Training and Self Care During COVID
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
2020 has been a year. COVID-19 has wiped out most of our race calendars, changed how we work, how we socialize, how our children go to school, and yes – how we train. Many are struggling to stay afloat both financially and emotionally and exercise may be the last thing on your mind. The constant onslaught of change from month to month, week to week, and sometimes even day to day can make finding a routine and sticking to it feel harder than getting a refund for a cancelled Ironman.
We have added and rearranged our roles and responsibilities – parents who used to drag their butts out of bed to train in the pre-dawn darkness before work are now trying to squeeze their work into the early hours before playing teacher for their children’s online learning; job structures have changed, homes have turned into offices and schools, schedules have changed, relationships with family have changed. For those working outside the home, stress levels are high. People are even crazier than usual, protective gear is more uncomfortable than your one-size-too-small wetsuit, and the uncertainty is exhausting. I know personally that after wearing an N95 mask all day, the desire to breathe freely often outweighs the desire to get out and exercise. Gasping for air for another hour out of my day sounds like the last thing I want to do.
It is natural during this crazy year to feel overwhelmed and to have lost the focus and drive that usually guides your training and I assure you, you are not alone in this.
There is a time for rest, and for turning inward. There should be no guilt in this. Sometimes you want to train, and sometimes you want to eat an entire package of oreos and drown your cancelled races in strong liquor. Many of us feel disappointed and angry at ourselves for “letting ourselves go.” We feel embarrassed because we’re not in the kind of shape we usually are and because our training has gone backward. As athletes, we are generally very motivated and capable of sticking to our training routines. (Some might call us neurotic, in fact). When this is thrown off we don’t feel like our normal, disciplined selves and it’s easy to be harsh on ourselves. Many of us Type A’s don’t even know what to do with our lives if we’re not frantically trying to cram 35 hours-worth of activity into 24 hours each day.
In these moments, I urge you to imagine how you would treat one of your closest friends in this situation. If your friend came to you and admitted that she has been overwhelmed, sad, and is feeling like she’s let herself go, what would you do? Would you yell at her and tell her she’s a failure? Of course not! You would support her, you’d be gentle, and you’d assure her that you know she will get back to her regular strong, badass self. So do the same for yourself! Be kind. Be encouraging. Accept small steps in the right direction as a win.
I know it’s easier said than done, but try to avoid comparing yourself to others, because everyone is different. Jan Frodeno did an Ironman within the confines of his backyard during COVID. Rinny is having another baby. We all deal differently. I know people who dealt with the stress of this pandemic by sweating out high intensity speed sessions or grueling long runs, and if that is what works for someone then more power to them! But some of us also needed to rest and recuperate or to step away temporarily in order to take on the differing challenges of this year. Both of these responses are okay, and neither is better than the other. You never want triathlon to become something that is associated with negative feelings, something you dread, or something that makes you feel guilty – it should be something that brings you energy and joy! (Nothing like the joy of sitting on a bike for 5 hours, right?)
To facilitate this if you have been struggling, focus more on keeping and developing your connection with your body rather than specific training or fitness. Is your body hurting? Is it tired? Does it have the fuel it needs to get you through the challenges you’re facing? You don’t need to obsess about cutting out every piece of junk food you eat, but see if you can add in some dark leafy greens and brightly colored fruit to a few meals a week. Get off your phone to get half an hour more sleep every few days. Stop and take 5 deep, slow breaths once a day. Refocus on listening to what your body is telling you and take a few steps to help it along.
If you’re ready to get moving a little more again, allow small steps forward to be acceptable. Running for an hour and a half may seem overwhelming, so do something that sounds good to you instead! Get some fresh air with a 15 minute walk. Yes, triathletes and runner are still allowed to walk. Do a “PE class” with your kids where you play some active games. Take 5 minutes in the morning to do some relaxed stretches while clearing your head and breathing deeply. Put together a 3-minute strength training sequence that you can do whenever inspiration strikes. (I’ve included a list of simple ideas and easy, quick workouts at the end of this article to help). One of the silliest and most effective things I did for myself and my athletes during COVID was to make a bingo game with an assortment of simple activities geared toward mind and body health. This allowed us to get moving and take some positive steps in a flexible, fun way. Plus, checking things off the bingo makes us crazy over-achievers feel like we’re accomplishing something! Once those initial steps had been taken, it was much easier to start getting back to our usual selves and actual workouts didn’t sound quite so daunting. Reconnecting with your body and consciously caring for yourself in a non-stressful way will also help to put you in a more positive frame of mind and energize you going forward.
Life has seasons and this one has certainly dealt us a challenging hand. However with some grace, patience, and recognition of all that we’re doing to get through this time we can take the edge off the anger, guilt, and frustration that can creep into our lives and sabotage our energy and mood. The best advice anyone gave me before my first Ironman was “whatever you’re feeling at any point during the race, remind yourself that it is temporary. You likely won’t feel great the whole time, so enjoy it when you do, and when you’re feeling like crap, know that you won’t feel like crap forever.” This applies here too – we will get through this, so for now just gut out the rough times and enjoy the good you can find.
Whatever you do, don’t let guilt about training and triathlon be one more thing that weighs on you and leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Instead, be kind to yourself. Find small and manageable steps to get moving in ways that are enjoyable and bring you joy. You are still the same strong, determined athlete you were before 2020 and when the time is right, you’ll get back to the point of feeling invincible. In the meantime, let movement be a moment of peace in the crazy world.
Below are a couple of easy ways to get started. Give them a try them in the coming week!
Deep Breathing Exercise:
This exercise stimulates the vagus nerve, which helps with relaxation, mood, and digestion.
Inhale deeply and fully, through your chest and your belly. Hold for 2 seconds, then purse your lips like you're going to blow a bubble with chewing gum, puff out your cheeks, and allow the air to escape slowly from your lips until you have pushed all the air out of your lungs. Repeat at least 5 times, or for up to 5 minutes.