How to Deal with Race Day Disappointment
We’ve all had those races.
You go in to an event and expect to do well.
Hopefully everything goes your way, but sometimes it doesn’t.
You plan everything, your training is excellent, your nutrition is exactly what you need it to be and everything just seems perfect.
But then the race happens.
Much like life, there is always something that you can’t plan for, nor expect.
Sometimes it’s something small that you can overcome, while other times it’s something that completely ruins your race and you can’t recover. How you deal with that disappointment can help you succeed in the future and help you overcome new obstacles.
I recently competed in a sprint triathlon where I was expected to compete for a spot on the podium. I was excited for this race and knew it was a great opportunity for me. Everything was lining up perfectly. The race started and off we went. My swim was on par where I wanted it to be, and once I got to the bike things started to flow even more. I felt strong and was flying. I started to pass most people on the course and quickly found myself within the top 5 racers. I was psyched. However, this is also where things fell apart. Course marshals ended up not directing the top 5-10 racers in the right direction and we all ended up on the Olympic distance course instead of the sprint course. So instead of competing for a podium finish, I was left being frustrated and fighting my inner demons on the extra 10 miles of the bike course that I wasn’t supposed to ride.
Clearly, it was not in the cards for me to place at this race.
Has something like this happened to you? Has your race fallen apart because of some outside factors? Did you do everything you could and yet, the outcome still wasn’t what you expected?
How do you deal with this? Are you going to curse yourself, everyone else, blame things that are out of your control? Or are you going to learn from it and take the positives out of your day? Those are basically the only options you have after you encounter a disappointing race. So here are some thoughts on where to go and how to make sure you can learn from those experiences.
Races are typically a one day event. They can be as short as a 5k lasting less than 30 minutes, a full Ironman Triathlon lasting over 12-15 hours, or even 100 mile Ultramarathon lasting 24-36 hours. However, once the race is over, it’s over. There is no going back, no redo’s, no starting over. So once that race is over for you, move on. You can’t change anything that happened in it. So if your race didn’t go as planned, don’t let it get to you. There is nothing you can do about it now. It’s time to put it behind you and not get discouraged. It’s easier said than done, but if you let it eat at you then you won’t be able to focus on the parts of the race that did go well for you. This bad race will continue to drag you down until you let it go. So the quicker you can do that, the better it is for you.
Breakdown individual segments of the race
This is easier in a triathlon than in a one discipline race, but you can use the same premise for everything. If you are just looking at the end result of your race than you are probably failing to see some the things you did that went well. Ask yourself, “what did you want to accomplish during the race”, “what were your goals” etc. There are probably some goals that you did accomplish. By focusing on these small “wins”, you can look to get stronger for your next race.
Let’s use my race as an example.
Sure, the end result wasn’t close to what I wanted to accomplish. I was expecting a podium finish, but I didn’t get it. In fact, I didn’t even get a sniff of the podium. However, looking at what I wanted to accomplish during this individual race, I can say that I am happy overall with the day. My race preparation was exactly what I wanted it to be and the execution of each individual discipline of the race went how I planned. I executed my swim the way I wanted to, I had the fastest run split of the entire race, and my bike splits were faster than I expected. In fact, my average bike split for 25 miles was in the top 5 average for the 15 mile sprint distance.
Instead of focusing on something that I had no control over which affected the end result of my race, I am able to break down the individual parts of the race and know that I accomplished all my goals. Knowing this, I can be even more confident going into my next race because I already know that I have executed my race plan the way I wanted to. So all I need to do is duplicate what I did during my last race and I know the end result will be much better than this one.
Learn What Needs to be Fixed
In my case, I don’t think there is much that can be fixed. I doubt my next race there will be problems with directions from course marshals. That’s a rarity. With that being said, there are still a few little tweaks that I can do to help improve my performance. So if your race went south, ask yourself “why”? What caused it to get derailed. Did you eat enough, put enough air in your tires (yes, that’s happened to me before), did you forget to tie your shoes, did you go out to fast and paid for it at the back end of the race, something else? Learn from your mistakes. Figure out why your race went wrong and work on them during your training and perfect them so when your next race comes, you won’t have the same issues again.
There’s Always Another Race
The beauty of races is that there is always another one right around the corner. So when one race doesn’t go as planned, you shouldn’t have to look too far in the future for your next one. Typically, racing season runs from early Spring to late Fall. Obviously, there are races in the winter, but most people don’t plan their top races during this season. So if you experienced disappointment in a race early in your season, move on and put it behind you. Your next race is right around the corner. Use the disappointment as motivation for your next race, which probably isn’t too far away. Dwelling on a single race for too long can derail your race season. It will affect your training, demotivate you, and put you in a bad mood for a while. Instead, focus on your next race and put the disappointment behind you.
Don’t dwell on one single disappointing race. Relish the victories and move on from the defeats. By learning what caused a race to not go as planned, you can have more success in the future races. Always look toward the future while learning from the past. I guarantee you’ll have a more successful racing season that way.
Race on and Run Real.
Jared is a triathlete and Team SKORA member from New York City.
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