Race Uncertainty – How to cope

Due to the continued public concerns about COVID-19, you may find yourself feeling stressed, anxious or upset about the possible (or already) cancellation of your spring and early summer races. If you are currently experiencing a rollercoaster of thoughts and feelings, here are a few reasons to justify your emotions.

1) The unknown – Rather than getting excited about the unknown, it’s normal to crave certainty. There’s great comfort in knowing what will happen in the near future. When uncertainty strikes, the mind goes in overdrive to try to predict how things may turn out. Much like jumping ahead with your thoughts during a race, uncertainty-induced anxiety can be paralyzing. Fight or flight takes over and the mind is limited in its resources - lacking the ability for problem-solving, rationality and options. While it’s frustrating to hear about a cancelled race, this certainty should also bring relief as you no longer have to “worry” about the future.

2) Lack of control – When you can’t manage or control your options, you may find
your mind spiraling out of control. Feeling a loss of control can lead to anxiety and
hopelessness. Similar to worrying about your race day weather forecast, the healing of an injury or a major course change, you can’t predict the future. Certainty is an illusion. There have been times in your life when you felt uncertain about the future and everything somehow worked out. Consider the last time you felt worried, anxious and uncertain, only to experience an incredible outcome.

3) Priorities – When something we love or value is being threatened, it’s a normal
response to protect what’s most important to us. This can include work, family, kids, loved ones, the environment/plant and of course, triathlon races. After dedicating several months training for a race, it can feel like a personal threat to all of your efforts, sacrifices and investments. In turn, you may struggle with your self-identity as an athlete and question your “why” for pursuing the sport of triathlon.

With little to no predictability about the near future due to the course of the virus, we must remember that maintaining public safety is most important. With each cancelled race, it’s important to take control of your reactions to manage this situation in a healthy and productive manner.

1) Empathize – Canceling an event doesn’t just affect you – the athlete- but it affects thousands of participants, volunteers, race directors, city officials, the local
community and companies. Remember – it’s not just about you. Never is it an easy position to announce the cancellation of a race as the planning of a race is a yearlong production – most of which athletes only see for a few hours on the day before the race and on race day. Race officials do not like to cancel events (or shorten courses) but they are doing it all for your safety, the safety of the community and the safety of the greater public. Be empathetic and approach the discussion with kindness, respect and understanding.

2) Reflection – A cancelled race provides a great opportunity for you to reflect on the importance of triathlon in your life. This larger perspective can help you understand how important and meaningful racing is to you. Take the opportunity to journal your thoughts – what role does triathlon play in your life and why do you register for races? In the face of a cancelled race, appreciate the many benefits that training provides you and the next time you do race, be grateful for the opportunity to travel and participate in triathlon events.

3) Controllables – Similar to racing, there are some things out of your control (ex.
weather) and things within your control. When you expend a lot of energy on
things/something that is inherently outside of your control, it can bring great anxiety and stress. What can you control when a race is cancelled? Your physical and mental health. Maintain your day-to-day routine of staying active, sleeping well, eating a nourishing diet and expressing gratitude. Be proud of the fitness you’ve acquired and recognize that your race (or another race) will very likely be back on the calendar next year. You’ll eventually have the opportunity to race again – hopefully with a renewed perspective.

4) Media – Increased media exposure is a recipe for increased anxiety. Social media is likely to cause misinformation from people describing their own fears and need to express strong opinions. Limit your media consumption – especially if you are spending more time at home. Select one or two trusted and reputable sources for obtaining information regarding COVID-19 and event updates. It’s in your best
interest to limit your “news” to no more than a few minutes in one session. If you find yourself feeling anxious, step away and practice deep breathing to manage the physiological and mental response to something that is out of your control.

If your race is cancelled, it’s ok to be disappointed, sad, upset and frustrated. This
means you care. But don’t let a cancelled race steal your spirit for living a healthy and active life.

Race Uncertainty – How to Cope
Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

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