Life after cycling

For those of you who follow me on social media you’ll see I’ve posted a few articles of late about retirement and the difficulties athletes face when it’s time to end their career. The articles got a fair bit of attention so I thought I would share my experiences so far and how I’ve found the adjustment to life after such a long career on the bike.

It has been hard at times but I think I’m actually doing ok. There have been times when I have felt a bit low and questioned which way to go or have wondered how my life after cycling is going to pan out, but to be honest I have got through probably the hardest part pretty well. I think that’s because I’ve had goals and focus from very early on and I’ve been busy. I’ve also got a very supportive fiancé, and a great family behind me too who have been there my whole career. This all helps. They get it, they understand. I don’t underestimate that life for them has changed too though. I mean there is no more cheering and excitement for them, no late nights or early starts watching races, no more heartbreaking goodbyes, no butterflies, anxiety or proud moments seeing me win, but for me, life has dramatically changed. After all, cycling was and is all I know.

I officially retired at the Tour of Southland in November last year and following the race I had a week off doing nothing at all. It was a planned week off, but still it was a week off with no focus. I put on 3kgs in this week; I was exhausted, unmotivated and miserable to be honest. The daily routines I had practiced for many years during my professional career I stopped doing, and as a result, in that week I experienced retirement exactly like the articles read. Although the thing with my situation was that I knew it was only temporary and I knew I needed this week to gather my energy before I refocused. I told the people closest to me that I was having a week off, not thinking about the future and with no stress of decision-making, and after that I would start planning. I’ve been busy ever since, and I’m thankful I have been busy.

I actually couldn’t imagine life like that week I had after the Tour of Southland. Waking up with no routine, no passion, no goals or direction. That was hard and I can see exactly why athletes who have led a very structured life can fall down and struggle. True to my fiancé Susie’s form, as soon as the 7th day rolled around she reminded me that the week was up. It was time to go to work or at least it was time to start planning what I was going to do.

I went straight into building my coaching website. As this started happening my mind was going crazy with lots of different ideas. I was getting up at 5am writing content for my website getting it ready to launch. I felt rushed though because Xmas was coming quick and I wanted to launch my website before then. It took a lot of time to get this sorted and a lot of energy went into it, but at least it kept me focused and busy. I wasn’t earning a living, but I was preparing to do so. I was preparing to put myself out there in a way that I don’t feel comfortable with, but I had to do it.

I have had challenges along the way, that’s for sure – like when I finally launched my coaching website and anticipated the floodgates to open, yet I had nobody sign up in the first week. That was so disappointing and a big challenge I had to overcome quickly. I just naturally thought, (similar to how I approached my career with the motto ‘hard work is always rewarded’) that my coaching career would start off with a hiss and a roar – but it didn’t. I had lots of interest, lots of social media comments and verbal support, but nobody signed up in that first week and in fact it took a few weeks to get any momentum going. I had entered into a market that was already saturated with coaches. I also launched just prior to Christmas so timing was not great. But still, going into it I never thought for a second that it would be a slow start and take time and a lot of work to build momentum. At this time, this hurt my soul more than anything. Looking back now though, this actually allowed me more time to plan and be more prepared for what the future was holding, but right there at that moment I felt like crying and giving up. Again, I was lucky to have my family there saying it was all going to be ok. They kept me motivated but still it wasn’t easy.

One big area that I struggle with now is self-promotion. Now that I have a coaching and nutrition business I have to promote it, it’s how I will survive but I cringe every time I have to do a post. Through my whole career I’ve never had to self promote and now all of a sudden I’m doing hash tags and pushing my brand – things I once loathed. This is very hard for me to do but I’m getting better and I am only now understanding how powerful social media is.

Often throughout my career I was dealt with challenges far bigger than a dismal website launch and I reckon because of those challenges I faced as an athlete and often in the public eye, I am now much better prepared for life off the bike. I remember as a young athlete I would have something wrong every week. Issue after issue. Whether it was girls, trouble with the law, partying, over eating. I had many issues. Those closest to me knew it wasn’t uncommon for me to have weeks off in the middle of the season or prior to a major event because I just couldn’t deal with the issues at hand. As my career progressed though, these issues became few and far between and as my retirement rolled around, I had already faced and overcome everything I needed to arm myself for life after cycling.

In the articles I shared on social media there were some common themes about what athletes suffer most from post retirement. One was to do with the lack of media attention and spotlight once you retire. I think every sport is different and for sure every athlete is different too. One minute you’re in the spotlight, on TV, newspaper interviews. The next there is no spotlight. No media are calling. No newspaper articles. If you relied solely on that to get you up every day for life as an athlete, or needed it to perform it would be very hard to transition.

I had my fair share of media attention especially in New Zealand around any Commonwealth Games or Olympics. At times it was intense but I don’t miss this one bit to be honest. Those that know me well know that I was never a big fan of putting myself out there in the public eye. Sure I could always handle myself in front of the media, which may have appeared that I enjoyed the spotlight, but I never went looking for it and was definitely not stressed if they didn’t call me. In fact there is a big part of me that is fearful of what success brings…attention, closely followed by scrutiny and judgment. I remember time and time again after successful Commonwealth and Olympic campaigns I would go into hiding because I didn’t want people talking about me. I never cycled for fame. I didn’t need a spotlight to motivate me to achieve what I did in cycling either, I did this through my own self-motivation and I haven’t suffered from a lack of the spotlight since retirement. I think of people like Dan Carter and Ritchie McCaw and I reckon they would feel similar. For sure if the spotlight wasn’t on them they would have been just as successful. Of course it goes without saying their life post retirement is much different to mine, as they are absolute superstars and household names and not just in New Zealand.

Initially after retiring I did wonder what I was going to do. I debated whether or not I go to university and take up the free study offered to athletes here in NZ if you have been competing at the top level for sometime. In the end though I felt that going to university at this time was not time well spent and a bit of cop out (as silly as that sounds). I am qualified already actually, I just don’t have a certificate and I haven’t paid university fees for it. I have 15 years of experience competing at the highest level in the sport of cycling. I have more than 15y of experience with nutrition, testing what works and what doesn’t work. I have experience on both the track and the road and have competed in all the biggest races worldwide. I’ve ridden in the world’s biggest teams and with some of the best riders of all time. I have acquired knowledge and experience in psychology, goal setting and knowing how to attract success at the highest level. Importantly, I have a thirst for knowledge and have been on a constant path of self-enlightenment for the past 10 years. In the end I felt that I actually don’t need a certificate on the wall. I just needed to follow my passion and intuition, do what I’ve always done and put all this knowledge I have acquired to use. I’ve always helped others, it’s what inspires me and that’s what I’m doing today.

I do miss cycling in the world’s biggest league but I don’t miss saying goodbye to my family. I miss getting x number of bikes a year and suitcases full of clothes. I don’t miss feeling like my life is at risk in a bunch of unknowns. For sure there are many more things I miss, but right now I feel pretty good about life!

I think another thing that has helped in my transition was the fact that I chose when I was going to retire. I was not forced into retirement and I was the one that made the call. It felt so good when I told Susie, my fiancé, I was going to retire. I was excited and I still remember those feelings like it was yesterday. This made a difference I’m sure of it. I think if I’m honest I have been preparing for retirement for about 2-3 years before I officially retired. I lost the love for Europe and being away from my family a few years back and step-by-step I have been preparing for this time so I think this subconscious preparation has helped me tremendously.

In terms of transitioning and what I feel has helped me the most, I would say the first is my morning routine. Apart from the dreaded week after the tour of southland, I have practice my morning routine every single day. This is what I’ve done for the last 5y of my career and I learned this from successful people like Tim Ferris, and Tony Robbins among others. For me my morning routine consists of movement – core, squats, lunges, kettle-bell, etc. I then take a cold shower – this allows me to get rid of any thoughts that aren’t serving me. Being in the cold makes you focus on your breath and survival, and then as soon as you get out you feel amazing – what more could feel better than warmth after freezing! I find ‘cold water therapy’ to be so good. It really doesn’t matter how you feel when you wake, after a cold shower there is only one way to feel and that’s great. I then do a breathing exercise where I breathe in and out of my nose. I breathe 10s in and 30-60s out very slowly. This breathing helps me relax, reset and start my day in a good way. I stretch most days too, it’s something I’ve done my whole career and if I don’t do it I just don’t feel super. This 15min routine has helped me keep some form of structure and normality in my life. If you don’t have a morning routine and want to be successful then you should start one today because it will change your life, your career and it costs nothing.

Athlete’s bodies also start changing when you retire because you are no longer burning as many calories. Especially cyclists. I went from doing 25hrs on the bike a week to about 1-2hrs per week of moderate exercise – that’s a big change. I think in general when your body is so used to both burning a ton of calories and sweating daily then all of a sudden you do next to nothing this also plays a role in what happens to an athlete post retirement. I actually think this is a very big issue for many athletes and perhaps even bigger than a lack of spotlight for some. I know for me it was a big deal. One-minute athletes have amazing bodies and are in great shape. They’re strong, they stretch, and they sweat. They look good. The jeans fit, the T-shirt fits. The next minute they are gaining a kg a week, not sweating like they did and people start noticing. This for me is an issue I believe athletes struggle a lot with in retirement and initially I thought a lot about this too.

I worried about this issue the most prior to retirement, because I had major eating issues for a lot of years as an athlete. I talked about it often and even joked about weight gain after cycling. The weight gain issue for me was always going to be hard. However, over the past few years I have learned and experimented with everything there is to know about diets, so that I could be the right weight for cycling and so that I wasn’t the guy that put on 20kg after cycling. I’ve learned so much of late about nutrition. It’s mind boggling just how simple it is when you understand. I’m now no longer hungry or thinking about food all the time, I love the food I eat, I have no cravings and more importantly I’m having success with a lot of people that, with my support, are all eating in a way that is so different to what we’ve been told our whole life. This is my new passion and is a big part of what I’m doing now in ‘retirement’. I am seeing so many people needing help out there, and not just athletes. Finally after learning what I was doing wrong for most of my career, and having all these missing pieces start falling into place I am now fitting the jeans I was fitting at my skinniest as an athlete and I’m helping many others do the same.

This blog post has bounced around a bit but I wanted to get a fair bit out. So in short, retirement for me right now is great. There have been challenges I’ve had to overcome but all along the way I’ve had support networks in place. I have a loving family, I have drive and motivation and I love helping others. I know I have to keep my morning routines up, and I know I have to sweat every once and a while for the feel good factor. I now no longer have to exercise to fit clothes though, I’ve sorted that issue out in the kitchen and I can’t tell you how good that has made me feel. These are all the things that have helped with my transition to life after being an athlete for the last 20 years. Thanks for reading.

1 reply added

  1. Nathan June 6, 2017 Reply

    Great post Hayden, not easy to put all those experiences in writing I’m sure. Of the articles I see on the struggles athlete face post retirement, not many, if any talk about the strengths and tools athletes have gained from their sport experience to get them through to the other side. Your writing does in spades, nice work.

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