spreading the legs increases their hydrodynamic drag. Imagine if it was in cycling, you try to make yourself as small to the wind as you can so you go further for the same effort, well the same theory applies with swimming because you are still moving through a fluid.

Who knew that I would find a tenuous use for the the fluid mechanics I studied at University in 2001.

I am sure some swimming gurus like Paul Newsome may not agree with this post but I have been trying to eliminate this with some of the swimmers at Doncaster Triathlon Club and think I have found the culprit behind this scissor kick.

I looked at this with an open mind and after some experiments I believe I have found the cause of the scissor kick and a drill to eliminate it.

First the cause.

The cause for this scissor kick in my opinion is rotation. Yes you read that right rotation!

Before you get started and get angry, stay with me.

Yes you need to rotate in front crawl, but the scissor kick is caused by what you rotate with.

From my observations you are more likely to scissor kick if your shoulders are leading the rotation in front crawl.

The reasons being that your legs will lag behind the other parts of your body as you rotate. Imagine a wave in your mind or better still click this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_P3LqFJl4o


As you can see from the video if the shoulders are leading the rotation it stands to reason that the hips will lag a little behind and the feet will lag even further behind. Because the feet lag so far behind it also stands to reason that the swimmer will need to create some stability for themselves in the water. To do this they kick their legs and the result is the scissor kick.

Second the solution.

If we learn to rotate from the hips instead of the shoulders, in theory the shoulders and feet will be rotating at the same time as we are rotating from the centre of our mass, and the body will be more stable so there will be no need for the scissor kick to occur.

So the key IMO to remove the scissor kick is to learn to lead with the hips instead of the shoulders.

Where I have managed to get swimmers to lead with the hips, the scissor kick is completely eliminated.

But as #practicemakespermanent it takes time and practice to get this to happen. Imagine if a swimmer has been swimming leading with the shoulders for 2 years, thats two years worth of bad habits we need to eliminate before they will feel natural rotating with the hips.

Now for the drill which can help eliminate this problem.

Before some of your lengths practice this drill. Yes you might feel like an idiot but it works.

You have to be in a streamlined position for this to work with your arms out stretched in front of you. The reason your arms have to be outstretched is that it stops you rotating with your shoulders and this means you must rotate with the hips.

As you push off from the wall perform a 360 degree rotation underwater (while kicking) in the streamlined position with your hips leading the rotation before you take your first stroke or breath. Imagine M Bison from Streetfighter II to help with this drill.



Because you have started the length leading with the hips, you will lead your rotation for the rest of the length with your hips instead of your shoulders.

Keep practicing this drill and you should notice that the scissor kick which has plagued you disappears over time.

I hope you find this blog useful and helpful.

If you need anything clarifying, leave me a comment and I will try to answer any queries.

Thanks for reading,

Michael

Monday, 11 July 2016

A first for me

Don't really know where to start with this........

Yesterday I was stood in a field in the pouring rain in my trisuit and my tracksuit bottoms grinning from ear to ear. I honestly can't remember the last time I was this happy.

Why you ask?

Simple I had just been presented with my first bit of triathlon silverware.


Me the person who at school was awful at running, who detested cross country, who as an adult did no exercise. Me the overweight ex smoker. Me the person who was told he needed to lose weight to run. Me, who in my first London Triathlon in 2012 came 3781st out of 4051 finishers.

Yes it may not be a national event like some people I know but this is well it's just me and I was gobsmacked to have won my age group.

I was the 1st placed 35-39 athlete at the Lincolnshire Edge Triathlon held at Cadney in North Lincs and 6th placed male overall to match my previous highest finishing position.


I'm not going to lie and say I hadn't been thinking this was possible but when an event is out of your immediate locality, you never know who is going to turn up and race.

But enough of me waxing lyrical and spoiling the story by giving you the ending first.

You really want to know the gory details of the race, don't you?

Swim

When I looked at the start list. 2 names stood out. Steve Grocock and Caitlin Bower. I was hoping for a cheeky #firstoutthewater but these two would test my metal. Caitlin has always set off after me in local races because shes a shwimmer as opposed to me who's just a swimmer. And a quick look at the recent Ironman Austria results confirmed Steves swim speed as he did a 58:04. Wow I was going to have an awesome swim to trouble these two.

I put myself near Caitlin and close to the buoy so my swim would be the least distance possible. The hooter went and we were off. Within 30m she was in front of me so I did what anyone else would do, I drafted her. I stuck on her feet until the first buoy but the I lost them and she was gone into the distance. Up until this point Steve was on my hip. We turned at the first buoy and Steve swam past me.

Right plan B, swim as hard as I can. I made good progress up the back straight and got to the second buoy just behind Steve.

We turned at the second buoy and the wind was smashing the waves against the back of my head with each breath. Wow it was choppy, thank god I breath to the left. The final straight home was tough going but I soldiered on. With 150m to go some one overtook me. I tried to latch onto their feet but couldn't manage it.

Race position - 4th (2nd male)

T1

Ripped off my wetsuit, threw on my helmet, grabbed my bike and ran to the mount line gaining on Steve.

Race position 3rd (2nd male)

Bike

After qualifying for Cozumel I made the decision that all my racing from now on will be on my road bike so I can become accustomed to it. That includes all draft illegal races, all time trials everything. I was fairly certain most people would be on TT bikes because they are allowed but I stuck to my plan and raced on the same setup I plan to use in 10 short weeks.

When setting up my GPS before racing, I became acutely aware of my powermeter not working. Oh well time to race blind and rip my legs off. I use my powermeter to monitor output and cadence. Racing a sprint is all about red lining anyway so if I was hurting then job done.

I mounted my bike and set about trying to go as quick as I could. After about 3 miles, I threw up and felt really gaseous. Oh balls. Maybe I wasn't quite over that viral infection (possible leptospirosis) from last week. 

I had to back it off a bit but kept applying the pressure.

The course was a lot lumpier than I expected and that wind was unrelenting in the first half. It was a constant battle against the elements. I expected a flat course with the race being in Lincolnshire but was shocked by the lumps in the terrain. Never mind it's the same for everyone.

I'd also forgotten the course was long (16 miles as opposed to the 12 I normally race over) and I felt those last four miles in my legs.

After about 6 miles Aiden Grocock flew past me. This was to be expected and wasn't a shock to me. By 10 miles I had been caught by someone else who zipped past me on his TT bike with disc wheel.


It all comes down to simple maths, they are displacing less air in their tucked position as opposed to me on my road bike so it's no doubt they were passing me. But it's about the bigger picture, I need to get used to being on my road bike. It needs to become an extension of me.

Race position - 6th (4th male)

T2

Rack bike, remove helmet, spin number belt, don trainers and visor. No dramas.

Race position - 6th (4th male)

Run

I set off on the run knowing that recently I have been capable of 23 - 24 minutes for the run so thought I would be able to replicate that today.

But........

My body had other ideas. As soon as I took those first few steps, I was in pain, my stomach felt ridiculously bloated and I wanted to be sick.

I had done nothing out of the ordinary nutrition wise so can only presume this was a result of last weeks illness. After about 1.5km I was running off road (and we all know how much I enjoy that) when I had to stop to walk a few steps to try and burp or throw up. Three belches later and my stomach still felt bloated but the nausea I was feeling had started to abate.

When we ran past the transition area after 2.5km, I so very nearly gave up, such was the level of discomfort I was in. I couldn't settle into my run. My stomach was bloated and I really wanted to be sick. I was really uncomfortable. 

By this point a woman and a man had ran past me so I was still in the top 5 male competitors. I then did some maths and those ahead of me weren't in my AG (either too young or too old).

Time to put up or shut up.

Do I throw in the towel and give up the possibility of an AG victory or MTFU and put up with 12 more minutes of pain and discomfort.

I decided to grit it out and that decision taught me a lot about the sort of athlete I have become. If this had happened in 2012 to 2014 I'd have given up. I really was in that much pain and discomfort. Each step hurt my belly.

I was back running on road at this point so that eased things mentally (as I detest off road running), time to knuckle down and run. I tried to relax, to take my mind to my happy place but my stomach felt awful. I was literally counting down the steps. At one point I was gaining on an athlete ahead of me and that gave me a little lift.

Someone else ran past me just before the turn point, they offered encouragement having seen me walking in pain before. How old were they, I had no idea.

We turned for home and I had just under 1km to run. I could see the finishing arch and used that as a focus to take my mind of the pain in my stomach. I was doing maths while running trying to work out how much longer I would be in pain for. with 200m to go, I had had noone else pass me. 1 minute to go and then you can burp, be sick, curl up in a ball.

I turned back into the race venue and surged to the line.


I was elated to cross the line and that 5km although painful and slow (28:01) taught me a lot about myself and racing.

Race position - 9th (6th male) 


Cue the nervous wait to see if the person who passed me was in my AG. 

Fast forward 1 hour and its the time of the presentation.

The main podium is announced and I am like a giddy child waiting for Christmas.

Then the AG's are starting to be announced. The heavens opened and rain started to fall from the sky. People were taking cover.

The announcer was working up through the age groups 20-24, 25-29, 30-34 and finally 35-39

The next words out of the announcers microphone were music to my ears.

And in 1st place in the 35-39 category from Doncaster Triathlon Club in a time of 1:31:49, Michael Barnett.

I was grinning like a kid in a toy shop as I went to collect my trophy from the event sponsors.

I hate photos of me but actually adore this one because you can see the glee on my face.

No tears, just pure unadulterated joy.


The transformation was complete.

Overweight, cigarette smoking couch potato to competitive(ish) triathlete - total time taken (since London Triathlon 2012) 1387 days

Is the journey over? Is it hell. Just watch this space. 

Thanks for reading,

Michael