Sometimes you will be able to address something specific that negatively affected your race performance and other times, you may have done everything right in training, yet on race day, the results were what you hoped for. When things do not go your way on race day, you are presented with a unique opportunity to learn about yourself as an athlete.
Here are few tips to help you learn from a race that did not go as you had planned.
- Reflect: If
you constantly dwell on what should have/could have happened, you will never accept what
you need to change or be able to move on. If you went into your race healthy, injury
free and fit, you may see your race as a failure if you did not meet your
predicted race outcome or feel a certain way on race day. For other athletes,
who may have experience a setback, inconsistent training or a challenge in the
training journey, you may find yourself unappreciative for your current
abilities, considering all that you have been through in the past. Regardless if you started or finished your race, reflect on your season as a whole instead of focusing on just one race. Once you reflect
with an open mind, discuss your thoughts, concerns and areas of improvement
with your coach. Talking is healing and therapeutic. It's ok to grieve and to be upset. Don't let
a bad race fill you with self-doubt. Assess and then use your last performance as motivation
for your next training block as you believe in your ability to succeed and learn that
racing is much more than a finishing time - and sometimes the success doesn't come from finishing but simply getting to the start line.
- Don't rush recovery - It's very
typical for athletes to feel the need to jump right back into training (or
register for another race) in an effort to redo what didn't go well in the
previous race. There may be some good in this if a health issue (that is now resolved) set you back or you are unable to finish a
race due to a mechanical/gear issue or bad weather cancels your race and you
want to use your accumulated fitness. But always put your health first and if you do not get the results that
you wanted, be respectful to your body after the race for you need to recover
from the physical and emotional stress on your body. What you do after a race
determines how well you will perform in your next race. A DNS, DNF or bad race teaches you to
celebrate the good races. During your recovery, work on your confidence and
self belief to ensure that you come back to training with excitement and
appreciation for what your body can do.
- Don't take it out on your body - It's very easy to get mad at your body if it doesn't perform like you wanted or if it lets you down before or during a race. Accept that not every
race will be a "great race". As an athlete, it's not a guarantee that you will always get to the finish, let alone the start line. Racing is a puzzle with
many pieces contributing to your race day performance. What you do before the
race can be just as important as what you do on race day. Not always do the pieces of the puzzle need to
be tightly in place for you to perform well but be sure all the pieces of the
puzzle are in front of you, so that you don't hope for a good result but
instead, set yourself up for success. And if something happens before or during the race, discuss with a professional who can help you figure out what went wrong.
- Keep your eyes on your short and long
term goals - Sometimes you have to change the plan but never change the goals.
When a race doesn't go as planned, let your post race feelings bring
intense motivation and commitment to mastering your training, mental strength,
skills and nutrition/fueling for your next race. Consider your season as a
whole and don't just look at your season as "one race". With a global
approach to your season, make every race count but don't count on performing
amazingly well at every race. Set small, meaningful goals to reach along the
way to help you acknowledge that your training is working for you. Don't just
focus on the metrics or race outcome but consider little things, that perhaps
you once were unable to do (or never thought to do) before or on race day. The body is an amazing thing and it puts up with a lot to help you do incredible things with it.
- Manage expectations - No matter the race priority or what happens on race day, your race doesn't define you as an athlete. When you can manage your expectations, you can easily navigate through the obstacles that arise on race day. No race can be planned for as your body has to perform under the circumstances that it is given. A good or bad race can often be decided by the weather, competition and course, your health and not necessarily by your current level of fitness or how hard you trained to prepare. To help you enjoy your developmental journey, avoid comparing yourself to other athletes or a past version of yourself. Make no assumptions for race day and understand that racing is more about the process than the outcome. Your finishing time does not define you as an athlete. Throughout your athletic career/hobby, there will be many ups and downs in training and on race day. Some races will go amazingly well and some races will be hard to forget. Just because you don't meet a time or place goal, didn't start or didn't finish, don't assume that your race was a failure. In other words, instead of seeing a race as either "good" or "bad", consider a new definition that helps you learn from race to race and to find success in every race experience. A disappointing race can leave you with a mix of uncomfortable feelings but you have it within you to effectively move forward with confidence that no matter what happens on race day, you can make the most of every situation and learn something from every experience.