It’s official. Ironman Canada 2020 is postponed. Sigh. We’d been hoping against hope that this race would still go on but it came as no surprise to get the email officially postponing the race. It is disappointing for all.
The road to Ironman is never easy but this is the first time in over 20 years of coaching that the road has included a trip through a pandemic! For several months we have watched many of our athletes struggle with what all the uncertainty, quarantine and cancellation of events has meant to their training.
Some of our athletes have had more time to train and others even less. Some have stayed motivated or even been more motivated while others are feeling exhausted and unmotivated. For some, training has become a lifeline to maintaining stability and focus. For others, training is much harder as they have had to learn how to navigate kids “attending” school via video and home school requirements, their own jobs, spouses working from home and just the underlying angst and stress of everything going on.
This blog was originally going to be about the mental side of training for an Ironman. As we thought about that, we realized this still applies more than ever and not just for those who had hoped to be on the starting line in late August at IMCA.
What’s important to you now?
Not having the drive (fear!) of an Ironman or other event looming in the near future can make it hard to maintain the same consistency of training. Add in the disruption all around us and this becomes especially true.
An important component of training we talk to our athletes about is having a day-to-day check in with yourself on how you are feeling today. We are not as much talking about physically (as we know most of you can push through) but more mentally. Mentally there are going to be days when you are excited to train and others where it’s a struggle. This is true even when not in the midst of a pandemic and true even if you aren’t signed up for such a big race as Ironman.
Remember, not every training day is going to be a win. Stress of all sorts can take a lot of energy. Sometimes, it’s ok to not fit in every workout. It’s ok to take a step back. No one workout will make or break a training cycle or race. We are not saying stop training completely! Refocus and try not to get so caught up in hitting specific swim, run or bike goals for the week even if it’s written into your plan. You know what you are feeling now and we want you to trust that feeling. We want to make sure when it is time to put the gas back on to aim for IMC or whatever event it is that you are not burned out and still have the hunger to work hard and go for it.
This is the time to check in and evaluate where training was going well for you and where you were either struggling, have an injury concern or could use a tweak. Let’s address those issues now and continue to build on those gains you have made.
An Unexpected Opportunity
In 2005, Coach Lesley was training for Ironman Canada, her first Ironman! Three weeks out from the race she was in a cycling accident that resulted in three dislocated fractures of her collarbone. This was a traumatic experience as you’d expect and at the time felt quite devastating. After investing almost a year into training and with the ironman dream so close, the only thing to do was heal and look to the future.
Fast forward to 2006 and Coach Lesley did make it to the starting line of Ironman Canada for her first attempt at Ironman. Coach Lesley went into the race feeling the most ready she’d ever felt for a race. In the week prior, Lesley recalls worrying that she was not anxious enough! As she walked through the balloon arch onto the beach for the mass swim start, a moment of nerves and emotion caught her and she burst into tears. A few seconds later she felt a calm confidence which she still has a hard time describing. It was her day! Her goals had been to make it to the start line and to have a fun day. That two years of training (mentally and physically) paid off as she qualified for the Kona Ironman World Championships at her first race.
The reality? Coach Lesley would never have wanted that crash to happen. But it did. And she was able to use that setback and extra time to learn, train and race to the best of her ability.
None of us could ever have imagined the disruptions that Covid-19 virus have wrecked on our society. But here we are. What will determine how someone comes through the other side is how they choose to frame the situation and use it to become the best person they can be. Looking to the future and embracing this period as a chance to reset and refocus can help provide a clear way through these scary and unsettling times.
Find Your Purpose
That crash derailed Coach’s plan for Ironman but it didn’t deter her spirit. She worked on healing and finding the reason why she wanted to be an Ironman. She found the fun in training again. With the opportunity of more time, she came back stronger and even more hungry for the Ironman challenge.
For all of us during this pandemic, it’s time to find the fun and find the joy in what we are doing. Again, we are not saying give up on any of your goals and dreams but we are saying take a slightly different approach. Think about what appeals to you or what sounds fun right now.
For instance, the swim can be the most challenging aspect of an Ironman. Use the next few months of warmer weather and see if you can let go of some of the time and distance pressures and instead find the joy of open water swimming.
We’ve seen people getting creative. Some are jumping into virtual race challenges, some have found a loop near home that they want to run each month and see if they can get faster each time. Many are trying out some of the many free streaming platforms for strength training, mobility and yoga. We have started a Seattle Stairway Foot Tour Challenge where we are visiting all major staircases in Seattle (80+ staircases with 100 stairs or more) in a grand foot tour. It’s 98 miles in 5 -10 mile sections over a period of a couple of months. What are you doing?? We would love to know. This is your chance to explore and play!
Build Yourself Up
How will you make yourself a stronger athlete? This is a great time to find the joy and fun in training as well as addressing those areas where you could use some work.
Take a look at recovery too. For many, taking appropriate recovery can be hard. Mentally, recovery and resting can be very hard for driven athletes. Add in the stress of so much uncertainty and it becomes even harder as many decompress through activity. It becomes hard to not just add and add more and more workouts.
If you see this in yourself, how will you work on recovery? With Ironman or other events possibly up to a year or more away, building volume and intensity now is not sustainable. It’s a risk for burnout and injury. Besides this, with this virus still a part of our lives we need to think about our overall health and reserves. Research has also shown that too much intense training can weaken your immune system. We’d rather see you stronger and healthier. We give you permission to realize that less training is more.
A few overlooked things to work on:
Other areas we see athletes struggle with are race anxiety and/or negative mental voices. This is something you can work on now even with no events. Try looking at articles and books that talk about how to overcome this kind of specific anxiety. Listen to one of many podcasts available from coaches, scientists and athletes.
Think about what those negative mental voices say to you during an event. Can you hear them other times? What are some things you can say to counteract those voices? Maybe you hear them in other areas of life too? Notice these. What is your strategy to counteract them?
For example, in Ironman when you are hot and tired on the bike and think maybe this is not the day for me. Instead of dwelling on this chant to yourself that you are strong, you are trained, you can do this. The tired will fade away. Your legs can do it. Maybe you even use a label maker to write this mantra on your bike or if in daily life write it across the bathroom mirror?
Still an Athlete
Never forget you are an athlete.
Being an athlete even with no events and even if you hesitate to call yourself one gives you a certain strength and perspective. After all, you’ve willingly chosen to work outside of your comfort zone (many times) to try and attain something which probably felt impossible at some time or another. Not everyone can say that.
Even though we are all “just” training now, we have the potential in us to use this time to the best of our advantage. Race day will come again and we hope it’ll just be the icing on the cake of the training journey.
Embrace the adventure ahead and try to reframe all the uncertainty.
Helen Keller said it well: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
Have a great adventure!