What To Do When a Race Goes Wrong

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Apparently, this past week has been a rough one for a number of triathletes.  I’ve seen a lot of people posting about how open water swims went poorly, bike workouts were struggled through, and runs were crushingly painful.  I’ve also talked to a number of people who had bad races over the past month and are feeling down about the rest of their race season, wondering if they should cancel races or drop down to shorter distances.

So what do you do when a race goes wrong?  You don’t give up, that’s for sure.  Just because you have one bad race doesn’t mean that all is lost.

First off, what made the race so bad?  Did you freak out on an open water swim?  Did you struggle through hills on your bike?  Was your bike or run split slower than you wanted?  Did you feel like you were struggling through your entire run?  Were there unexpected aches and pains?

Then figure out why.  And remember, sometimes, it’s just not your day.  You can do everything right and still have a rough day.  It happens to everyone.

How was your training?  And be honest with yourself.  Did you actually put in the work that you should have?  Did you let yourself slack off maybe a little bit too much?  When you skip a workout because you’re tired, are you really that tired or do you just not want to go running?  I’ve seen a lot of people skipping too many workouts because they’re worried about overtraining.  You have to learn to be honest with yourself.

And if you’re getting in those workouts, are you doing what you’re supposed to?  If your plan calls for speed work, are you really putting in the effort?  Are you choosing to ride in a flat area rather than a hilly area? (Which, of course, is a good idea if you’ve got a flat race coming up, but if your race has hills, get yourself out onto those hills.)  Are you putting in the work at the pool or just halfheartedly swimming laps until you hit the 45 minute mark and then getting out as fast as you can?

On the other hand, overtraining is real.  Are you pushing your workouts too hard?  Remember, your long runs should not be at race pace.  You should have some harder workouts and some easier workouts through the week.  If you push to your limit on each workout, you will end up injured or burnt out.

I think keeping a training log is an incredibly important tool in helping you figure out if your training has been where it should be. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy.  You can scribble down notes in a notebook, in a file on your computer, whatever works best for you.  Just something like “This was my workout and this is how I feel.”  You’ll start to see patterns in your training.

On race day, did you follow your plan or did you go out too fast?  When I run half marathons, it’s very easy to get caught up in the pack and start out too fast.  You will see a lot of runners do this.  Hold back and stick to your plan.  You don’t want to use up all of your energy at the beginning and have to slog through the last few miles.  Plus it’s fun to start passing people as they run out of energy and you’re still going strong.  Aim for a negative split (running the second half of the race faster than the first half).

Did you freak out in the water at your triathlon?  This can happen to anyone at anytime, but ask yourself – did you practice appropriately?  Did you get in open water swim practice?  Did you put in the time getting used to swimming in cloudy water where you can’t just follow a line on the bottom?  Did you do any open water swimming in a group?  Even if you’re an experienced swimmer, open water practice will help every triathlete.

Regardless of the answer to the above questions, you should also formulate a plan for how you’re going to get yourself out of an open water freak-out.  A lot of people have a mantra that they repeat over and over or they sing a song in their head.  Some people flip onto their back and float and breathe for a minute or so.  Do what you have to so that you can keep going.  Remember, you are prepared for this swim, and you will get through it.

Most importantly, don’t give up.  If your last race went poorly, that doesn’t mean your next race will.  Do some serious soul searching about what really happened and then do what you need to so you’re ready for the next race.  Everyone has a bad day.  And those bad days just make us stronger.

 

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