Last weekend, three UK based equine vets represented Great Britain at the European Triathlon Union standard distance championships in the Netherlands. Vets Lucy Collins, Hani Milstein and Sam Morley swam 1500m, biked 40 km and ran 10km to cross the finish line. Sam reflects on the competition and his experience balancing sport and work.


The European Championships offered us the opportunity to compete for our country against other amateur athletes within defined age categories. We qualified for the championships by placing at races in 2018. The 2019 championship race was the result of many months of training in the three disciplines alongside being full time veterinary surgeons.

I’d like to make it clear that none of us flew round the triathlon course at the speed the Brownlee brothers do - we’re actually human beings! I don’t think I’ve ever heard them talking about their experiences of swim induced pulmonary oedema, lycra chafeage or the tribulations of pre-race leg shaving (embarrassingly not gender specific!); but these firmly featured in some of our race experiences! 

It was towards the end of the 10km run in 28 oC heat that I asked myself the question: “why do we do this?”! I think the answer is true for all of us; we love it and we see the benefits. I find that I am energised physically and mentally when I exercise on a regular basis. Somehow, for me, this makes the challenges of our career more manageable.


It is well known that regular exercise has physical, mental and social benefits; however we all work very hard in our profession and it is challenging to fit exercise in to our hectic personal and professional schedules. I found it is all too easy to focus solely on work and neglect your own physical and mental wellbeing.


‘Burnout’ is a phrase which many of us in the profession are now familiar with. It is a term recently recognised by the World Health Organisation as an occupational phenomenon characterised by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy. With this definition in mind, it is easy to see why veterinarians may be likely to succumb to it. 


The promotion of employees physical and mental wellbeing, thus preventing a wide range of mental health issues, is as strong a priority as it has ever been. Changes to personal and workplace routine and culture are essential to this.


Personally, I started exercising more regularly 3 years ago after starting my first job as an intern. This involved small changes in my weekly routine, including running at our local park run. This was soon followed by a colleague coaxing me out cycling every few weeks and eventually into the sport of triathlon.

 

As I started training more specifically for triathlon, I found it easiest to train in the morning during the week. I find that after a working day I lose motivation to exercise and often an unpredictable finish time makes it difficult to stick to a plan. I understand that not everyone is a morning person; so the most important factor is being able to exercise consistently at a time that works best for you, your schedule and your body. 


Innovative approaches have been taken by several workplaces to encourage their employees to exercise regularly and, thus, experience the multiple benefits. Most of these approaches are based around changing workplace culture, mindfulness and making it easier for employees to undertake exercise. Unfortunately it is not practical for most practices to extend their premises to include a spin class studio, but their are many easily organised activities that can have a positive effect.

 

At our practice team events have been very popular. The practice enters multiple relay teams into a local triathlon on a yearly basis. Other past events have included ‘race for life’ charity runs and ‘tough mudder’ events which have been equally successful. On a smaller scale, regular short runs and social get togethers at either end of the working day are also easy to achieve. All of these these activities bring the team together socially and benefit them physically and mentally.


It’s not as simple as offering your employees discounted gym membership in my mind. I think practices need to start thinking outside the box when considering how to improve staff members welfare, and I believe investing time and thought in improving physical health is key. 

All images used in the above article used with the kind permission of Sam Morley