In racing we all suffer disappointments. Disappointments in pacing, in our placing, in our overall time. Disappointments in our effort, or the result of our efforts. Disappointments in our mental preparation and execution. There are so many components to a race, it's pretty rare to have everything be 100% from start to finish; thus, it's to be expected that here and there you'll wish there were things you did differently. Isn't that why we keep racing? We're always in search of doing X, Y, and Z better than last time. If every race was perfect, I'm pretty sure we'd lose the drive to better ourselves. Half the fun is seeing how much we improve from race to race.
But sometimes you have a race that knocks your ego on its rear end and you do a double-take: Is that really my finish time? What the efff happened? These are times where the wheels don't simply come off. The tires explode, the spokes crack, and the wheels end up somewhere in a ditch. THAT kind of race. We've all had them. So how do you move past these types of races and how do you learn from an experience that you'd simply rather forget? I don't consider myself an expert in much, but I HAVE had my fair share of disappointing race results (ahem, Vegas...) and I can tell you this - a bad race does not spell doom for the rest of your triathlon career. More often than not, it is simply a bump in the road. My 2010 season was full of disappointments but my 2011 season was one of my most successful. So, here are a few tips for getting past a less than stellar race:
- Don't Dwell. Nobody likes to suck, it's a fact. And when you have a sub-par race, you're going to be less than thrilled. Allow yourself a pre-determined allotment of time, whether it's two hours, ten hours, or one full day post-race, in which you can mope and be cranky and complain. And then stop, cold turkey, and move on.
- There's a Lesson in Everything. Look at it this way, bad races happen for a reason most of the time. Maybe you didn't get enough sleep, maybe you had a nutrition fail on the bike, maybe your run legs forgot to show up at the party because your run shoes had been hiding in your closet for the past week. Or maybe you don't thrive in hot weather. Maybe you were mentally underprepared. Or maybe you thought you did everything right but things STILL did not go your way. Look back at the race, pinpoint what might've gone wrong (nutrition, weather, salt, sleep, training, etc) and figure out how to improve that shortcoming for your next race. Work on it in training. Make at least some good come out of a crummy experience and then it's not a complete failure.
- Don't Compare Yourself to Others. People are different - ability-wise, pace-wise, training-wise, and in how we handle various race conditions. Sure, we'd all like to be at the top, but that's impossible and you're just going to make yourself more crabby by making comparisons. Who knows, maybe that girl who biked 10 minutes faster than you this year at a local race, a girl who you usually beat on the bike, has gotten herself a PowerMeter, quit her job, and decided to become a full-time triathlete. And even if that's the case, what good is making comparisons going to do? If you did the race to the best of your abilities, then be proud of yourself.
- Stay Positive. A Bad Race does not Define You. There were points during Vegas 70.3 that I was thinking to myself what's wrong with me? Was my 5:14 at Monticelloman in May the high point in my half-Ironman career? I always thought I had more in me, but maybe not. Low moments are inevitable in rough times. They help us appreciate the good moments. Sure, maybe you could've done a few things differently to have a better race, but oftentimes a bad race can be considered a result of circumstances. Keep in mind that there will be other races and you can have a crack at crushing your PR another time. Just because you kind of sucked today doesn't mean you'll be total crap next race. Keep your head up, learn from the experience, and don't think that just because you had one bad race that you are doomed to a lifetime of bad races.
- Have Another Goal Race on the Calendar. Even if it's Six Months Away. Sometimes revenge is the best road to redemption. A good race never felt sweeter than when it follows on the heels of a bad race. Having something on the calendar to look forward to and train for is often the best way to put a bad race behind you and move onward.
- Racing is NOT Everything. Look at the big picture. We do this for fun; for most of us, this is a hobby (and for the few of us for whom this is a job, it's still done mostly out of enjoyment). We're lucky to be able to do this, we're lucky to be able to have bad days on the race course because at least we're able to have days on the race course. At the end of the day, our training and racing should not define us or our worth, it is simply something that adds value to our lives.