For Team MelRad Racing, social distancing mandates have put a pin in group rides and swim workouts for the time being. But that doesn’t mean the team has stopped meeting up. They’ve just moved to teleconferencing app Zoom, where their coach, pro triathlete Melanie McQuaid, facilitates a strength workout or yoga class. Sometimes, there’s an educational seminar. Mostly, though, there’s just catching up and connection—and that’s the most important thing.
“It was the team’s idea to have regular check-ins during this crisis just for mental health,” says McQuaid. “We as a group, are a family. You need to look your family in the eye when you ask how they are doing.”
For many triathletes, social networks are inextricably linked with swim-bike-run: group rides, Masters swims, meet-ups at races. But in a time of social distancing and mandated quarantine, that social outlet—so critical for mental health, especially in a time of heightened anxiety—disappears. Teams and clubs can also be a key part of staying motivated to train, especially in an onslaught of race cancellations and postponements. McQuaid, who founded the team in 2008, is keenly aware of this.
“I am very pragmatic, and my number-one job as a coach is Motivator-in-Chief,” explains McQuaid. About a month ago, I saw this coming and created an action list of what I could do. If I can keep people motivated, ultimately they make good decisions in all other aspects of their lives.”
Initially, she thought about virtual “group rides” on Zwift, but decided it didn’t fit with the close-knit nature of the group. “I think actual face time with people is more valuable than avatars. Additionally, a massively reduced schedule for many team members means an opportunity to focus on technique and strength—something I need to demonstrate through video.” She notes that some athletes on the team, in addition to attending the team videoconferences, have begun arranging their own virtual meetups with team members for workouts, including Zwift rides and Strava challenges.
“We feed off each other, and see how hard we are all working. It causes you to bring your own level up to meet the bar that everyone else is setting,” says MelRad team member Alison Keple. “Our personalities all mesh really well, and while we all have different strengths, we all encourage each other, help each other out, and push each other to be better.”
As MelRad Racing and other tri teams and clubs are discovering, technology can help fill the current void of racing. “Sport is so powerful for people because there are tangible goals,” explains McQuaid. “Without podiums, PRs, and concrete evidence of success that racing provides, and without an end date to this pandemic in sight, I think we as coaches are going to have to create that tangible evidence of improvement for our athletes, so they can maintain consistency.”
Though the videoconferences are centered around triathlon, they’re also full of fun banter and inside jokes (the team’s motto, “Just f*ckin’ giver,” McQuaid’s pacing advice for racing, has become an unofficial sign-off), making them a touchstone of normalcy in an otherwise abnormal time.
“It is easy to lose focus and think ‘What is the point?’ while the sky is falling down around you. Our objective is to circle the wagons and stick together,” says McQuaid. “At the very least, athletes should be given the opportunity to spend an hour or more focused on something other than the 24-hour bad news cycle that inevitably is going to come to mind. If I can keep the group motivated to tick a box daily, then there is the opportunity for athletes to come out of this with physical improvement, a maintenance of mental health, and some joy in what is going to be some bad times ahead.”