When I was in high school, I would begin each year with relative enthusiasm. That is to say I didn’t approach it the way I would a trip to the amusement park or an Expos game, but it wasn’t anything that actively caused me dread. Though I looked forward to the upcoming year, I had absolutely no goals to colour the approach I would take to getting done what needed to get done. I set no limits. I had no targets. I simply showed up, did the work and went home. Meh.
I think this is how many of us viewed training during the pandemic, overall that is. At the beginning everything was still new and quite shocking as we watched the news hourly for updates. My personal thoughts were influenced by two major themes: On the one hand, I was intermittently terrified that I would contract the disease. During these moments training, such as it was, became something to distract me from the horrible news. Because of this I trained all the time, just not particularly hard. My mind needed to be occupied but at the same time I did not want to push too much for fear that I would tax my immune system leaving me vulnerable to the virus and develop a cough or a sore throat. Every time I sneezed, I was certain that I had been infected and that it would be a matter of hours before I ended up in the ICU on a ventilator. Also, in the beginning, it was still winter and quite cold outside which I used as an excuse to completely cover my face whenever I left the house to go for a run. Second, I never worried too much about racing because they were all still so far away. Everyone seemed to assume that things would likely be better by the time the summer racing season arrived. I was so much more concerned about losing general fitness than fine-tuning for the racing season.
Eventually, races started getting cancelled as the situation worsened and I had a feeling that in due time all summer racing would be either cancelled or distantly postponed. Motivation to train was now seemingly permanently altered as we all realized that our goals were removed for us. Some people took to virtual racing to satisfy their performance needs. For others, like myself, Strava became a gift from the gods as we discovered the allure of the coveted KOM and CR. Just trying to beat previous bests was exciting and I would await with heightened anticipation to see if I had any fancy icons next to my segments, desperately hoping to see that wonderful little crown.
As time passed, I found myself relishing the absence of pressure to be adequately prepared to race and rediscovered why I started running and cycling in the first place. I felt free again to simply enjoy the effort. In fact, in some ways, training was better now. Firstly, I did not have to swim (by far my weakest discipline). Also, I did not HAVE to be fast as it made no difference, ultimately. But I was doing well, sometimes better than I had done in previous, non-pandemic, years. The ultimate purpose of my sessions switched from having to perform well and reaching targets and being a slave to numbers, to being all about discovery: discovering new routes, new physical limits, new techniques.
For now I am loving all this freedom, though I am sure that when the present situation is in the rear-view mirror, I will once again embrace the rigidity of a more focussed and refined training regimen. My only hope is that when things finally go back to ‘normal’, I am able to retain some of what I have learned when change was forced on me and I was taken outside my original comfort zone. Sure, I want to be the best racer I can be, but I really hope I can keep some sense of the sense of freedom I am presently enjoying. Ultimately, I want to get faster, but what I really want is to run, ride – even swim – because these activities are fun.