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Trust Thyself: Wisdom from an Exhausted Athlete

As we head into the off-season, Sara Gross reflects on what she has learned in her many years as a professional triathlete.
One thing I learned in the last few years that has stayed with me is this: It’s important to trust yourself. 
If it feels like something is wrong, it probably is.
I learned this lesson the hard way in my athletic career. When I first started training full time, I was tired. This was expected as I suddenly jumped from twelve hours of training per week to twenty five hours per week. I felt exhausted all the time. My brain was foggy. I often had multiple naps. But my fitness improved and I got faster. I hit the podium in a few Ironman races and felt that I was on the right track.
I also had some digestive problems – pain and bloating. And again I thought it was normal for my training load, the extra calories required, the bouncing motion of 80 km of running per week.
At the time I also had a coach, a great coach who is one of the best in the world. But this coach had a tendency to believe that an athlete’s problems were psychological. Fatigue? Harden up! Painful guts? Don’t eat as much! To him the gluten-free “fad” is a hoax and being a vegetarian or vegan is well… just plain idiotic.
Looking back now, it is very clear that there was a problem and that that problem held me back.
In 2011, a year after my daughter was born, my naturopath suggested that I try a gluten-free diet based on some of my symptoms of fatigue and bloating. And I tell you this:
It changed my life.
After nearly a decade of fatigue and mental fog, pain and discomfort, the transformation was amazing. Within a week I felt like a new person. I still don’t know if i am intolerant or celiac – and frankly – I don’t care. I will never eat wheat or gluten again.
All those years ago, I should have trusted my instincts and said “Enough is enough, I feel like crap and I need to do something about it.”
This experience continues to inform my life. Never take no for an answer. Never assume that the problem is you. If you feel something that does not seem “normal,” do not accept that it is your burden to bear. Find out what the problem is and find the right person to help you with that problem. The responsibility to find a solution ultimately lies with you, but never suffer in silence.
Another example, do not assume that your depression is “normal” and everyone feels that way and you need to suck it up. Get help. Depression is a physical problem just like breaking an arm. There are people out there who can help you.
My experience informed my coaching recently. I noticed that an athlete had trouble training her top end. She just could not go hard, no matter what we tried. I knew she assumed that the problem was her, but I did not. There was something wrong and we had to get to the bottom of it.
Turns out, the athlete has asthma. Not exercise-induced asthma, but full-blown asthma. It had gone undiagnosed for who knows how many years and she had learned to cope with it by never going hard in training, and not surprisingly, never improving either.
So, as we head into the off season consider this: Never accept that your problems are somehow special. You are not special. If something is holding you back from training, figure it out. Ask for help. Don’t suffer in silence. And most importantly- Trust Thyself.12088288_10153533825376815_3178357766689201542_n