Coping With a Bad Race

If you compete in enough races and spend enough time in the sport, you’re bound to have a bad race. It happens to everyone at some point. For most people, this first happens after the first few months of being new to the sport, when the honeymoon period of excessive improvement starts to fade away and your fitness begins to level out. But this happens to veterans and elite athletes as well, just a part of racing. How you deal with these bad races can define you as an athlete, and be great learning experiences for future competitions.

Dealing with the success of good races is easy. Having a good day, or setting a new PR comes with huge waves of confidence and excitement, and leave you ready to jump at the next opportunity to race. Most athletes go through a period towards the beginning of their career where every race yields a new PR. Eventually, though, that ends and you have a race you aren’t satisfied with. These days leave you with a sense of disappointment, a loss of self confidence, and an unwillingness to get back to training and look ahead to the next race. While it is good to be disappointed in poor performances, it isn’t so great to dwell on them.

Learn from bad race.
Once the disappointment starts to fade away,  its a little bit easier to take a step back and analyze what exactly went wrong. Start by writing up you post race report. This allows you to take the race step by step, record everything you did, and think about what was going through your head during the race. If you write race reports after every race, you can see what you did differently each time, and get a good idea of what caused things to go wrong (or right).
Try to figure out when your race started going downhill. What was the breaking point? Was it a particular hill on the bike course? Did you start to cramp as soon as you started running? Did you have GI issues? Did you make an ill advised attack? Once one thing goes wrong, others can start to snowball, so figuring out exactly where the turning point was can be essential.
When you figure out what went wrong, start to think about why it went wrong. Did you go too hard on the bike and run out of gas on the run? Did you miss the lead pack in the swim and have to push hard on the bike to save the race? Did you intake too little electrolyte and cramp? Did you skimp on the speed work and get dropped?

Take the knowledge, and make the changes.
Knowing what went wrong and why doesn’t mean anything if you don’t use the information to improve future races. You can apply these changes any number of ways. Race day changes are the easier ones to fix, and usually have to do with smarter strategy. Don’t hammer up hills. Pace your efforts more evenly. Remember to sight in the water. Its the fitness and training modifications that are harder to fix. During training, its easy to cheat your way through workouts and get a false sense of fitness before race day. Analyzing where you break down during the race can help you train smarter. Did you kill the swim but have a hard time keeping up with the pack on the bike? Perhaps the next block of training should focus on increasing your FTP and spend less time in the water. Did you have a good race up until the big hill midway through the run? Perhaps mixing some hill repeats into the weekly speed work could give you the edge over the competition.

So don’t dwell on bad races. Everyone has them. Even the most dominant of professional athletes have bad races on the biggest stages. Take the opportunity to learn about your weaknesses and improve on them. It will make you a better athlete both physically and mentally in the long run and will leave you ready for the next chance to show what you’ve got.