The Struggles of Balancing an Ironman

Leyth Hampshire
July 23rd 2020

Tomorrow Is Not Promised

I think they should prescribe lying in a hospital bed, unable to move for a few days as a way to make you realise how grateful you should be for your life. Something so simple, yet honestly, when you have zero distractions, just you, your body and your mind you really do come to a lot of heavy realisations. Staring at a white ceiling, using my imagination and the overload of drugs I would play games in my mind, imagining images of distant places in order to distract myself. Whether it was sandy beaches or beautiful cities, palm trees and blue seas or rooftop terraces. Every night, I would fly somewhere in my mind. It seems crazy to think it was less than a year ago, I spent nearly one month lying in a hospital bed. They were the longest days of my life. A ridiculous amount of sleepless nights due to the fact I was in the Intensive care ward, where the most ‘at-risk’ patients are brought to. It was a frequent occurrence that in the middle of the night an ambulance team would burst in through the doors, the lights would all turn on, the nurses and doctors would crowd around another human who had just suffered a severe brain injury. Following this would be an onslaught of sounds, from machines used to support cognitive function, micro vacuums to drain excess fluid from a blood-filled brain, conversations of anxiety and uncertainty between those trying to save a life…and not always succeeding. I felt sometimes I was in a movie scene, a movie where real things actually happened. Lives were truly lost in that intensive care ward, souls leaving bodies, never to return. It was incredibly surreal, the whole experience was and still is incredibly surreal.

Yet, I must remember that I was also in that position only a few days before. A position of absolute life uncertainty. Being brought into this intensive care unit was not part of my plan when I went to Hungary. I had just started a project with the EU on climate action and impact, looking to work with start-ups, developing business ideas. Yet, I found myself in a hospital bed, laying on my back, unable to move half my body, tubes running into every orifice you can imagine. I even had to wear a nappy for a few days, which certainly had its ups and downs. I see why a baby cries when they need their nappy changed. It’s not a comfortable process at all. It seemed like everything was brought down to the absolute core basics of human needs: I ate, peed, slept and repeated. Always looking forward to the 2-hours of visiting time each day, where I would see my closest friends and family. These moments I cherished so much, just being with people I could communicate with and talk to. It was honestly, so fucking special, I can’t even explain how I felt. I have to remind myself these days, to really ensure I appreciate the time spent with people that I love because it wasn’t long ago that it was unknown whether I would experience that feeling ever again.

The simplicity of being around people, the beauty of sharing a moment of laughter, being able to look someone in the eyes, hold someone’s hand and just appreciate someone’s presence. These are the things we do daily, yet overlook and brush past as just another part of existence, yet when we sit so deeply in these moments you can make time feel like an eternity. I felt I was gifted with the opportunity to look through life with the lens of a child, seeing and feeling for the first time. Absolute curiosity and appreciation, of the small things. As we ‘grow-up’ we feel this loss of connection to our inner states of curiosity, we start to let life become mundane, monotonous and repetitive. We lose touch with the eyes that see the absolute incredibleness of this thing we call life. You may be thinking why this is important to share, and how does this relate to training for an endurance event. It’s because right now, I am sharing with you why it is so important we live life to the fullest we can when we can. Because tomorrow IS NOT PROMISED.

Let me say that again, TOMORROW IS NOT PROMISED.

I truly realised that life will not wait for you, it will not save a seat for you on the bus. You have to get up and get that seat. You have to ask yourself ‘what do I want from life?’, and you have to go out and get it. This does not mean doing irrational things and becoming care-less. It is the complete opposite, it’s about caring so much about how you spend your life, who you spend your life with and what you spend your life doing. Because trust me, in the blink of an eye everything can change. We can sit on the sideline and wait to be called up, or we can show up each and every day and try our hardest to be the very best version of ourselves. We all experience the ebbs and flows of life, however, we choose our attitude towards these experiences. I’ve cried more in the last year that I probably had in my previous 20 years of existence, I felt true pain and I have also felt absolute pure joy. It’s not about asking life to be easier on us, it’s about asking ourselves how we can become stronger as a human being.

Even after I left the hospital, I had severe pains in my brain for the following month. I would wake up in the middle of the night in absolute excruciating pain running down the nerves of my neck and head. There were a few occasions, where I was in so much pain that I would go to the local A&E, as a protocol in case anything had happened in one of my arteries. One night in December I experienced such a frightening experience. It felt like I was being pierced by a sharp blade, the pain wouldn’t leave and I was rushed to the hospital. The doctors could never tell me what it was because you see, the brain is the most complex organ we have and it is near impossible to pinpoint why something happens in it. I am so grateful that those days are behind me, I cherish sleep so much now, I cherish being pain-free so much. I remember laying in my bed, in tear-jerking pain, telling myself this would all pass and it would soon become a distant memory. It can be so hard to feel through pain at that moment, but teaching myself and telling myself that better days were ahead of me gave me the strength I needed to pull through the most difficult time in my entire life. I know life isn’t going to get easier and in all honesty, I don’t need it to. I am so focused on developing myself to be able to deal with any cards I get played. Because trust me, you don’t choose the cards but you can choose how you play the game.

So, if you needed that permission to go out and do that thing you said you would, to go and be spontaneous, to take a risk with something, then this is it. I promise you, you will not regret it because honestly when someone looks you in the eyes and says you can’t do something you should reply with ‘try me’. They said I may never wake up, they said my mind may never be the same again, they said I may never walk or use my body as I did before. I didn’t only just wake up, my brain has not just recovered and I am not just walking. I am mentally more capable than I have ever been, my mind feels clearer than ever before and my body feels stronger and faster than I could ever imagine. This is why the Ironman is so important to me, because If I had listened to what they said ‘may never be’, I would not be here right now. So today I ask you, don’t let anyone hold you back from becoming the greatest version of yourself, I give you permission and most importantly, you should give yourself that permission. Because tomorrow is not promised and being healthy today is your greatest gift.

Finding Balance

This blog for me is all about sharing with you how the first few weeks of training, work and creating a balanced reality has been for me. It has been tough. I run a digital marketing agency as my main way to earn income and ever since we entered this pandemic, I’ve scaled up my business 5-fold as everyone has been looking to get online and create a digital presence. Trying to juggle the constant inflow of clients, with the 10–12 hours of Ironman training a week, ensuring I am eating enough to keep myself energised, resting enough to then be able to train, whilst also working and helping with my family business and most importantly ensuring I take time to invest in my most loved relationships all got very overwhelming for me last week. I am normally very capable of long work hours, but when you are working the body so much you need to ensure you take mental breaks and I couldn’t remember the last time I switched Netflix on. I realised that on my recovery days, I would be working to ensure I got all the work I needed to get done for clients. I am also launching a coaching and human performance business, which has its own endless list of tasks. It all became a bit too much to handle. I wasn’t able to keep up with my workload, my body was flaking and feeling very sore and my mind was getting extremely tired. I needed help and I feel very grateful to have incredible people around me, to consolidate and discuss these things with, as I honestly felt at one point, whilst I was exhausted after finishing a run, staring at the blue sky, I was on the edge of another burn-out.

I had a long chat with a very good friend of mine, and she reminded me to slow down. She reminded me that I didn’t need to force myself to do things and that I was clearly overwhelming myself for no reason. At that moment, she held a space for me that would shift the way I approached this journey. I needed to let go of some stuff and take a step back from certain things if I was going to complete this mission. I didn’t need to overwork myself. If you know me, you know this, but if you don’t know me you may be starting to realise how I love to do as much as I can. Yes, this has manifested in accolade upon accolade and achievement upon achievement in multiple fields of education and business, however, it seems to sometimes be at a detriment to my own well-being and health. My business and life goals are bigger than ever and they will continue to be. I need to just continuously remind myself that I don’t have to be doing everything I want to do in this exact moment. It was that day, after that conversation, I made the conscious decision to shift my business life and take a big step back from a lot of client work. I had my biggest month in June and I am going to nearly double that in July. I have deserved to take a step back, reminding myself that I now know how to onboard new clients If I needed to and that they aren’t going anywhere. I needed to return to a state of balance if I was going to not only complete this mission but also have the time I have worked so hard to create a life where I can do spontaneous and fun things, which is, as I mentioned a big part of living a great life.

This is why this journey has been so beautiful so far, I have without a doubt a feeling that the greatest struggles are yet to come. I am now 80 days out from the Ironman 70.3 in Luxembourg. I have decided to slow down with my training and pace myself better in order to achieve my goals. I am already completing the swim distance (1.9km) in only 45 mins, which is hitting my target already. I am just shy of both the cycle distance (90km) and the run distance (21.1km) and I just need to focus on a few more km’s and getting the speeds up to where I want them. I know if I pace myself I will complete this Ironman, as long as I don’t exhaust my body before I get to race day. Learning how to balance work, projects, training and relationships are the lessons I will take into the rest of my life and this is why this journey is so beautiful.

I have decided to take August very relaxed both work and training-wise. I’m going to get out of this country for a short period, share moments with amazing friends and just enjoy life. I need to remind myself I was gifted with the opportunity to live a greater life and with that I must continually remind myself to live and deeply enjoy each moment. I must not get too ahead of myself lost in future goals and doings. I like to remind myself of the words a beautiful friend of mine said to me, she said: “Leyth you must remember you are human BE-ing, not a human DO-ing!”. I lay in that hospital bed telling myself how grateful I was to breathe again and I must ensure I keep a balanced life, yes my goals are bigger than ever and I will continue to focus on them, however, I must remember to not let it be a detriment to this incredible sacred moment that we are all experiencing together.

I have already accomplished an incredible baseline of fitness and I know I can complete this Ironman 70.3. However, most importantly I must be happy doing it. I must be enjoying the journey, feeling through each moment, continually learning as I have been, balancing my projects and just having fun. Because, as I said before, tomorrow is not promised.

Til, next time x

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