Dancing on a shifting carpet – and still standing! How to manage training alongside Covid-19

Typically, athletes don’t do so well managing shifting and unknown goals! Changing race dates and calendars can be stressful. Covid-19 has bought with it additional social, economic, technological, environmental and psychological unknowns that have persisted for such a prolonged time we’ve been forced to seriously consider the impacts of chronic stress in our day to day lives and how this impacts training.

For me, at first, like many athletes I’ve talked with, I processed a (perceived) lack of control – over everything. I experienced moments of panic, feelings associated with grief like anger, denial and isolation, depression, a smidge of occasional acceptance, – I even found myself trying to negotiate with the facts pertaining to the pandemic– as though I had a choice of what was happening on the planet! 

No doubt the personal experience has been unique for everyone – and for many the experience has been incredibly sad. For me there have been a couple of themes that have risen to the top of the proverbial milk vat that have proven how resourceful we can be once we open ourselves to the possibilities. My narrative has been one of personal and professional expansion as well as reflection on behalf of the amazing athletes I coach. I share the following – an insight into how I have coped with training during a “once in a life time” (hopefully!) experience. – that being the Covid-19 virus.

I didn’t complete the session that was on my training plan!

Read between the lines “I’m a failure!” This was a common explicatory during the early weeks and surprisingly still is!  Just because we have become “used” to a different way of life doesn’t mean we are well adjusted to it. Rather than push through, I’ve instead become acutely aware of what my body is saying regarding what training it’s truly ready for. For example, after a few emotional days of dealing with relationships/family circumstances, client’s stress, finances, technology, and more, the central nervous system (CNS) can go into hyperdrive and literally put you in a state of “unready” or “fight and flight” during training. This can be a vicious cycle and one that can go almost un-noticed because it sneaks up on you and can lead down a very steep and deep rabbit hole!! 

My suggestion is to record HRV (Heart Rate Variability) to measure the health of your CNS – and pay attention to what is recommended on a daily basis. This way you can optimize your training time and rest when it’s most needed. Try this HRV app.  https://www.hrv4training.com/

*while this is the app I use there are many in the market place to choose from. I simply share this as an example.

I feel exhausted and there seems to be no obvious reason why!

There are many ways to measure success when it comes to training. Outputs such as power, heart rate, RPE, and pace as well as metrics like stride and stroke length, cadence and vertical oscillation are all valid measures. We learn a lot simply by observing the “story” these measures tell over time and examining any changes. On the other hand, life can be a little more difficult to manage. Sleep quality, diet, hydration, relationships, self-care (rolling, stretching etc.), routines, work commitments, and sickness all ad to the proverbial stress bucket. I started using annotations in my HRV app to track these subjective measures making me more aware of where my total stress bucket was at. Then accordingly – when I felt exhausted with no obvious reason why I was able to see the story in real time and make a correlation. You might wonder what this looked like?! It meant I slept a lot – a lot more than I usually do!

I had a race in 8 weeks – now I don’t know if I will ever race again!!??

We’ve already established that we have no control over when racing will resume.  This is where instead of focusing on what we don’t know, focusing on Training Specifics is key. With goalposts moving constantly our play by play has to adjust to fall in line. Maintaining an open mindset has been essential over the past months. I sent messages updating my coach almost weekly with what I was learning about my A race in November. My training plan changed several times as a consequence. Now with the World Championships potentiallyhappening in March 2021 it has changed again. Rather than looking at this as being disruptive, or a setback my coach and I have looked at it as an opportunity to go into an off-season style training block and work on building my strengths even more so and focus on my opportunities. This means instead of a performance block I am now focusing on a run block to build my aerobic base and run durability. I strongly suggest any goal driven athlete re-examine volume and intensity specifics – given we are operating on some very loose possibilities for racing in the short term. Adjusting will serve you well and help you preserve your best performance for when it matters the most – the exciting day we hear races are back on!

I thought I was flexible – but I learned it wasn’t so!

This relates to the above paragraph. Rather than focus on what you can’t do – or what is not perfect about the situation – think about the possibilities, the chance that things could be better, or that something could happen that you haven’t even imagined yet! My take away has been to embrace living a more flexible life – one open to new opportunities. 

Creativity is not my strong suit – or is it!? 

With restrictions on where and when we can train and the chance of either being a carrier or a recipient of the Covid virus we have had to get creative – by design not choice! This has meant more indoor sessions on the bike, strength and conditioning executed in “homemade” gyms AKA living rooms and garages, online VR racing, training at odd hours, inviting the kids along, going places we’ve never been before, online yoga courses and more! I use the adage – “make the most of what you have and you will have the most of what you want.” Creativity is collectively one of our most useful attributes right now and will continue to be. 

I’m used to being in a hurry – reflection on “more is best!”  

Life has certainly got busier for some – but for me losing clients to lost jobs and declining business has meant I’ve re-evaluated being “on” constantly – always looking for what can be done better, bigger, stronger! In the past that has been productive – no doubt. What I have come to realize is there are some questions that have been answered along the way that I didn’t even know I had to address. A friend sent this quote in a question form in the first few weeks of the Covid shut down – I have been answering this question bit by bit ever since. – maybe it will help you.

“In the rush to return to normal, consider what parts of “normal” are worth rushing back to.”

Health and wellbeing are the basis of everything “training”!

Without optimal health, our training capacity is limited. Doing all I can to stay physically healthy and mentally clear is a priority. Training at times has been a staple “therapy.” Clearing my head and burning off steam have been overriding themes on days when I haven’t dealt with stress well. It has reminded me of college years when I would go for a run after dinner to help reduce exam stress and settle my mind for late hours of study.  It was true then and is still true now – exercise is meditative; it balances stress hormones and improves cardiovascular health among many other benefits. Through Covid I’ve embraced this theory and  intermittently practiced meditation, yoga and breathing exercises when I’ve felt I needed it  – my favorite being the 4,7,8 breath – check it out here https://youtu.be/YRPh_GaiL8s

Lastly – Give thanks I’m still standing!

The psychology of giving thanks is undisputable. By acknowledging all the good things in life, often the simplest, we reinforce feelings of satisfaction, extraversion and openness, empathy, resilience and acceptance. All of these attributes have been key to being able to stand tall through the constant change and disruption in our lives recently. If you are healthy, give thanks (there are sadly many who are not), if you have time give thanks, if you have loved ones give thanks, if you have clean water give thanks, if you have food give thanks, if the sun comes up in the morning give thanks, if you can put one foot in front of the other give thanks… you get my drift, “and for that, I give thanks” !

Jun 03 2020