Athlete in lockdown
11th Jun 2020
Thanks to the global coronavirus pandemic, 2020 hasn't turned out the way any of us planned it - here is my perspective of an athlete living in lockdown and hoping to return to racing!
My big hope for 2020 was to return to racing at elite level - after 18 months out pre/post baby and another 12 months getting properly fit again. I won't call it a 'comeback year' as that sets too much expectation. But after a solid winter training, for the first time since September 2017 - I actually felt I was swimming, biking and running close to pro level again. On track for elite selection by British Triathlon for the ETU/ITU champs, and finally feeling like my old self again!
And then... Covid-19 struck. I realise this blog isn't about life and death; there are infinitely worse things I could be writing about (and indeed have in the past). I'm grateful that my family have stayed healthy, and the challenges documented here are the most I've had to deal with. The UK has been one of the worst affected by coronavirus (I won't go into the politics of our government's terrible handling of the crisis) and my heart goes out to anyone affected by the loss or illness of a loved one.
However, for all of us fortunate enough not to be on the front line, life carries on in lockdown, and it's beyond anything we could have ever forseen. As a triathlete, the biggest game-changers have been cancellation of all competitions, closure of all swimming pools and gyms, sports clubs, physio and coaching facilities.
Initially in the UK, a restriction meant we were not allowed to leave the house except for essential journeys - basically for food, medical need, or to exercise once a day. This race season is written off until at least August, and the best we can hope for is a handful of competitions in September/October. It can be hard to stay motivated when nothing is guaranteed, and while I do my best to prepare, the daily training routine has had to be completely adapted as well.
We should have seen it coming from the lockdowns in China and then in Spain & other parts of Europe, but everything happened suddenly with no time to prepare. Leisure centres started to close, so in that week I swam every day until the inevitable announcement from the government. On the day of my last swim, I stopped by the office to pick up my computer and anything I could grab from my drawers - the office was closing too. We had almost zero time to prepare for working from home, but luckily being a web developer lends itself pretty well! The concern in the longer term for our business, is how hard many of our clients have been hit by the pandemic. During lockdown I've been grateful to have my job, colleagues and income while many have lost theirs. It's also good to have useful work to do and not think about the news or lack of races all the time!
On the training front I'm thankful we were never ordered to stay indoors like in Spain and France. We are very lucky living in Dorset where there's plenty of quiet & beautiful places to ride, without coming within 2m of another person.
We also have the sea which could be my only opportunity to swim for months. At the end of March however, it was only 9*C! I could have managed maybe 20 minutes, but with no driving allowed at this point, I couldn't face cycling 90 minutes each way carrying my wetsuit, to swim less than a mile! So swimming had to be abandoned until April, and even now I am only managing about 1/2 hour a week in the sea.
The once a day limit (thankfully doesn't apply now) was only really a problem because we have a spaniel that needs two walks a day - which counts as the day's quota for both me and Simon! I did run with the dog wherever possible, but not if I had intervals to complete. On my long ride days Simon picked up the dog duties (thankyou husband!) but we are also fortunate with our home setup.
Our planning for being able to train at home alone with the baby, came into its own during lockdown! We already had a squat rack and turbo trainer in the garage, and now we have a treadmill as well! For me this was a 'nice to have', but it was purchased mostly as Simon feared he might struggle living with me if we were banned from leaving the house and I couldn't run!
Another challenge until June has been childcare. Torben's nursery was closed for all but key workers, and while Simon is a key worker, we felt if we could manage at home, it would reduce the risk of contact and spreading the disease to others. So we lost our usual 3 days/week childcare with no grandparent-care allowed either. Of course this has an impact on training, when we are both still working, and between us having to cover dog and childcare 24/7. I also feel guilty going out on too many long rides or runs, leaving Simon literally holding the baby!
Another limiting factor is having zero access to physio or sports massage. I followed the national advice - don't risk accidents that would put extra pressure on the NHS (i.e. no gnarly MTB trails!) But I also decided to take extra care avoiding the more mundane injuries - that can normally be sorted by physio. I ruled out many types of training as too risky - plyometrics, sprinting, max power/overgear work on the bike, running with the dog in harness etc. I also spent extra time on all the boring 'prehab' - foam roller & core exercises!
Initially I was wary of doing long/hard sessions and lowering my immune system, just in case I got covid-19, but latterly I've given up on that. Maybe the longer it goes on, the fear of missing other things in life outweighs the fear of the virus, but I also feel it's likely I've already had it back in late Feb. Now we are hearing reports covid has been in Europe since Christmas and all of the early cases would have been put down to flu and chest infection, which mine was. I was ill for over a month and had most of the symptoms - including a cough so severe I cracked a rib. (Another thing I'm still waiting to see the physio for!)
Given I turn 40 this year it's sadly far easier to get injured and far harder to recover than it used to be! I've also spent a sporting lifetime accumulating injuries and would normally see a physio every couple of weeks to manage these. During lockdown I've resorted to trying virtual appointments over Zoom (thank you Sam at Dorchester Physio!) that involved demonstrating what Simon needs to do to me on a skeleton! It helps to a degree, but there's no substitute to seeing a therapist in person.
Despite the challenges, I surprised myself by setting PB power records recently on the bike! I guess this is a combination of doing more biking and running where I can't swim, as well as doing lots of long rides over winter. I also have to credit Mark @intellitri for his 'intelligent' approach and constantly adapting my program as the lockdown situation changes.
Running also seems to be going well, so now it's the most frustrating thing in the world not having any races! None of us athletes would be doing this - let alone at elite level - if we didn't love competing, and/or rely on it for income - both of which has been taken away. Despite the silver lining of more family time, precious moments with Torben as he grows into a cheeky toddler! Yet nothing else can fill the void of racing, which is my identity outside of being Torben's mum. Ever since this started, events on the calendar are like the horizon - the closer you get, the further away it moves!
I am also starkly aware that there are not many seasons left for me at this level. Perhaps it's the '9's syndrome as my sport psychologist Andy likes to put it! I.e. when your age ends with 9 you are forced to face all the things you thought you 'should' have done or still want to do before you get to 20, 30, 40... and always that pressure you feel like time is running out. Maybe we will still get some races this year, maybe I will get next year. But as some of my contemporaries have learned the hardest way, you never know when a career-ending injury, illness or life situation can strike. A lot of athletes never get to choose when they retire.
Hopefully we can salvage something from 2020 season, but equally I hope it will not be my last one!
Design © 2020 Louise Fox. Photography © Lukasz Warzecha