I think it’s fair to say that at some point or another, everyone has struggled with this unexpected COVID-19 crisis. Mentally, physically, emotionally, professionally, financially – we are being challenged from every angle, and it’s not exactly an easy ride for anyone.
I’m not going to labour the Coronavirus point for too long as we all know what the situation is, I’m just going to give you an insight into how I reacted (and am continuing to react) to it.
When it first started kicking off, I was fresh (or not so!) off the back of a big training camp in Fuerteventura. In fact I was at the airport and they were turning off lights and closing down all the restaurants, shops and cafes right before our scheduled flight departure. I knew at that point that this was going to get very serious.
Once home, I felt a bit like a walking zombie. I was on a recovery week, I barely communicated with my coach, and as the scale of the Coroanvirus started to unfold globally, I lost a fair bit of motivation. As we began to pick up the training again, I was very much instilled with a sense of “what’s the point”, knowing my races would be cancelled for probably the entire first half of the season, at minimum.
I felt like I just wanted to take a step back, ‘tick over’, have a bit of fun, and completely eliminate the pressure of training. I bought a second hand mountain bike, wanting to mix things up a bit, and I went a little too far on the indulgence scale when it came to food. On the plus side, my baking was on point (I was part of the reason flour was sold out everywhere!).
was spending a lot of time trying to figure out in my head what was the right thing to do. Do I step back during this uncertain time and just enjoy life, stay healthy, and keep moderately fit with some maintenance training? Or should I be pushing, coming out of this the other side as a better athlete, using the opportunity of more free time to make gains?
I can’t say I have arrived at a definitive answer to this, but after a few weeks of thought juggling, conversations with my coach, friends and family, I kind of stabilised my mental approach to it all.
I also listened to a very interesting podcast during a long run, which sparked a renewed sense of hope, inspiration, and positivity.
When Nelson Mandela was released from imprisonment, one of the most pertinent questions he was asked was: “How did you survive?”. His response, to paraphrase as I don’t know the exact words verbatim, was something along the lines of: “I wasn’t surviving. I was preparing.”
In this crazy COVID-19 world we are living in right now, it’s easy for us to switch on our innate ‘survival mode’ mentality – everything is uncertain. Literally everything. So we revert to instinctual survival mechanisms as a way to cope, and increasingly, I am growing averse to this kind of terminology.
Surviving? Coping? No, I am preparing.
I think we should come out of this period of time – which will go down in history – and look back at it with fondness. We should make the most of opportunities we have – and may never have again. We should develop skills or attributes that are going to help us later on – in life, in sport, in work – whatever. We should improve mental resilience, because this is the cornerstone of everything.
No-one can predict when racing will happen again, and event companies might be rescheduling for later in the year but they have profit margins to hit, sponsors to appease, and want to offer hope (not refunds) to their participants.
Given that race season is a total unknown, it’s not necessarily a green light to go out and completely hammer yourself in training, but we are adopting a very strategic approach to the ‘new normal’. This involves a lot of strength and conditioning work to ‘prepare’ the body. It involves a fair bit of low intensity training to ‘prepare’ the aerobic base, and the mindset, so we don’t get too physically or mentally burned out from the training regimen. It also involves some harder, above threshold work to ‘prepare’ physiologically for the next level of training, when things need to ramp up again. There’s also some added fun, such as virtual racing on Zwift or chasing Strava segments, to ‘prepare’ for racing again in the future.
You see the theme here? It is possible to make considered progression, even during a time like this.
Most importantly, the mindset needs to be right. Staying positive, focusing on what you can do, not on what you can’t, and using your time wisely to improve in anything you want to improve in. It’s not coping, it’s not survival, it’s preparation. And as we know, preparation is everything.