Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Athletes tend to be high-achieving and goal-oriented by nature. That’s usually what draws them into sport in the first place. But what do you do when the achievements you had planned and the goals for the season are suspended, as they are now? You focus on the process, that’s what. The Corona Virus MIGHT end up being the best thing that ever happened to your racing career.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article suggesting a few ways to adjust your training during this unprecedented Corona Virus Pandemic. Adjusting your training is all well in good, but some people may be wondering what the point of training is when they have no races planned in the next 12-20 weeks? The secret lies in what we see with elite athletes, which is ultimately the secret to athletic success.
Most people are not going to be professional athletes, but we can certainly learn from them and the mental strength they have to prepare for their job—even when there isn’t a job for them to do! One of the interesting things I’ve noticed during this time is that, despite their obvious disappointment at having races cancelled, many elite athletes seem relatively unfazed by the situation and carrying on as normal with the training. There are a few things we can draw from this approach.
1. Like us all, elite athletes have hope and faith that they will be racing soon. And if they’re racing soon, then they want to be ready. Even though none of us know exactly when we are going to race next, we are confident we WILL race, and thus we continue on.
2. Another reason is that elite and high-performing athletes are used to having extended periods of time when they train and don’t race. What’s the point of that, you ask? The reality is that race results in September and October are NOT made in June and July. They’re made back in December, January, and February. You can call it what you want: a base phase, offseason, foundation, etc. The point is that elite athletes realize that successes at their marquee events are largely determined by how “good” of an offseason they have. We are currently still in offseason. It’s a long offseason, but it’s an offseason nonetheless. Much of the training we do during the offseason is preparing us to handle the future training and racing we will do later in the year. It’s building a foundation. If you have a large foundation built, you can build a big house on it.
The screenshot I have below is from an athlete that was building up for an April race. You can see that much of November and December was off. There was pretty much no fitness build during that time. The ramp was pretty quick throughout the spring and this athlete was on track to race very well in April. Even if this athlete just maintained their current chronic training load (CTL), they will still be starting off at a MUCH better place than they were in December when they started their race build. They will now be ramping their training from a high level of fitness, instead of from zero. The fitter you are, the fitter you can become.
3. The third reason the Corona Virus might provide a huge opportunity piggybacks off of reason number two. It takes realizing that improvement or “success” in a triathlon or a marathon is not a simple 20-week training plan. It’s a lifelong pursuit where each season of training and racing builds on the next. Just because you have a bad race (or that race is canceled) does not mean the fitness you built throughout the training process is all for naught. Actually, that fitness provides a stepping stone and a building block for future successes. Lack of consistency is the number one enemy of progress. Consistency will not always yield results in a linear fashion, but when you look back over the course of 3, 5, 10+ years in sport, consistency pays off BIG time. That’s part of the reason I work with a triathlon coach. I could probably train much harder NOW, but the reality is that my coach helps keep me balanced and shares a vision for where we want to be at the end of this season and in future years. What are he and I working on right now? Just training.
I like to use the analogy of finances and the stock market to liken this. The contributions you make to your 401k increase your net worth slightly today (market crashes aside), but the real value comes when you go to make withdrawals on that investment 20 years from now.
Physiology works much the same way. Make investments in your physiology now. Focus on the process of becoming a better athlete. Do you have more time for mobility work or running drills because you are running from home and not commuting? Can you fuel more adequately and with better quality foods because you’re cooking at home? Are you able to get an extra 15-20 minutes of sleep at night? There are many little ways to improve athletic performance.
In one of Gwen Jorgensen’s YouTube videos from last year, she talked about how she usually doesn’t know she’s even racing until her coach tells her a week or two before the race! The reasoning behind that approach? Their focus was on the process. They were working on making her a better athlete, and when she was ready, she would race.
Focus on the process during this time and the results will come eventually.
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