The 2020 “Season”

The 2020, “Season” and how did I cope as a pro triathlete?

Claire Weller gives her take on the 2020 race season….

Outside of triathlon, we have all been impacted in different ways by Covid 19 and probably all adopted different coping mechanisms to deal with the effects. But where a lot of us can relate is the disappointment of cancelled races and all round lack of ability to train. One things for sure, the 2020, “Triathlon season” will never be forgotten.

I wanted to share with you is how Covid 19 impacted me as a pro triathlete and what coping mechanisms I adopted. 

Having been awarded my pro licence during the 2019 season, I was really looking forward to the 2020 season and having my first full season racing as a pro, the dream was coming true. My sponsor, Triharder had spent a lot of time getting my race kit ready for the season and getting me set up in the best race position on the new Quintana Roo PRsix. We felt we had got me in the perfect position, ready to race the new season and needless to say I was so excited to get the QR out on a race course and see what I could achieve on it. It’s like no other bike I’ve had before.  

During the winter months I normally spend time with my coach Perry Agass and the squad in a warmer climate (Cyprus/Spain) covering large blocks of training getting ready for the season ahead. This year was no different, it was the end of February and I was getting ready to fly out to meet Perry and the squad, who were already in Girona, Spain. 

I remember hearing about coronavirus at this time, but the full severity wasn’t yet known. Just two weeks before I was due to fly out, Spain got hit hard and the squad found themselves flying home to the UK as Spain went into lockdown. The UK hadn’t quite got to this stage yet and although I was disappointed I couldn’t fly to Spain and spend some quality time with Perry, I continued my normal training routine here in the UK, thinking I will just have to endure the cold, winter runs and rides for a bit longer. I had no idea the impact it was going to have on races!! 

The situation in the UK changed very quickly and I remember coming home from the pool on the Friday morning having done a 6km swim set and feeling strong and happy with how my swimming was improving, then the next day, all pools were shut and lockdown was imminent. And that was it. No one knew when they would re-open and when we would be able to train freely again. 

I’m sure I felt the same as every other athlete in response to closed pools, closed gyms and movement restrictions. I felt panicked. All I thought was, how can I train for all my upcoming races without a pool and freedom to get out and train. I have to admit, I was somewhat oblivious that all races were soon to be cancelled and all travel halted too. 

I thought Perry would also be worried about the situation and the new restrictions, but he was the opposite. When Perry messaged me soon after the announcements, he wasn’t phased at all. He ascertained that it is still business as usual and we will adapt. This made me realise, we are left with a choice – to adapt to the change and rise to the challenge or to essentially sit about wondering when it will end, letting all your hard work up to that point fade away. 

With Perry’s guidance and support, I chose to embrace the change and be constructive in my approach – because what’s the alternative? It’s no different to when you are in a race when something goes wrong, you adapt, accept that it’s not gone to plan and continue to control what you can and finish to your best ability. 

So what did we do?

Perry started me on land based “swimming” by using some gym bands. These were tough at first and I found it harder than normal swimming. Not only on my arms but also mentally. I found after about 30 minutes, doing the same circuit would become mentally tiring. The purpose behind the bands wasn’t to gain swim strength as such, but to maintain my muscle memory. I didn’t enjoy them at first, finding them repetitive and mundane. But as I stuck at them and did them more and more, I started to find other benefits of them. I felt there were giving me a chance go back to the basics, break down my swim stroke and I knew they would helping maintain the muscle memory, so I persevered. As pools are no reopen, looking back, I absolutely feel the swim bands worked to some extent, and I would certainly revert back to them if we lost the ability to swim again. 

When it eventually became warm enough to open water swim I embraced it and got straight in. Admittedly, the first few swims were difficult but I certainly felt my swim fitness came back much quicker than I had expected. Being forced to open water swim I feel has really benefited me. I don’t usually train much in the open water so it provided me with some great practice in the open water, and when the warmer weather comes again I feel I will continue to get in the open water much more.

In terms of biking and running, I was lucky to be out in the Suffolk countryside, which meant I could get out for runs without coming across any other person and having a turbo meant I had no restrictions on my ability to bike either. So I wasn’t actually losing any run or bike training. All in all, I was still fairly happy given the Covid 19 situation. 

So what happened next?  

It was when races began to get cancelled that reality started to hit. The plans I had been looking forward to were all thrown into disarray as it transpired our 2020 season would look far different to the one we had initially envisaged. There was the feeling of what am I working towards? what do I do now? do I continue the same level of training?

This is when I took a step back and reflected on what this REALLY meant to me? So no races, does that actually change anything? The answer was no, I love triathlon. Triathlon is what makes me who I am, it is rooted deeply, forms a sense of purpose and my identity. Intrinsically, I am highly motivated and I am driven by being absorbed in the process. I feel I had gotten caught up in the media statements which were consistently titled, “Another cancelled race, what next?” and I forgot, although it’s highly important to me being able to race, and I love that aspect of triathlon, that’s not what it’s all about to me. 

I realised I could use this time off from races to focus even more so on the process and change some lifestyle elements to benefit my strength and fitness, which in every day life are sometimes neglected, but so important in the process. During this time, I have learnt more about my body. How important the right amount of sleep and rest is for your recovery. I now include more time towards stretching and rolling for my recovery. I have found I have had more time to learn more about nutrition and prepare better meals, ensuring I am getting the right amount of food groups and calories. With these small changes, I am feeling better than ever. I feel I can push myself harder in my sessions and recover quicker. Overall I am feeling much stronger. 

So what’s next?

Having recently had a conversation with Perry, where he asked me how I was feeling, both mentally and physically. I replied, I am feeling great!! My body and mind don’t feel their usual tiredness for this time of a year, having normally raced a full season by now. I would usually feel like I need a break, but I don’t have that feeling this year. Even so, Perry pointed out that 2021 is still sometime away and if I want a full season, it is still important to have a break to allow my mind and body some rest. So this is my next plan, have a rest. Following this I will be looking get my head down for winter training and focus on getting into full fitness for 2021.

With the uncertainty on traveling abroad for the immediate future, I am excited to have a place on three Outlaw events next year, including 

Outlaw Half Nottingham: 16 May 2021

Outlaw Half Holkham: 4 July 2021

Outlaw Nottingham (The Full): 25 July 2021

Having these races confirmed has given me a new inner drive and I already feel excited for 2021. I have not embraced virtual racing but from what I have seen through social media, I feel it is a great option for those of you wanting something to challenge yourselves in during these difficult times, and gives you something to focus on. I managed a couple of time trials this year, and I can’t explain how good it felt just to have something small to push and test myself in, which I am sure a virtual race would do the same. 

Don’t get me wrong, this blog may have created a sense that lockdown, or the last 6 months have been easy for me. This has not been the case, and I don’t think will be the case for anyone. But lockdown has increasingly highlighted and cemented my firm beliefs and drivers for participating in triathlon. The triathlon community is an amazing one. 

It might not have been the 2020 season I or we had planned, but now that it’s over, I say it’s time to forget about the disappointments and frustrations and focus on what’s next. For me there is no end point in my triathlon journey,the passion is there and it’s an ever evolving process. I feel I am in a good mindset and as a result of this mindset, my levels of commitment during this phase of uncertainty have not faltered.

During Covid 19, triathlon has continued to feature as one of the most important aspects in my day to day life, purely through the sense of purpose and identity it has provided me – it has been a constant where so many uncontrollable situations are panning out. I hope being involved in the triathlon community has done the same for you.