How to Deal with a Season of Uncertainty: Training Alongside the Coronavirus
Cody Beals, above competing in this past weekend's Campeche 70.3, the "last race on earth."
Ed. Note—the Coronavirus epidemic has now reached into most aspects of people's lives, and we at Wattie Ink. firstly want to say how grateful we are for the community of athletes that surround us every day, working or otherwise. It's easy to lose sight of the qualities that unite us, and to forget that we are human, fragile and fallible, and perhaps a brightness that can come out of this crisis is a reminder of those facts, at least for a little while.
As last week wore on, and the reality of the Coronavirus pandemic settled over the world, the steady stream of event cancellations seemed like an afterthought—a necessary consequence of a quickly worsening situation. Today, though, with the first weekend of action behind us, and the inevitable reshaping of lives for the near future, many athletes have a moment to pause and consider what the alteration of their seasons means to them. For many of us, racing and training provide an essential buttress to our identities—if you subtract the competitions, you’re taking away something as integral as our souls. So how do we cope in this new environment, with uncertainty as our only training partner? We’ve got some ideas ourselves, and we polled a few people in the know, too.
Sarah Max, one of the Wattie Ink. professionals on the Gravel Collective Project, reminds us “I think that it’s possible to find the positives. A month or two ago, headlines talked about managing time and our hectic schedules. We were all looking to put a gallon of obligations into a pint of time. Now, for many of us, we have some extra time with events, classe, and races canceled. We’re painting bedrooms, learning how to bake bread better, getting our lives organized and reading epic books.” With that sense of perspective restored, let’s see how we can use this opportunity to become better athletes and people.
- What is it that you like about competition in the first place? Many of us don’t even think about this, so caught up in the routine of registering for races and then executing them. But take a minute, right now, and think about the qualities of competition you enjoy. I asked one of the athletes we coached this the other day, as the announcement about Oceanside 70.3’s postponement finally filtered through Ironman’s website, and she said that races are “fun.” I pressed her a little bit more, and asked if she could define that fun a bit. “Racing makes me feel like an athlete,” she replied. There we go, I thought. That’s something I can work with. For other athletes, I’m sure there is the thrill of measuring and improving, of seeing where one was last year, and how far one has come. For others, there is the sheer simple joy of competition—of getting to the other side of the playground fastest. The list goes on, beyond what my limited imagination can muster, but take a few moments and define what you love about the events that comprise your yearly program.
- Feel the loss. Yeah, this is where things get kinda touchy-feely, but grief is an important step in any process where you experience change. Go for a ride, go for a run (you’re probably not going to a pool), watch a movie, get out for a walk, have a good cry—any of these are good options, but take some time and really feel the loss. Stiff-upper-lipping it works in the short term, but generates all sorts of sub-optimal outcomes later, as the emotions come out in other places.
- Find the qualities you love in competition in your training, or inject those qualities into your training. When I asked the athlete above what she liked about racing, and heard that it “made her feel like an athlete,” I dug a little deeper and asked for some more detail. “Executing a plan and going to the edge of my abilities,” she told me. OK, I thought. Let’s shift the focus of her workouts to reflect that. For one of her runs this weekend, I’d given her a run in which she wasn’t allowed to go above a certain heart rate. “How can this reflect what you like about racing, even though it doesn’t push you to the edge of your abilities?” “Simple,” she replied. “That’s the executing a plan part.” That first element established, we looked at the rest of her training for the weekend. She had a relatively easy ride, but then a longer session with almost an hour of sweet spot work, broken in to five- and fifteen-minute intervals. “That’s a pretty hard session,” I offered. “Can that be part of your ‘pushed to the edge of your abilities?’ The workout ends with 20 minutes of higher cadence work, which has always been hard for you.” My athlete assented, and we headed into the weekend with a plan for ways she can scratch her “event itch.” Got something different, like the love of competition or the thrill of improvement? Strava and Zwift are probably your best bets, there. Just remember to compete in good faith, make sure your Zwift weight is accurate, and be gracious in virtual victory and defeat.
Amy VanTassel, another of the Wattie pros that got a chance to race this past weekend, has the following to add: "All of my typical pre-race anxiety was replaced with gratitude. Only eight of us professional women made it to the #lastraceonearth in Campeche, and it’s like we were all just this family, marveling at how fortunate we were, and struck by a sense of perspective. I’ve never felt like that at any race.”
Photo courtesy of AP Racing
Finally, Andy Potts, another one of our Wattie Ink. professionals, had this to offer when we reached out to him for comment:
“In life and racing, the only things we can control are our attitude and our effort. We show up to races and hear nervous chatter about “water temperature, winds, hills, etc…” and these are all things out of our control. It is a waste of time and energy to worry about them. Worry about what you can control. Let everything else fall silent and just go out and race. That’s similar to what is going on right now in the world. Athletes shouldn’t look at cancellations and postponements as missed opportunities, but as chances to train, try things out, spend more time with family, and prepare for when it is time to race again.”