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Chrissie Slot journal: managing burnout

Rider journals 2021: Chrissie Slot #04/May

If spring was a metaphor, it would perfectly sum up my cycling life: things are on the up, and deep-rooted fatigue is starting to clear away. Flowery language aside, it’s been a strange few months doing little other than yoga and resting. And as much as I’ve come to enjoy the yogi life, I’m so glad to be pushing pedals again! It’s baby steps, but it feels good to be moving in the right direction.

Burnout is a strange ‘illness’. I guess like a lot of mental illnesses, it’s not always visible on the outside

A bit of context… As I alluded to in my previous journal, I’ve been pretty burnt out since February, which put a pause on any kind of training. Burnout is a strange ‘illness’. I guess like a lot of mental illnesses, it’s not always visible on the outside. You just feel an overwhelming sense of fatigue and achiness. And unlike a broken leg, for example, there’s no set point in time when you’ll start to feel back to normal. You’ve just got to be easy on yourself and let the body do its thing.

Photo: Tom Aldous

This has actually been the first time I’ve stepped away from the bike for a psychological reason. And personally, I’ve found that harder to accept than if the cause was visible, like a crash. I guess when you’ve crashed, you’ve got no choice but to rest; the damage is external. Whereas with internal illnesses, it feels like such a grey area. There’s an element of choice, so it’s easy to let those little voices eat away at you: should I be riding? Am I just being soft? How can I explain this to other people?

As you’ve probably picked up on already, I love psychology. I studied it at university. And something I feel pretty passionately about is that mental health is physical health; while psychological issues may affect one’s mood, they have very physical, measurable effects elsewhere. I saw a video recently with Alexi Pappas (a US runner), who put this in a way I really liked. She equated her depression to having a scrape on her brain, just like when you fall and scrape your knee. To me, that’s such a brilliant and powerful analogy that should be used more often.

Photo: Daniel Gould

I’m going to put it out there, I am not the best at practising what I preach! But something which I find helps me is to hear the words from someone else. Luckily I’ve been able to speak to people I trust (friends, my old coach, a therapist), who have all done an amazing job at squashing any doubts I had about resting. Their advice wasn’t new to me, but just the act of voicing things aloud often makes you realise how irrational you’re being. And sharing experiences with other riders was so refreshing; it opened my eyes to how normal it is to struggle sometimes.

The best thing to come from the time off is the sense of gratitude I now feel for just riding again, pain-free

I’d say the best thing to come from the time off is the sense of gratitude I now feel for just riding again, pain-free. Appreciating the little things I didn’t before. It’s a bit like going back to zero. Except, it’s not nearly as bad as I’d feared. ‘Losing fitness’ is a fear that’s always haunted me whilst training. But if anything, I’m enjoying it more now. I guess the hardest thing is seeing races happening knowing I’m a bit of a lump, and unable to help my team. But if there was a choice between being insanely fit or enjoying it, I’d choose the latter any day.

So this month has been about easing into things mentally as much as it has been physically. No plan. No fixed milestones of where I want to be in X weeks’ time. Just getting the legs used to turning the cranks over again. For me, doing mountain bike rides has been the perfect welcome back to it. It’s nice having no ‘point’ to the ride other than to have fun. I mean, I’m not sure that flying over my handlebars and landing in a bog last week could be classed as ‘fun’, but it beats crashing on the road any day of the week!  And right now, I’m loving the change in focus. As they say, change really is as good as a rest.

Featured photo: Daniel Gould

Find out more

Chrissie Slot journal #3: dreaming of being a cyclist is often more exciting than being one

Chrissie Slot journal #2: redefining success

Chrissie Slot journal #1: happy head, fast legs

Rider journals 2021: introducing Chrissie Slot

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