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Burnout, Bravery and Bikes

by Kelsey Timpany

I’ve been hearing more and more stories of women burning out – especially in the pandemic, where boundaries have become blurred between work, play, mental health and more. The pressures of society to be competitive as a racer, as stylish as instagram influencers or to be seen always riding your bike can weigh heavy on the demands placed on yourself. 

I am writing this month’s blog on burnout because I worry for the talented women within the biking industry who are cruising towards burnout without realising it. 2021 has been an Olympic year, a year of firsts for women’s biking events and more. Now more than ever the world is watching us and with that can come pressure – regardless if you are a weekend shredder or aspiring to be Casey Brown.

I believe, as women, we are all carrying hearty daily work loads that lead us to dance (or in mountain biking’s case, ride) with exhaustion or burnout as part of our everyday life. Have you ever noticed as we get to the pointy end of the year and season, people casually slip “I’m burnt out,” in a conversation, but don’t look up from the trail in front of them to see how it is affecting their mental health?

The emotional, mental and physical exhaustion can slowly creep up, before you know it you are struggling through the days, trying to keep all wheels spinning. Until it is too late – you end up sick, unmotivated or even worse – quitting.

PC: Neil Kerr

Burnout is something I am so aware of and a place I have been myself. Struggling to juggle all the balls in life is too real. They get dropped, I feel like I am running on empty. But how do we know when it is time to stop? Or when to ask for help?

I, like many others, have taken my wellness and mental health for granted. You see, burnout didn’t just show up on my doorstep and say “Gidday, I’m here.” No, on reflection I was slow riding with it for a while – and I hate riding slow.

At first, I wanted it all. Then, the next minute I was struggling to even pull myself out for a cruisy ride, full of fun little jumps, the most un-strenuous type, a task with maximum cup-filling capabilities. I started questioning and doubting my work, values, skills and worth on a bike. My performance on and off the bike dropped dramatically. The worst part – I didn’t care. This is when I knew I had hit rock bottom.

I thought my strength came from resisting burnout. I took pride in being able to balance a professional career, competitive riding and a social life  – so I wore goggles to block out the signs of it. But it was there. Burnout manifested in my body in the form of a cold I couldn’t shake, loss of appetite and constant brain fog. I was giving everyone 50% and myself, even less. 

For the first time, I had to learn to say NO. I am absolutely guilty of being a people pleaser and this went against the grain. I didn’t attend events, I let people down and had to turn off social media. I sat with myself and wallowed in the guilt that I was letting down sponsors, work colleagues and friends. 

This lasted a few months until I could feel myself getting stronger, and I had a clear idea of what was really important to me and how I wanted to finish my biking season. It took a lot longer than I originally anticipated, but I can happily say I am now firing on full cylinders and am stronger for it.

I recovered from burnout by stripping back my workload, cutting back on racing and doing fun rides with my Pivot pup and Switchblade.

The most important thing you can do is recognise the stages of burnout rather than waiting to get to the dire straits of disappointment and failure. Take it from me, it’s not fun. Prioritise yourself. Take a break. Wipe things off your-to-do-list. Ride your bike in a way that sparks joy – Funk what others are doing or what you think you should be doing. Eat well, and bag yourself some rest. 

I cannot stress enough how much it helped to talk to other people. When I opened up to colleagues, partners and friends, it surprised me at the time how many were able to relate. I was supported by bosses saying “Just take the afternoon off, we are all good here,” or “You won’t die if you miss training tonight.” Sharing helped put an end to my internal whispers of “I’m not good enough.”

Be brave and stay true to yourself and your why. Yes, this can be easier said than done and sometimes it takes a burnout to realise what is really important. 

Show yourself and others compassion. At the end of the day we are only human and it is natural to want all the wants!

As always – do it, for the love of It.


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