Chronic fatigue syndrome: ian wilson

Chronic fatigue syndrome - Swimmer lan Wilson is British Record Holder (Long Course) 1500m Freestyle, 15:03: 72 (1991), and was European Silver Medalist (91), World Student Games Champion (91) and World (91,94), Olympic (92) and Commonwealth (90, 94) Finalist.

1993 was a tremendously difficult year for me, but having fought back in '94,I decided to write down my thoughts on coping with and overcoming Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). If during my recuperation I had been able to speak to someone who had suffered from CFS and then successfully recovered, I would have felt that there was some light at the end of my gloomy tunnel.

Around May 1993 it became clear that things were not going as they should when in training I was struggling to hit my target times, feeling very tired and having incredibly heavy, aching muscles, especially in my arms. My sleep patterns were erratic and, although I don't remember much about this, I was told I was looking tired, always yawning, and was quite irritable and snappy.

After a poor performance at the Senior National Championships in June 1993, where these symptoms were all magnified, together with a high pulse, David Fodden, the Meet Medical Officer, carried out a series of blood tests, which showed a number of irregularities. I was then referred to the British Olympic Medical Centre in Harrow.

Diagnosis and treatment
On July 7,1993, the day before being announced as a member of the Great Britain Team for the Sheffield European Championships, I saw Dr Richard Budget, the Medical Officer at BOMC, who advised me to withdraw from the team or face the possibility of ending up with an illness similar to ME.

I was diagnosed as suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, caused by training at too high an intensity with insufficient recovery built into the programme. This had caused severe muscle damage.

I had regularly been swimming 10 or 11 sessions each week, at least seven of which were of high quality. Between January and July 1993 I was averaging 85km each week, many weeks swimming in excess of 95km. The overall intense training programme had taken its toll, and physically my body could stand no more. Everything that Ian Armiger, my coach at the time, and I had been working towards had gone. I was at such a low when I first saw Dr Budget and felt really cut off from the swimming world.

From training for over four hours each day, Dr Budget then put me on a series of six-week recovery and recuperation programmes, starting off with 20 minutes light exercise every other day, and slowly over time increasing this to 30 minutes, then two days on, one day off, and so on.

I visited Harrow every six weeks to assess my progress, and if I wasn't coping with the extra amounts of swimming I had to take a step back to the previous week's programme. Besides the recuperation programme, I had to keep a constant check on my resting and active heart rates, complete a weekly Profile of Mood State (POMS) questionnaire, which can detect signs of stress and fatigue, have weekly massages, and generally pamper myself. Well, I had so much time on my hands I went to evening sessions to help out on the poolside, coaching the younger swimmers at Sunderland.

Over the next few months I was being monitored by Dr Budget and gradually increasing (a) the amount of time spent in a session, and (b) the number of sessions per week I was swimming. By mid-November 1993 I was up to a full week's training. At that point Dr Budget said I could start to increase the intensity of my training, while still being aware of warning signs such as tiredness, irritability and a high resting pulse. I then contacted Terry Denison at the City of Leeds and in late November moved there to train with a man whose experience, knowledge and expertise were, I felt, second to none.

Being so ill had taught me a few things. I now had to listen to my body - a raised resting pulse meant there was something astray; constantly being too tired was unnatural. I also had to learn something new - patience! Being a highly motivated individual who only settles for the best, I had to try to readjust my thinking, as sometimes, some days, my body could not take too much. I used to be such a consistently high trainer, and when I first got ill I was hard on myself if I was not hitting the targets Ian Armiger had set me, but now I had to learn to say 'Oh well, today I cannot handle that'. It was hard! It was frustrating! It still is frustrating! Yet I honestly feel I am now more relaxed and less tense during my training than I used to be. Terry and my new team-mates may not agree, but they didn't see me before !
It was very disheartening last summer to watch the European 1 500m Final being won in a time that was 10 seconds slower than the time I swam to win the silver medal in 1991, but I kept telling myself that if during the recuperation period I carried out Dr Budget's instructions to the letter, things would work out right for me. This was positive thinking on my part but there were no guarantees. Someone may be fit after six months, 12 months, or never - it depends on the individual. Swimming still meant so much to me that I could not contemplate the latter, though there were certainly times when things were far from ideal.

The start of 1994
In January this year I was given the go-ahead to compete for the first time since July 1993, provided there was little pressure or stress. I chose the British Grand Prix Meet in Gloucester. In spite of the overpowering presence of a BBC film crew following me around for a programme in 'The Contenders' series, I swam remarkably well to win the short course 1500m free (15:19),400m Free(3:57) and swam 2:04 fly and 4:29 1. M. It was like starting all over, learning again how to race!
Even into the New Year my training was inconsistent. Some days I would feel great in a warm-up, but have nothing there on a main set, or I would feel strong on a moderate swim but struggle to hit form on a harder set. Again this was very frustrating, and although I was still getting annoyed I was learning to accept that on that particular day it was all I could manage.

My dedication, discipline and determination were all there - turning up to all sessions early, doing the said number of sessions, pushing myself when I was told to but sometimes I had nothing to give. Yet other days I would 'fly' and feel great. How bizarre!
Getting back to the international scene was an important step, and I was pleased with my performances for the English Senior Squad at the World Cup meets in Desenzano (Italy) and Sheffield. The adrenalin had started to flow when I lined up against my international rivals.

Obviously in 1994 I wanted to qualify for the Commonwealth Games, although the qualifying time for the 1500m was a rather tough 15:29. We tapered down for the Edinburgh International Swim Meet in April but my time of 15:35, although good considering all I'd been through, fell short of the standard. I was still hoping to qualify, but it would have to be at the Summer National Championships at the end of July.

Then, following Edinburgh, I had a setback. I was feeling very tired again in training, with heavy, aching muscles. Blood tests taken by Mr Fodden showed some abnormal results as before, so it was a case of having to back off the intensity. The more despair I felt, the more depressed I became - a vicious circle. I needed to feel better in order to train better, and so to feel happier.... Eventually thing started to improve, and I got in a good block of work at the British Olympic Association training camp in Tallahassee, USA, in June.

Summer, '94
We planned to race early in July, some three weeks before the National Championships, at an international meet in Vienna with the English Senior Squad, where I was hoping for some good form leading into Crystal Palace. I am always more confident going into a major meet knowing I have had a good block of work done and some solid performances recorded. However, despite winning in Vienna by almost 45 seconds, my performance was just not there. 15:59, my slowest time since 1987. Sure, other English swimmers will tell you the conditions were far from perfect, but 15:59 just before the Nationals - well, mentally I was rock-bottom again.

I tried to stay positive, but I am also realistic. I felt that perhaps this year I might have to resign myself to not making the Commonwealth Games team, and that the work I had done this year would be the groundwork for 1995. I had done all I could, but perhaps it was not to be.

Nevertheless, Terry Denison and I both decided to continue as planned and start a taper into the Nationals. Since moving to Leeds my training had been more structured. Sure, I got up to 100km, but only for a couple of weeks before coming down to 70-80km. The sessions were not as intense and I was trying with a longer taper than I had been used to.

Staying as positive as I could, I went into the Nationals knowing I had swum inside the qualifying time over 15 times in my career. I qualified fastest for the final with a 15:43 but needed to swim 15 seconds faster in the final to make the Commonwealth Games Team.

I was very nervous for the final, but when I dived in I felt good and stayed in contention with Graeme Smith, the youngster who had been doing so well while I was ill and making a comeback, until around 800m, when, still feeling strong, I started to pull away. I felt good but remember thinking at the back of my mind 'Will my muscles start to ache and feel heavy? Will I suddenly stop holding this pace?' But no. I kept on and increased my lead to win my fourth Long Course title in five years in 15:19.70, a Commonwealth Games and World Championships qualifying time, the seventh, fastest swim in the world then, and the fastest time the event had been won in. It felt great - the best I had felt in the water in over two years. I had done it!
Ian Wilson
(Editor's note: In the Commonwealth Games final lan Wilson swam his second-fastest time ever, 15:08. 77, to finish fourth behind three Australians, and at the World Championships in Rome came seventh in a very tough and demanding final. His last comment on an eventful year? 'Even when things are at their worst, NEVER give up hope - stay as positive as you can, with your goals firmly in place.Nothing is impossible, and if you want to make it back, you can!')

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