I had a bad race at Nationals a couple weeks ago. I had an okay swim, great bike and a horrible run. I didn’t drink anything besides maybe a sip of water from the time I woke up until I finished the race. I cramped up something fierce immediately after T2 and my race went from decently good to bad. I’ve learned a lot from that race and hope that it will help make me a better racer and prevent me from having another bad race!
If you compete in enough races and spend enough time in the sport, you’re bound to have a bad race. I had my fair share of experiences when I was focusing on running. It happens to everyone at some point.
Dealing with the success of good races is easy. Having a good day and winning a race brings huge waves of confidence and excitement, and makes you excited to get back to training for your next race. When you have a bad race, you are left 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.
“Anyone can face ease and success with confidence. It is the way we face trouble and misfortune that defines us.” – Joe Ambercrombie
Remember a bad race isn’t the end of the world and learn from your mistakes.
Once the disappointment starts to fade away, and you remember that life moves on, its a little bit easier to take a step back and analyse what exactly went wrong. Write down or think in you head everything that happened leading up to and including the race.This allows you to take the race step by step, think/record everything you did, and think about what was going through your head during the race. If you write your thoughts and actions 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) and what you can change or keep the same in the future.
Try to figure out when your race started going downhill. What was the breaking point? What made it a “bad race”? Did you start to cramp as soon as you started running like I did? Did you forget to drink any water? Once one thing goes wrong, others can start to snowball, so figuring out exactly where the turning point was can be essential to prevent it happening again.
When you figure out what went wrong, start to think about why it went wrong. Did you miss the lead swim pack and have to push hard on the bike to save the race?
Discover 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. It’s the fitness and training modifications that are harder to fix. Analysing 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? Maybe mixing some hill repeats into the weekly speed work could help you keep good running form for the later parts of your race.
I’ve learned that a bad race isn’t the end of the world. Life moves on and I have plenty of races to go. Everyone has a bad race. 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.
As a relatively new triathlete with not many triathlons under my belt, I have a lot to learn. On weekends that I don’t have races, I am doing a super sprint triathlon (350m swim, 10k bike, 2.5k run) in order to nail down my transitions and make sure I will be fueling properly for my next race!
“Experience has taught me how important it is to just keep going, focusing on running fast and relaxed. Eventually pain passes and the flow returns. It’s part of racing.”
– Frank Shorter