Home > Feature

5 Tips for Triathletes Navigating a Global Pandemic

Canadian pro Tamara Jewett offers some tips on how to maintain fitness, and sanity, during the global Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic.

Disruption to our community underscores to me how deeply I care about all that we, in many capacities, have built within the triathlon and sports world, and I look forward to the day when we are back on the start-line together.

“We are extremely lucky to be in Canada with a large amount of beautiful forest and outdoor spaces where it is easy to practice social distancing outdoors.” Photo: Getty Images

by Tamara Jewett

Like most North American’s, my world turned upside-down starting about March 12. Using finding a pool for swim training as a microcosm of what I went through, my thinking changed by the hour (literally sometimes) from “is it possible to find a pool” to “is it socially acceptable to find a pool” to “is it ethical to find a pool?” Ultimately, it became impossible to find a pool regardless, and swim training is dryland for now.

I recently returned from a pro training camp in the shape of my life and ready to compete against some of the best long course triathletes in the world at the Oceanside 70.3 in California on April 4. That was a big emotional high to come down from very suddenly. However, my personal disappointment is blunted by the realization and acceptance that millions of people on our planet are experiencing their own version of the same thing (in many cases with much more serious instability and fear mixed in).

Tamara Jewett. Photo: Brad Reiter

I spent a week reflecting on what advice I can give other triathletes (and live by myself) to stay both physically and psychologically strong while the world fights the COVID-19 crisis. Here are my top tips:

  1. Practice extra compassion towards yourself and others. It took me about three days to get my training back into a good groove after Canada and Ontario declared states of emergency. At first, I felt frustrated that I wasn’t being “mentally tough” enough to fend off anxiety and get the work done. However, increasing self-compassion got me back on track. Do not be hard on yourself if you have some lousy workouts while finding a new routine and new motivation. Similarly, I suggest extending extra leeway to others as they try to figure out the best way to behave within a rapidly changing set of rules. I do not think that it is okay be reckless, and I do not like it when people panic. But, most of us have been through a whirlwind trying to figure out what we can and should do and need extra slack. For example, I felt frustrated seeing athletes in Italy and Spain yelling over social media at athletes in other parts of the world for continuing to train outside. Gaining a deeper understanding that those athletes are effectively under house arrest right now, I feel great sympathy without agreeing.
  1. Relationships are important. This is on my list of tips for coping with any type of adversity. The emotional support provided by the people closest to us is invaluable. It is important to nurture those relationships in both good times and bad. Social distancing can make it more difficult to spend time with training partners and friends, so it is important to make extra efforts to stay in touch. I am trying to pick up the phone and call people rather than relying on text messages. Phone calls with my coach, Suzanne Zelazo, help a lot.

Related: Tamara Jewett rebounds from broken collar bone

  1. Take control of your days with a new routine. None of us know when our world will get back to normal. The uncertainty can be disorienting and de-motivating. Many of our stable training (and life!) routines are disrupted. It is easy to flounder through weeks pinning our hopes for happiness on a (possibly) distant return to normalcy. This is a similar psychological trap to that of dealing with a difficult repetitive strain injury. Use the training that you can do to help you create a new routine that you enjoy. If you can’t swim, start a bike and run focus and plan to stick with that for at least a month. Routine and fitness gains can quickly become motivating. Let go of the parts of your training that you can’t control. Most of us can’t swim right now, and that is OK.
  1. Take advantage of the many training resources available online. There are many good resources already existing or being created online. I will mention a few favourites, and I encourage everyone to explore and embrace the may options. The top online resource for cycling is, obviously, Zwift. Many yoga studios are offering free classes streamed over Instagram: I love anything offered by BeHot Yoga and SAANA Yoga, both Toronto companies. Core strength developed doing Yoga contributes to maintaining swim fitness. Buy dryland swim cords with paddles over Amazon. TriManual has an excellent youtube video on swim cord exercises (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1QdGiZe1pac). A Toronto physiotherapy clinic, The Runner’s Academy, has an excellent Youtube channel full of ideas for strength exercises (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmaQ4Bz7nFgGHF3OuxhqAeQ). Check whether your physiotherapist offers something similar.
  1. Get out into nature and/or get creative. We are extremely lucky to be in Canada with a large amount of beautiful forest and outdoor spaces where it is easy to practice social distancing outdoors. Try to find secluded outdoor space. I feel deeply grateful to be able to temporarily relocate from Toronto to Uxbridge, Ontario where I have family. A walk in the forest every morning helps me stay calm and focused. I have a friend in Spain right now who does not share that luxury. He was training for a 50km trail run and is now virtually unable to leave a small apartment. He does not have a bike trainer. For anyone stuck in that situation, alongside the online resources discussed above, I suggest circuits using bodyweight strength mixed with pyramid sets of running As on the spot. It is not exciting, but it is a real type of training. My run coach, Ethan Davenport, mixes strength and running A circuits into normal training sessions for the junior development track and field athletes we coach through the University of Toronto Track Club.

Toronto’s Tamara Jewett qualified for the 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Taupo, New Zealand thanks to her third-place finish at Ironman 70.3 Buenos Aires last fall.