Staying motivated during a pandemic

It is easy to lose motivation while we patiently wait on the sidelines for endurance athletic events to resume. Many of us are regular people who need a concrete event/goal to really give us that kick in the pants to get out the door. It’s tough! Having a 70.3 or half-marathon on my calendar X months in the future scares me into some serious training. That’s not the case right now. So, what do we do?

The first rule to remember is: Something is better than nothing. So if you’ve reached the bottom of your motivation scale, start with that and get something in.

The next rule is: Some structure is better than no structure. Re: Consistency is key. Getting in one bike, one swim, and one run week in and week out will keep you ~75% of the way fit.

Once you’re there, your next rule is: Frequency is good.  Two workouts per sport per week, and you’re now training five or six days a week, which is mucho fantastic.

Then you hit the final main rule: Structured weeks and structured workouts do help. The two weeks harder, one week easier kind of training. That whole warm up, main set, cool down sort of thing.

I know plenty of athletes who have let it go quite a bit during these past few months.

I also know plenty who have maintained their competitive edge by staying way out in front of their training. We all know that guy or gal who is still doing 2 hour runs and 4+ hour bike rides. “Why?” you might ask. Well, it’s because they don’t want to have to rebuild everything on their way to long racing success when things return to some sort of normal.

That may not be you. And that’s ok. So start at number one.

Pick your days of the week that you can and will commit to doing something. It could be two jogs and a yoga class. Yay!

Once you’ve hit that for a couple of weeks, consider what your goals are for a bit. Do you want to keep the weight under control, keep your aerobic conditioning, or your top end speed?

After you have that answer, write up a one week schedule that you know you can repeat week in and week out. If you’re looking for weight management, a combination of strength training (more muscle = higher metabolism) and aerobic training are your answer. For aerobic conditioning, you’re mostly looking at steady moderate sessions. For top end speed, you’d need at least one session per week with faster than threshold work intervals.

Get that week done in real life a few times, and then you’re ready to make yourself a pandemic plan.

The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity AND two sessions of muscle strengthening per week. So this is your basic baseline level of training. As a triathlete, you should be exceeding this by a fair bit to quite a lot.

My recommendation if you’re on the lower end of motivation is to find a way to get something done almost every day. It could be a walk-jog on M/W/F, a swim on T or TH, a ride on the weekend, and two 20-minute or more sessions on any day for strength. The strength could be traditional weight bearing, or Pilates/Yoga/core bodyweight work.

For those of you with more motivation, your starting point is to double up on your swim/bike/run workouts and still find a way for the strength training sessions.

Everyone’s week is different, as is your favorite type of session, so you have to find what works for you.

Personally, in order to keep a fair bit of fitness while we’re essentially in a prolonged maintenance phase, my schedule is usually:
Monday: swim, yoga
Tuesday: run, core/conditioning
Wednesday: swim, bike
Thursday: run, yoga
Friday: swim, maybe a bike
Saturday: run, core/conditioning
Sunday: easy ride

With that as a framework, my recovery day could be Friday, Sunday, or Monday just by taking it easy on the daily activity, or skipping if I’m feeling worn out. I do more than one yoga these days since I am getting old and tight!

I do lactate threshold type intervals on one ride, one run, and one swim. Everything else is easy-moderate. If you haven’t trained in a while, give it a few weeks of easy-steady training before re-introducing threshold intervals.

And that’s it. Nothing fancy. Not in Ironman or 70.3 shape. But I can get back there very quickly when the time comes.

I hope you will be able to, to.

Stay safe, remember to have some fun, and keep in touch with your sports!

Marty Gaal, CSCS, is a USA Triathlon coach who lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Marty has been coaching endurance athletes since 2002. You can read more about OSB coaching services at

One Step Beyond is the producer of the Powerstroke®: Speed through force and form freestyle technique DVD, intended to help new to intermediate triathlon swimmers become faster and more powerful in the water.