From Olympic hope­ful to barely able to walk, Kylie Mans­field ex­plains how she bat­tled back from chronic fa­tigue

Triathlon Plus - - Kylie Mansfield - Words Louise Chap­man Pho­tos Marathon pho­tos

Strolling through the park with a friend, panic gripped triathlon Olympic-prospect Kylie Mans­field.

Her friend had fallen silent and it was clear it was Kylie’s turn to speak, but she couldn’t re­mem­ber what they were talk­ing about. Kylie couldn’t even think why she was in the park or where she was headed. It was the shock she needed to face up to the fact she hadn’t been well for months.

Hav­ing dis­cov­ered triathlon in her early teens, Kylie was not un­used to train­ing for 12 to 18 hours per week and had made the po­ten­tial squad for the 2004 Olympics. She was in her sec­ond year of a marine bi­ol­ogy de­gree, but she only had one dream – to be a pro­fes­sional sportswoman.

“When I’d started uni­ver­sity we’d been en­cour­aged to have flu and menin­gi­tis vac­cines, and I’d spent the fol­low­ing three weeks with se­vere shiv­ers and flu-like symp­toms and I never re­ally re­cov­ered,” Kylie said. “I’d feel bet­ter for a week or so then rub­bish again. I’d kept try­ing to push my­self through it but it wasn’t work­ing.

“Be­cause I was keep­ing a train­ing di­ary, I had a de­tailed log of when I’d been ill and what with. It led to a di­ag­no­sis of post vi­ral chronic fa­tigue.”

Kylie was signed off uni­ver­sity and told she needed to rest. For the next six months she strug­gled to do much more than sleep.

“Ev­ery time I tried to do some­thing – read a text book, go for a walk – it would leave me so ex­hausted I would spend the next three plus days re­cov­er­ing,” she said.

Des­per­ate to get her train­ing back on track, Kylie got in the pool with what she thought was a re­al­is­tic goal of swim­ming just 400m.

“Half way down the lane I had to stop and I kept hav­ing to stop,” Kylie said. “But I’d got it in my head I was do­ing 400m and that’s what I did. It took me 45 min­utes. That’s when it re­ally hit me that this wasn’t some­thing I was go­ing to bounce back from. I wasn’t go­ing to achieve my dream of be­ing a pro. I didn’t think I’d even be able to do triathlons again.

“Chronic fa­tigue isn’t just a phys­i­cal, mus­cle aching ill­ness where you can sleep for 11 hours and still wake up lethar­gic, it is a mas­sive blow men­tally as well as emo­tion­ally.

“Some­times you re­ally can­not get your­self out of bed or off the sofa, your mus­cles ache like you have flu, joints hurt, it can hurt to talk.”

At uni­ver­sity, Kylie strug­gled with the work­load, pace of learn­ing and

“Ev­ery time I tried to do some­thing, I would spend the next three days re­cov­er­ing”

con­cen­trat­ing gen­er­ally, and even with spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion in ex­ams, her marks were af­fected. Her hopes of do­ing a masters de­gree were no longer re­al­is­tic.

In 2004, af­ter a pe­riod of var­i­ous work place­ments abroad, Kylie took up a teach­ing as­sis­tant job and de­cided to com­plete teacher train­ing. She still had fa­tigue and was by then also bat­tling de­pres­sion and in­testi­nal ul­cers brought on by stress.

“I was push­ing my­self too hard in all ar­eas of my life in the hope of ig­nor­ing what was go­ing on and try­ing to be­lieve I was bet­ter,” she said.

“As some­one who had al­ways been ac­tive and pos­i­tive, it was a com­plete turn around on both counts. Chronic fa­tigue left me feel­ing use­less and worth­less and lack­ing in di­rec­tion.”

With se­ri­ous train­ing no longer a vi­able op­tion, Kylie con­cen­trated on just try­ing to get healthy, but in the back of her mind, she couldn’t shake the de­sire to get back to triathlon.

“Grad­u­ally, over years, I was able to get fit again with easy vis­its to the gym and pool. Over the years I just built up a lit­tle bit at a time, first in the gym, swim­ming then grad­ual run/ walk­ing and even­tu­ally I started cy­cling again,” Kylie ex­plained.

Kylie at­tempted a few sprint triathlons and af­ter mov­ing to Here­ford in 2009, she joined her lo­cal triathlon club.

Her fo­cus re­mained mainly on gym and strength work. As she was al­ways hav­ing to be mind­ful of how she felt, she tended to have at least rest days ev­ery other week.

On a good week, she had two days con­tain­ing a 20-mile com­mute ride and gym ses­sions, plus a day of a cir­cuit class and a slow and steady swim of two to three kilo­me­tres. A Satur­day would per­haps al­low a 60-minute off-road run and Sun­day, a 40 to 50 mile cy­cle club ride in the morn­ing fol­lowed by a swim in the af­ter­noon.

Her strat­egy was a bit spo­radic, but her progress un­ques­tion­able and by 2011, she had won her place as an age-grouper at the ITU Long Dis­tance Triathlon World Cham­pi­onships. Kylie ad­mits she went feel­ing un­der pre­pared and her per­for­mance wasn’t what she hoped, not helped by the can­cel­la­tion of the swim.

On her re­turn, Kylie be­gan more struc­tured train­ing and in­tro­duced the dif­fer­ent train­ing zones more specif­i­cally. She re­turned to the Worlds in 2012 and 2013, com­ing 10th in the 30-34 age group in 2012. But af­ter se­cur­ing 3rd place in that group in the ETU Chal­lenge Long Dis­tance Triathlon Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in June 2013, her new sched­ule took its toll and Kylie was signed off work as a teacher.

“I knew it would be hard but I needed to see if I could do it again”

“I felt scared, frus­trated, but then de­ter­mined,” Kylie says. “It was prob­a­bly ac­tu­ally a bless­ing in dis­guise. It made me stop and re­flect and re­alise I had to make some de­ci­sions.”

Kylie went part-time from Septem­ber 2013 and, dis­il­lu­sioned with the gen­eral train­ing method­ol­ogy of “if it doesn’t hurt you’re not train­ing hard enough” and how in­con­gru­ous that was with chronic fa­tigue, launched KMTri­coach­ing. Now a Level 3 Bri­tish Triathlon Coach and ac­cred­ited nu­tri­tion­ist and herbal­ist she en­sures her own train­ing takes a whole per­son ap­proach and de­liv­ers coach­ing to match.

Her train­ing is gen­er­ally done on a three week ro­ta­tional pro­gramme with a rest day ev­ery Thurs­day and the third week be­ing an easy week, stripped right back and only one ses­sion each day.

Af­ter 12 months out of com­pe­ti­tion in 2014, last year Kylie be­came Euro­pean cham­pion in the 35-39 age group in Wey­mouth and was the sec­ond fe­male age-grouper across the line.

She said: “I’ve found the best thing for me is va­ri­ety and con­sis­tency. Do­ing the same ses­sions week in, week out tires me very quickly. You also have to adapt to what’s go­ing on in terms of work. “Some­times you have to change that ses­sion to meet your re­main­ing en­ergy lev­els or for­get it com­pletely, have a nu­tri­tious din­ner and an early night.

“Diet wise, I’m lac­tose and gluten in­tol­er­ant so I keep things as nat­u­ral as pos­si­ble. I try to in­clude pro­tein, carbs and fats in all meals and I’d rather eat lit­tle and of­ten rather than three main meals a day.

“You al­ways seem to be train­ing for the year ahead, build­ing on the foun­da­tions you laid down pre­vi­ously. The same is true of rest, re­cov­ery and diet. Noth­ing is an in­stant fix or quick short cut to the re­sults you want. It takes a long time to make fun­da­men­tal changes and see the re­sults.

“I’m lucky that I’m now at that stage where I can go into a race not feel­ing 100 per cent phys­i­cally ready but then rely on men­tal strength and pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence to drag me through. That’s taken years to build up. Triathlon is a long-term com­mit­ment sport.”

Now 36, Kylie would love to re­turn to the world stage and get to Kona one day, but her im­me­di­ate am­bi­tion is to raise the funds nec­es­sary to take her place in the long dis­tance Eu­ros in Poland in July and mid­dle dis­tance in Aus­tria in Septem­ber.

“I am grate­ful ev­ery train­ing ses­sion and be­fore ev­ery race that I am able to do that again and I don’t take it for granted,” Kylie says.

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