by Stephen Reville
When I worked as a tradie and competed in endurance sports at the same time, it was a hard ask. I was consistently pushing the barrier, and injury was never far away. But I never shied away from a challenge.
I’m a renderer by trade: for you that understand construction, you know how physical this job can be. I worked between 55 and 70 hours per week while training for ironman and 70.3 racing.
Over the past few years I’ve been working underground in tunnels doing patch repairs. It was a 20-minute cycle to work; I would then walk over 100 steps down to the tunnel floor. I had to work while wearing a mask and a head torch on my hard hat, working in a haze of dust. Many times throughout the day I would have to walk up and down those stairs carrying bags of cement and whatever tools we needed. We sometimes walked up to 16k in a day to get things we needed, or move work areas.
Something many people don’t understand about the dust in tunnels: it’s silica dust, and breathing this on the regular can ruin your life. It’s like the old asbestos.
We could work up to 14-hour days. Then on that 20-minute cycle home, I recall seeing car lights coming towards me looking like a blur. The tiredness was getting to me, but I’d head straight into training before I got dinner, hanging on by a thread.
Tunnel work is also bad for recovery; you are getting no fresh air and you’re breathing in dust while getting less oxygen into your body to recover.
Don’t get me wrong; if you’re in construction you still can complete in endurance sports. But it’s better if you can find a construction job that’s only eight-hour days or less, and something that’s not so physical on the body.
Aside from this, I could never meet up with groups to swim, bike or run. With such long shifts I was always working so I had to train alone.
But one performance I'm proudest of pulling off while training and working like this was when I went sub 4:30 at Ironman 70.3 Sunshine Coast.
Just a few months ago in March 2021 I finished up construction. After years of hard work under these conditions and understanding my health was at risk, I decided it was time to move on to something new that was going to give me the best possible chance to be the best athlete I can be.
One thing I’ve learnt over the years is you can’t burn the candle at both ends. I've been there and through to the other side; if any coach understands how to juggle long hard work hours and still train for endurance sport, then that would be me.