What a difference a year can make

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.

30 May 2011: Unfit with a rounder shape

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.

June 2011: Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane – a life changing event

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.

July 2011: Second bike training session with a bit of a belly bulge

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.

August 2011: Wivenhoe Dam Triathlon – My first triathlon in 14 years

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.Β 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.

September 2011: Rainbow Beach Triathlon

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.

October 2011: Agnes Water Triathlon – The belly is getting smaller

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.

November 2011: Rainbow Beach Trail Ultra – This event opened so many possibilities

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.

December 2011 – Toorbull Triathlon
(Image copyright The Run Inn Brisbane)

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.

January 2012: My first half marathon

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.

February 2012: Making the outdoors a normal part of life again

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.

March 2012: I smashed a half marathon

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 2012: Sailing the Whitsundays

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.

May 2012: Adventure Race Australia

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. Β I want to keep smiling πŸ™‚

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10 responses to “What a difference a year can make

  1. Hi Andrew, what a fantastic story. It was great to read how you have found your own self-confidence and determination to get out there and enjoy yourself. And of course, I can only fully endorse your sport and outdoors choices!

    “I realised that I could enter any event that took my fancy because I have the determination to finish” … I like your attitude. This approach has always worked for me and has led me into many fun adventures! πŸ™‚

    As for bulges in cycling shorts … well, I shouldn’t really say what happens to my boyfriend when he goes out on the bike for any length of time!! πŸ˜€

  2. I cant believe your transformation in only one year. Best of luck with your upcoming adventures!

  3. You’re an inspiration Andrew; I hope you continue to be proud of yourself. I was actually thinking about you the other day as I’ve been so busy and not had time to read the blogs I follow. I knew you wouldn’t be sitting still lol.

    • Nah, not an inspiration. Just yet another normal person who has struggles they overcome πŸ˜‰ Nope – not sitting still. Have to write another post later this evening to catch up on today’s geocaching and running. But first I need to recharge my mobile so I can upload some photos from it. I am looking forward to checking out your blog again in the next week or so. Am traveling until next week so haven’t got regular internet access to keep up with everyone’s adventures. I miss them all .

  4. What a year and what a post. Great work man, keep it up.

  5. I think that you have made fantastic improvements in the last 12 months, and good on you for doing so! I hope that you continue to make improvements, both physically and emotionally over the next 12 months! πŸ˜€

    • Thank you Vixx πŸ™‚ I am excited about the next 12 months. I’m using sport to keep me on the straight and narrow, and find that my physical health then feeds my emotional health πŸ™‚ I’ve even started planning for the 2013/14 race season – I want to complete my first 100km run that year.

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