Overcoming Isolation And Making It A Positive

We’re nearing the third week of ‘lockdown’ and self-isolation. For many active athletes it is a difficult and stressful time as we come to terms with many new aspects of life and how it will change.

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to talk to your Coach about your future training and skills development.

Whether you have a Coach or not, now is the time to take stock and evaluate your options for 2020.

Up until this time you may have been following a training plan assuming events will happen this season. Some of you may be completing a training block and about to enter the next phase of training perhaps leading to an event in July or August.

Let’s think about 2020 events for a moment

This realisation may hurt a bit but there is not going to be any racing any time soon. At the time of writing, the earliest potential for events is going to be July but it’s very doubtful (in my opinion) that regulations will be sufficiently lifted to enable events to go ahead much before the Autumn 2020.

There will be no series of events as we have known it in the past that will have any real meaning or comparison with years past or future.

International events are also unlikely to happen this season for the same reasons as for the UK. Also, consider that many countries have restrictions that are more severe than here in the UK and, in many instances, borders are closed and likely to be very controlled for the foreseeable future.

It’s not all doom and gloom

OK, time for some perspective, context and evaluation.

The lack of competition for many is going to be a real hit both mentally and physically and it’s important to recognise that strategies are necessary to minimise the detrimental effect.

If competition is not your thing, there are still going to be the same issues to overcome.

It all comes down to the goal setting you engaged in earlier this year.

Each of us will have specific goals for our season. It doesn’t matter what those goals were. They could be to ride your first 100 miles, to break through a PB barrier, to race your first enduro, to race your first Ironman, to ride for more than two hours – it really doesn’t matter, a goal is a goal.

To achieve your goal there will be a plan of what you need to develop in terms of fitness and skill. Some plans will be very specific and others much less so. Each plan, whether an informal plan from a mate or a plan from a Coach or other source, is designed to help you achieve your goal.

Therefore, if our goals are no longer valid, then our plans are also invalid.

Time for re-assessment of our goals for 2020.

But, I don’t want to change my goals or plans to achieve them

I get that, I really do and so here’s a couple of things to consider.

Training for any goal is about preparing the body and mind to achieve that goal. This applies to competitive and other goals.

Preparing the body

Goals, by their very nature, tend to be something beyond what we would normally do physically. Therefore, our preparation will add a level of stress to help our bodies get used to the demands we expect to make in order to achieve the goal. This stress also puts pressure on our immune system and our ability to prepare for the next stress in our preparation. With training intensity comes a more intensive pressure on our immune system which, in turn makes us less able to fight infection – not a happy scenario at present.

Preparing the mind

Possibly the most important aspect of achieving a goal is adopting an appropriate mindset. A particular focus is required to complete specific training for the goal. Also, training the mind to cope with physical stress is an important part of the whole process.

The difference between achievement and failure is rarely to do with physical preparation but more to do with mental preparation. The constant pressure to achieve can be invigorating as each mini-goal is met. However, without the purpose of a goal, the training becomes less meaningful.

At best, in those circumstances, the mind can accept a temporary lack of goal or reason for physical preparation but there will come a moment when that acceptance descends into a feeling of training without purpose and, potentially, into a lack of motivation and hopelessness.

New goals required!

OK, time to move forward if we’re going to make the best of 2020. In fact, there’s no time to lose. This is an important moment so let’s focus!

A, B, C Goals

Many regard a goal as their main objective in the year and often, in their mind, have just one goal. If you’re like that, you’re missing a trick here!

Your ’A Goal‘ is the one major goal you want to achieve. It’s the one where you’re going to be at your peak of physical fitness and mental preparation. It’s the one single objective of the season/year. In 2018 my ‘A Goal’ was winning my age category in the Medio SuperGranFondo starting in Valloire, France and finishing on the summit of the Galibier in the Alps.

‘B Goals’ are significant events (competitive our otherwise) that are tests of fitness both physical and mental. These are the events that tell you that you’re on track or the need to re-evaluate so you can still hit your ‘A Goal’. My ‘B Goals’ in 2018 were events in The Vosges and from Morzine, France.

‘C Goals’ are the identifiable steps required to achieve your ‘B Goals’. They could be other events or training goals such as an improvement in FTP. One of my ‘C Goals’ was to improve my FTP, another was to lose some weight!

Eight months training and I improved my FTP from 197 watts to 283 watts and my weight from 79 kgs to 71 kgs on my ‘A Goal’ race day – I came 1st in my age category at the summit of the Col du Galibier.

The training (physical and mental), the ‘C Goals’, the ‘B Goals’ are all steps to putting you in the best condition to achieve your ‘A Goal’.

Shifting the goal posts

So, what is going to be your ‘A Goal’ for 2020?

Whether you’re focussed on competition or not, you’ll need to pick a goal for the Autumn in the UK or perhaps August at the earliest.

Also, let’s assume competition will return to some normality for 2021. At the moment we do not know if there will be any events later this year but we’re hoping it will be the case.

I’d suggest picking an ‘A Goal’ with perhaps an earlier ‘B Goal’ for 2020. If the ‘B Goal’ doesn’t happen then switch the ‘A Goal’ to a ‘B Goal’ and identify an ‘A Goal’ in 2021.

It’s all about having a plan and the flexibility of mind to evaluate and change if necessary.

Planning to hit our goals

Let’s assume we’ve found an ‘A Goal’ for early October, 2020. Our ‘B Goal’ is about four weeks before.

The time between the goals we can use for ‘sharpening’ performance and ensuring we are fit for our ‘A Goal’. So, what do we do in the time before our ‘B Goal‘?

Of course the answer to that question will depend upon our current preparedness and where our fitness need to be for our ‘B Goal’. Given those two parameters we can flesh out a plan.

However, we live in pure centred times and we will need to think creatively about how we can prepare to meet our goals. We can only do this in the context of our restrictions of movement placed on us by ‘lockdown’ and this is the context in which we can prepare.

In the UK

In the UK we have regulations about our movement outside of our homes. Compared with other countries we are fortunate to be allowed one form of exercise a day including a run, walk or cycle.

However, there is little additional guidance about how long we can exercise other than we “should minimise the time spent outside of the home”.

There have been variations on the theme from #StayAtHome to ‘close to home’ to a politician’s suggestion that up to an hour would be appropriate.

Firstly, the fundamental message is ‘Stay At Home’. That seems to be the bedrock of the regulations.

Secondly, we “should minimise the time spent outside the home”.

It is within this context in the UK that we can prepare to achieve our goals.

It’s all about perspective

With the change in our goals comes a different perspective and the need to become more creative about how and where we prepare ourselves. The following will not suit everyone’s preparations but are meant to serve as ideas to consider by athletes and coaches alike.

Train more than once a day

In normal times the pressure on available time to train is extraordinary and is often crushed into a relatively short period in the day. Currently, some are able to enjoy the gift of time. In those circumstances two or three or four separate but shorter training sessions in the day become possible.

Mix it up

Like many I belong to Strava and my Strava feed often shows athletes engaged in various activities each day. Walking, running, indoor rowing, virtual rides, HIIT, body weight exercises, stretches, balance drills, circuits, etc. – the list is almost endless.

Exercise outside the home

For cyclists this is a great training opportunity but, remember, (at the time of writing) you should minimise the time spent outside of the home. Therefore, make good use of the limited time you have, ensure you remain focussed on your session whether it is something intense or more relaxing say, a recovery ride. Crucially, make sure it is not the only session you do that day – refer back to the section ‘Mix it up’ above.

Regular evaluation and flexibility

Be prepared to be flexible. Evaluate your training and approach every 7 to 10 days and make adjustments based upon availability of time and current regulations. Being flexible is an excellent quality, the ability to think and adjust ‘on-the-go’ will be invaluable as you in achieving your goal. Flexibility helps keep you fresh and alert and see any changes in restrictions as an opportunity rather than a threat to your performance.

Get creative

Move that turbo trainer out of the garage and put it outside. Body weight exercises can be done outside or in a different room. Create a circuit of activities around your home and garden if you have one. Vary the time for each activity you create.

Change the mindset

Key is the mindset you adopt during the new reality of lockdown. Sure, you can continue focussing on your pre-isolation goals but just reflect on where that might lead. You won’t be hitting your ‘A Goal’ because it no longer exists.

I guess the real change for most athletes, especially competitive ones, may revolve around the idea of a loss of hard won fitness – a very real concern. However, studies show that fitness will be retained through a much reduced level of training. It won’t be a level of fitness where you can go and race immediately but it will be a basis for ‘sharpening’ and ‘honing’ fitness prior to an event. It is a level of fitness that you would expect with about four weeks to go to the event.

Finally, have confidence in yourself and your fitness. Have confidence that a change in regime will contribute to well-being and provide a new focus. Have confidence that your preparation will be sufficient to achieve your goals during 2020. Be flexible and adapt, greet each ‘difficulty’ as an opportunity to embrace and develop. Most of all, don’t forget to have some fun!

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Jez Meades aka. RadGrandad has been riding bikes for more than 25 years. From time-trialling to racing cyclosportives in Europe to just having fun on an MTB. A British Cycling Level 2 Cycling Coach happy to share his knowledge and experience.