Finding ordinary: the power of routine when the world is spinning

Hey, Stolen Goat herd. Well, that escalated quickly. Remember when our main concern was Storm Dennis? It seems 2020 has gone all “hold my beer” on 2019. I don’t think when any of us were setting our goals or choosing our races for this year, we thought we’d have a global pandemic to contend with. Challenges? Sure. Potholes and bumps in the planned out road? Plenty. But a viral outbreak causing a worldwide crisis – not so much.

It’s surreal and it’s scary. If you’re feeling completely adrift right now – like a paper boat cast out in the stormiest of seas – it’s okay. We all do. So let me start by saying that we don’t have to face this alone. If you want some likeminded cycling enthusiasts and triathlon aficionados to reach out to (and to be the world’s greatest enablers when it comes to affirming that you’re totally justified in treating yourself to a “cheer yourself up” jersey and that it would be rude not to adopt a Baby Nik in the process) head over to Facebook and join the Stolen Goat Herd Immunity pop up group – nothing but support, good vibes and daydreaming about our next adventures.

Chances are, if you’re reading this you’re a cyclist, a triathlete, a duathlete or a mish-mash of all three depending on the season. You’re probably driven by goals, by adventure. Meeting up with your friends for a café ride on a Sunday morning. Or working hard towards a race and basing your every waking minute around training for it. Enjoying the freedom of swimming, cycling, running – whenever, wherever. Suddenly, all of these things that we’ve taken for granted have been swept out from under us. As I type, I’m supposed to be doing hill reps on day one of a triathlon training camp in Cyprus in my snazzy stripey SG climbers jersey. Instead, I’m sat here in my koala slippers defrosting my fingers after heading out at the crack of dawn to get my run done before too many people were around. The Ironman race in Spain that I’ve been putting my heart and soul into training for probably won’t happen. But actually, I’m grateful – because (for now at least) in the UK we’re allowed out once a day to exercise as long as we’re sensible. I never thought I’d be so thankful for just being able to go outdoors. So I guess a silver lining here is that it’s reminded me of my privilege – and I’m soaking up every little drop of joy I can get from each training session.

We’re living through this weird, perpetual unknown until further notice – and that’s tough. Usually, in times of personal crisis, the world keeps turning and there’s this normality to anchor yourself to that picks you up and makes you carry on. But the world has quite literally stopped and it’s hard to stay centred when it feels like there’s no gravity. As someone who has suffered anxiety attacks for most of my adult life, the only way I’m going to get through this is by finding my anchor – creating a sense of the ordinary and the normal for myself – to keep from spinning out. And for me, that’s been routine – adapted, flexible – but the one thing I can take some form of control over. Don’t panic, I’m not about to remind you to go and put some clean underpants on (although, please do) or give you tips on how to stack various objects under your laptop so that your new working-from-home setup is ergonomically sound. I’ll stick to what I know – which is training.

How to find (and adjust) your routine to create a form of ordinary
I know it sounds boring, but creating a routine and sticking to it is powerful and provides a constant when everything else is changing around you. It provides building blocks for your day and splits up your time. I’m lucky that I’m in a job where I can work full-time from home – but at the weekends, having a planned routine for my training helps to give me structure. Everyone’s circumstances are different – and I’m well aware that as someone who doesn’t have children to look after and a husband who’s also into triathlon, I’m in a pretty easy position. But here’s what I’m doing to maintain a sense of normal:

1) Look at what you would usually do and see how that can work with the current circumstances
It’ll help to make things feel less weird. Before the world went viral, my morning would involve getting up and getting a training session in before work. And while I could just enjoy the extra time in bed now my commute involves a flight of stairs instead of a 50-minute drive, and do the training later, it helps me to feel ‘normal’ by sticking to this routine. Maybe you always went swimming on a Tuesday morning? You can’t do that right now, but you could start doing some upper body strength work every Tuesday instead.

2) Have a plan
My coach and I have switched to a fortnightly training plan so that we can keep adjusting to whatever restrictions are brought in, but I’m finding being able to start the week with at least some sort of structure ahead of me really helpful. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the rest of the world this Wednesday, but I do know I’ll be starting the day with a core workout. I know it sounds silly, but it just helps to give a form of empowerment by taking control of what I can, within reason. Sitting down at the start of the week and just making a few notes of what you’d like to get done and when is a simple, but valuable strategy to keep your head on straight.

And if you’ve read the above and found yourself thinking ‘okay, but what’s the point’ – I’ve got you. I’ve had a few ‘why bother’ moments, so I’ve had to find ways to stay motivated.

How to find motivation to train when everything is upside down

Focus on what you can do
I’ve mentioned that, for now, here in the UK we’re still allowed out as long as we’re safe, sensible and suitably distanced. But many of our global neighbours no longer have this privilege, and I wonder how long it will be until we experience the same. It’s okay to feel sad about what we can’t do right now, but it’s important not to despair and to think about what we can do. If you can’t get out to ride with your herd, try setting up a group ride on Zwift or getting involved with one of the virtual race series. If you haven’t got a turbo trainer – could this be an opportunity to work on your strength and power in different ways instead? The internet is awash with so many great at home, no equipment required workout videos that can help you improve some of those off-the-bike or out of the water skills that’ll be so valuable once you get back to your sport.

Set yourself non-event focused goals – and be kind to yourself.
I realised today that I haven’t had a year without a race to focus on since 2015. Ironman is yet to cancel Vitoria-Gasteiz in July but given that Roth is off, and the Olympics have been postponed… I don’t think I’m going to be out there sipping post-race sangria on 12 July as planned. If you’re anything like me, and your target race is suddenly out of the equation or hanging in the balance – this is probably messing with your head. It’s hard to find the motivation to keep going when the goalposts have pulled a Dr Who and disappeared off in a tardis indefinitely. But keeping active and maintaining your fitness is going to benefit you physically and mentally. We will be on those start lines again soon, chomping at the bit to get going – and now is a great time to think about the short-term goals we can be working on to make that race performance even better. Whether it’s hitting a higher functional threshold power on the bike or finally getting round to trying yoga to improve your flexibility (think how aero you could get if your hip flexors weren’t creaking like the tin man’s elbows!) – having something that’s very much “in the now” to focus on will help you to keep going. And remember – it’s okay if this crazy situation we find ourselves in means you have to take your foot off the gas a little bit. No one is expecting you to run a personal best half marathon in your living room. Keep active, but find the joy.

Treat challenge as an opportunity
Having a race postponed or cancelled is frustrating. But it’s also an opportunity – you’ve been given time and space to take a step back and really think about how you can get yourself in the best shape for when things get back to normal and you can get out there again. When you’re in that cycle of train-race-recover-go again, it can be hard to find the energy and the headspace to take a proper wide-angle look at your strengths and weaknesses. Now is a great time to really think about the things you could do with working on and to actually have that little bit of space in your training programme to action them. Yes, not racing sucks – but actually it’s kind of exciting to think about how much you could improve by the time we’re back on those start lines. And this applies too even if you’re you know, civilized, and not a race-obsessed weirdo like me: you may not be able to get out on those café rides yet, but invest that time in some extra strength work now and the next time someone yells ‘last one there buys the cake’… well, you’ll be eating free cake my friend. Burpees = brownies!

Find your herd
I’ve already mentioned it, but the Herd Immunity group over on Facebook really is a great place if you just need a reminder of the joy of cycling, someone to be the little devil on your shoulder when it comes to planning your next adventure, or just a bunch of folk who *don’t* live in the same house as you to talk bikes with. Motivation comes from a love of the sport, and what better way to remember that than by being able to chat with fellow SG-lovers from all around the world about the things we do best.

Jan Frodeno recently said in one of the Zwift Powerup podcasts: “nothing is so bad that you can’t find some good in it.” The constant waves of bad news feel overwhelming, but there’s also been so much positivity and such a strong sense of community that has come out of this unprecedented challenge. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you’re safe, I hope you’re well and I hope within these dark times, you can find your own little slice of light (and cake.)

Stay home, Stay safe x

Jenny – @jennifersophiee

You can read Jenny’s previous blog post here.