Great Britain and HUUB triathlete Tom Bishop started the year on Australia's Gold Coast preparing for what should have been the biggest season of his career. With the COVID-19 pandemic throwing all best-laid plans into disarray, the 28-year-old explains how he's adjusting...
So... plans have drastically changed. I should be sitting outside my apartment in New Zealand enjoying the late summer sun, but now I'm huddled around my kitchen table clutching a cup of coffee to keep warm. I'm recovering from the symptoms of what our team doctor though might be COVID-19, as is the rest of my house - and many thousand around the world. It could also have been a run-of-the-mill bug though, and thankfully for us, all our symptoms were mild, and we didn't have them for long.
After the Mooloolaba World Cup race in mid-March, the British Triathlon performance team judged it best to send us home due to frantic travel cancellations and international border closures as a reaction to the Coronavirus pandemic.
I'm not going to go into details about the global situation, and how it escalated so rapidly, but we got out of Oz ASAP! Unfortunately, David, my twin brother who was with us at the time, was on the wrong side of Etihad's flight cancellations and is still currently stranded! Although, he's having a good time and it's 30 degrees, so I have limited sympathy.
We landed in the UK during some glorious early spring weather and right at the beginning of the UK's social distancing recommendations. Long haul flying can compromise immune systems, and the jet lag hit pretty hard, so I didn't get up to much when I landed. The pools had just been closed, so it was just a few easy runs and rides.
I caught up with a few mates I hadn't seen for a few months but felt guilty for doing it. It was a weird feeling. Then BJ announced more extreme measures for the United Kingdom - essentially stay at home unless you're needed.
To me it was clear: triathlon training is not important in this global crisis. The guidelines were also obvious: one session a day outside for me, with the knowledge that it's a privilege compared to France, Spain and Italy.
I was happy to comply with the Prime Minister's instruction; 'STAY AT HOME', 'PROTECT THE NHS' and 'SAVE LIVES'. My girlfriend, British triathlete Siân Rainsley, was included in the UK government's 'most vulnerable' category having been diagnosed with Crohn's disease a few years ago. It meant Coronavirus could be a serious risk to her health and potentially life. We were locking down for certain.
It also gave us plenty of thinking time. As I mentioned, we were taking it pretty easy after the return flight, but I decided to extend this period to some proper time off. We were entering a period of uncertainty, we didn't know when the next race was going to be, or how long to hold fitness for, or, just simply, what to do.
Lots of athletes were doing some pretty crazy stuff, almost making the most of their last moments of freedom. It didn't make sense to me, so I decided to rest, recalibrate and start again. This was a chance to take some time to think about what was needed.
My whole training schedule has now been completely replanned. We took into account that there is no pool availability, we can only exercise outside once a day and both volume and intensity are decreased. This is how we're adapting:
1. Swim compromise. Without a pool, the only way to keep swimming stimulus was with strength and conditioning. I got a few ideas from social media - [HUUB triathlete and super swimmer] Richard Varga, providing some great stretch cord exercises - but to make it more interesting, I thought: 'Why not try to replicate the swim in triathlon?' The warm up (band activation to increase blood flow), the start (burpees, pull-ups, press-ups, and boxing - all at maximum effort to replicate the effort from the get-go), then on to some hypoxic work, simulating the oxygen debt phase (copying some dry land 'rock walking' techniques that surf life saver Phil Clayton taught un in Australia, YouTube them!). After that settle into some endurance and skill work with stretch cords, bands and also core work, trying to activate the swimming muscles. It's a 30-minute circuit and easy to do before breakfast.
2. Once a day outside. Whatever plan I have in my training, I decide which session is more important: a run or ride, and choose that. It's pretty simple. Fortunately, I also have an indoor cycling trainer and treadmill so can replace most of my outdoor training with indoor sessions.
3. Decrease in training. It's inevitable that fitness is going to decline during this period but that's ok. Hard and long sessions compromise our immune systems and this disease can be fatal, so it is vital that we are not knackered all the time! I've tried to keep the frequency of my training fairly similar, two-to-four sessions a day, but the volume is massively reduced. I've also knocked the intensity right down, keeping the longer efforts to easy tempo, or higher intensity efforts to under a minute. It's all individual, but this was a simple process. Training has become a management of mental wellbeing as much as a pursuit of sporting performance.
Everyone has their own ideas about what to do now, but I'm pretty clear about what I need to do: keep healthy and just tick over until we're more clear about what is going on globally, and eventually triathlon may become something more important again.