A Pandemic Pep Talk
When sitting down to write my blog for the week, I was struggling to come up with a relevant topic. I’m sure that the last thing the world needs right now is yet another article about how important it is to do hip strengthening exercises or to foam roll after harder efforts. So, naturally, that led me to the question, “What DOES the world need right now?”
The best answer I came up with was: a pep talk! We’ve been living a completely new experience for over 6 weeks now, and while some aspects of life may have settled, others continue to be dredged up. For many of us, our endurance to be on high alert and tolerance to monotony is waning by the day. As athletes, we also encounter the change of our normal training rhythm and potentially have experienced grief for canceled races and training without our trusty training partners. Training can feel pointless or listless. However, it doesn’t have to be that way! It’s all in how you think about it.
Don’t compare your schedule to pre-COVID times.
Prior to this big shift in my schedule, I got up at 5am every day to get my workout in. It was admittedly hard most days, but once dragged myself out of bed and got it done, I felt great. I reveled in the feeling of having completed a workout, eaten breakfast, and answered emails, all prior to 9am. It seriously made me feel like Superwoman!
I’m realizing that the accountability of group workouts was the major deterrent to hitting snooze most mornings. Now, I can barely get out of bed prior to 7am, let alone exert myself. I’ve been experimenting with the timing of my workouts, and getting a better understanding of when my body feels best.
It is totally okay to have less motivation to do harder workouts or to not want to exercise at all. Keeping your movement to stress-relieving and not stress-inducing is key right now. It’s important to acknowledge that there are individual differences in the type of exercise that is stress-relieving. Some people may need a lung-searing, muscle burn workout, while others prefer an easy, leisurely run to buffer stress. Asking yourself what your body really needs is key, and is also a good habit to form while training for the eventual return of races.
The training from your canceled race, and the training you’re doing now is not wasted.
I know it’s frustrating to have your goal races canceled. I had two canceled myself, one of which I was close to ready for the start line. It can feel like the training was wasted or guilty over the sacrifices made for a nonexistent moment in the sun. Think of each workout and each training day as bricks. Some days, we stack multiple bricks: those are the long workouts, the hard workouts, the ones that most resemble the effort required to reach our goals. Other days we may only stack one or two bricks, but they are an important part of the structure nonetheless. Rest days are the concrete holding each brick in place, preventing the ever-growing wall from toppling over in the breeze. If we zoom out, we are able to see that each day has a purpose in making you into a stellar athlete. Yes, even that easy 4 miler. Yes, even those 9 hours of sleep. Yes, even 10 minutes of strengthening exercises.
It’s also okay if you don’t want to “Work on your weaknesses” right now.
While I completely agree that from a performance and physiological standpoint it makes “sense” (if anything makes sense at the moment) to take some time to focus on a type of training you don’t normally do, such as shorter speedwork, long and slow distance, or high intensity interval training. Without the urgency of race-specific work, it is much easier to focus and make tangible progress in a different realm.
However, as mentioned above, training should be stress-relieving. While it is totally possible that trying something new can be fun and rewarding, it’s also okay if you want to stick to the comfort of familiarity. No need to attach guilt or longing to the illusion of the “best” approach to training in the midst of a global pandemic.
Mental stress and fatigue is real.
This is probably obvious at this point, but it most certainly bears repeating. We are constantly dealing with higher levels of stress and doling out mental energy as if it were some renewable resource, without even realizing it. The effect that this rare experience has on our brain and body is both a violent wave and aggressive rip current: some stressors are easily seen (job, financial, relational, health stress) and clearly defined, while others (compassion fatigue, worry, loss of control, social media) are pervasive yet less obvious.
Grant yourself grace. If you got out the door at all, give yourself a pat on the back. If you didn’t, that’s okay too. I have certainly felt inexplicably flat some days, and while it’s taken some work, I chalk it up to mental fatigue and move on. Take this time to reconnect with why you started in endurance sports. Finish lines are a small slice of what running/triathlon are truly about: community, resiliency, pushing boundaries, and cheering each other on. All of which are not canceled because of COVID.
Keep going, you’re doing great. So, so great.
Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT