Training Ideas, Tips as We Shift Priorities and Event Dates Change

By Alison Freeman

I don’t know about you, but at my house, things started to get pretty interesting Thursday of last week. First, my son’s spring lacrosse season got suspended, then they announced that my daughter’s college was sending the kids home for the rest of the semester, and finally the local school district closed for over a week heading into spring break. That was all in a 10-hour window. Meanwhile, I was – in theory – 6 weeks out from Ironman Texas, staring down a massive training day and a forecast in the high-30s. Not exactly the perfect recipe for motivation. 

Friday morning I woke up, tried to get my kids and house organized for the impending apocalypse, and then gathered my gear and supplies for an epic day on the trainer. Why? Because until told otherwise by a race director, I was proceeding as if my race was still on. Many, many miserable, grueling hours later, I had completed 102 miles on Zwift (yes, that is my personal record) followed by a 4.5 mile run off the bike. And 20 minutes after that, Ironman Texas emailed to announce that they were postponing the race.

My response: “For real, could they not have emailed earlier in the day?!?” And also: a fair amount of relief. Relief that the uncertainty at least was over. Relief that I did not have to do my long run the next day. But also sadness for my friend, who was going to become an Ironman at Texas. And a little concern that I wasn’t a little more disappointed. And now: kind of confused about how much time to take off and when to refocus, a little forlorn about losing the fabulous swim fitness that I’d built, but also excited to be able to devote time to run technique improvements that are hard to accomplish during an Ironman build.

Which is all to say: I get it. I get the uncertainty and the frustration and the confusion of the whole darn mess. Plus things seem to be changing on a near-daily basis. With limited or no access to training facilities, races getting canceled or postponed, and no way to know when the madness will end, it’s getting harder and harder to stay focused. Below are some thoughts on how to maintain some mental stability and keep moving forward over the next several weeks (or months?):

1. First off, there’s no reason to prioritize your training calendar above your health and public safety. Follow all state and local guidelines, and remember that we’re all in the same boat.

2. Luckily running and cycling are not compromised by social distancing. If you are running with friends, though, be sure to maintain a 6-foot separation and don’t share water bottles or nutrition. If you want to get outdoors for your ride, bring extra fueling and water so you don’t need to rely on your usual pit-stop to replenish.

3. With regards to swimming and strength, something is always better than nothing. If you can get your hands on some swim resistance bands you can do dry land work to maintain a bit of swim strength and fitness. And at-home, bodyweight strength training can be surprisingly effective; squats, lunges, single-leg deadlifts, push-ups, and core work are the staples of tri-focused strength work and can all be executed at home.  My coaching colleague, Laura Marcoux who is also a USAT Level II Certified Coach and an NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) – Certified Personal Trainer, has this fantastic strength series to reference for ideas.  

4. With the extra time you have given working from home and no access to the pool, feel free to load up on endurance-effort cycling (think: build a stronger base!) and core work. Both of these can provide great benefits without overtaxing your system.

5. Do keep in mind that lots of high-intensity work, bigger training weeks, and taper/recovery windows can make it harder for your immune system to function at full strength. If you’re already operating at a 10 in terms of social distancing and hand washing, those windows are a good time to turn it up to 11.

6. Be grateful that our hobby is awesome for mental health! A good ride or run can really clear your mind, plus the consistency and routine of training can make life feel a little more normal in an incredibly abnormal world.

7. In terms of race uncertainty, remember that you can only control what you can control. You can’t control a race director’s decision or the timing of their decision, let alone all the outside factors that influence that decision. Focus on what you can control: your day-to-day decisions and training.

8. Along those lines, these days things are pretty chaotic. School closures and business crises and adaptations will wreak chaos on daily routines. Have a little forgiveness when your day isn’t able to include all or any of your planned training.

9. If you have not received specific information from your race director regarding your race’s fate, then keep training! If your race is on, you’ll show up prepared and ready. If it ends up being canceled or postponed, then you’ve given yourself a better launching point to prepare for the next one.

10. If you learn that your race is not proceeding as planned, it’s okay to take some time to process and grieve that loss. Skip your long ride and/or long run, back off the intensity and/or volume for a few days (or weeks, depending on future race dates), and take a breath. If you have 4-6 months or longer before your next race, shift to maintenance mode for a bit. If your next race is potentially sooner, but not so soon that you need to be at your recent training volume, it’s okay to shift your training plan out and drop back for a few weeks. The physical and mental break will help keep you stronger than trying to maintain a high level of fitness and risking burning out.

11. Finally, if you are feeling like it’s hard to motivate to train when your race seems uncertain, remember that we all love and participate in this sport not just for race day. We value a wide range of benefits from training: the fitness we build, the feeling of strength within our bodies, the structure and predictability of our TrainingPeaks calendar, the distraction from the stress of life and work, and the satisfaction of completing (crushing!) our workouts. Use these weeks to focus on and be grateful for everything that training gives back to you each day!

Coach Alison Freeman is a USAT Level II Certified Coach with D3 Multisport.  She is also a 

Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach and Ironman University Certified Coach.  She shares that her role as a coach is to be a partner in your quality assurance program. “It’s my job to keep an eye on the big picture and the goals you want to achieve. But part of that process also involves the smaller pieces, continually assessing and making adjustments as needed to ensure that progress stays on track.”

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