Six Ways to Approach Isolation Like An Ironman

Recently I was reminded that many skills we develop as endurance athletes can be used to empower us through these days of uncertainty. An Ironman, marathon or any other endurance event, is a long effort in which you go through many ups and downs, much like our current situation. Therefore, it could be helpful if we approach it like we would an Ironman.

Follow a Plan - To train for an complete an Ironman, it’s necessary that you follow a training plan, and a race plan. If you wing it, and have a half hazard approach, you significantly decrease your chances of success. In the same way, create and follow a daily plan or routine for each day of this isolation period. This will help you to increase efficiency, reduce decision fatigue, instill good habits, help prioritize and accomplish more important tasks, reduce procrastination, build and maintain momentum, reduce stress, and stay on track with goals. 

Take Care of Hydration & Nutrition - You can have the best training under your belt, but if you do not stay on top of your hydration and nutrition on race day, it’s not going to end well. Maintaining healthy eating and hydration at this time is important for maintaining our immunity, and helping us to feel better overall. Overeating, eating foods that don't work for our bodies, and consuming too much alcohol, may feel good in the moment, but the reward is short lived. Consuming sugar causes inflammation in the body, can send us a roller coaster of mood swings, and cause weight gain; all of which will make it even more challenging to keep a positive outlook.

Stay in the Box - I think it was from Coach Joel Friel that I learned about mentally “staying in the box” during an Ironman. The idea is to keep your focus in the moment, rather than thinking too far ahead or behind you. It would be quite overwhelming to be be in the middle of the 2.4 mile Ironman swim, and thinking about the 112 miles you have to bike, or the 26.2 miles that you have to run. Similarly, it can be overwhelming to think about next week, next month, or the next six months. How long will this last? What will happen to the economy? What if I or a loved one gets sick? Our mammalian brains will always be kind enough to serve up the worst case scenarios for us, and launch us in to a downward a spiral of negative, and frightening thoughts. When you feel this happen, do something that will help anchor you in the moment, deep breathing, meditation, a workout, listen to your favorite music, talk to someone, use a mantra. As in Ironman you’d take it one step, one mile at a time, in real life take it one minute, one hour, and one day at a time. 

Create a Mantra - The word mantra comes from ancient Sanskrit, and is a sound, or a word that is repeated to aid in concentration or meditation. “While the scientific study of such practices on well-being is still in nascent stages, in the last few years, a number of research studies have found that mantra-based meditation practices can have a positive effect on mood and cognitive function….Mantra is essentially the rhythmic repetition of words, phrases, or syllables. Because it occupies your mind to chant or sing the sounds, it stops your normal train of thought and clears your mind. ” During a race, I may use a mantra such as “I got this”, or “one step at a time.” For times like these, it could be a word, like peace, or calm, or a phrase such as “this too shall pass”, or “one day at a time.” Find something that snaps your out of the negative thought loop, empowers, motivates, and gives you hope. 

Support Others - Something else that gives me a boost when I’ve feeling low during a race, is cheering on fellow athletes. It’s also a cool experience when you end up falling in to a similar rhythm with another athlete, and you encourage each other, and pull each other along to the finish line. It’s long been said that if you want to be happy, help someone else to be happy. When we feel sad and depressed, we are likely thinking about ourselves, our situation, how something affected us etc. Assisting someone else, enables us take the focus off of ourselves and our thoughts, and also feels extremely rewarding. Reach out to a friend or family member just to say hi and ask how they’re doing. A simple gesture like that can make someone’s day; particularly during these isolating times. 

Focus on Gratitude - Given the length of an Ironman, you’re likely to experience a whole range of emotions, from exhilaration to despair. When I’ve been feeling at my worst during a race, I find it helpful to go to a place of gratitude. I let these feelings take the place of the negative ones, focusing on the fact that I have a strong, healthy body, that can carry me over these miles. I feel appreciation for many different things, such as having the support of family/friends, the financial means, and the time to commit to training. Although our current situation is not ideal, there are still many things we can be thankful for. 

I hope the tips above will support you in not just surviving, but in thriving through this isolation time. We are stronger than we think we are, and we will get through this!