Cultivating Calm in Chaos
Updated: Apr 17
By now you’ve been overwhelmed with information pertaining to COVID-19 and you’ve been blasted with the omnipresence of cultural anxiety. You have been negatively affected by this pandemic in many ways: family illness, employment stress, school cancellations, canceled races, delayed family trips, etc. It’s OK to be sad—it’s because you care. However, I ask you to pivot your mindset. This disruption in our scheduled routines provides an opportunity to reflect and develop a broader perspective. Is this happening to us or is it happening for us? During these times of distress, the wisest thing to do is to tap into the love and connection that lies on the other side of the sadness and fear. Sport has the power to keep us happy and training is a part of your health and well being.
Here are some tips outlined by our team of coaches on how to approach this unique time in our lives.
Coach Scott Ellis:
Remember your "why". With everyone going through anxiety, depression, the stress of the real world, it's easy to shift focus away from training (obviously), so whether it be now while we are in the middle of the chaos, or if it's a month from now when it passes and we can reestablish a system, remember WHY you started to reset your motivation.
Coach Emily Rodger:
A perfect time to focus on mental strength and inner excellence. Focus on the things we can control and forget about the rest. It adds no value to complain each day about how we wish this was over and wondering when it will be over. It’s a perfect time to learn ways to forget about what we don’t have control over and only control the things we do. I use the conveyor belt method where whenever a worry or negative thought comes into my head I just put it on my imaginary conveyor belt to take it away. We can train ourselves to look positively at negative events, and while positivity doesn’t always work, I can assure you that negativity always does! Competition/triathlon etc is all a challenge, that's part of why we love it. View this as the same, simply another challenge we need to overcome.
It’s a great time to focus on nutrition. Take the time to come up with a better plan for moving forward and really clean up your eating. What habits are you getting into and WHY (eating out of boredom etc). If we feel good (by avoiding the QuarantineFifteen) then we will feel even more motivated once this is over to get back to the race season and schedule. If you have already started to find yourself in a hole then STOP DIGGING.
Implement a really good core program (if you aren’t already) into your training and work on your instabilities and weak areas. Home workouts and resistance band training are so ideal for this type of workouts as they really don’t require a gym at all. With race schedules being pushed back, periodization can be a bit more relaxed and less physically stressful, leverage this time to become overall stronger while benefitting from more recovery time and resisting illness. Its also not the greatest time to beat down our immune systems with a global pandemic going on, something that we need to be aware of throughout our entire season.
Enthusiasm and mental edge are keys to being successful, what a perfect time to start implementing that. You are the person who pushes yourself forward or holds yourself back. Motivation is a constant desire to do our best at all times, despite what circumstances we are in. Loving your sport and reminding yourself of that can be one of the greatest ways to stay motivated. If you are having a hard time finding motivation then go back and look at your old race pics/results/read your comments in TP after workouts you or races that you crushed and remind yourself of how good that feels.
Every single person is in the same boat, where are you going to find your advantage on everyone else? It’s kind of like the races where temperatures and conditions absolutely suck and the mentally strongest athletes and the ones who are accustomed to training in not ideal environments are the ones who have the advantage. Use this time to your advantage. Lastly, don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you CAN do.
Coach Pablo Gomez:
What to do in times of uncertainty and limited mobility:
1. Define what moment of the season you are in:
As athletes, we all are on different schedules and this “break” comes at different times of the season for each of us. So, if, for example, you just started training for the year, you can maintain and keep building fitness, but try to be mindful of the different outside stressors that you are dealing with right now and understand that those are a load to the system, so it is “ok” if you are not pushing the intensity like you would in normal circumstances. On the other hand, if you managed to do a couple of events already, it might be a good time to shut it down for a couple of days and restart with some base training, easing into it. In general, as athletes, we all have different motivations to get out and train every day, so this is a good time to be mindful of those and let the flow guide us through while keeping a bit of a routine.
2. Be aware of your surroundings:
This is particularly important for athletes who are on complete lock-downs and cannot leave their homes. For those athletes, it is important to change the focus of training and approach to it. For many, indoor workouts can be more mentally taxing compared to outdoor sessions, and too much too soon can lead to burnout. So, for those stuck at home it might be better to focus on multiple shorter workouts with different routines and schedules than long not varying workouts.
3. Become a better athlete:
Right now is the moment to work on weakness and find motivation focusing on different aspects that can make us better athletes. For example, now you can work on your cycling position and the things that you can do with your body to sit better on the bike, and /or you can work on injury prevention and take care of areas that may need some activation and strengthening. Also, test different things and allow for adaptations. For example, if certain athletes want to focus on riding with a lower cadence at higher intensity, now is the time to start making those changes.
Reach out to coaches and certified experts who can help you navigate what are those areas that can benefit from some special focus at this time and master those things that you may have neglected or overlooked in the past.
4. Confront what is going on:
We all have stress and we all have to realize that this is the reality. People joke by saying that the “struggle is real;” well now it is and it is ok to feel down, at times, because we are trying to process a bunch of thoughts and situations that feel foreign and for which we may feel that we are not fully prepared for. However, at the moment that we realize that this is our new reality that the struggle being real is the current normal, we allow ourselves to let go of that fake reality that we made up in our brains and we can get to work to start climbing out of the hole. Obviously this is easier said than done, that is why this quote from Brad Stulberg is so powerful:
“The implications are as follows: When we are in the midst of struggle and suffering, our first and foremost job is simply to get through it with as much grace and grit as possible. What feels like forever now won't feel like forever later. We need to keep showing up and doing the best we can.
Secondly, we'd be wise to try to compress our experience of challenging periods. This often means less thinking and worrying about something and more taking action, more doing. There's a reason that behavioral activation—science speak for simply getting up and doing something—is so powerful in treating depression.
Whether you are saddened because of the state of the world, because your athletic event or season just got cancelled, or because the big project you were working toward is now on hold (or all of the above), hold on to the knowledge that what you are feeling is real AND it won't seem so bad or all-consuming in the future. Be patient. Do the best you can. Be kind to yourself and others. And keep showing up. It's as simple and as hard as that.”
Coach Whitley Atkins:
It's OK to feel overwhelmed that you have so much more “time” but you're not considerably more productive than before. We get caught up working from home, answering emails, checking on family etc. and then become a bit stressed that we had more time but still haven’t gotten our run done or hopped on the bike. But…
There is a quote I think about when I feel “behind.” Like when I haven’t finished something on my to-do list or I didn’t get on the bike when I said I would or I missed getting edits back on a paper when I said I would.
“The best time to have done this was when you said you would, the second-best time is right now”
For me, this helps me not dwell on a “coulda, shoulda, woulda” scenario but allows me to take advantage of the present. I think this is helpful for motivation as well. Let’s not beat ourselves up in the current crisis.
As endurance athletes, we are control freaks, or we can be. We are also competitive, driven, motivated but it is totally ok if these qualities aren’t showing up in a global pandemic. You aren’t losing your identity because you can’t race or train as hard. We are still partners, parents, siblings, friends and teammates. I think it’s important to recognize we are all multi-faceted humans and there is no handbook entitled “How to Feel During a Pandemic”
I am seeing many posts from people wanting to get ahead, take advantage of being home, work out harder, lose weight, have their own training camp or WHATEVER. I just want to reiterate it’s ok if we don’t use a global crisis to our advantage. I encourage working on our weaknesses or getting stronger or running farther but only if that feels right to YOU. But no one said we had to get better during this time. I believe maintenance of fitness and not getting sick/hurt during this time should be a top priority. If we overtrain now we risk getting sick or being injured by the time races do start back up. (or burned out)
Focus on eating well: This is what I am finding myself focusing on. Goes hand in hand with training but not as training specific. Improves immunity. Not sure if this goes for everyone but I am enjoying cooking so much more than usual. It’s a good escape for me and I’m not spending my entire Sunday meal-prepping for the week. For those of you that can, get fresh produce, no one else is hoarding brussels sprouts.
Realign focus: We may not have a race deadline in front of us but fitness and health is a long term goal. Just because we aren’t racing doesn’t mean that training is wasted. We may not see immediate results but you are still getting stronger and faster. As for the pools? Everyone is in the same boat so don’t worry about losing fitness anymore than anyone else.
Routine focus: Write out a schedule each day. Doing it the night before helps you reflect on what went right and wrong in your scheduling that day. Adapt, do better the next day. Remember that not adhering in this case isn’t failure, it’s learning.
Coach Jason Lentzke:
Mental readiness is an extremely important factor that influences an athlete’s performance. We (coaches & athletes) must be in control of ourselves before we can control performance. The process is the pathway to the outcome. Stay focused and be task-oriented. Focus on the little goals you set out to achieve and if you take care of those, you will achieve the end goals in time. This will also help you clarify your process.
Remember, a large percentage of athletes do not perform up to their potential because they’re not prepared for the adversity they face in training. Overcoming these distractions requires mental strength and self-awareness. You must prepare yourself to overcome adversity.
During uncertain times, motivation will dwindle. We have little control over what goes on around us, but we have total control of how we respond to it. This is when athletes must rely on DISCIPLINE. After all, the path to high performance is not linear--growth comes from chaos.
It is ok for our athletes to have a hiccup or make a mistake. Maybe they decide to sleep in or make poor nutritional choices. That is ok! Remember that mistakes and losses are feedback, and feedback is an OPPORTUNITY to learn and improve.
I think there are two ways to approach training during this time based on your life situation:
1. You have more time at home but you have more home responsibility (kids are home, irregular training windows). In this case, focus on a higher frequency with intensity, big volume is not a huge priority.
2. You have more time to train as you work from home and you have more time to recover. In this case, hit the higher volume, particularly on the bike, bank fitness and maintain run form while incorporating as much dry land swim as you can handle.
With the triathlon season put on hold until likely late June at the earliest, there’s now plenty of time to get fast despite the current circumstances.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Races WILL eventually happen & we will return to a new sense of normalcy. Do not allow this tough time to wear down your willpower.