3 women learn resilience after training for events that were cancelled

Posted by for Wellbeing

So many women have spent the last year putting all their efforts into preparing for a special event – be it weddings, milestone birthdays, marathons or even the Olympics. Three women share how they learned to be resilient after the events they spent the last year training for were cancelled because of the pandemic. 

Amidst the many challenges the entire world has faced this year, many of us have experienced some form of disruption to the personal goals we set out to achieve in 2020. Under the strain and restrictions of living in lockdown, even the smallest aims have felt unattainable at times. If it wasn’t gym closures stopping you from moving up a weight class, it was gathering restrictions putting a halt to the Fun Run you intended to complete with friends – we all had something the pandemic pressed pause on.

Generally, the motivation to achieve fitness goals was present, but the opportunity to follow through wasn’t always. As the months went by, events were being cancelled in quick succession – casual and professional athletes alike saw the finish lines they were preparing to cross disappear right before their eyes.

Stylist spoke to three women – a passionate marathoner, an amateur swimmer looking to cross the channel, and an Olympic athlete – who learned how to be resilient despite all the disappointments this year brought. 

“I learned that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought” –Sarah

Sarah Funderburk began her running journey with a 5k race seven years ago. Since then, she’s conquered the New York, Berlin and Chicago marathons. The London marathon was going to be the latest feat in her mission to complete the six World Marathon Majors. In anticipation of the race, Sarah followed a meticulous training plan that began in December, with the marathon’s April date in sight. She was fitting in early morning runs before work to stay on track with a schedule that required her to run “between 50 and 55 miles per week.”

A breakdown of her average training week looked something like this: “running five to six times per week, while doing cross-training on the other days. My Tuesdays and Thursdays would be more intense, with speedier runs, while other days would be easier runs. Then, Sunday would be crazy-long runs – which over the course of the training plan varies from 12 to 24 miles.”

When lockdown restrictions delayed the marathon by six months, Sarah remained optimistic about hitting her goal and continued training. She recalls thinking at the time, “I’m just going to finish my training plan, then do some nice long runs, and then take a little break and focus on enjoying running. In June, I’ll start properly training again with the rescheduled October date in mind.”

sarah-funderburk-marathon-training-running
When lockdown restrictions delayed the marathon by six months, Sarah remained optimistic about hitting her goal and continued training.

As the new London marathon date became less of a certainty, Sarah signed up for another marathon in Lincolnshire scheduled for September. At the time, she just wanted to keep on running. “To be outside was one of the most important things for me and having this goal was a vehicle for that.”

When the race in Lincolnshire got cancelled too, it really hit her. She remembers, “this gut feeling of disappointment and thinking ‘not again’.” But she rallied and quickly moved on. Despite the disruptions of the pandemic, Sarah was running the best times she’d ever done. “I knew that I was in the best shape that I’ve ever been in and I just wanted to test it out – to prove to myself that all this hard work during this crazy time wasn’t for nothing.”

Desperate to hold onto her goal of conquering an official long-distance race, Sarah signed on to run the Dorney Lake marathon. It was one of the few remaining races confirmed to go ahead, and coincidentally scheduled on the same day as the repurposed, elites-only London marathon. In the run-up to the race, Sarah was still hopeful – despite weathering multiple cancellations. “I think it actually fuelled me on”, she says. “If my race had gotten cancelled again, I was ready to just do a run and enjoy it to at least get something out of it.”

sarah-funderburk-marathon-training-running-2
“If my race had gotten cancelled again, I was ready to just do a run and enjoy it and at least get something out of it.”

By the time Sarah finally got to run an official race, she’d experienced the excitement and eventual disappointment of two cancelled marathons, had persevered through an almost entirely solitary training season, and was in the ninth month of repeating a 16-18 week training schedule that previously seemed to have no end date in sight.

Sarah eventually completed the Dorney Lakes Marathon in 3:11:56, shaving nearly nine minutes off her initial goal time. Despite the false starts and dashed hopes, she ran a championship time and is excited that, “if there ever is another London marathon again, I’ll get to do the Championship entry.”

As for what she’s learnt along the way, she says “I think it taught me that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought.” Sarah didn’t let the cancellations get in the way of what was truly important: her love of running and the need to continue enjoying it. 

“I saw it as proof that I could overcome future challenges” –Maddy

maddy-duxbury-swim-channel
Maddy felt “initially terrified, but really excited. Then, pleased that it was going to go ahead and also looking forward to getting it done.”

Every summer, swimmers of all abilities take to the English Channel in an attempt to cross the distance between France and Britain. Maddy Duxbury planned to accomplish a childhood goal by being one of those swimmers. Despite lockdown throwing her plans into disarray, she made it into the water – but what happened while she attempted the crossing is another story.

When the first lockdown was announced in March, Maddy was three months into solo-training and looking forward to testing her form out with the five other members of her relay team. To begin her training she, “swam for about 15 minutes. Then, I increased it by five minutes every time I went for a swim, until I was swimming regularly for an hour each time.” As soon as the restrictions came into effect, all group sports came to a halt – with Maddy’s team having only completed one training session together. Lidos were closed and congregating on beaches was highly restricted, so Maddy’s training dwindled down to what she describes as “doing absolutely nothing.” She spent the first few months of lockdown “doing a bit of yoga, but absolutely no swimming for ages.”

As lockdown started to ease in early summer, Maddy and her team still didn’t have a confirmed slot and they were facing the possibility of having to quarantine if they eventually made it to France and back. Regardless, they picked up their training where they’d left off. Rather than lido relays, they spent early mornings on Swimmer’s Beach at Dover Marina, where they swam a course laid out with buoys that took about 45 minutes to swim around. 

With their August swim looming, and a one-week tide confirmed – a seven day window in which the weather is cleared and swimmers are on standby to hit the water – Maddy’s team looked set to accomplish their goal. She describes herself taking off in the boat as feeling “terrified initially, but then really excited. So pleased that it was going ahead and also looking forward to getting it done.”

maddy-duxbury-training-swim-channel-kit-bag
Maddy spent weeks preparing to her first attempt to swim across the channel.

After making it through lockdown, adapting her training, and trying to remain motivated despite the uncertainty surrounding the event, the obstacle that stood between Maddy and her end goal was the water itself. Describing the last leg of the relay swim, she says “we could see the area, the point that we were supposed to land in – but suddenly the weather turned and it was so rough. The last guy in the water was swimming in massive waves and we were all being thrown around inside the boat.”

When the decision to end the swim was made, Maddy was overcome with what she calls “a weird mix of emotions. I was gutted, but also massively relieved at the same time because I was on the boat and it was so rocky. I was really scared,” she recalls. The overriding feeling once they returned to Dover and hit dry land was unlike anything she’d felt before, saying, “It was such a weird thing, I just felt so proud of the whole experience – despite not actually crossing the channel, I treated the experience like it was a success.”

They may not have completed the swim, but after spending over 15 hours on the water, Maddy takes pride in what she did get to do. “We swam through the night, we saw dolphins on the way, we swam past these massive shipping containers and we watched the sunrise as we were swimming. For me, swimming at night was overcoming a personal fear, and that was a real challenge, so I felt like I succeeded in that sense.” Even without setting foot on the landing dock in France, Maddy’s imperfect and incomplete Channel swim “was an incredible experience, I saw it as proof for the challenges I could overcome in the future.”

maddy-duxbury-training-swim-channel-france
Maddy takes pride in what she did get to do, “we swam through the night, saw dolphins, and watched the sunrise as we were swimming."

“I already knew I was patient and resilient, but this has amplified my belief in myself” –Katarina

For pro-athletes like Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the four year intervals between Olympic games are a continuous cycle of training, competing and evaluating – with each competition in between counting as a preparatory step towards the grand finale. Bulk Powders athlete Katarina explains, “as athletes we have the date that we need to be ready for four years in advance, so we work backwards. For example, the Worlds in Doha last year was a stepping stone towards the Olympics.”

With her mind always on the next training session or competition, there’s little time to dwell on what lays ahead – except this year, when suddenly nothing did. Although initially Katarina says, “when the Olympics got cancelled it was sort of expected, it seemed to fit with life.” When it finally sunk in that she wouldn’t be competing on the world stage, she recalls, “it was so heartbreaking. I had spent the last four years working so hard to prepare for a moment that never even happened.” The reality of having a long-held goal essentially wiped off the calendar was a lot to absorb. “Everything was taking off and going according to plan, and then when the Olympics got cancelled, it spun everything out of control. What helps me a lot in life and in athletics is that I’ve got control over my actions; my training, my diet, my routine. I can control loads of different things, but this? I couldn’t.”

katarina-johnson-thompson-training

Prior to the world going into lockdown, Katarina was still training hard for the summer competitions ahead. During an average week with her coach in France, she trained six days a week, explaining that “two of those days are double sessions and they’re always with my coach, so it’s a lot of technical work, gym-time and running.” The athlete went from gruelling, structured sessions to “moving back to Liverpool with no technical work, limited track access and no input from my coach. It was really stripped down to the basics of trying to keep fit.” The goal changed from perfecting her form, to simply “trying to keep some form of fitness and to not let all my muscle just go.” 

Katarina’s event – the heptathlon – consists of seven elements: the on-off momentum of the sport has influenced how she approaches most things. Her method is as follows: “I break it down so I know that I’m living in this moment and I’m trying to do the best I can in this moment, in my competition. And that’s what I pretty much applied to lockdown life this past summer.”

As for what she learnt about herself while watching all her competition dates go by, Katarina says, “I know that I’m patient and resilient. I already knew that, but I think this has amplified it.” And being away from the track helped her to realise, “athletes in essence are quite selfish and they’re driven by achieving their goals and doing everything they need to do in order to better themselves, but I want to try and be more selfless and do more for others.” Despite the pandemic disrupting her goals, Katarina spent the summer lending her voice to the fight for racial equality, writing an essay for BritishVogue, and signed on to judge the upcoming Merky Books Prize.

MOTIVATION

After a year of constant uncertainty for all of us – whether we are competing or not – it’s understandably hard to muster enough optimism to set new goals when we have no idea what the future holds. Perhaps, feeling motivated again means that we have to do away with the idea of working up to an eventual goal or an end date – and to just focus on the present act of movement. 

When Katarina was finally able to get back on the track and into the gym, she changed the way that she approached her training sessions, saying, “when we came back from lockdown and there was still no Olympics, I just enjoyed my sport for the love of it, instead of making it about achieving a goal or a certain time.” She suggests, “sometimes you need to take a little breather and just do it because you enjoy it.”

Maddy, whose swim team has already signed on to make another attempt at their Channel crossing next year, advises, “don’t get obsessed with your end goal. There’s so many other things that you can experience along the way that you’ll benefit from.”

After Sarah’s tumultuous journey to finally crossing a marathon finish line this year, what she says kept her motivated was, “that feeling of using my body and being outside and having a common shared goal with friends.” Focusing on the reasons she loves running helped her to “keep on going instead of crawling into a corner and crying.”

RESILIENCE

As an Olympic athlete and gold medallist, resilience is something that Katarina’s built up over the years. So, naturally her advice for those struggling to start training for rescheduled events is to “just do it”, because having a goal means you’ve “got something to look forward to.”

For Maddy, remaining resilient amidst uncertainty is about not being too harsh on yourself, “If you’re having a day where you just can’t be bothered and you’ve got no motivation, let yourself have that day,” but, she continues, “that doesn’t mean you give up on the whole thing. Just write that day off as a bad day and try again the next day.”

Sarah’s pretty much an expert at remaining buoyant after her 9-month saga. Her suggestion is to go back to basics if you’re struggling to bounce back. “Don’t underestimate sleep and recovery, and listen to your body,” she advises.

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, nutritious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts

IMAGES: Getty, Bulk Powders and courtesy of women featured

Sign up for workouts, nutritious recipes and expert tips. You'll also get your Beginner's Guide To Strength Training.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Share this article

Recommended by Florie Mwanza