Race days don’t always go as expected. Here’s how you can learn from a tough day on the course.
by Marni Sumbal
Every triathlete, no matter how talented, healthy, or accustomed to collecting PR’s, will one day have a race that’s like a bad ex—just plain hard to move on from. Failure is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective. Simply put, failure is the opposite of success. The difficulty of moving on can be due to failing to meet an overall finish time goal, or a sub-goal such as a swimming or running split time, or it can be because of other, harder to control variables such as weather conditions or failures of nutrition (dropped bottles, etc.)
Most of us have the mental strength and maturity to move on, especially from the smaller “B” races we do “just for fun.” But what about the big races, the ones that you just can’t seem to let go of? You know the one. You felt in the very best shape possible. You’d done all the workouts on your training plan. You’d dialed in your nutrition with your sport RD. You were mentally tough to handle the conditions. You made the investment, and the results just didn’t pay dividends.
Life goes on, but you can’t seem to get over your subpar performance.
Below are a few tips to help you move on and learn from the experience for next time—yes, there will be more than one. Racing brings the same ups and downs as training and, if we want to be healthy, adjusted athletes, we must train ourselves to race, reflect and, ultimately, move on.
1. Reflect, break it down, and make changes
If you constantly dwell on what should have happened, you will never figure out what you need to change. Perhaps specific components of your race went well, but what happens next is the important part: breaking down your race to adjust and better prepare for next time. Make sure to use every training session as an opportunity to practice your race day nutrition, pacing, mental focus and gear/clothing.
2. Don’t take it out on your body
If a mechanical or bad weather issue affects your performance, don’t be too hard on yourself. Some things are out of your control. However, if your results were health-related, treat it as a red flag letting you know that you need to stop and reassess the situation.
Don’t start hunting for a redemption race. If your body doesn’t perform like you wanted, don’t immediately think that you need to a) lose (more) weight or b) train (even) harder. Analyze your race after your emotions settle down and understand that it’s very unlikely you’ll have the perfect race every time.
You are not in a body image competition and you are not super human. An injured, underfueled or overtrained body is never equipped to reach its full potential on race day. Don’t try to look the part with a body that can’t perform. Fuel for performance, nourish for health, and respect the recovery process.
3. Keep your eyes on your goals
Sometimes you have to change the plan based on what you’ve learned, but never change your goals. Never give up. Sometimes we need failed attempts to reboot our motivation, or to discover a new approach.
Consider your season as a whole. You do not have to perform at every race but instead, make every race count. A periodized, well planned season will foster well-timed performance gains.
4. Manage your expectations
If you are willing to take risks, accept the consequences that come with it. There’s nothing wrong with taking a chance or trying something new on race day, but don’t be too hard on yourself if your on-the-fly “plan” doesn’t work out. Go into your race with a plan, but be flexible based on the weather, course, current mental state, fitness and health.
No matter what happens on race day, your race doesn’t define you. “Slow” and “fast” are relative to who you consider faster or slower, and who shows up on race day. A great or bad day can be decided by the weather or course, not necessarily by your current level of fitness. Perhaps the race in question wasn’t the ideal course or the ideal timing for you. Remember, there’s nothing more exciting than bouncing back from a disappointing race and experiencing success at your next one.
Marni Sumbal is a top age-group triathlete, coach and nutritionist. Visit her website at trimarnicoach.com.