How to Regroup After a Race Gone Wrong
Several years ago, I signed up for a Sprint race series in Charleston, SC. You had to compete in 3 of the 5 races offered throughout the summer in order to be eligible to compete in the championship at the end of the summer. This was a great little series with a lake swim, a fast and flat bike ride, and a semi-shady run around the state park just a few blocks from the ocean.
I went up to this race with several triathlon friends and I couldn’t help feel a little bit of pressure to perform well among my peers. I set up my tri bike in the transition area, my towel on the ground, cycling shoes and running shoes nearby, nutrition, water bottles all ready to go. Everything was going well until at mile 7 or 8 on the bike it started to rain. Hard. Like a downpour. It was hard to navigate the course with so many athletes, puddles, and visibility wasn’t so great. But the conditions were like that for everyone so I just had to keep on keeping on. To make matters worse, there was a bad accident on the bike and as I passed the fallen athlete I noted that she was unconscious. There were a few folks around her by then so I didn’t stop, but seeing something like that while racing is pretty upsetting.
By the time I got to transition, I now realized I forgot to put a plastic bag over my now soaking wet water-filled running shoes. They were literally full of water and I had to actually dump them out before I slid my barefoot into each one. A recipe for blisters is wet shoes and no socks. I was so distraught at my sloshing feet that I ran about 200 yards out of transition and onto the course without my race belt. You must cross the finish line with your race belt clearly displayed on your person otherwise be penalized a few minutes or even disqualified.
I had to go back.
How stressful it was running back to T2 as everybody I saw on the bike was now ahead of me by a minute or so. I wondered how much time I lost and if I still had a chance at a podium finish? In a sprint race every second matters! Did I waste too much time running back to get my race belt?
My run that day wasn’t so great. I felt like my heart rate was through the roof and I was working way too hard to cover the ground so slowly. I felt like I was actually shuffling during the run and I just couldn’t open up my stride. Instead of my normal 7:30 run pace I was well into the 8 minute pace. Huge bummer. As I crossed the finish line I still had some hope that maybe I got third place in my age group. I REALLY wanted to be on the podium that day in front of all my peers.
And I wasn’t.
Fourth place by about 30 seconds. So yes, I would have placed if I had paid better attention to details in T2. To say I was bummed was an understatement. Crushed is a more appropriate word. I am a super competitive person and knowing that I lost a podium finish was devastating to me. Many of my friends placed that day in their various age groups and there I was my head hanging low as I walked my bike out of transition to the car soaking wet, tired, and disappointed.
The whole ride home I beat myself up over what had happened. If only I had swam 30 seconds faster…if only I had shaved 30 seconds off my bike time, etc. I went over every detail of the race trying to figure out what I could have done differently. I felt like I really sucked.
This kind of disappointment happens to the best of us. So how do you recover and regroup after a shitty race?
There are certain things you have control over and certain things you don’t. For example, you do have control over how you set up your transition, your nutrition, your bike maintenance, what you wear, etc. You do not have control over the choppy water, the pouring rain, or the headwind on the bike ride. The best you can do is try to manage the things you do have control over without making any mistakes. All the rest is not up to you so it’s always best to focus on the things you can control.
You can learn from your mistakes and not make the same ones again. This comes with experience.
Beating yourself up over a bad race and ruminating on everything you could have done differently is not going to help you move on. In other words, note your mistakes then LET SHIT GO.
If you became injured during a race and couldn’t finish or it affected your time, the best thing you can do is work on healing, self-care, and being extra nice to yourself. There will be more races in your future so there is no need to dwell on what happened.
One of the best ways to overcome feeling upset over a bad race is to look ahead and plan your next event with a fresh perspective. Use your past mistakes as a learning tool for your next competition. Chances are you won’t make those same mistakes again.
Another thing you can do is take a good look at each discipline and evaluate your performance on how you felt, what your goal pace was, and what you actually achieved. If you didn’t make the pace per 100 yard swim time you wanted, now is the time to get to the pool and try some harder efforts. If you suffered on the last few miles of the bike ride, think about doing some sweet spot interval work. If you felt dehydrated or nauseous, it’s time to re-evaluate your hydration and nutrition and do a new sweat test.
Get out of your rut and move your thoughts to what is next. This will help you focus on something positive and feel more energized to start a new venture. We create more of what we focus on, so stop ruminating and start planning for your next race and what you will do differently. Vow to stop beating yourself up on what could have or should have been and create a new mindset free of self-criticism and self-doubt. You can do this!
I hope this article helps you to feel better about your race gone wrong and inspires you to move forward with a new goal. The word “endurance athlete” means that we endure and keep going even when things don’t always go our way.
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