A month ago, I wrote about moving forward with a positive attitude after my two “A” races (USAT National Championship and ITU World Championship) were cancelled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. I’ve been training hard over the last four weeks for the two major races I planned to do in the fall: North Carolina Ironman 70.3 (October) and the USA Triathlon Aquabike National Championship in Miami (November). I did these two races for the first time last year. They fall after my sprint season ends, and the different race formats provide a refreshing mental break after the intense focus on sprint-distance racing all year. A month ago, after talking to my doctor about the COVID-19 risks associated with racing, I felt comfortable about attending races. I was full steam ahead.
But then the world changed again.
As states began to “open,” people gathered in large groups without putting six feet between people and without wearing masks. The results were predictable. COVID-19 hospitalizations began rising again with some states experiencing their highest rates of hospitalization ever. Experts predict that COVID-19 will be even more challenging in the fall when people come indoors as the weather turns cold. And in the late fall, at the time of my races, the flu season will be upon us – further stressing our health care system as everyone having the flu wonders if they have COVID-19. Other big races scheduled for the fall like the Chicago Marathon and the (rescheduled) Boston Marathon have already been cancelled. My best guess is that both of my big races in the fall will be cancelled too.
Do I decide now not to race?
This has been my biggest question. I know the best athletes are adaptable. They constantly assess what is going on around them and adjust accordingly. As I’ve watched the world change in the last four weeks, I’ve decided it is time for me to adapt again. I have two options:
Wait it out . . . hope the 70.3 and aquabike races that give me a change of pace and bring mental freshness are not cancelled.
Part of me wants to just wait and see if the North Carolina 70.3 and the Aquabike National Championship are cancelled. Maybe the COVID-19 situation will miraculously improve. Maybe my races won’t be cancelled. Maybe I should keep training for them – and hope for the best.
Cancel my 2020 season now . . . use the next five months to train for my 2021 sprint races.
On the other hand, if I decide now that I’m NOT going to race in October and November, I can devote the next five months to training that will help me during the 2021 sprint season. It would be wonderful to have five extra months to focus on strength and technique development prior to building for the 2021 season next winter and spring. This option would not give me the mental break provided by the NC Ironman 70.3 or Aquabike National Championship, but it would better prepare me physically for the 2021 sprint season – including the two 2021 races for which I have already qualified: the USAT National Champtionship in Milwaukee and ITU World Championship in Bermuda.
The foundational question.
When I talked to my coach, our foundational question was this: What is the best use of my time in the next five months with regard to preparing me to race well three years from now?
Note: I’ve always focused three years ahead when making triathlon decisions. What I do each day – training, races, everything – is not about making me better this year. It’s part of a process that will, hopefully, make me better in future years.
Yes, the two upcoming races in the fall of 2020 would be mentally refreshing after a year of focused sprint training, but . . they are likely to be cancelled. If cancelled, there would be no mental benefit. On the other hand, using the next five months to focus on increasing my strength, and develop my technique would be a huge physical benefit. The decision seemed like a no-brainer:
My decision? Withdraw from my 2020 races.
Once the decision was made, a calmness fell upon me. That’s always a good sign that a decision was the right one. So . . . the decision is made and we’ve already started down a new road. My coach changed yesterday’s high intensity bike intervals to an endurance ride with bike handling drills. The work begins for 2021.
But what if my 2020 fall races aren’t cancelled?
This is one of the questions that my coach asked me. He wanted to know if I’d be devastated if we decided to forgo the 2020 season, and then the NC Ironman 70.3 and the Aquabike National Championship races were not cancelled. I wouldn’t be able to change my mind about not racing at the last minute because I wouldn’t be physically prepared. Would I be heartbroken?
I knew the answer to that question immediately. Of course, on race day, if people are racing and I’m at home, I will feel sad to have missed the races that I had planned. But, I won’t be devastated. I will know that we made the best decision we could make with the information we had at the time. More importantly, I’ll know that the extra time dedicated to strength and technique will pay off during the 2021 season.
Trivial triathlon concerns. Grateful for blessings.
I know all triathletes are in (or have been in) a similar boat. Each triathlete has had to decide if they want to try to race in 2020, or just focus on 2021. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s a tough decision in crazy times.
I keep thinking back to high school when I read about various pandemics in my history books. I wonder if my great-great-grandchildren will read about COVID-19 in their history books. I think back to my grandmother telling me about the horrors of the plague that she witnessed as a little girl, and I wonder if my grandchildren will be saying the same thing to their grandchildren about COVID-19. I think about how we are a great civilization and yet, we are temporarily powerless to a microscopic virus. I think about the 605,000 people who have died from COVID-19. I was upset when 2,996 people died in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11th. I can’t wrap my head around 605,000 people dying. 605,000 people – gone. That’s unfathomable.
But this I do know. All things considered, my worries about whether to prepare for the 2020 or 2021 triathlon season are trivial. I am so blessed and abundantly grateful for my health and my family’s health. I know that God is a loving God who is good all of the time, even when we don’t understand his ways. I pray that those who are sick find courage, that medical personnel and our country’s leaders who are making life-and-death decisions find wisdom, and that the families and friends of those who have been lost find peace. I pray for a vaccine and a cure.