Current Ironman and FGS Ambassador Jayson Langley writes an intriguing blog which takes us through his Triathlon journey, how it started, the impact it’s had on his life and how his extreme determination pushes him to his limits and sometimes even over the edge….
I got into triathlon in 2018 when I signed up for Ironman UK in Bolton. It had been on my bucket list since I was in the military and a couple of friends had completed one. What I didn’t expect at the time was that it would become a huge part of my life and actually help save it.
When I left the military in 2012, I had PTSD from my tour in Afghanistan. I struggled with anxiety & depression. At the beginning of 2017 my mental health deteriorated to a new low, and I finally sought a doctor for help. I was prescribed medication and referred to a therapist, however things didn’t improve until I started my Ironman training later that same year.
Whilst on holiday in South Africa in October 2017 I made the leap and signed up for my first Ironman, I didn’t even own a bike at this stage and the last time I rode one was years before when I cycled my mountain bike from one end of the military camp, where I was stationed, to the other. Buzzing after my registration, I thought it was time to start training and took myself for my first run, a measly 5k which nearly killed me.
Running has always been my strongest discipline, when I was at school I ran for my county in cross country. Back then I was running at a high level but suddenly I gave up what I loved after getting involved with the wrong crowd and partying became the priority. Growing up in South Africa, I was a very confident swimmer as it was part of everyday life and although I was not used to swimming long distance, I knew I would be fine with some practice.
When I returned from holiday, I bought my first bike with cleats. My first ride out on the road was interesting to say the least; I’m sure my wife would send the video of my first attempt to the highest bidder! I then bought a training programme from training peaks and got to work.
Being the competitive person that I am I threw everything at it and was hooked instantly, I trained as much as possible and as hard as possible all the time and that’s when problems started to come to the surface.
I had entered the Southampton half marathon which was in April 2018. I ended up running this in 1h:29min which was way too quick in such a short time of training and subsequently afterwards suffered continuous burning pains in my hips. However, I continued training through the pain and did my first triathlon (70.3) the month before Bolton. Here I finished in 5h:18min because of having to walk for most of the run due to the pain in my hips. I self-diagnosed the pain simply being caused by the stress I put my body under during my long hard training sessions, but after seeing several physios it was pinpointed as tight piriformis.
Now, slightly worried I headed to Bolton (Ironman) not knowing what to expect and whether I would finish. On the day, after a strong swim and bike I again found myself walking for most of the run, however, I struggled over the line. In doing so my passion for the sport had intensified more than ever. In the aftermath the pain didn’t get any better, I decided it was time to see a Chiropractor. After some inspections I was quickly referred for x-rays and a stress fracture was diagnosed. I needed steroid injections in my lower back and wasn’t allowed to train for a few months. This was a major struggle for me at the time, but it made me determined to come back stronger. Although it’s not something I’d recommend – not everyone can say they completed an Ironman with a stress fracture in their back!
In 2019, I struggled with knee pain caused by my ITB. However, I was excited for my next competition - Challenge Lisbon. In hindsight it's obvious I should’ve never even started the race. But in my typical fashion I dosed myself up with ibuprofen and hoped for the best. After the race I posted my DNF on Instagram and got a lot of messages congratulating me for giving it a go. On the other hand, one follower very bluntly told me I was an idiot for even trying, he wasn’t being unkind but reminded me of what I was risking. It actually made me realise I was an idiot and had potentially written off the rest of the season all because I wanted a medal.
After that race I saw a fantastic physio, Faith Fisher, who was a Team GB Triathlete herself and physio to the Paralympic team. I had Ironman Staffordshire booked in as my next target, Faith’s excellent rehab allowed me to partake that day in the swim and cycle, but I was under strict instructions from her not to attempt the run. But guess what…I did! This set me back again. But finally, after this stupidity I learned a lot about ensuring injuries are taken seriously. I know now it’s important not to rush anything – triathlon will still be there when I’m better.
Again, my physio Faith got me ready for my first race of 2020, Challenge Salou (supposed to be in March) but Covid hit, and no-one could race. To say I was devastated was an understatement. I had finally learnt my lesson to slow down when injured, I was at my fittest and so excited to see what time I would get. At this point there was still a tiny glimmer of hope that Ironman Staffs would be going ahead so everything went into training for that.
In early May, during lockdown, I went for a run and was surprised by how tight my chest felt. I couldn’t breathe, and we worried I might have Covid although having none of the other symptoms. The weeks passed and every run felt harder, I was out of breath, felt weak when doing any exercising, I was constantly exhausted and started losing weight at an alarming rate. I lost 9kg in 3 weeks and my muscle mass deteriorated significantly.
I paid a much-needed trip to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid. My condition was then confirmed as Graves disease. This resulted in me going on regular medication since July 2020, thankfully now with continuous medication I am pretty much back to normal. At the time I had to stop all training until September 2020 which I found difficult, but my previous experiences had taught me some important lessons which I took on board.
I made a promise to myself that this time I would do things differently. I focused on doing more strength work, something I neglected previously. Also, I made a vital adjustment for me personally; slowing it down in training. What I mean by that is not every session has to be at flat out pace. Wrongly in the past I used to treat every training session as a race and never gave the body time to recover.
The uplift to my mental health when I am actively training is huge, just a couple of weeks doing nothing (not training) I really notice the difference in my mood. I think that is also partly why I’ve been rubbish at taking time off when I’m injured as I know I need to train to stay mentally healthy.
Having spent a lot of time away from training and racing due to my injuries, some say it’s maybe time I give it up and it’s not meant to be, but for me when I’m not training or racing, I’m thinking about training and racing and I need that discipline, distraction and all those endorphins to keep the dark days away.
When I started in triathlon, I had goals I wanted to achieve. I won’t stop until I achieve them and that’s what keeps me motivated.
When racing finally resumed in 2020 I had goals to achieve and would stop at nothing to achieve them. I went into my first 70.3 race with one goal - going sub-5 hours for the first time. I got the sub-5 hour finish I was looking for and with confidence high, my sights were set on getting a place on the Team GB age group team. I headed to Ironman Weymouth 70.3 in pursuit of this. Little did I know I on this famous day I would also qualify for the Ironman World Champs in Utah along with securing my place on team GB, finishing 5th in my Age group!
The message I want to get across in this blog is; We all have setbacks, but it is up to you how you deal with them. Keep focussed on what you want, put in the work, and you will achieve your goals!
Jayson Langley FGS Ambassador July 22