How being an endurance athlete helped me endure lockdown
As we still living in uncertain times and everything keeps changing at a fast pace (and all races postponement and cancellations still ongoing), I want to share with you few things that have helped me keep going in the pandemic world. It looks simple on the paper but it’s pretty much an ongoing work, possibly a lifetime work.
Triathlon training is so integrated with my daily routine that I’d dare to say, it became part of my character. It not only played a massive role during this pandemic’s lockdown but also helped me overcome many hardships that I’ve never thought I would be strong enough to get through.
Back in the days, when I was training for my first long-distance race, I remember my coach at that time used to tell us: ‘you’re not going to be allowed to listen to the music during the race, so you better train your mind to run without it’. For safety reasons, the same applies to the cycling bit. At that time, having an indoor turbo trainer was something I couldn’t afford, and all my long cycling training I did on the roads. Saying it, you can only assume that the majority of my training was done without music. It sounds pretty boring, but I trained my brain on how to entertain myself during some long and silent hours both on the bike and the running. I am pretty sure this not only helped me to keep my focus during long-distance races, but on how to be comfortable with myself, and that played a massive role during lockdown isolation times.
Discipline will get you through when motivation is low. This is probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt from endurance training, and I try to incorporate that into my daily routine as much as possible.
Successful endurance athletes will welcome adversity because they know it will make them stronger. The process of enduring adversity is far from beautiful neither comfortable, but once you accept its reality, you will use those strong feelings in your favour, and don’t let anything stand in your way.
In the same way, it’s very important to listen to your body and your emotions, and accept when you feel that you need a break. So just like stress fractures are caused by repetitive stress, the same applies to our emotions, if we never stop and give attention to those signals, it will eventually break us. There’s a fine line to ‘don’t give up’ (which I believe is to adopt it for the big picture i.e. don’t give up on your long-term goals and the things you love), and to change priorities as things arise or take it easier on those days when you don’t feel ok. Balance it out. Embody the ‘don’t quit’ mantra, but focus on the big picture.
It’s taking a pandemic to fully figure out we are not in control of our lives. But in fact, we perhaps are only realising that we were never quite in control before.
With things moving at a fast pace, we need to be flexible. From February 2020 to date, I already had to re-adapt my training at least 4x. I remember I was in Lanzarote last February finishing up my last week of big training before my ironman race in South Africa, then in a blink, the world shut down and we all had to shift the priorities. One year has passed, and IMSA itself has changed dates 4x, meaning I had 3 full IM training blocks in the bank, with no race happening. Most recently Challenge Roth has also changed date, now for the second time. If that made me upset? Most definitely, yes! But it didn’t changed my mind about keep training because to me, triathlon is so incorporated into the daily routine that has become a lifestyle to me. It is, actually, thank triathlon, that I kept myself together during the lockdown(s). Having a training routine that is independent of races happening or not brought structure in my days even though the world outside is falling apart, I had something that keeps my mind and body healthy. Of course, the intensity of training was re-adjusted accordingly and yes, we all know how much work we put in to have fitness level up, but if you train wise, guess what? You won’t lose it all. It’s in your system, you just need to plan well (thank goodness for my coach, I can’t really do it myself – cheers coach!).
What have I learnt?
Make your plans with a pencil, and have a big fat eraser next to it. Of course, the acceptance and ability to adapt doesn’t happen overnight, so what works for me is: let it sink in (it might take a couple of days or even weeks), and reframe. Focus on the big picture and re-set your goals.
As my coach used to say: control the controllable. Do what you can do with what you have, where you are.
One thing endurance athletes know about races: it’s a long day out there and it only finishes when it is over. And we will rarely feel strong all the time during the race, it’s instead, a roller coaster of feelings. But if you keep the focus and the right motivation, you will get it done.
During a race, everything can happen. The good and some bad bits too. I had all kind of adversities during my races. And that taught me to how to have a fast decision making attitude, and how to deal with multiple problems as they arise.
But unlikely races, our life it’s not a competition. Don’t worry about others, focus only on your performance, on your own journey. Be present. It’s not important what’s going to happen tomorrow, do what you can do with today and give what you have, and appreciate the moment. One step at a time, don’t try to go from 0 to 100, instead, get to 10, then 20, 30…one small step at a time.
Fractionate things always helped get through. For example, if I have a long training session ahead, I break it into small-time fractions in my mind. For example a 3-hour run I will take into 3x 2x30min run. Using similar techniques help us get through hard days, especially now during these so-called groundhog days. In academic life, we often use the Pomodoro technique, which is nothing else as a time-management method. The technique consists of using a time to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a pomodoro, (which means tomato in Italian), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the technique, used as a university student in the late 1980s.
I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to cross a finish line and hear people cheering me on. So, then it’s time to keep going and embrace those intrinsic motivators I got from endurance training, reminding myself of the ‘whys’ and the things that I love, and take one step at a time.
We will get there, we will race again. Keep up the good work (in you).