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A Sporting Year Like No Other

Strava athletes share their reflections on staying active in the midst of a pandemic.

“It’s a strange feeling to have gone from running with a group every weekend for over five years, to not seeing the vast majority for a year.” – Stephen Adjaidoo

The pandemic has done this – replaced the regular rhythms of our lives with a silent emptiness. “Well, what do we do now?” Many of us asked ourselves. Routine was so embedded in our days that it was invisible, until it disappeared, that is.

The collective loss of the structure and community sport offers was hard to take, especially as the world around us became increasingly chaotic. As athletes, we lost things unique to our lives that might to many seem trivial – races were cancelled, group rides postponed, post-run coffee dates relegated to the “things we used to do” category. It felt wrong to mourn the loss of these things when there was so much true loss in the world. But the change in the way we exercise still hurt.

It made us question the foundations of the things we’d built our proverbial houses on – why do we ride in the early hours of the morning? Why do we push ourselves to our limits and beyond to break arbitrary time barriers? And why did so many of us, rather than rejecting the physical discomfort of sport during this time of intense pain of a different kind, choose instead to embrace it anew? To bring our running shoes out of a 20-year retirement and persuade our lockdown partner that Zoom yoga class were really worth the awkwardness.

We wanted to look back at the way sport has changed for us all over the last 12 months and what it has taught us about the reasons why we move our bodies. So we asked athletes to share their experiences of sport in the times of COVID. Here are a selection of responses from the community.

If you have a story of the way sport has changed for you in these last 12 months, we’d love to hear it. You can share it with us here.

Moving Indoors

In March of 2020, the world shut down. For many of us, it also shrunk. Our lives compressed into the space inside our homes as countries around the world asked people to stay home as much as possible. Living rooms became temporary gyms, trainers became hot property and ventures outside were masked and solo.

Carla Alfonso
Barcelona, Spain

Photo by David Powell

Carla Alfonso is a Neuroscientist with a Masters in Sport Psychology. She spent lockdown at home in Barcelona, dreaming of big cycling adventures while logging big miles on the trainer.

“The hardest time was the first month of quarantine in Spain, between March and April 2020. Some of my reasons for doing sports are to be in the outdoors, to disconnect from study/work, and to share experiences with people... and all this was suddenly affected by the quarantine. The challenge was to find other sources of motivation, ‘re-orient’ the existing ones, and change expectations and goals for the season, in order to continue with the desire to do sport.”

Stephen Adjaidoo
London, United Kingdom

Stephen is the founder of the LDN Brunch Club, a London-based run crew, and a Senior Project Manager in the NHS. He spent lockdown doing home workouts and indoor cycling.

“It was only when all the races were postponed or cancelled that I realised how I organised so much of my life (training, holidays etc) around the race calendar. Without that over the pandemic, I lost some of the routine I had before. When I knew I wanted to run a spring or autumn marathon, I knew when training should start and when my ‘off season’ was.”

Latoya Snell
New York, USA

Latoya Snell is a sponsored athlete, content creator and founder of my food and fitness blog Running Fat Chef. During lockdown she rallied her social media community to help her raise over 20K in funds for organisations set on supporting the Black community.

“After losing 13 people within a few months from the COVID-19 pandemic and several other health issues, it placed a huge impact on my mental health. In ways, my love for the outdoors became a constant struggle. I love being active but the abrupt shift into a new normal - wearing a mask and being encouraged to stay indoors - shifted my mindset a bit to avoid doing as many outdoor activities. As a huge outdoor enthusiast, I limited my interactions by creating a home gym within parts of my living room and sometimes shifting these things into my front yard and bedroom.”

Aline Carvalho
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Photo by Guilherme Leporace

Aline Carvalho is a production engineer and people executive at a logistics operations company. She’s been an amateur athlete for almost 20 years. She’s run 18 marathons.

“Adapting workouts to the reality of having to train indoors was super challenging. Being able to create a new routine was the biggest challenge. The false freedom of being at home and being able to train at any time required a lot of discipline to overcome procrastination throughout the day. It took me a while to adjust the times to wake up, sleep, train, study.”

Frédéric Paupert
Paris, France

Photo by Estelle Myrtha

Fred is a former international Judoka. He had heart surgery last summer and has been recovering at home in Paris with his three children and partner.

“I had to stay in shape to help others especially. I am a coach, I have to set an example, being fit is part of my life, transmitting my state of mind is part of my personality. This year also something unexpected happened to me, to say the least... heart surgery; I had atrial fibrillation in May. 2 weeks without any sport after the operation, not even riding around (I even bought an electric scooter). I resumed cycling and then weight training in July (I could practice sports but without intensity at first until it heals well). I had to wait until the end of August for a total resumption of my physical activity, while keeping strong dietary constraints.”

Training Adaptations

A dearth of events or even group workouts in 2020 forced athletes to find new motivation and adapt their training accordingly. While adapting to the circumstances sometimes meant accepting sport wasn’t a priority, it also meant learning why we got into it in the first place.

Clélia Edouard
Saint Germain en Laye, France

Photo by Damien Menu

Clélia Edouard is a communications professional turned personal trainer who spent lockdown providing home workouts for her #StrongLadiesClub.

“I ‘took advantage’ of this break from running to work on other skills, especially muscle strengthening / strength training. As I always do, I set up a weekly routine to keep me motivated each day, to wake up with a specific goal and a predefined workout. At least you don't have to think about it and you get right into the action. Training after training, you progress. And with each progress, you become a little more motivated.”

Maria Donadeu
Barcelona, Spain

Photo by Héctor Zerkowitz

Maria Donadeu is a dedicated cyclist and runner. She has been in the sports & digital industry for 12 years and spent lockdown training at home while planning mountain adventures.

“One of this year's discoveries has been MEDITATION, the pleasure of silence and leaving the mind blank. Spending 15 minutes a day to let nothing worry you and even motivate you is a good exercise to relax your muscles. Many times we tense up because of what we think, not because of what we train.

“What do I do? I put on soft, calm music or a guided podcast and try to focus on me, let myself go and relax... when I manage to do that I feel a super deceleration and the importance you give to things is relativized.”

Yassine Diboun
Portland, USA

Yassine Diboun is an ultramarathon runner, coach, and co-owner of Wy’east Wolfpack which specialises in personal training/coaching, corporate wellness and youth programs. He spent lockdown squeezing in his runs between life at home with his wife, daughter, two dogs and cat!

“Having this interruption has shown me how much I miss it and how important it is to me for my overall health. Also, I am so grateful to have this (trail running) outlet, not only for my physical health, but for my emotional, mental, and spiritual well being. Getting out into the forest is in my DNA and has been a saving grace especially this past year. Oh, and I miss hugs!”

Yui Ueda
Tokyo, Japan

Yui Ueda switched out of career as an elementary school teacher last April and took up cycling as a new hobby to replace the tug-of-war fitness regime she had as a teacher!

“I realized how sports make a good work life balance. I feel better when I exercise, and at the same time I also have those times when I say I'm busy, but I’m just looking at my smartphone. Since then I'm trying to do my work and housework efficiently to secure the time to exercise.”

Debora Taylor
São Paulo, Brazil

Photo by Renan Bossi

Debora Goncalves is a marathon runner and mother of three, better known as Debora Taylor creator of the crew PRJCT RUN. They’re a street racing group focused on representation in sport.

“My biggest challenge was overcoming the fear of going to the streets. After months at home without knowing what this virus was. Gradually I came back, totally out of rhythm and out of weight. The anxiety attacks were constant and I needed to do something to keep my mind right.

“I'm being my own motivation for not freaking out. Running ends up being my therapy, even with the difficulty of running with masks, running helps me to keep my mental health up to date.”

Kiki Randell

Kikkan Randall, is a recently retired 5-time Olympian in cross-country skiing, fitness enthusiast, mom of a five year old, cancer survivor and lover of outdoor adventures.

“What I appreciate after the experience this year is how many different ways there are to find challenge and accomplishment in the simplest places. I really came to appreciate the trails and landscape right out my door and how pleasant it can be to stay in one place for a while!”

Mani Arthur
London, United Kingdom

Photo by Joe Harper

Mani Arthur is a competitive cyclist and the founder of Black Cyclists Network (BCN), Europe's biggest cycling club for black and brown riders. Mani spent lockdown organising Zwift rides to keep the club connected while they waited for in-person rides to return.

“The thing I missed the most is the social aspect of competition. Getting to the club house. Talking with other competitors. Pinning on a number. Chatting during the race. I miss that feeling. The one thing I have come to appreciate during the lockdown is that it has allowed me to relax a bit.”

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