What words helped you define 2020?
One word that I thought much of in new ways was endurance. Merriam-Webster defines endurance as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity, especially the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.” We have been challenged in ways like never before as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. We must each navigate this complex environment and difficult circumstances with reflection, self-awareness, patience, flexibility, compassion and endurance.
Most have suffered fatigue from the sustained emotional and physical demands borne directly or indirectly from the virus. We have had to shift our routines entirely, whether masking up to go out to work, leaving loved ones to fend for themselves at home, or remaining sequestered at home, juggling the needs of family members with work commitments. The pandemic has been rightly characterized as a war, but another analogy that comes to mind is endurance sports training. Both require the ability to endure.
In times like these, there is much to learn from endurance sports training, or any discipline that causes you to push yourself regularly to acquire the skill, knowledge and level of performance needed to succeed. The training can be grueling, exhausting and at times unsafe without proper precautions. You must learn to be attuned to your body and what it is telling you, to nurture your body, to give it rest and nutrition and to develop an awareness of your limits. There are injuries, and frequently things do not go according to plan. But other times, you can push yourself to do more than you may have known, and that is part of the reward.
Over time, endurance training has changed my perspective and enabled me to take the long view in almost every situation I face. I don’t know many distance runners, swimmers or triathletes who are at the top of their game continuously. Instead, we learn to persist despite setbacks, which is not easy and can be very humbling. When speaking of competitive pursuits, Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence,” explained “that doggedness depends on emotional traits — enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks — above all else,” (Goleman 2006, p. 80). You learn not to give up, and instead find your way to keep going.
The ability to endure requires reflection and self-awareness. When finding moments to “surface” from time to time, it helps to ask yourself how you are feeling at that moment. How are you showing up? Are you feeling your best? If you are not feeling your best, what can you do to change that? These checks become reflexive and can be applied in other settings in useful ways. In any given moment, pause and ask yourself how are you coming across to others. This insight can strengthen self-awareness, increase attention to the activity at hand, and improve our interactions and relationships.
Endurance training helps to heighten your sensitivity to risk and the ability to calculate it. When adapting to the quickly evolving circumstances during the pandemic I felt aided by this understanding, where it is entirely natural to constantly weigh risks and maintain the perspective that this is not a short-term race. We are not in a position to sprint to the finish. Rather, the situation requires that we pace ourselves, adapt, pay meticulously close attention to our physical and mental state, and do what is necessary to endure. This is difficult to sustain. However, when considering the situation, the responsibility to continue observing health protocols and do what it takes to protect each other becomes easier to accept. We are in it together.
There are many ways to build endurance, such as through your fitness routine or by trying something new such as learning a skill, taking on an activity or serving others. It takes determination and commitment to see each endeavor through. What are some of the ways you have learned to endure the pandemic? What have you done to help yourself and loved ones stay safe and sane? How are you enduring each day? Each week?
If you are interested in starting a fitness program, check out these resources (and consult a medical professional first if needed):
- 5K Runner or Couch to 5K app
- 7 Minute Workout app: features a 7-minute workout and easily customizable multi-set workouts with little or equipment needed
- Nike Training Club app: free during the pandemic and features a variety of online workouts for different fitness levels
- POPSUGAR Fitness workouts: free online workouts
- Local recreation classes and roadrunners clubs (many have virtual offerings)
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Christine is Deputy Director, Office of Ethics and Integrity of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This article was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or the federal government. Christine also serves as a Community Volunteer Leader for the American Red Cross, Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick County Chapter, and on the advisory committee for her city pool and fitness center. She is inspired to write about endurance, volunteerism, and career management, among other topics. In her “spare” time she is an avid swimmer and runner, and enjoys spending time with her family, friends and pets. Her motto is: “Work hard, play hard.”