You define yourself as an athlete. You are a cyclist, runner, skier, triathlete, etc. Serious athletes train for a goal. It may be a race, a tour, a hike, or a special mountain bike trip. You don’t just train to train. The event on the calendar is the catalyst for your efforts and progress. What happens, when your sport is taken from you? What happens when there are no races on the calendar?
What is your purpose? What do you do now? You have two options:
Wallow in fear and anxiety, and ruminate on factors you can’t control.
Focus your attention elsewhere. Get better.
Does dwelling on the lost race and what could have been do anything to improve your life? Probably not. That’s wasted energy. The truth is that adversity brings opportunities. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. A recent article in Podium Runner discusses how experience with past injuries can help us face COVID-related stress. We must focus on what we can do.
“Rather than carrying around frustration about cancelled races, closed gyms, locked tracks, or banned group runs, take advantage of all the productive things you can still do. If you can run, run!—whether from your front door, on a nearby trail, or in a new-to-you spot that isn’t saturated with people. If you’re used to doing strength work, rig up a home gym using whatever equipment stand-ins you can find, or try some new workouts that require little to no gear at all. It’s a great time to establish a yoga, Pilates, or stretching routine if you don’t already have one in place.”
By taking positive action you accomplish three things. First, you regain a sense of control. As an active decision-maker, you’ll feel less like a victim and more like you’re directing your future. Second, you’ll interrupt the rumination cycle and prevent your descent into dread and helplessness. If you repeatedly interrupt this negative pattern with positive action then positive action will become your new habit.
Finally, by taking action, you become engaged in a process. When you engage in the process you focus on the present, not the future or that which you can’t control. Brad Stulberg discusses the power of a process-oriented mindset:
“A process mind-set creates daily opportunities for little victories, which help sustain the motivation required to accomplish long-term goals. A handful of studies, including one in the prestigious journal Nature, provide insight into why this is the case. Researchers have found that when mice accomplish micro objectives on the path to distant goals (e.g., making a correct turn in a maze), their bodies release dopamine, the neurochemical associated with motivation and drive. Without hits of dopamine, the mice become apathetic and give up. Although these studies cannot be safely replicated in humans, scientists speculate we operate the same way. Process promotes progress, and progress, on a neurochemical level, primes us to persist.”
Right now, despite the current conditions, we have plenty of opportunity to take action and improve as athletes. Specifically, we can improve on all three pillars of athletic performance: training, nutrition, and recovery. Here are some examples of actions you can take to make progress towards your goals with or without a goal event.
Base training: Now is a great time to double down on building your aerobic engine. By logging a lot of miles, you will create an even stronger base that will support specific race training once racing is allowed.
Strength training: If you are not already incorporating strength training into your schedule, now is the time. Strength training makes endurance athletes better, faster athletes. Even though gyms are closed, you can still get stronger. Here are several exercises that require little to no equipment.
Mobility training: The feet, ankles, hips, spine, shoulders, and hands should move well in three dimensions. But our modern life is a life of sitting. Even if you’re a passionate endurance athlete you probably spend many hours sitting to earn a living. Further, endurance sports typically feature small, repetitive motion, mainly in one plane. Spending a few minutes a day doing a mobility routine like the ones below will help you move better and feel well.
Cooking: Nutrition is crucial for performance and health. We all have to prepare most of our own food now. Studies show that we’re healthier when we’re involved in preparing our food. Find some recipes and get going.
Sleep: Sleep is indispensable. There’s no substitution for it. Sleeping is when you recover from tough workouts and get stronger. It’s good to keep a regular sleep schedule. If you’re working from home then take advantage of good sleep.
If you’re feeling frustrated and anxious due to canceled races, closed swimming pools, tracks, and trailheads then you’re not alone. Endurance athletes everywhere feel the same way. This cloud has silver linings though. You have multiple opportunities to improve your athletic ability and avoid negative thinking. Devote yourself to the process and you’ll come out a better, stronger athlete.