Social/physically distancing, COVID-19, disinfectant, face masks, stay-at-home orders, lines at the grocery stores, empty toilet paper shelves, historic events postponed… it all sounds like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. Who would have ever imagined we would be living through such an unprecedented time?
This growing global pandemic has people feeling anxious, apprehensive about leaving the house, scared and alone. We, as athletes, are not immune to such feelings and may feel them even more so than others. Athletes, type-A personalities who are often very outcome goal-focused, are struggling to grasp what to do now that their races and events are being canceled. Many are conditioned to meeting up with other athletes for group training rides, swim sessions, and gym fitness classes. Now, with restrictions on gatherings, some have lost that ability to connect and have others support and push them through a workout or stay on track with goals.
I have had quite a few people reach out to me over the past couple of weeks, concerned how I am holding up not only as an athlete whose 2020 race season goals are scrambled but also because I am now thrown into the realm of homeschooling a child with special needs. Usually, I do all of my training, work, house cleaning, and errands while my child is at school as she requires supervision at all times and is challenging and unpredictable when out in public. I don’t know if I have surprised myself or them, but I genuinely am doing okay with the changes to our routine and life despite the COVID-19 or coronavirus threat. Their concern, however, has made me look deeper and ask myself why it is that I am not overly stressed. It might be something to do with the fact that I have been training this way as a function of life for 12 years.
You see, for me, a parent of a child with complex physical and medical needs, I was forced to adapt to a whole new lifestyle seemingly overnight when my daughter was born back in 2008. Adaptability and resiliency are two traits that must be developed through drastically altered lives, as one moves forward to their “new normal.” Daily we have to overcome adversity, fatigue, and isolation.
So, how does a special needs parent end up writing an article about the coronavirus impact for PEARL iZUMi, a company whose philosophy is about riding more, doing more, inclusive, and togetherness? I am an athlete – a cyclist, triathlete, and trail runner. Plus, I’ve learned to adapt to uncertainty and changes that have been thrown my way over the years. I train mostly by myself, although I am so fortunate to have a husband who comes along with me for many of my rides and agrees to accompany me to many adventurous race destinations. While I train alone, I am not a loner. I do value and embrace those times when I get to be around other like-minded people, sharing in the pursuit of big goals, persevering over long climbs, and celebrating crossing finish lines together. I know those times will return, but in the meantime, it is how we embrace this time we are going through now that will make those finish line celebrations that much more memorable.
I have put together a list of thoughts and ideas from my life “in the trenches” that I believe has helped me navigate through the tough patches in life, continue to train, and stay hopeful for the future.
Switch your mindset from outcome goal to process goal orientation.
•Type-A-driven athletes are motivated by performance or outcome goals, which are specific, measurable, realistic, and attainable. Train hard = achieve results. When an athlete has a goal race on their schedule and a path or training plan to follow, if they put in the work, they often achieve the result. However, as many 2020 races across the globe are being postponed or canceled, athletes are feeling lost, struggling to stay motivated without goals. Motivation to continue training suffers, and because so many athletes crave the endorphin rush they get after a hard workout, they begin to struggle with malaise and depression.
•As an athlete works to switch their outcome goal mindset to a process goal orientation, they not only have a higher chance of rekindling their motivation to get off of the couch but feeling a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day. Process goals are virtually all about the process; the little things a person can do every day to help them eventually reach a performance or outcome goal. For example, if a cross country mountain biker has the goal of winning an age group title at USAC XC Nationals (an outcome goal), he/she may know they need to be able to sustain “X” wattage or ride the course in “Y” time to achieve that (performance goals). Yes, it is uncertain if the qualifier races for USAC XC Nationals will happen before July, or even if USAC XC Nationals will happen this coming July in Winter Park, Colorado. But an athlete can still focus on developing skills that will not only help them if they get to compete at Nationals but also skills that will benefit them for any race or ride that they do in the future. Developing a strong core with dynamic strength training exercises, working on technical skills like cornering, watching videos about skills and techniques (if you are unable to ride outside during this time), working on proper eating, stretching, rest and recovery methods …these are all part of the process to develop a stronger, fitter, more dynamic mountain biker.
“Control the Controllables.”
•This is a favorite line of one of my coaches and former XTERRA Triathlon World Champion, Josiah Middaugh. It has become a prerace mantra to me. I have stood at the start line of the XTERRA PanAm Championships at Snowbasin Resort in Ogden, Utah, when the temperature is 38 degrees. Being a small framed girl originally from Georgia, cold weather racing is not my favorite. Rather than retreat to the car or start grumbling to the athlete standing next to me trying to warm frozen fingers and toes, I have learned to embrace conditions such as these and, as a result, have been most successful at adverse condition races. I have watched towering waves come crashing into shore just as the gun was about to go off in Maui for the XTERRA World Championships while my chimp brain was yelling “Mayday, Mayday! Abort mission NOW!” between my ears. While conversely, my logical mind reacted by saying, “bring it on, the more challenging of conditions for them, the better the result for me.” While I might not be the fastest athlete standing on the start line, I know that mentally I can be tougher than almost anyone out there racing because of my life experiences. I can control my attitude about the circumstance before me and how I can manage the situation.
•I can not control the COVID-19 virus or the restrictions placed on us as a result of it. I can control other things like eating healthy balanced meals full of antioxidant and Vitamin C rich foods. I can control getting up early in the morning before my children begin home school for the day and getting a workout in. A workout may not be as long as the ones I would like to do, or I may have to get creative using stretch cords and bodyweight exercises instead of swimming in a pool, or ride virtual hills in Zwift’s Watopia instead of biking up my favorite canyon outside, but there are options. Luckily, I can still ride, lift weights, and run to get my endorphin fix for the day. I can also set little process goals that, when race training, I wasn’t able to allocate the time to give focus. Like attempting to ride a manual, practice track stands or finesse riding -smooth and efficient, leaning the bike into corners and letting it fly over rocks and jumps rather than trying to force two wheels to stay fast on the ground.
It’s okay to go alone. It’s ideal based on CDC guidance.
•Let me preface this by saying that going alone and being lonely are two completely different things. I used to meet up with running and cycling partners after work and on the weekends for runs, rides, and post-workout food and beverages. After my daughter was born, while I still craved escaping to the trails for a ride or run, my schedule and life were so different than the life I once knew. I had to talk myself into going out solo rather than with my old friends and training partners. Some days I would go out and break down in tears as I wandered through the woods. Other days, my spiritual side would come out, and I would have a long heart to heart discussions with my Creator, usually involving exasperated thoughts like “Why are we having to go through this? Will life ever be normal again?” I worked through grief, anger, sadness, and frustration out on the trails, but I always finished a workout feeling cleansed and much more at peace than I did going into them.
•I might have struggled during those early days, I also grew. Exercising by oneself is empowering. I have learned so much about who I am, how I can silence that voice in my head that begs my body to quit when climbing up a steep hill or slow down during a high threshold effort. I have also learned over the years of training by myself that the hard workouts, just like the hard times in life, do indeed pass. They test our strength, our endurance, our willpower. Those hard days are the ones that define who we can become.
•I have learned over the years to be okay with not being asked out to dinner because of my child’s limitations and behaviors or not being included on girls weekends away because it is challenging to leave home for a weekend and find childcare for a child with complex needs. We have missed out on being asked to birthday parties, vacations, and neighborhood gatherings because of the challenges of our child. Isolation is something we are used to living. This isolation, whether self or society-imposed, has had many benefits. Life has not changed much for our household the past couple of weeks since the implementation of stay-at-home orders. We are used to eating at home. Over the years, as my training and knowledge have grown, I have found myself enjoying cooking and eating healthy, balanced, real foods. I like knowing where my food comes from and what I am ingesting. We, as a family, are incredibly close. My husband is my training partner. We love going to races with our girls to share the experience and memories with them. When we are fortunate enough to get away without our daughter with special needs, we squeeze every minute we have in each day doing more than most because we don’t know when we will get the opportunity again.
•Most race photos, I am smiling ear to ear despite the pain I might be feeling in the moment. Why? I look at races as a time for celebration. I am out there, embracing suffering with hundreds of like-minded people and friends. I have trained countless hours alone, but now I get to share the day with other athletes, encouraging them, battling back and forth with them, and pushing myself, testing my training, my physical as well as mental limits to cross the finish line. My race mantra through the pain and suffering in the moment is, “I don’t have to do this. I get to do this.”
•Know right now, many athletes are struggling to find the motivation to get out the door or hop back on the trainer for another day of pedaling to nowhere, but in the future, athletes will reap the fruits of their solo training. Events, group rides, and races will be put back on the calendar. I have a hunch I won’t be the only one grinning like a Cheshire cat, riding and racing with light feet and heart, fully taking in the day, celebrating with friends, and grateful for making it through this challenging season of life.
•Many people ride, run, and train for the social aspect of the sport. Stay-at-home orders and forced isolation can leave people feeling lonely. While challenging, we are fortunate to have tools like virtual riding with others using programs such as Zwift. The other day I noticed over 21,000 people were virtually riding at the same time I was on my trainer. I wasn’t part of a group meetup ride, but passing people and being passed, giving virtual thumbs up to each other, seeing comments from people from around the world pop up on the sidebar of my screen encouraged me to complete my workout rather than throw in the towel early. Yoga and strength coaches are hosting video-based sessions online. Although not being at the gym physically, people can see each other and train together through their computer screens. I have also noticed more people giving and receiving Strava kudos than I ever have in the past. While unable to give your friend or teammate a pat on the back for a workout well done, you can continue to connect and do so with a note, a text, or call. If you are feeling lonely, I will encourage you to explore avenues such as these to help motivate, inspire, and connect with others. Others are living a similar experience, seek them out for each other’s benefit.
•The thing I have learned from time spent at home or training by myself is that focusing inward is not always the healthiest way to deal with a situation. When training is all about me and becoming consumed with “woe is me” views: my race season is over, my job may be in jeopardy, my life has just been flipped upside down – mentally and emotionally, it can eat away at one’s thoughts. After my daughter was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, I decided to create a charity running/triathlon team that helped raise money for research to cure my daughter’s condition. While initially thinking I wanted this so my child could be healed of her challenges, I discovered that I found joy not only in raising money to help her but in encouraging and helping others get off the couch, set goals and accomplish things they once never dreamed possible. I was able to pull myself out of my dark moments by helping others.
•I’ve been encouraged by the kindness of others these last few weeks as the COVID-19 virus has taken hold of our country. People are offering to go to the grocery store for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, others are sewing masks for medical personal to use, children are writing positive messages in chalk on sidewalks, and the smiles and waves from the other side of the street as people escape outside to stretch their legs and breathe in the fresh air. It’s all so empowering.
•Colorado specifically, more people are out on the paths and trails than I have ever seen before. While sometimes a bit overwhelming the sheer numbers of people walking and biking, we as cyclists have an incredible opportunity to spread goodwill to our fellow outdoors people. A smile in passing, a wave, an encouraging word to a little kid learning how to pedal his bicycle without training wheels, all can make such a lasting impact. Be kind and patient. Hopefully, after this challenging time has passed, these people will continue to embrace the outdoors and share our love of open spaces.
We are living in what seems like unprecedented times. The effects on the economy, the health, and welfare of ourselves and others will be felt globally long after the coronavirus has been eradicated. We are also living and writing the pages of a history book, one that will be remembered for generations to come. It is how we learn to shape our mindset to live with our current situation that will determine our personal outcome from this chapter. I hope that you find hope, encouragement, and motivation to keep pedaling during this time and know that while you may be riding solo, you are not alone.