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A Season Without Races

How to cope with disappointment and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic

Featured professional coach: Ed Rechnitzer

It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly. First the spring races were cancelled, followed by the summer events, and then fall races sitting on a knife edge. Within a couple of weeks of the pandemic hitting Canada, it became clear we would not be racing for a while, and not by choice.

This has left many of us runners, cyclists, triathletes, and other athletes disappointed and unsure. Why is this so hard to accept? After all, races are simply add-ons to the pillars of family and professional life. In the current context of vulnerable global health and economic decline, how can we even think twice about events disappearing from our calendars, being postponed to next year?

From the outside looking in, a race is a start line and a finish line with lots of uncomfortable huffing and puffing in between. But to the millions of Canadians who toe a start line every year, it is an opportunity for self-expression to validate and celebrate the time and commitment we dedicated to training. It is showing what we are made of at its purest form.

This year many of us had planned and trained for several different races, including personal best attempts and destination races. Committing to an event takes courage and determination, not counting the hours of training. It is a testament to wanting to improve something about ourselves and test our resolve. This is meaningful to me (maybe also to you) and has left a void.

While recognizing that void, we can use it as a springboard to something positive. Here are tips I have found helpful to move forward and stay motivated:

  1. Be okay with doing less – The pandemic has triggered elevated levels of everyday stress and material changes in our lives. While we find calm in exercising, we may also feel pressured to sign up for every park or virtual workout out there. Is anyone feeling “Zoomed” out? The busy- bee approach tends to bite back. A measured approach is more sustainable and healthier.
  1. Enjoy spontaneous exercising – What about that cool hike you have been meaning to try or an afternoon of mountain biking? Enjoy the mental break from less structured training, while staying active to maintain fitness and good health.
  1. Play the long game – This is a good time to get re-acquainted with our “why”. Why do I run? Why do I race? Defining what that means will help us see beyond this season. It will also drive our motivation to return to racing.
  1. Be grateful – Unlike many other sports, running and cycling inherently incorporate physical distancing. You might not be training for a half-marathon anymore, but you can still get outside and enjoy your sport.
  1. Mentor a new runner – Many are discovering the physical and mental benefits of running and cycling. We can help them get started.

With racing plans and the routine that comes with those now up in the air, coaches are an incredible resource to help athletes rise above the noise and maintain some sense of normalcy. I caught up with Ed Rechnitzer, professional triathlon coach of Vmax Squad at Ed shared great insight on how he is helping his athletes cope with the situation.

What has changed for your athletes?

The range of change and consequences has been staggering. We have front line medical professionals, business owners and office workers across three continents on the team. Some had their races cancelled early, others had them re-scheduled twice already, others walked away from them, and others are holding on to a potential Fall event. Each is an individual with unique family situation, objectives, experience, and personality. That individuality drove adjustments.

How have you adjusted their training?

For athletes with Fall races, it is about staying on track while being prepared mentally for a postponement. For athletes without 2020 races, the plans vary greatly. The common threads are to continue enjoy training and invest in the future by:

  • Focusing on developing a specific aspect of physiology with interim goals to support the longer-term.
  • Focusing on maintaining fitness while giving yourself a mental break with shorter/sharper workouts peppered amongst more relaxed sessions.
  • Reconnecting with what life balance means for you as an athlete. Take an introspective look at why you race/train from a sustainability and enjoyability point of view.

Has your approach to coaching changed because of the pandemic?

The fundamentals of coaching services as I see them have remained the same. Athletes’ life circumstances were always at the center of each program. The pandemic of course has brought with it an extraordinary level of change in life circumstances for everyone, at the same time.

Having races fall off calendars is a big deal for athletes. They thrive on setting goals and knocking them off. As a result, the well-being and health of my athletes became the new focus. Without health nothing else matters, in life and in training too. How can I help them under these restrictive circumstances?  Dosing training load is only the first step. The over arching consideration is what will best support them in the long term? We don’t know when races are coming back, what can I do the help each of them hang on to their dreams? It is important to me that my coaching helps athletes weather the storm. While we cannot change what is happening, we can decide how we will respond to it. I feel very strongly about boosting my athletes’ emotional strength and empowering them to feel in control in the turbulent world that surrounds them.

What is your message for all athletes?

Believe that you will get through this and make the best of what you have. Control what you can control, overcome, adapt, and press on, always keeping your eye on the end goal. Resourcefulness is a powerful confidence builder for athletes as it often comes in handy when the going gets tough. Reframe adverse situations as an opportunity to develop your resilience, resolve and coping strategies. Aim to come out the other side stronger and look back with pride.

Follow up with Coach Ed at: Team VMax Triathlon

The door is open for many of our favorite activities, races included, to come back with a renewed sense of purpose and conviction in the experience they offer. In the end, we are endurance athletes, we know how to endure. It will take time, but we will figure this out. I am a believer and I am optimistic about the future.


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Stay tuned for our next article dedicated to new runners.