On 1 June 2012 it will be exactly 12 months since I found myself sitting in a psychologist’s office struggling with anxiety and certain unhealthy compulsive behaviours. My life has changed beyond my wildest imagining and I am proud of the work I have done to achieve these changes.
One year ago I was unfit and starting to settle into a heavier, rounder body. I didn’t like being unfit and was starting to make sure I was sitting in photos or only shot with head and shoulders. But I didn’t know how to change my life. The grip of anxiety had frozen me. I put all my energy into my insecurities, and escaped my pain through compulsive masturbation and hours wasted online.
When the psychologist first suggested I put my energy into some sort of sport I dismissed the suggestion. I had no excuse to justify my dismissing her sensible suggestion but such was my state of mind at the time. Fortunately, I had entered the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane; a 100km walk to raise money for charity. I was seriously undertrained but with the help of three fantastic team mates and some determination I made it all the way in just under 33 hours. I stopped engaging in the compulsive behaviour almost immediately after completing Trailwalker.
The next morning I decided that I was sick of being unfit. I had been fit most of my life, only letting myself go when the Black Dog and anxiety took hold of me about five years earlier. So I had something to draw on when deciding how to get fit and what to expect. I started looking for events to use as motivation; I knew I wouldn’t train if I didn’t have a specific goal. I had been a triathlete as a teenager so, after considering a range of other sports, I decided I wanted to get back into triathlon.
But there was a barrier for me: men have a bulge in their cycling shorts and triathlon suits. I felt subhuman because, as a transgender man, my body doesn’t look like that of biological men. I felt like I was somehow wrong and less worthy than others. And, while I knew other people wouldn’t say anything about my body, I felt it was abnormal and freakish. I had a conversation with the psychologist about this and then went away to think about it further myself. It was a huge achievement for me to buy a pair of speedos, cycling shorts and a triathlon suit; and a bigger achievement for me to wear them in public.
One month later I completed my first triathlon in 14 years; the Wivenhoe Dam Triathlon. All I wanted to do was make it to the finish line in one piece. August is the coldest month of the year here in Brisbane and an icy wind was blowing on the rainy day. The water temperature was somewhere between 16’C and 19’C. I didn’t (and still don’t) have a wetsuit, so the swim was painfully cold. But I gutted it out and proved to myself that I can do anything. The furthest I’d swum in training was 400m in a whole session but the swim leg was 750m. The furthest I’d cycled in training was 12km but the cycle leg was 20km. The furthest I’d run in training was 3km but the run leg was 5km. And I made it! In a respectable time of 1:24:59. Words can’t describe the way I felt that afternoon.
A few weeks later I raced the Rainbow Beach Double Triathlon. I raced a sprint distance triathlon (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run) on Saturday afternoon and then backed up to do it all again on Sunday morning. It was a real physical challenge for me but at least I had increased my training so that I was now able to complete these distances in training (just). I had also stopped seeing the psychologist on 31 August because I had worked through some important personal issues relating to my body image and being transgender. I completed both races that weekend; again in the respectable times of 1:15:31 and 1:19:38.
In October I traveled six hours north to Agnes Water to participate in the sprint distance triathlon there. I’d set myself a goal to participate in a triathlon every month for the whole season. I didn’t have any time goals; I just wanted to complete the courses with a smile on my face. I thoroughly enjoyed both the race and my five days camping at Agnes Water. My time for the event was 1:11:33.
I couldn’t find any triathlons that piqued my interest in November so I entered the Rainbow Beach Trail Ultra (nominally 43km but my course was 45km). It was important to me to keep up my momentum and the idea of running to the Double Island Point lighthouse intrigued me enough to give this event a try. I had only joined the Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers club about a month earlier and had increased my training runs from 4-5km to 7-8km. I entered the event just 10 days before race day after I had completed a 15km club training run. One week before the race I did an 18km training run and then spent a week eating well in the hope it would enable me to complete the race.
The Rainbow Beach Trail Ultra was an extreme event for me. It was longer than I’d ever contemplated running before and I only had 10 days to get used to the idea. I ran as much of the course as I could but allowed myself to walk up all the hills and to walk when I hit the wall. Somehow I managed to complete the event in 7:30. It was a long day out on my feet in the sand but it was worth it. All the barriers I had built for myself were shattered that day – I realised that I could enter any event that took my fancy because I have the determination to finish. After the Rainbow Beach Trail Ultra I started expanding my training and racing experiences.
In December I traveled to Toorbull where I completed my fourth triathlon in five months. I was starting to feel stronger on the course and was not regularly training longer distances than the 750m swim, 24km cycle and 5km run that the race involved. I finished strong in 1:25:13 on a hot summer day. I was now training 5-6 days a week and had cemented my new positive outlook on life. I was a changed man.
In January I made a snap decision to turn up at a local half-marathon and run it. I hadn’t specifically trained for it because I hadn’t planned to race the event. I literally turned up on the day and entered. And then I finished the race in 2:10:57 on a stinking hot and humid day. I had now broken another mental barrier for me; the long road running race. It helped me feel like a proper runner. I felt proud of myself when I crossed the finish line; a new sensation that I had been working on accepting since my first visit to the psychologist.
By February I had started to expand my exercise regime to include more off-road exploration. Training ceased to be an activity that I did merely to lose weight or complete triathlons, it was now a normal part of life. I started exploring different ways to exercise that allowed me to enjoy the outdoors again like I had when I was growing up.
I also completed my first Olympic distance triathlon (1,500m swim, 40km cycle, 10km run) at Kingscliff. My goal was to finish within 3:00 and I achieved it when I finished in 2:25:53. I almost cried when I finished because I was so amazed at the change in my life. I had gone from struggling to get through the day to living an healthy active outdoor lifestyle.
In March I made another break through. I smashed the Twilight Half Marathon in a time of 1:46:33. I had all these mental limitations set out about the pace I’d need to run to complete the half marathon. I figured that I would struggle to make two hours but once I got going I put all my doubts aside and found myself pushing hard.
April was a month of change. During March I had started to train much harder and had lost touch with the real reason I got involved in sport. I was fatigued and had developed a bad attitude. The attitude was a result of me forgetting to be myself; I’d got caught up in the part of triathlon culture I don’t enjoy. See, there is an element of triathlon that is focused on results and single-minded intense training. I was starting to train twice a day and was trying to ‘make every session count’. And it took it’s toll.
While I was away for the Julia Creek Triathlon I found myself again. Two weeks away on my motorbike, a fun tough race at Julia Creek and a day sailing on the Whitsundays brought me back to earth. I decided to focus on bushwalking, mountain biking and enjoying myself. I decided to get out every day into the outdoors for the fun of the outdoors, not for the training. The biggest influence on this was my day sailing on the Whitsundays.
The Adventure Race Australia last weekend best summarises my transformation from internet addict to outdoor athlete. Not only that, but I am much happier today. I am no longer gripped by anxiety or depression. I am no longer paralysed by insecurity. I am me. I have come a long way. And I’m proud of my journey here.
It’s been a big year. An important year in my life. One that has led to positive changes. In the next 12 months I hope to maintain those changes. I no longer have to improve my fitness because I am where I want to be. I’m fit enough to tackle any physical challenge and know I have the determination to achieve it. And I am determined not to go back to where I was 12 months ago. I want to keep smiling 🙂