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Co-isolating with Haley Smith and Andrew L’Esperance

Norco pros share strategies for planning and finding positive opportunities while self-isolating

As the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak develops, many of us are making adjustments to our daily lives in order to stay healthy, and do their part to slow the spread of coronavirus. This includes Canada’s top professional racers.

Haley Smith and Andrew L’Esperance are teammates on Norco Factory Team. They’re also partners off the bike, and are currently engaged. The two are self-isolating together in Victoria, B.C. after returning from the Vail Lake US Cup in California.

One week into their co-self-isolation, Smith and L’Esperance are learning to plan groceries and using the change in routine to find new ways to work towards their goals.

“Our sport is also so much more than on-the-bike training,” says L’Esperance. “I plan on taking this extra time to spend time on pieces of performance that I wouldn’t otherwise have as much time to dedicate to like tire testing, or additional mental fitness work for example.”

“The circumstance is forcing us to adapt, be present, and be resilient, which are all demanding things that require me to give my best,” adds Smith. “It’s that demand that I find motivating.”

Haley Smith
Haley Smith leading out the 2019 Elite Women’s XCO national championships at Hardwood Ski & Bike in Ontario.
Canadian Cycling Magazine: Self isolation looks a little different for everyone right now. What does your new daily routine look like in isolation??

Haley Smith: honestly, our routine isn’t that different. Thankfully, we are allowed to ride outside in Canada as long as we ride alone (or in the case of Lespy and I, who live together, as a pair) and don’t come into contact with other people. So we’re still training every day on the bike. I think the biggest differences for us are that we’ve had to make a modified gym program to do at home, and are no longer going to yoga/coffee shops/the grocery store/etc. So in some ways, we’ve had to become more organized and make sure that we are planning in advance to get our food delivered. We’re also making sure to increase the “self care” practices that we rely on, such as meditation and minimizing screen time and meditation consumption throughout the day but particularly at night time.

RELATED: How to self-isolate like a pro: Catharine Pendrel

Andrew L’Esperance: There are really no major changes in our daily routine other than the obvious of staying away from other people and not going to shops. We can pretty much do everything we usually do for training within the isolation guidelines. We have moved gym and yoga sessions into the house instead of going out for them and we can still ride together or on our own. Haley has been super dialed with the grocery ordering online and taking care of that. We are taking extra care to wash our hands when arriving back to the house. So, in general, the routine is wake up, coffee, breakfast, a bit of schoolwork or emails, train, eat and then maybe a bit more work before getting started on dinner and then wind down for the day.

Andrew L'Espernce
Andrew L’Esperance racing 2019 Elite Men’s XCO world championships at Mont-Saine-Anne, Que.. Photograph by Nick Iwanyshyn
Have you learned any unexpected lessons from your first week in isolation?

Smith: Lespy has a really big and positive influence on me. We already spend virtually all of our time together, but we can normally escape the confines of our small one-bedroom apartment to go to a coffee shop or something when the walls press in a little close. We obviously can’t do that right now, and I’m having to take Lespy’s lead on having patience with each other and breathing through anxious patches as they arise. I think the biggest thing I’m recognizing right now is that it’s okay – heck, even advisable – to find stuff to laugh at. I have a tendency to be overly serious, and perhaps counterintuitively, this whole situation is helping me chill out a bit.

L’Esperance: We have learned that online grocery systems are overwhelmed with increased demand and those systems are not functioning very quickly, so budget extra time for the ordering and also extra days for the order to be filled. Other than that, nothing major but I am sure there will be several lessons in the coming weeks.

How are you adjusting your training to isolation?

Smith: like I said, right now there’s not a ton of difference with our on-the-bike training, other than the fact that we are not riding with other people. We’ve moved our gym program to be indoors and purely bodyweight/TRX. We’re also doing some at-home yoga practices. Because we can’t have our coach on-site with us, I expect that Lespy and I will be doing a lot more peer-coaching than usual (i.e. offering each other feedback and criticism… which could get messy. We will keep you posted haha). We intend to make use of things like the Wahoo live tracking link, which allows our coach to basically follow along with our ride data and progress. But other than that… it’s honestly pretty much business as usual.

L’Esperance: The isolation situation is not having a major impact on my training, I typically train with Haley or alone, and I can still do both of those things. I will not be able to do any group rides with friends, but that is a very small sacrifice.

Haley Smith Nove Mesto
Haley Smith on the podium at World Cup Nove Mesto in 2019. The UCI announced Tueday the Czech World Cup XCO round is being postponed. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool.
World Cup season and Olympics are currently still a go: how are you adjusting your training with most races currently cancelled? [Editors note: Events are changing fast. Smith and L’Esperance responded to our questions before the news that IOC would be postponing the Olympics and the UCI had postponed Nove Mesto WC XCO]

Smith: I think it’s important to remember that, at least for XC mountain biking, there haven’t actually been that many cancellations yet. Our World Cup season doesn’t start until the end of May, so at this point, we’re only missing out on a couple of US Cups and the Canada Cup at Bear MTN. We’re making sure to compensate for the few racing opportunities that we’re missing, but for me the goal hasn’t changed – my eyes are still focused on the World Cups and the potential that I’ll be at the Olympics, and those goals are still on the horizon.

L’Esperance :The only major thing that my coach and I are changing with my bike training is just adding a bit more flexibility in each day’s training to ensure we are getting the work in but also getting it done in a fun and motivating way. We use racing as high-quality training to boost our fitness so without that we will have to get creative to come up with ways to get that work in, without it costing too much in terms of effort and motivation. I really love the training side of our sport so I don’t expect any major issues with this, if anything we will get to train a bit more and travel a bit less which could be a net gain in terms of performance. Our sport is also so much more than on-the-bike training, I plan on taking this extra time to spend time on pieces of performance that I wouldn’t otherwise have as much time to dedicate to like tire testing, or additional mental fitness work for example.

Prior to racing for Norco Factory Racing, Andrew L’Esperance helped found and raced for Forward Racing. Photo: Matt Stetson
What challenges do you face maintaining motivation with such large goals on the horizon, but a lack of immediate race goals?

Haley: as of yet, I’m not experiencing any lag in motivation. I’m actually probably feeling more motivated than I was before! I think that comes down to mindset: I’m looking at this situation (at least as it related to bike racing) as an opportunity to rise to a challenge and try a new approach. We’re in uncharted waters here, and without being insensitive to the immense suffering a lot of people are experiencing, the upheaval and uncertainty is invigorating in a way. The circumstance is forcing us to adapt, be present, and be resilient, which are all demanding things that require me to give my best. It’s that demand that I find motivating.

Andrew: I agree with Haley on this, I am actually experiencing extra motivation to train and ride outdoors because in other places in the world it is actually not possible at the moment. When we do get to race again, everyone is going to be excited to race and motived to do well in what may be a compressed season, so we have to be ready for that. Additionally, with the global health crisis and the suffering many people are experiencing, lacking motivation to train seems like an inconsequential problem; this is much bigger than bike racing and training and Haley and I are very grateful to be safe, healthy and able to ride my bike.

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