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The Triathlon Toolbox

Date:06 April 2020
Dr Anne Beaulieu
Dr Anne Beaulieu

By Dr Anne Beaulieu

When I consider the recent changes in our work and life because of the measures taken to address the pandemic, I find myself thinking that we’re now hitting the second kilometer of the race. We’ve experienced the camaraderie of the warm up, the adrenaline of the gun going off, the energetic bustling of the start and the joyful cheering crowds on the sidelines. But now, as we approach the K2 marker, we’re in the race. And it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

As a late-blooming athlete, friends and colleagues will testify that I can manage to turn any conversation to sports, with the earnestness of the born-again… But in all seriousness, the lessons I’ve learned from endurance sport in these past two years are serving me daily. As it becomes clear that this is a question of months, not weeks, these lessons are precious allies in gaining perspective on what we’re going through and how to deal with it.

Find your pace

If this is indeed going to be a marathon, then it’s crucial to find your pace: how hard can you go without getting out of breath? Finding your pace, the rhythm at which you’re using your energy as best you can, and getting into a flow--that feels great! Finding your pace also means that ‘going slow to go long’ can be a very useful strategy. For example, I’ve decided to end my workday at 4 o’clock. This makes all the high intensity video-conferencing manageable. And it means that I don’t end the day with my energy resources completely depleted. That keeps me resilient and will keep me in the race for much longer.

Run your own race

This is a time when we’re having to reinvent nearly all routines and ways of working. Many colleagues are doing admirable things, developing new teaching approaches or making very worthwhile interventions in the media. Cheer them on, be inspired, but don’t compare. We all have highs and lows, and we all have different strengths and coping mechanisms—a jubilant tweet is not the whole story. Do your own thing. Some parts of life and work may have to be low key, while for others, this crisis will be an opportunity to innovate and shine. But now more than ever, there is no blueprint or gold standard for what you should be doing. Give yourself permission to teach, learn, write and collaborate in your own way. It’s important to discover what works for you, with the resources, responsibilities and talents you have.

That’s just how you’re feeling now

Speaking of highs and lows, there is no greater contrast than between the euphoria of realizing ‘I’m doing it’ when finally hitting that A-race, and the utter despair of getting passed for the 100th time on the bike. But for both of these experiences, the same holds: that’s just how you’re feeling now.  And in the space of a few minutes, this can totally change. I find that if I keep my focus on my purpose and remain open to encouragements and signs of progress--however small—I can get myself out of the hole and back on track.

Who made this happen for you

While much of what we do is highly individualized, even something that seems like a solo effort is supported by the words and actions of many others. On the race course, I often think of my dad’s dedication, getting up way too early to drive to swim meets when I was little, my (Frisian!) coach’s wise advice not to overthink things, the unsolicited advice from ornery clubmates, or my husband’s humorous remarks when I start to yawn at quarter to nine. Thinking of those who made it possible for me to show up at the start line can be a huge inspiration that unleashes energy. So it helps to ask: Who believes in you? Who supported you to study and develop your academic talents? Who benefits from your teaching or research? Recalling their concrete words and actions can be a powerful reminder of your goals, your privilege in being in the game, and a source of renewed commitment.

The most important muscle

…is the humor muscle. Flex it, stretch it, cultivate it. It will get you through most challenges with less effort and more grace. 

Forward motion

Last but not least, there is the faith that the finish line is approaching with each step. We will get there, stronger and wiser from the experience. It won’t all be glamorous: there will certainly be smelly gear, perhaps some scraped knees, and even a few lost illusions or dents in our egos. We may not get there fast, we may not get there as smoothly as we hoped, but as long as there is forward motion, that is something to be grateful for.

I’m also curious about what other members of the CF community using as templates or resources in these times and would love to read about these.

For now, press forward, steady on.