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How To Get Over A Bad Race

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.
I’ve lost almost 300 games.
26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan

The worst race experience of my life happened last year during Ironman Coeur D’Alene. I had trained with the intention of getting in under 12 hours on a hard course and went into the race cautiously optimistic that I could pull it off. Getting my day set off right relied on a good swim with the goal of being to get out of the water in 1:06. finishing the first loop, I looked at my watch, happy to see just over 34:00. I knew that the next lap would go better since there would be a fraction of the body contact and that I might be able to find some fast feet to grab onto. This plan went out the window when the waves picked up and each stroke felt like the waves were stealing my power. I ended up getting out of the water at 1:13 but a 4:30 T1 time kept me pretty close to my race plan. Things hadn’t started out too bad. Then everything went down the drain. I started getting severe stomach pains just a few miles into the ride, had to stop after the first loop to ask my wife for any stomach medicine she might have,  had to lie down at mile 80 for about 30′, had a 37:00 T2 to lie down again and ended up walking the entire marathon. My sub 12 hour day turned into 16:23:52. Far from my goal and a terrible way to finish off my racing year.

Races can go bad for any number of reasons. Sometimes things go wrong that were within your control such as wearing a wetsuit that you had never worn, trying a different nutrition strategy or product, not paying close enough attention to your HR or watts. At other times things go wrong for no explained reason. You might get cramps, the weather  turns bad or you get multiple flat tires. When things don’t go according to plan because you made a stupid mistake that you either knew better than to do or your coach told you not to do then recovery is easy. You shake your head, say “Well that was stupid”, learn from your mistake and move on. But when bad things happen that are completely out of your control then the process can be a lot more drawn out and complicated to deal with.

Racing is not a cheap endeavor so when a race goes south it can cause a person to ask themselves a lot of questions such as Do I ever want to do race again? Why did I waste my time/money? Maybe I should find another hobby? It’s almost impossible to avoid such negative thoughts after a bad race but it’s part of the process of recovery.

  1. Wallow – It’s your right. You probably spent a lot of time, if not money on this race so if things went wrong then spend some time sulking. Vent your frustrations to friends, family or training partners. Everyone needs this time but don’t let it last too long or people will stop feeling sorry for you and just start getting annoyed so after a few days or a week move on to step 2.
  2. Reflect – After you’ve calmed down start looking at the fine details of your race to see if you can spot the reason for your downfall. Did you head out a little too fast and not pace yourself properly which lead to cramps later on? Did you swallow a lot of water during the swim? Did you not check your equipment well enough before race day? Was your taper not quite right? Were your goals realistic? Little things can make a big difference on race day so if you can figure them out then hopefully you can reduce the risk of them happening again.
  3. Set some new goals – Your new goal doesn’t necessarily need to be another race but since most triathletes are Type A personalities a new goal will need to be set. If your new goal is another race then great. If your new goal is to learning Dorodango then that’s great too. Just find something to focus on and move on from your bad race.
  4. Get back to it – This doesn’t necessarily mean signing up for another race. It could just mean getting back out on your bike and going for a ride for the purpose of remembering why you love this hobby you’ve chosen. For me the answer was sticking strictly to short course for a season. For all of 2013 I didn’t race anything longer than a sprint triathlon, I raced hard, raced mad and ended up on the podium for all but one race. This was my coping mechanism. I can’t tell you what yours will be. Some people might want to take a season completely off to regroup while others will only find resolution by signing up for another long course race. But you have to be careful signing up for a redemption race as these can often backfire on you.

A bad race may make you feel like a failure or that you let yourself or others down but regrouping is a necessary part of getting back to the sport that you love.


Coach Patrick
USAT Level I


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Posted in Ironman, Mental

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