dinsdag 11 oktober 2016

From Hel to Heaven

After finishing the "Hel", I started thinking of doing an Ironman distance triathlon again. Many people compared the Hel with an Ironman, so now that I survived that, I assumed myself up for the task. Plan of the year: Altriman in the Pyrenees, comparable to Embrun. Sounds like fun :). 
But first, let's get back to real life. Since September 2015, I felt sick coming to work. De-motivation because of unappreciation and the "slowness" of how stuff moved forward gave me a feeling that life was passing me by. I had to find physical challenges to make me feel alive. It was a struggle to stay in the office for a complete day. In Autumn, we were at the final stage of an important project, so I told myself to hang in and finish this project. I didn't want to  abandon my colleagues. I just told myself I would change in January. I wanted to work 50% - my side-job as sports masseur was growing and gave me much more satisfaction. But when I started working again after the X-mas holidays, there was no positive feedback from my superiors that it was ok to work less. The thought of not being able to work less in the company, started to make me more and more sick and depressed every day. I also noticed I was getting more short tempered every day. Until one day at lunch time at work I couldn't take it anymore. I took my bike to go home and in my mind, I felt I would never come back! The next day, I went to a psychologist who told me I was deep into a burn-out... I was told to stay home for a month. As of day one, I wanted to find a way out, but my energy level was at freezing point. Although I am big fan of cooking, I could barely bake an omelet... Going to parties and look happy, just drained me completely. I got more and more depressed, not knowing how to get out of this situation. I had to find out what gave me energy so I could load my batteries. The only thing that made me feel good was my family, running and giving sport massage. But as soon as I was home alone and started thinking what to do, I slipped away again. The first months were awful, I got the worst flue I ever had and I was an emotional wreck. With the help of my doctor, psychologist and talent coach, I realized what I had to do: first make sure I feel better again, do stuff that give you energy and say "fuck it" to all the rest. So I ran, took care of the kids and gave sport massage from time to time. I also slept a lot. It felt as if my body was finally given the time to recover from the mental stress state it was in the last year (or even more). 

The first months, I read a lot. I wanted to understand more about burn-out. In my mind, a burn-out was a situation where you can't take the workload. Seeing myself as a endurance athlete, it is hard to accept that I could not take the load. But when reading about burn outs, I understood that it's not only the workload. It's the how your work is appreciated, how you feel connected with your job, how you get satisfaction in your daily job. Working with my talent coach also made me realize that I am a helper. Which explained why I got so much energy from giving sport massages. Given all of this, I understood that I just didn't belong where I worked for the last 8 years. It gave me peace of mind - it's not me, it was the environment I was in that was just not suitable for me.
Next, I had to discover what options I had for the future. In my case, I saw three:
  • Go back to my old job - the thought alone made me feel sick again
  • Work less and do another job in the same company - even that made me feel as sick as option 1
  • Give up my job to focus on my carreer as sports masseur, combined with a part-time job as whatever, just so we would manage financially. 
  • Give up my old job and focus on my carreer as sports masseur and take care of the kids and household.
If I listened to my heart, the last option was the only true right one. But that would mean to give up a lot of financial security. I was too afraid to chose this option: I hold the responsibility for 3 young kids! It made me sad and depressed again, that I would be unable to follow my heart.
Fear of taking the leap and leave my secured golden cage was too big... I felt I was trapped. But again with the help of my psychologist and doctor and with the support of my family, I dared to consider following my heart. I started calculating the financial impact, looking at things from a positive point of view and when I pictured myself living my dream, I felt happy! Why should I not give it a try? When I was young, many households had also only 1 income. Why should that be different now, just because capitalism tells us to consume, it doesn't mean you have to buy everything! Yes, capitalism helped man to get out of misery, but if you have enough to cover your basic needs (food, shelter and health), the rest will not make you more happy! Happiness can be achieved by only basic things, more stuff/money does not make you more happy! On top of that, the number of people that came to me for a massage grew every week and more importantly, people came back for more! I learned that if you put your heart into something, it will be worth it! I finally felt appreciated and I felt that what I did really meant something. I also discovered that I have a lot of characteristics of a highly sensitive person. This helped me to understand that doing good for others can make me feel good as well.

In the meanwhile, the weather was crap, I needed to get some sunshine. At that point, I saw the invitation on facebook for the 2016 edition of the triathlon du lac de salagou, organized by my good friends from Montpellier. I still had to set things straight overthere since my fail in 2014.

Checked up with the family and I registered. I hadn't rode my bike for a few months, so I had to gear up a bit. Given the fact that sports (in my case swimming, running and cycling) gave me energy, it was also the ideal way to reload my batteries, as they were still pretty empty. Yes, I was feeling better, but I still had a lot of ups and downs. The downs were not as long and low as in January, but I didn't need much to bring me down again. But hey, I was looking at things from a positive point of view and it was clear that things were going better. Because I was slowely recovering from my burn-out, I felt I was much more relaxed, much more than I ever was the last years even. I was definitely taking the right decision! The fact that I was more relaxed kept me free of injuries. In the past, I didn't need much to get small injuries that stopped me from running for a few weeks. I learned now that stress makes your body more vulnerable to injuries and sickness as your ability to cope with fysical/emotional load lowers due to the stress. The race was beginning of June, and I wanted to make a decision before I would leave. The decision was clear, I would follow my heart and get out of the toxic environment that my work in IT had become. I left relaxed together with my brother Kurt in the direction of Montpellier! We stayed in a very quiet place some 20 min from the lake called Les Vignals. Welcomed by a very friendly couple that also followed their heart :)

The first day, I went to check out the bike course. 2 years ago, we had to do 2 laps with one big climb. This year, it was one big lap with three climbs. Much harder than in 2014. I like :) The last climb was already at around 45k. I reckoned I best took it easy on the first two climbs and then push it a bit more as of the last climb, but not too much, as the run looked similar to what we got in 2014. The day before the race, I took it easy and made sure everything was prepared. My race was on Sunday. The start was at 9h30, much better than in 2014, when we started around 11, way too hot. Also the temperature was much better for me. Sunny, yet not to hot and enough wind to cool down. Apparently too much wind for some as they decided to shorten the swim due to rough waves, pitty, my best part of the race :(.

Anyway, of we go for the swim - 354 individuals and 22 teams. After 1700m through rough water, especially on the way back it was hard to find the right direction towards the exit, I got out of the water in 26:53 around 30th place. Good start. Ready for some fun on the bike. Last time, I didn't have enough to drink and consequently got cramps in both legs after 1k in the run. This year, I packed 4 bottles with home made energy drink and ORS. One thing I learned from the "Hel" is that I need lots of salt to make up for all the sweating which causes my legs to go into cramp mode... So of we go.

Normally, I am used to being passed by tons of participants, given that the swim is my best part and the bike my least... But this time, I was able to keep up with the guys that left the transition zone with me, until the first climb. My 4 bottles and the +10kg I weigh extra than most other participants made me lose quite some spots. It seemed that I was drinking a lot, cause I had to stop to pee (yes, I am not wetting my pants on the bike...) just before the second climb. The same happened on the second climb (including peeing :)... and on the third. The scenery was just amazing!

On the third, I was catching up on some other participants. But the spots I won, I just lost again when stopping to pee... The final 15k towards the transition zone went really well, I passed by a lot of guys and was hoping to be somewhere around 80th place. My goal was to finish around 100th. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that I was 69th at a few km before the tranistion. I took my time in the transition to drink and pee :) - one guy called me Monsieur Pipi after the finish :).

The run consisted of two laps on trail like terrain. Lots of bumps and sand. I quickly started catching other guys. It felt great. I even had a little chat with the future winner when he overtook me on his second lap, I even managed to keep up with him :) Friendly guy, Betrand Billard. Each aidstation, I refilled my bottles with ORS and water, which made me lose quite some time. But I really needed the salt! The whole run, I was playing yoyo with a guy called Mohammed who asked me if I put enough sunscreen (yes, I learned my lesson from 2014!). He also wondered why I was stopping at each aidstation, I explained that without the water and salt, I would lose much more time! A guy from Gent caught us in the last 2km, but I decided to see what was left. No cramps so up for a sprint. Mohammed was too fast, but at least I beat the guy from Gent :D

I was so happy with the result. 57th on 354 finishers! If I wouldn't have stopped 5 times to pee, I would have been top 50 :D. Lessons learned : use salt sticks instead of ORS on the run, it saves you time. And work on the content of the drink on the bike to avoid loosing too much liquid :D
What struck me the most in this race is that I was really able to enjoy it from start to finish. Yes, I was a bit stressed the day before, but it was bearable. Completely different from other races where the work-related stress already put a high load on my body. Without the work related stress, my body could handle much more physical load! That just shows that you should be aware of your own energy level, are you under constant stress (can be from lots of things) or are you relaxed? Now the race was finished, I could enjoy a few days of holiday with Kurt. I really love coming to this region with the beautiful villages and nature (and great food and wine ;) )

Back home, it was time to finalize my leap of fear towards happiness. Although the decision was easy, the actual change still scared me: would it all be worth it, will I be able to do what I want. But hey, sometimes you need to cross the bridge while you are still building it, otherwise you might never reach the other side! So I left my job and registered for a course in sports therapy to become a better sports masseur and help more people even better. And if it was worth it? Definitely, I never felt more happy with my family, relationship, hobbies... I never felt so happy with my life since my youth. They say that when you are young, your soul knows what it wants. But on the way, you might get lost. I am really happy I found my way again. And it wasn't even that difficult to figure it out, I just had to listen to my heart :D

The way to Hel

After the deception at the Triathlon of lac de Salagou in 2014, I didn't really know what to expect from 2015. Too afraid of the heat, I decided to stay in Belgium in 2015. I did the 111 of La Roche and the Nisraman. Two amazing races from sport-events in the beautiful area of La Roche. The 111 was too much bike (100k) for me. But it was super fun to cross the finishline with my boys!

Happy with my performance in La Roche, I continued to train for what I assumed would be my main goal for 2015: The Nisraman. Nothing changed in the format of this fantastic Sport-events race. Last time, I burned myself during the mtb part, this time I would try to keep some for the run. After a steady swim and good bike, I was still in 20th position to start the mtb. I lost a few more spots, but was up for a good run. However, cramps (again) at the first descent decided otherwise. I lost 10 more spots and finished 38th on 123 participants. Happy with the race uptil the cramps, I still enjoyed this great format, especially thanks to the support of my family.

Because I felt I could have done better if it wasn't for the cramps in the run, I decided to find another race that could motivate me for the remainder of the year. For more than a decade there was 1 particular race that kept me curious. The "Hel van Kasterlee", an off-road duathlon, held end of december. Being in Belgium, you never know how hard this race can be. All depends on the weather: will there be rain, snow, cold or maybe sun? But even without the weather, the race format promises excitement : 15k run - 105k mtb - 30k run. Some say it's as tough as an Ironman. So better prepare for the worst :) I started doing long mtb tours, first in Summer (really fun doing the +100k tour of Hageland), then in Autumn (rain and mud a gogo but not less fun for me :). Obviously, I had to do some running as well, so I participated on my first multi-day trail event : X-trails Houffalize: First day : Kamikaze (4k trail) + Semi-night trails Coccinelles (20k) - Second day: 26k Houffatrail. Really fun event which I finished with a lot of confidence to go to the "Hel"!

While I was preparing for the "Hel", I started to feel less and less motivated in my job in IT at Atlas Copco. The lack of appreciation, direction and progress in projects made me wonder why I was waisting my time here. Luckily, I had my family, sports and my side-job as Sports Masseur (which I started in 2015 : check my website for more about that: www.sportbalans.be .) to balance my life. From September to December, the frustration in my daily job grew bigger and bigger until a point where I started to feel sick when I came to work. I decided I couldn't continue like this and something had to change in 2016, I had to escape this hell I felt to be in! But first let's go to "the Hel of Kasterlee "!

The race started at the first weekend of the X-mas holidays. I felt I was still stressed from the de-motivation at work. With that came the stress of what I was about to get myself into... I decided to try to run my own race in a smart way. Stay calm on the first 15k, survive the 105k of mtb and then go all out on the 30k. Difficult to stay calm on the first run, as a lot of the guys here run the first 15k at around about 1:00:00... I finished the first lap after 1:09. Good enough for me. 169th place so far on 255 participants. Not great, but plenty more fun to come! However, fun was not the word that came to my mind while I was riding my mtb through the sandy roads in Kasterlee. I felt what these months of demotivated work had done to my body and mind... I was empty. And although it might sound strange to say this about a race like the Hel, I was bored...  In my mind, I pictured the mtb course to be made up of technical single tracks, but that was only the case for 2k on each 21k lap. This was the only place on the course where I was able to catch other fellow "Hellracers" and where I had fun (except for when I passed the transition zone, where my two biggest fans of the day (my dad and Matti) cheered me up. The next difficulty was to "ride" through a field, but that was more a struggle to walk through mud. Not much fun about that...

The rest of the course was just dried up fast tracks through the fields. Some might call it luck that we had temperatures upto almost 20k, but I would have liked to have gotten some rougher conditions... I am a man of power, not souplesse... Anyway, you have to take life as it comes. So I just continued to pedal lap by lap until I was allowed to start the last 30k run. In the back of my head, I was continuously hoping to have no mechanical problems. Just when I started to feel relieved that I would make it, my rear wheel blocked... I thought it was just the chain, but it just refused to turn around. By accident, I noticed that it would only turn if I let it stay loose on the frame. With only 3k to go, I decided to losen my wheel and just ride carefully. Obviously, this made me lose some spots, but hey, I was here to finish and have fun, not to beat other people... Speaking of fun, finally I got to the point where I could go all out: the last 30k run! Two laps of 15k. The course consisted of roughly 5 long stretches of road, mentally pretty tough. Luckily my good friend Bert accepted my invitation to be my companion on the bike during these last 30k. When I started running, I was so happy, I started of faster than the initial 15k. Other participants looked at me as if I was crazy and warned me that it was still a long way to go... But this is why I stayed calm on the bike, to go crazy on the run :). But when I saw I was running at around about 13km/h, I decided to slow down anyway. I started  passing by a lot of guys on the first 10k. When the first round was done, I must have passed more than 20. It gave me wings. Obviously, I was bound to meet my dear friend with the Hammer. The second tour was really hard, much less participants on the track made it mentally really hard. But mister Hammer only caught up with me at the last 1k when I got cramps... I left my last bottle of ORS in the transition zone... But the emotion took over and pain left the body. I had tears in my eyes when I realized I was going to finish this Hel despite of how shitty I felt about my job... My family was just around the corner to encourage me on the last few 100 meters. I told my boys to follow me and with my last strength, I climbed the stage of the finish line! Yes! I made it! Finished 143th after 8 hours and 58 minutes :D

My first thoughts after finishing was that I would never do this again, but when your oldest son tells you on the way back that he wants to run this race when he is older together with you, you laugh and say ok :)!