In response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in a tight-knit community, Gunnison County began the shelter-in-place order on March 12 – and so began a new normal, before most other parts of the country. How does a cycling-focused family adjust and indeed thrive in this sort of situation? We share the story from Gunnison resident and elite cyclist Jennifer “Jenny” Smith with the Cannondale/Kenda Women’s Elite team and how her family is making the most of this situation and their new normal, by improving exercise, diet, and mental health. We could all learn from this, so read on.
Gunnison County is home to my husband Brian, myself, and our daughter Jade. Brian and I are elite cyclists. I also work as a cycling coach, a race team manager, and compete as a professional athlete. Brian manages a supported-living services program for adults with disabilities, and his clients maintain their independence living in their own homes.
Brian's clients are an at-risk population should they contract Coronavirus. Our family has been making a concerted effort to isolate and, in doing so, help the people he works with stay healthy. A quote from my university running coach comes to mind when thinking about how best to move through our current situation with the Coronavirus. "Good days, make good months, make good years." Dr. Duane Vandenbushe.
The uncertainty surrounding Coronavirus and the impact on our lives both now and in the future feels big. I keep focusing on what I can do each day and sometimes each hour to concentrate my efforts and energy.
As we move forward and navigate through the Coronavirus pandemic, some of our daily practices have shone through as our most important. I want to share these activities in the hope that they can, in turn, help you navigate these difficult times.
Develop a routine. Our daily schedule is an activity that Jade and I rely on. She writes the template. Then we fill in our events for each hour of the day.
This practice provides a much-needed structure to our day. Most importantly, we allocate and separate work and school from free family time.
Social distance is an enormous change that affects us in numerous ways.
Many of us have had our daily choices, and our freedom, impacted.
We have all had events altered and canceled. It is okay to be sad and feel a sense of loss.
It is essential to check in with our personal reasons and motivation for exercising. Knowing our rights for why we ride, workout, and exercise will significantly help us move forward.
We must use exercise to promote health and wellbeing.
As elite athletes, we do want to avoid overreaching.
That said, here are some of my tips for integrating workouts and physical activity with your family.
I schedule my training. I thrive on being accountable, so I plan my training and treat it as a commitment.
Indoor training: when you ride indoors, keep the workout short and focused. Ride early in the day when your energy and attention span is highest.
Jade does an independent activity while I train. I try to make it a treat activity for her - a FaceTime call, a TV show, or if it's a beautiful day, I'll take the trainer outside and let her play while I pedal away.
Here are two sweet and effective workouts to do on the stationary trainer.
30 min of Power. (Rhett's set)
1 x 5 min warm-up
1 x 5 min high cadence spin set (100 RPM)
1 x 5 minutes seated climb (cadence 60)
5 x 30 sec sprint + 30 sec easy pace
1 x 5 min at Threshold - this is race pace and should feel hard
1 x 3 min high cadence spin set (100 RPM)
1 x 2 min cool down.
2. Ladder Sprints.
15 min warm-up.
10-sec sprint. 50 seconds easy
20 seconds sprints. 40 seconds easy
30 seconds sprints. 30 seconds easy
40 seconds sprint. 20 seconds easy
50 seconds sprint. 10 seconds easy
1 min sprint
5 min easy
10 min cooldown.
Add in off-the-bike activity. Do some strength, yoga, hiking, or running.
One of my favorite activities with Jade is her riding while I run. We connect as she chats to me. It's awesome. We include run drills and strength work. For example, we will run to a park or field and find an obstacle we can use for strength training.
Below is a bike specific strength routine using just a bench.
Bike specific strength work.
Do 3 sets of 10-20 reps each.
Superset exercises. For example: Do 1/2 with 1 min rest between sets:
Box jumps onto a bench
1 min rest
1 min rest
6. Explosive step-ups
1 min rest
7. Pushups on bench
8. Dips from bench
Practice bike skills in the back yard or garden. Use cones or water bottles. Set up them out and ride around them. Include figure-8 drills, practice turning corners, look ahead at the next cone. Ride in both directions. You can make the cones tighter to increase the difficulty. Make up new challenges. Ride without putting a foot down. Take turns, choosing the next challenge.
We also have a Towhee strap. Using a tow strap is a great way to get a workout or ride farther while involving your kids. A tow strap could be easily fashioned out of an inner tube and a couple of carabiners.
I pay attention to my mental health.
One of my default emotions is anxiety. In recent years I have been understanding and learning strategies for effectively working with and managing my stress. I believe that we can include daily practices to help cope with the uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic. I am doing a 21-day mediation with a group of friends in Gunnison. We are noting via a Facebook group when we have completed each day.
The online apps Calm, Headspace, and the Chopra center are examples of guided mediation programs.
I have a book about anxiety titled: How To Make the Beast Beautiful, written by author Sarah Wilson. I was introduced to Sarah Wilson on a plane trip to Australia. Qantas had recorded three audio interviews about travel anxiety – I have to share my situation because it is funny and helps explain why I gel with Sarah's approach. I was seated in the middle seat with Jade, my daughter in the window seat next to me. We sat four rows away from the toilets during the 15-hour flight. That situation alone made me feel anxious. I started listening to the interviews, and they were so good. Sarah talked about travel and tools for minimizing stress during the trip then led a guided meditation.
I related to so much of what she was talking about. Once in Australia, I sought out and bought her book. One of her pieces of practical advice is the easiest thing to do. When you feel anxious, go for a walk. Our brains process thoughts at the speed that we walk, and it will calm us. It works. Try it!
Eat well. I like to minimize sugar. I think a low sugar diet helps me to stay calm.
Sit in the sunshine. Vitamin D improves mental health and immunity.
Be kind, play, ride a bike, physical activity is a great mood booster.
Finally, I think it is worth considering that your closest family members may not be the best people to help you with your mental health. I like to remind myself that we cannot be all things to all people. Our community is offering a 24/7 mental health talk line. I would guess that yours is too.