In many parts of the country (and the world), the moment we have all been waiting for has finally arrived! Gyms are open, races are happening, groups are meeting again. You are supposed to be elated, right?
Not necessarily. Some of us, especially if our training was altered or curtailed by the pandemic, might be feeling frustrated or scared. Returning to sport after a long hiatus can be difficult. What if I am slower than I used to be? What if it feels harder? What if my body has changed? There are a lot of “what ifs” that might be running (no pun intended) through your head.
If your sport is something that brings your joy, then finding a way to safely return is super important, and its crucial to pay attention to both your physical and mental health. Also, this is useful not only after the pandemic, but when injury or other life events might limit or stop our training for a while.
- Stop the comparison before it begins by making some new goals.
Run or bike courses for their beautiful scenery, interesting locations, or challenging elevation rather than for time. For those that really have trouble staying away from the stats, re-set your PRs. Plenty of athletes are setting “post-pandemic PRs” or “post-injury PRs.”
- See what options your favorite races or events have to offer.
I recently completed a half-ironman triathlon. Due to the fact that many people had trouble training in all three disciplines during the pandemic, the race offered an aqua bike, as well as a bike-run option. Many races and events are also being more flexible with their deferral policies, or allowing people to switch distances (i.e. dropping from a marathon to a half-marathon)
- Remember and reconsider your why.
Maybe you run races to raise money for a charity that means a lot to you. Maybe you bike to share your love of sport with your children. Maybe it gives you a chance to connect with people. Maybe running has brought you healing through mental health struggles, divorce, illness, starting a new career, etc. Use your why as motivation. Put mantras on your refrigerator or work computer. Enlist some supportive people to remind you of your strength from time to time. I never would have gotten through my stress fracture without my support system.
- Enlist the help of a coach
Oftentimes, it can be tempting to do too much too soon, or to just not start at all because you do not know where to begin. Sometimes planning out your own workouts day-to-day can be a lot of mental strain especially when working, taking care of children, etc. A coach can not only make a training plan for you based on your current needs and goals, but can also be there to offer support, advice, and encouragement.
- Stay away from the scale, fad diets and nutrition advice on the Internet.
Bodies change. Weight fluctuates. When monitoring weight, it can be easy to start thinking “I perform well because I weigh this…” or “I did not perform well because I weigh this…” Performance has to do with a lot of factors including but not limited to time spent training, experience, weather, nutrition, stress, proper gear, etc. Anyone on the internet can call themselves a nutritionist and sell you a “magic plan,” but think about it- you are not going to feel much like training if you are on a juice cleanse, or fasting, or cutting carbs. You need energy to make your return. If you are concerned about your eating habits or fueling for your sport, seek out a registered dietician.
- Find communities that are affirmative, and delete or avoid ones that are not
Sadly, some coaches and gyms promote toxic messages, especially in light of the pandemic. You DO NOT have to put up with quarantine body shaming, food shaming, or other hurtful rhetoric. You DO NOT have to earn your food, and you HAVE a right to take up space RIGHT NOW. Check out the “Athletes Against Diet Culture” Facebook group if you are in need of a space to talk about sport that is free of weight loss and diet ads.
- Treat yourself
Buying a nice comfy outfit, new gym bag, or sticker for your bike might make you feel good.
- Training with others can be helpful, but be cautious
Community is certainly one of my favorite parts about running and triathlon. Other athletes can be really helpful with advice and empathy. However, other athletes are not a substitute for professional advice or experts on your body (unless, of course, your running buddy is a physical therapist and even then, they are not an expert on your body the way you are). The most frustrating thing I did to my physical therapist during my stress fracture was Google and compare. As she had to remind me, she and my doctor knew my injury, my medical history, and my treatment plan. Other people may have other circumstances that made their injury worse, or not as severe. Other people also do a lot of things that are not necessarily beneficial for their long-term athletic goals. You are YOU, and YOU need to return at YOUR pace on YOUR time.
- Make sure you are ready, and you want to return. It is OK if you don’t.
Some of us may have a strained relationship with our sport. If you cannot find your “why” or your sport only fills you with dread, maybe you need a longer hiatus, or maybe it is time to break away. You are more than your sport, and there are so many amazing things to experience.