What Does Covid-19 Mean for Triathletes?

UPDATE- 24th March 2020 10:27 GMT

Following government advice last night instructing individuals to stay in their homes in all but a handful of circumstances, we believe that riding your bike outside for leisure/training purposes is irresponsible. This is because cycling is a great way for key workers to get to work, and if thousands of cyclists descend on the country’s roads this could cause the government to ban cycling outright.

Additionally, by cycling on the roads you are putting yourself at a low level of risk. If you were to crash, have. a serious mechanical, get knocked off or a pedestrian was to step out in front of you, this would place an unnecessary burden on our already strained health service. The turbo trainer may not be glamorous or as fulfilling as riding outside in spring, but it’s certainly preferable to losing fitness, and lots of fun can be had with Zwift events.

UPDATE- 19th March 2020 10:03 GMT

Following announcements from England athletics and Triathlon England, all regular group training sessions should now have stopped, and most pools have now closed. This means that most triathletes are now only able to cycle and run on their own, or socially in smaller groups.

To get around the lack of pool time, I’m recommending my clients purchase resistance bands to replicate the action of swimming.

It also looks like a vaccine may be 12-18 months away, so the return to racing may be further away than anticipated, and triathletes can now confidently return to the base phase of training as a result. This means longer, slower rides and strength work, with less in the way of race pace intervals and brick sessions.

For now in the UK it seems we are free to run and ride outside, however if things get more serious and we go into lockdown, the turbo trainer, treadmill and weights will become our best friends.

Don’t lose heart though, this will pass in time.

13th March 2020- 06:33 GMT

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you’ll be well aware of the Coronavirus currently spreading across the globe. Here I’ll be taking a quick look at how this will affect your training and racing. As of this morning in the UK very few containment measures have been put in place, so take this advice with a pinch of salt, always consider recent developments in your area.

A quick reminder that I am not in any way a healthcare professional, simply a coach who has been keeping up with current affairs and who has the sport’s best interests at heart.

Will my race be cancelled?

This is the big one, will your event you paid good money for and have been training for religiously be cancelled? Each race organiser is taking a different approach, but the world’s biggest triathlon organiser, Ironman, has released a statement you can find here: https://www.ironman.com/updates along with rolling updates on upcoming races and whether they’re going ahead or not. It seems that the Ironman group are listening to the advice of local governments on a national and regional level to decide whether events will go ahead or not rather than making the call themselves currently. It does not appear that they are cancelling races more than a week or two in advance. In the statement they have outlined measures they will introduce to reduce infection risk at their events, so you assume they’re not waiting for the international all clear to start holding races again.

The majority of events will be postponed rather than outright cancelled, with organisers hoping to find slots later in the year when they can run the race. In some circumstances the race will be outright cancelled if they know there is no chance of rescheduling, this will result in your entry being deferred to 2021, or in some cases being outright cancelled without a refund. I understand this can be very frustrating/upsetting, but you have to remember that organisers will already have spent tends, maybe hundreds of thousands on the race so far, and smaller race organisers would face bankruptcy if they gave everyone a full refund, resulting in all future editions being cancelled.

When will races resume?

When racing resumes will depend entirely on how the virus spreads. Many of you will be familiar with this image:


The path that the epidemic takes will dictate how race organisers react. If there is an  sudden surge in cases on an international level, hospitals becoming overwhelmed and shops closing en masse as has been seen in Italy, then there’s a good chance race organisers will pull the plug several weeks or even months ahead of race day. If however measures are introduced which flatten the curve and things seem to be under control, race organisers will be more likely to proceed with caution.

Looking at the most likely scenario of the virus peaking within the next few weeks, I expect most races in May/June to go ahead. This is simply speculation based on what I’ve read, it could be much later than that, but none of us are in possession of a crystal ball, and a lot of it depends on when a vaccine can be developed.

What about training?

If you are self isolating or working from home this opens up possibilities for extra training time. You may be restricted in the training you can undertake (pools and gyms may close, cyclists are not allowed to ride in Italy currently), but you can use the time that you would have otherwise spent commuting to extend your morning workout, or squeeze one in where you weren’t able to before. If you normally ride into work, swap it out for a high quality turbo session instead.

If you’re in the northern hemisphere race was set for March/April then you can use this opportunity to go back your base phase but in warmer weather, enjoying those long, easy rides/runs in the warmer weather rather than battling headwinds and floods. You can never have enough base miles, and the chances are that by the time a new date is announced you’ll have enough time to go back to your build phase and peak in time for the event . If you were just coming into peak fitness and want to find a use for it, you could have a go at a Zwift race or have a stab at some Strava KOMs, potentially taking a week or two off of formal training before you start going back to base training.

This is also a good chance to work on your weaknesses. If you are already in pretty decent shape but won’t be racing for some time, you can focus more on your weaknesses without compromising on general fitness. Whether this is putting in big swim sets or spending lots of time running, this is a great time to focus on becoming a better rounded athlete.

What precautions should we take?

Your standard triathlete is probably a pretty low risk individual, even if you have underlying health issues your active lifestyle will have improved your immune system, your large lungs will reduce the chances of complications and your strong heart will aid the healing process, but we can’t afford to get complacent, not least because we could well pick up the virus, show very little/no symptoms and yet pass it onto other, more vulnerable individuals around us.

Running and cycling are both pretty safe, but huddling round a table eating cake in a cafe is probably less advisable. Chlorinated water helps kill off the virus (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/coronavirus-proper-chlorination-stops-water-transmission-hse-advises-1.4197775) so swimming as an activity should be ok, but I wouldn’t hang along for longer than necessary in the changing rooms and probably give the steam room/sauna a miss.

The gym is the one area you should probably reconsider your attendance to as it can be quite crowded and sweaty, especially as many exercises can be performed at home with minimal/no equipment. If you buy yourself a kettlebell, some resistance bands and some dumbbells (not as expensive as you may think) you could engage in a daily strength session if you find yourself in self isolation. We could all use more functional strength work.

If however you start to show any symptoms (coughing, fever, shortness of breath) you should stop training immediately so you can recover as quickly as possible, with minimal risk of any complications.


It can be very frustrating when your race is cancelled, you’ll have invested a lot of time and money in it, but we all have our part to play in preventing the spread of the virus to the most vulnerable in our society. If the measures are effective the race cancellations will seem like an overreaction, so please don’t take out your disappointment on race organisers trying to do the right thing. Racing will resume in due course and the sun will rise tomorrow.

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