fitness · training

Endurance tips for life these days (3 of 3)

Hi readers! As part of our continuing coverage of life in these unusual times, we asked our bloggers to comment on their experiences of long-term training and long-term projects. What is it like to be immersed in a process that’s important, for which the outcome is uncertain– in terms of time and what it will be like? How do you manage the discipline, the repetition, the discomfort, the uncertainty?

We’re posting their replies this Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2pm. We would love it if you would add your comments and offer your own tips from your training experiences. How are they helping you (or not!) during this time of sheltering and isolating in one place? We’ll post those comments in a separate post next Monday.

If you want to (re)read Monday’s post, check it out here.

If you want to (re)read Wednesday’s post, check it out here.

Today, we hear from Sam, Kim, Martha and me on how training experiences are shaping what we’re doing now.

First up is Sam, who says “put your own mask on first!”:

There’s a lesson from long distance, group cycling that I think is helpful for this long haul of staying at home and social distancing. It’s about taking care of your self first.

In any group ride where there is an explicit commitment to sticking together the group is only as strong as its weakest member. You don’t always know how other people are doing but you do know how you’re doing and you can take care of your own needs as a big part of the team effort.

On a group ride that means at the start arriving well rested, bringing your own snacks, and making sure your bike is good repair. Along the way, it means pacing. Don’t wear yourself out at the front. You let other people know if you’re getting tired, before you’re exhausted. Take time to drink and eat.

The best thing you can do for the group is making sure you’re doing what you need to take care of yourself. If you’re a stronger ride, then you can help make sure others are doing okay. But put your own mask on first, as they say.

How is this true in pandemic times? Many of you are caring for small children and I know in that context things are a bit different. But in terms of your relationship with older children, partners, parents etc it helps to do all that you can to keep yourself on an even keel.

Here we’re five of us under one roof, plus dogs and a cat, and we’re sharing space full-time in ways that we have never done before. There are two us working in the dining room and living room, twenty-somethings hanging out in the back group, and it’s a delicate balance of cooking and cleaning and working and playing games and exercising. It’s easier if we are all in reasonable moods and I notice that we are all being pretty generous in terms of our household contributions. We’re each eating well and getting enough sleep. We’re talking about our fears and anxieties, taking care of ourselves and one another.

It’s not perfect but I feel a bit like I do on a great group ride. Yes there are stronger and weaker riders but we’re all doing our part, asking for help when we need it, and doing what we need to do so we don’t fall apart on the others.

Next up is Martha, on quilting and focus over a long project:

If you had asked me last year if knowing how to quilt would help me manage the challenges of the staying safely at home during a pandemic, I would have probably laughed heartily. Mostly because quilting involves a lot of math, which is not my strong suit, and mathing can cause me stress.

Quilting, because of the math and the patterning, requires focus. Some people can cheerfully chain piece away; I have to be very focused. It requires a lot of TEA, both the liquid kind and the metaphorical kind.

TEA, according to project management thinker Charles Gilkey, is time, energy and attention. In one of his weekly newsletters addressing pandemic issues, he asked what we could let go, what we could freeze (or pause) and what could we continue to offer TEA and still be productive and engage in meaningful work.

My most successful quilt projects require organization to keep all the parts together. They also require balance: too much work on it at any given time, and I can make mistakes; too many distractions and I lose focus and attention, also causing mistakes and frustration. Quilting is also an iterative activity; each piece builds on itself. Each part brings its own demands for TEA even as it offers patience and a sense of accomplishment when achieved.

The pandemic, like quilting, has a lot of complicated bits and a lot of simple bits. I have to trust in the process of social distancing even though I might not see the impact right away. I can only control when and how I shop for necessities, when I will work, and when I will relax. Letting go, pausing, and (re) engaging are cyclical and important parts of creating and managing this new normal for me and my family. It might not look the best, but it is good enough, and sometimes that is more than okay.

Here’s Kim, on developing resilience and power she never knew she had (which we all have, too!):

Long ago now (well, ok, in 2013; it feels like a lifetime ago!!) I trained for the biggest endurance challenge of my life. In July 2013 I rode 450km in 24 hours and 14 minutes, as part of a charity race from London to Paris (England to France) in support of kids with disabilities in arts and sport.

My then-husband arrived home one day eight months before and announced he’d signed us up. I was REALLY cross to start, but then the work began and I didn’t have the energy to be annoyed anymore. I remember well that we started with a schedule and a plan; it was not orthodox, which is to say it was a bit loosey-goosey, but that suited our world at the time.

We built stamina over 25 mile rides, then 30 mile rides, then 40 mile rides, each weekend, and so on. I lifted some weights, badly I think, and swam a lot (less badly). We gathered friends from among the others signed up, and started going out for longer rides. We discovered enormous pleasure and beauty in new routes from our house in South London into the hills toward Sussex; we rode the now-infamous Box Hill route that featured in the 2012 Olympic road race, many times!

Eventually, one super rainy and gross weekend, we did an Imperial Century (100 miles, 8 hours) along the Dorset coast. I remember that ride chiefly because just before the second feed station we all had to ride through a huge slick of wet livestock poop. YUP.

The training had its ups and downs, but it created a rhythm to my life between fall 2012 and summer 2013 that helped me cope with another huge transition: from living and working in Canada to living and working in the UK.

What I remember most about that time now is making packs of new friends, discovering power and resilience in myself I never knew I had, becoming stronger than ever before, and learning how to tune into nature (what’s the wind speed? From where? Any precipitation? Here or in Brighton?) in ways I never had before. I cherish the memories of that difficult but valuable time.

Finally, here’s me, with a few words on how training mirrors life– focusing on now and focusing on today.

Life feels weird right now. Working and moving and cooking and cleaning and relaxing and socializing and sleeping, all at home, creates all kinds of challenges for me. I have to create a new-new schedule for everything and try to stick to it with very few external constraints to keep me on the straight and narrow. This is not my forte, maintaining internal motivation to keep to a consistent schedule involving every aspect of my life. I guess it’s really no one’s forte.

I’ve trained for bike racing, long cycling events, big group rides and triathlons (and tap dance concerts in the distant past). When I let myself sink into the rhythm of a training plan, submitting to the schedule (you see how anti-authoritarian I am about this?), I discover beauty in two things.

Thing one: the now. When I am doing a workout or practice or exercise, I’m just doing that thing. There’s no multitasking, no talking on the phone, no trying to sneak in another email while grading. There’s just me and the hill, me and the 2 or 5 or 15-minute intervals. I’m breathing. I’m moving. I’m sweating. I’m hearing my own breathing and the bike sounds. Even if I’m outside, I don’t focus much on what I am seeing. It’s rather what I’m feeling and hearing.

That now is a place we can go where we leave behind the rest of the world, for a little bit. I’m working on finding ways to be in the now for writing, or my zoom therapy, or my online class interactions with students. Cultivating that reserved space and time creates a calming space for me.

Thing two: the training schedule. When I have a weekly/monthly schedule laid out with all the sessions I am to do, I feel like I’m off the hook (even if I’m the one who created it). It’s there, and I just do what it says when it says. Tuesdays used to be sprint drills, and Thursdays were threshold intervals, and Saturdays were long rides. Life was simple in that respect.

I’m finding a little of that simplicity through a training schedule now. It’s building up and getting more structured as I can tolerate that structure, but it’s happening. I’ve got my zoom yoga classes 3x/week, and am working on scheduling walking 5X/week. That’s what I got right now.

Readers, what are you doing to develop endurance through this strange period we are going through? We would love to hear from you.