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  • Darren Roberts

Back to the drawing board – fighting fatigue.



Fatigue is a word that is only to commonly associated with cancer and its debilitating treatments. Every cancer journey reluctantly undertaken will involve a relationship with fatigue in one shape or another. I spend so much time fighting it – both mentally and physically. Fatigue blights my life, like the disruptive mate who loves to hang out with me every day but spends the time taunting me about my struggles. I’m exhausted most of the time – cancer is exhausting. It’s tiring to even think about how you can win the battle against fatigue, remain upbeat about your condition in front of your loved ones and attempt to plan your life to be the best version of yourself, whilst trying to remain positive. I’m constantly searching for an activity or fitness idea to latch onto to fight the fatigue and the complacency brought on by tiredness. It’s a relentless battle and a sad reality for me and many others fighting cancer.

I used to run – well I use the word ‘run’ loosely as I wasn’t the kind of runner with a lean physique, effortless running style and natural gait. I was the 15 stone big-boned flat footed chap you drove past in your car and muttered under your breath “ahh look, at least he’s doing it”. Yes, that was me. I found my nirvana in running and no matter how big I was I managed to propel myself forward enough to complete 4 London Marathons, numerous 10K‘s and the odd 5K park run. Running was my Prozac, my escape, my place to right my wrongs and sort out the madness in my life. I loved my version of running! But then I got sick… The spinal tumour was the last straw and took away my ability to run forever and my ongoing cancer treatment has made sure that I will never be able to distance run again.

I remember when I first felt really fatigued and noticing my body was changing and adjusting to the toxic medicines keeping me alive. It was heart-breaking. My body which I’d relied on to deliver was failing me and not because I’d orchestrated it through bad behaviour but because of the treatments that I was enduring. It’s a real smack in the face coming to terms with the change in fitness especially when you were a finely tuned Olympian in your previous life.

I had spent so much time finding my new happy place and somewhere to hide in my mind – something to do to keep fit and address my fatigue. Then the Virus happened – like a really bad, ill-timed joke and immediately my plans were scuppered in the blink of an eye. Being so flat and fatigued in the middle of a pandemic is an interesting combination as it pulls on everything and asks you so many questions which is something no one is prepared for.

So, back to the drawing board.

It’s really frustrating to watch all the social media platforms exploding with exuberant fit sculpted PT instructors all vying for your attention, attempting to get your inner fuse lit with programs designed to start your day with a bang. But when you just don’t have it in you to bounce around your front room bound tightly in a resistance band - it’s a challenge a bit too far.

My great friend Norbert Torma at the Sky Sports Store provided me with the perfect solution addressing my love for cycling and keeping fit. Norbert has been my sounding board for many years, so when he suggests something I tend to listen: “Get a turbo trainer Darren, it will change your life”. After some deliberation and research, I jumped right on it (pun intended) and I’m glad I did – thanks mate. Attach your bike to this very clever contraption and off you go. It took a while to persuade Nic to buy into the idea of having my bike and trainer on permanent show in the kitchen but after a lot of convincing she caved. My USP for the whole idea was that the bike is a work of art, it needs to be seen to be enjoyed, my fitness is a work in progress and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency and self-preservation.

This way I get to incorporate social distancing, exercise freely in my own domain and privately so I don’t have to inflict my lycra on anyone. I get to ride my bike and remain safe which is the most important thing given what is happening in the outside world. I also discovered Zwift – who knew? I’m a bit late to the Zwift party but definitely, better late than never. The turbo trainer talks to Zwift via my Mac and I’m able to ride courses around the country, compete in challenges and daily exercise routines. It’s quite remarkable what is available to get you moving whilst enduring the heavy emotional demands of lockdown. Zwift really is incredible. A private cycling world tailored just to you and your personal needs and goals. Zwift enables me to achieve my small targets and move forward at my own pace and not a resistance band or kettlebell in sight. Don’t get me wrong I’d love to have the get up and go required to do a HIIT Class or fling a kettlebell around like some of my fit friends, but my get up and go got up and went when my cancer arrived in town and I’m now on a quest to find it again - whatever it takes.

So, this is Darren Roberts, competitive cyclist, former Olympian and cancer survivor signing off. Addressing his fatigue, boredom and tiredness whilst competing in the Tour de France from the comfort of his kitchen in Croydon.

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