Training in the Time of Covid and Social Distancing: The Mental Game

Upping the Mental Game While Social Distancing

Wow, 2020 got weird real fast, didn’t it?

Just after the end of the second Paddle Monster training camp, I came back from Florida all stoked about my training, my nutrition and my upcoming return to the Graveyard course at the Carolina Cup after a three-year absence.

And thanks to a fast-spreading, new respiratory virus, all of that is in jeopardy now. Or at least hampered.

I am not here to tell you how or if you should train during this uncertain and fluid time – that’s up to you- though I will urge you to keep up to date on what your local and state and federal public health officials are advising. No matter how we choose to respond to this, it’s going to take some mental metal to get through these next few weeks.

While I am not a mental health care professional, I have a bit of experience dealing with crappy, uncertain, potentially overwhelming circumstances – like we all do.  So, I want to just share some of the tools that have worked for me in the past and that I am deploying now to get through the coming days.  They may be helpful for you, or they may not work. And you may find some of it can translate well to your paddle training during “normal” times.

Breath Work

Long before Corona reared its spikey head, I’ve been using a couple of breath hold apps, “I Can Hold My Breath” (Silly name, I know) and “Freedive Apnea.” The former is a type of yoga breath work and the later is designed to help free divers. I integrated these into my training regime as a way to improve my lung capacity and, more importantly, stay calm when held down by a wave after a sup surf wipeout. I have not had the chance to try it out in the lineup yet but I can report that my ability to hold my breath has increased. And both apps are a lot like meditation: a breath hold workout leaves me feeling calm and relaxed. I can see how breath work would have applications for racing as well.  If you are not into apps but have a Garmin watch, you may have a breath hold option in your workouts as well – essentially a breathing timer.  There are a thousand apps out there that can help you with breathing.  Explore!


Now might be the perfect time to check out the Calm, Headspace or one of the many other meditation apps. If you are new to the mediation practice, I would recommend Headspace. It has some great, easy to follow “courses” for folks who have never tried meditation. Both Headspace and Calm have guided practices for athletes, which can be helpful when dealing with all the things we deal with before, during and after competitions.  Using a guided meditation app can help you learn the art of creative, positive visualization, which is a fantastic tool to use if you are prepping for a race and even during. There are all kinds of legit studies out there that discuss the benefits of meditation for athletes and really anyone.

One of the things I like best about these apps are the meditations for sleep, as well as the sleep “stories”…they are extremely helpful in putting the stress of the day out of my mind so that I can get a good night’s sleep.  That’s something I think a lot of us are going to need, for sure, in the coming days.

Yes, these apps are not free, but the investment might be worth it right now.  Headspace does have a good amount of free content designed for the times so there is no reason not to check it out.

Another thing I’ll throw out there are the Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) recordings or videos that some folks, me included, like to use for relaxation or falling asleep. Some folks say these recordings produce a nice, tingly feeling.  I have not experienced that, but sometimes the tone of voice is perfect for drifting off.  These are highly subjective – my favorite (The French Whisperer) may sound soothing to me, but it may be a total turn off to you.  Explore, experiment, take it or leave it.


Yoga can be extremely beneficial to your paddling as well as mental health. Consider some of Coach Sey Chelle’s videos – she can guide you through some great poses that will help your paddling…here’s just one example.


If you are like me, you might or might not have breezed through most of your comfort snacks already!! You might have a hard time staying away from the Doritos or Snickers Ice Cream bars you bought for the kids, wink wink. Let’s face it, whether we are stocking up on emergency food for a hurricane, snow storm or plague, shelf safe choices are not always the healthiest. So, that may lead some of us to start getting paranoid about what we are eating. Or not eating.

Paddle Monster nutritionist Dr. Victoria Burgess likes the MyFitnessPal app for tracking/logging food and keeping tract of all the macros. It might come in handy right now for keeping track of your nutrition. And it might provide a nice diversion.  Maybe that’s the last thing we should be worrying about right now, but if you are concerned and you want another tool in your kit, check this one out. Just don’t obsess to the point that you are stressing yourself out more than you already might be!

Get to Know Your Garmin

Now might be the perfect time to explore that fancy timepiece on your wrist. I’m guessing most of us have only scratched the surface of what our Fenix or ForeRunner can do. Cruise around Garmin Connect and take a look at some of the options for tracking your paddles, for weather, for tides.

One thing I have found super useful on my Fenix 6X as of late is the pulse ox and  respiratory rate trackers. I have a history of being prone to lower respiratory infections and right now in Raleigh, the pollen is going bonkers already – so I will admit, I am a little paranoid at the moment.  Keeping tabs on those two pieces of data has helped me stay grounded in reality and logic. If I start to see dramatic changes in those numbers, I’ll know something needs my attention. So far, my numbers are right where they should be.


Got Spotify or another music service?  Make some new playlists – either for now with great songs for relaxation or for your workouts. I have several different playlists that are in rotation for the different intensities of my workouts.  It’s fun and let’s face it, doing something like this makes us feel like we have a little more control over things. Share them with your buddies!

Whatever strategies you deploy right now, in your paddle life as well as your work and family life, just remember: We are all in this together, and together we will get through it!