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How I overcame an addiction to endurance sport

Former footballer Luke Tyburski opens up about his complicated relationship with endurance sports and mental health.

Luke Tyburski: footballer turned triathlete

Luke Tyburski went from pro footballer to endurance sport addict, at the same time jumping from one mental health struggle to another. Here, he talks 220‘s Rob Slade through the highs and lows of his relationship endurance triathlon. 


I played football in the lower leagues and battled with a bunch of different injuries, so my mental health started to suffer. At 28 I decided to retire. I felt lost. I had a lack of identity because I wasn’t a footballer anymore, so who was I?

I had some friends doing some marathons back in Australia and one of them told me about the Marathon des Sables. I drained most of my savings and signed up. This led me into the world of endurance sports and triathlon.

The birth of an addiction

For the first four years of my endurance sport career I was running away from life. I was battling with depression, insomnia and I got addicted to endurance sports. You feel invincible when you finish and want to do it again. Those highs, like a substance addict, have got to be bigger and bigger.

My journey went from the Marathon des Sables to being lost again with no identity and deciding that I was going to do this for a living. I stared at the world map and came up with the Ultimate Triathlon: 2,000km, 12 days, from Morocco to Monaco.

I’d never done a triathlon before. I didn’t own a bike and I’d just started to become a runner, but I wanted something big. I gave myself four years and thought, I should actually do a swim, bike, run to see what it’s like. I Googled the world’s toughest triathlon. On the first page was the Double Brutal Extreme Triathlon. That was my introduction. To this day, it was the funnest event I’ve ever done.

Reaching breaking point

I was addicted to endurance sports and the Ultimate Triathlon was my overdose. I did 2,000km in 12 days, not exactly to plan, but I did it. My mind was positive, it was willing and it was strong, but my body gave up. I spent 18 months after the Ultimate Triathlon physically recovering because my endocrine system basically shut down. I was having nervous system problems and headaches for six hours a day.

Swimming in the middle of the Gibraltar Strait with shipping tankers was a phenomenal experience. The bike was beautiful through south-east Spain. I started to tear my quad on the run.

We taped it up to try and fix it but I kept passing out and started sleep running. It’s self-harm. It’s like trying to tell a drug addict in the middle of a session that this is bad and they need to stop. It’s obvious, but it’s not going to happen.

Luke Tyburski
Credit: Luke Tyburski

Although I do these endurance challenges, they don’t define who I am. I got caught up in being this endurance adventurer, which stemmed from retiring from football and having a loss of identity. I just gave myself a new mask. So I spent time understanding who I am and why I’m doing these challenges.

It’s not to run away from life. I have a healthy relationship with endurance sports now. I don’t use them as a crutch anymore. But don’t get me wrong, I still want to do some extreme stuff. I’ve got a couple of things in the pipeline that I’m going to make happen, and they’re ridiculous.

Luke Tyburski is a former pro footballer turned endurance athlete, speaker and coach. You can read all about his Ultimate Triathlon in his book Chasing Extreme or by watching his documentary, The Ultimate Triathlon, on Amazon Prime. Follow Luke on Instagram or Twitter to keep up to date with his adventures.


Top image credit: Fizzeek Studios