The current public health crisis is understandably on everyone’s mind and it is disrupting many aspects of our daily lives and plans. Schools are closing, workers have been advised to work from home, conferences and meetings have been cancelled, major sporting leagues have suspended their seasons, and most amateur cycling and running events scheduled for this spring have either been cancelled or postponed. Amidst all of the uncertainty, athletes may question what you are training for, or if it is worth continuing to train at all. Your health and the safety of those around take priority, but if you have the ability to continue training there are a number of ways doing so will help you through this challenging time.
Before I go on, I feel it is important to emphasize that you should follow the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and officials in your area. I am not a doctor and will be careful to stay in my lane as a coach and leave the medical advice to doctors. Along the same lines, I encourage everyone to be wary of any products, supplements, or even foods being promoted as treatments or cures for COVID-19.
Generally speaking, the readers of this blog are healthy, fit, and active people. Nevertheless, I urge you to take this virus seriously. Your community may need you in the coming weeks, and you can’t help if you’re sick. You are not immune to the virus because you are fit, and perhaps more important, you can spread the virus to more vulnerable people even if you are asymptomatic. In case our healthcare system gets overwhelmed, let’s do what we can to reserve capacity for those who are at greatest risk.
During challenging times, exercise and athletic training can provide important benefits that have very little to do with fitness and sport-specific performance. I encourage you to continue training, and take the following into consideration:
Maintain Training Routines
Many things are out of our control at the moment, and that can create a lot of anxiety. Training is something you can control, which may help anchor some other aspects of your schedule and reestablish positive habits and routines.
Training is Safe, but be Smart
Good fitness is generally beneficial for your immune system, but recognize that very hard training, especially coupled with inadequate energy intake, increases fatigue and being run down makes you more vulnerable to infections. In other words, continue training but don’t dramatically increase your workload based on the erroneous idea that more exercise will improve immune function even more than normal.
Outdoor Exercise is a Good Option
Thankfully, as endurance athletes we have the opportunity to exercise outdoors and we can practice social distancing while riding or running or hiking. Spending time in nature also creates literal and figurative distance between you and stresses you may be facing at work and at home.
Stress Relief is Important
For many of us, exercise is a source of joy and stress management. Right now, you may be stressed about postponed or cancelled events, threats to your livelihood, concern for loved ones, and more. Training can be a chance to take a break from the news and other stresses to do something positive for yourself.
Postponed Events Provide Room for Fitness Development
As CTS Coach Jason Koop put it, “For any athletes planning on competing in events later this year, not getting sick for the next several weeks is your biggest ergogenic aid.” Though you may be frustrated about an upcoming event that has been postponed or cancelled, remember that this can also be an opportunity. A period without events is a good time to focus on training blocks that concentrate workload and increase the training stimulus on a chosen aspect of performance. I encourage you to reassess and potentially restructure your annual plan, find new events you connect with on a personal level, and get ready to perform at your best when normal activities resume.
Remember to Take Care of Yourself
Consuming adequate energy, practicing good hygiene, getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, and reducing lifestyle stress where possible are all things athletes should always do. In reality, it is often difficult for people to check all of those boxes at the same time. Now is a good time to make that happen and focus on self-care. Not only is it important for your physical health, but it is good for your mental wellbeing and your ability to support and care for loved ones.
Take Care of Each Other
We are all in this together, and it is important for people to help each other. You may not realize it, but people around you are often inspired by your healthy lifestyle, your optimism, your gratitude and the joy you derive from activities you are passionate about. It is easy to focus on the negative when communities are locked down, travel is restricted, and the financial system is suffering. As athletes I think we have an opportunity to be an uplifting and positive presence in the lives of people who may be struggling to cope.
We are entering a difficult period, but it is important to keep this public health crisis in perspective. The sun will rise tomorrow and eventually this crisis will subside. While it is happening, I encourage you to spend time focusing on your family, your relationships, and your own wellbeing. Stay informed, but take a break from the news sometimes so it doesn’t get overwhelming. Remember to go for a ride or a run or whatever activity brings you joy.
In time, we will get back to working, socializing, and training together. For now, I encourage you to utilize your coach as a resource if you are working with one, to use training as a means of maintaining normalcy and relieving stress and anxiety, and to look after yourself and your loved ones.
Stay safe and be well.
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