Sunday, 10 July 2011

Yay! I found my mojo!

When you get a call from the doctor, asking you to call in to talk about your ECG and blood test results 4 days earlier than you are supposed to get them, you presume the worst.

As a fully qualified ‘internet hypochondriac’ I had self-diagnosed everything from thyroid dysfunction to heart failure. Something had to scientifically explain the way I was feeling. 

Racing at Exposure 24 in May (the European 24 hour solo mountain bike championships) had been exhausting. 24 hour races are hard. They are meant to be! But this race had left me feeling beyond empty. In part I could blame the hypothermia - more to the point, dragging myself out of the pits after ‘coming round’ and pushing out another 2 laps probably did all the damage.  Note to self – when the paramedics tell you that “your race is over”- they mean it
Racing at Exposure
(Thanks to Helen for the photo)

Two months after the race I was still really struggling. Normally I love riding my bike - It’s what makes me smile even if the rest of the world seems grey. I love to fly around the woods on my bright orange bike - just grinning as I whip around the corners and fly through the trees faster and faster, my inner soul as bright and lively as the steel Soul I am riding (My bike is a Cotic Soul – how cool is that ;-) ). But now I wasn’t motivated to ride my bike at all.  My legs felt like lead. My heart rate shot up alarmingly on doing relatively little then refused to go back down. I got breathless walking up the stairs, let alone riding my bike.  Apart from these physical symptoms I just felt crap - not a particularly scientific word, but when getting my 10 minute consultation with the doctor, crap was the only word I could think of.  My normal inner spark had just shrunk to a dim glow. I felt broken.

My Bright Orange Soul
People always talk about their mojo - that slang word for passion, the desire to do something, your inner spark. Whatever it is I had certainly lost mine, but what I was most uncertain about was where to search to get it back? Is your mojo mental or physical?

Kate, my coach at AQR, encouraged me to go to the doctor to rule out the latter - to get blood tests particularly to check thyroid function and vitamin D - hence the visit to the doctor.

So the physical element to my mojo was being investigated, but what about the mental side? For the last 8 months my life had been focused on training. kate had devised my training specifically to peak initially for the European champs in May and then a bigger second peak for the World 24 solo champs in October. Motivation for riding was easy with these clearly defined goals. My mojo pinged me out of bed every morning, raced me up all the hills and spun my legs until it seemed as though the turbo trainer glowed red.

Riding for fun
Then my goal got taken away. The venue and time for the World 24 solo champs didn’t get announced after the European champs and it became apparent that they were no longer happening. Without this big goal, training seemed pointless and I felt flat. My once supercharged cycling mojo began to oversleep. It gave up half way up the hills and found solace in the deep cushions of the sofa.

I had a couple of smaller races penciled in as part of my training, including a 24 pair with my race partner at an event called 24 /12. With no long term training goal, still feeling awful from the Europeans and my mojos heels stuck firmly in the ground l didn’t even feel up to riding let alone racing. I could feel my fitness seeping through the floorboards.
Struggling to race

The world has a funny way of working sometimes. My race partner fell off his bike and broke his collarbone and suddenly the pressure of ‘racing’ in 4 weeks at 24/12 was lifted from my shoulders.  I knew I wasn’t capable of racing so the opportunity to ride the race for fun with Simon (my other half, who offered to stand in) suddenly made me smile.  For the first time in weeks I thought about riding my bike. Nothing had changed except the fear of failure being replaced by permission to have fun.

Was it possible that my Mojo was just a state of mind?

That same week I got the call from the doctor. Everything was fine. No heart failure, no thyroid problems. However there was one problem, my vitamin D was too low.
 I didn’t know much about vitamin D, apart from that you get it from sunshine and that it has been implicated in illnesses ranging from rickets to cancer to multiple sclerosis. What I hadn’t realised was a deficiency can also cause mental symptoms. On the plus side it has been shown that taking vitamin D supplements can improve athletic ‘performance’. Did that mean that a low vitamin D can give deficient athletes legs like lead?

Did this mean that my mojo was actually related to a vitamin level??
With all the ‘slip slap slop’ awareness apparently lots of people don’t get enough sunshine. Kate had cleverly picked up all the signs - slow recovery, fatigue and feeling crap and insisted on a vitamin D test against the doctor’s wishes.

I never did discover if my cycling mojo was physical or mental - the two events happened too closely together to be truly scientific.  I’m not sure mojo is a scientific concept anyhow - heck it’s not even a word in the English dictionary! In all probability, it is more likely to be a combination of both mental and physical wellbeing intertwined in an upward spiral.  All I know is that with vitamin D supplements and a new goal of having fun at a 24 hour race meant my mojo returned.
Yay! Ive found my mojo!

My spiral is now upwards and my spark is now glowing again as brightly as the colour of my (cotic) Soul, the lead has been removed from my legs and the turbo trainer is glowing red once again.

Thank you doctor for taking my symptoms seriously. Thank you Simon for reminding me why I ride my bike. But, most of all, thank you Kate for being the most amazingly patient and inspiring coach.
Enjoying the view.

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