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When it's not your day

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

You trained for six months.  You ran outside in the rain, biked when it was hot and humid, and swam in Lake Michigan when every ounce of sanity told you it was too cold.  You did your homework.  But race day had different plans for you.  Maybe you had a time goal you didn't hit, maybe you had to drop from your "A" race.  If you've raced long enough, this has happened to you.

It's a downer to end your season not like you expected, and downright painful to watch others who have succeeded in hitting that time goal or qualifying for another race, or if you had to drop, watching others finish.

As endurance athletes, we are a goal oriented, focused, no excuses bunch.  It's completely normal to be really disappointed and down when things don't go as planned.  And it can happen to any of us.  But, it is important to get back on track.  Here are some tips:

  • Let yourself be sad.  Many people, including friends and family have trouble understanding how you can be so upset about a silly race.  They didn't sacrifice weekends, friends, and a clean house like you did.  The non-endurance folks mean well, they just haven't been there along the entire journey, so they sometimes don't fully understand just how important it was to you.
  • Surround yourself with folks that do understand.  Most endurance athletes if they've raced long enough have been in your shoes.  Whether it's a DNF or a time goal gone horribly wrong, they get the disappointment.  Sit down with a fellow athlete over coffee or a beer and go ahead and be blue.
  • Understand it wasn't your fault.  Endurance athletes are tough.  We don't like excuses.  And we wouldn't want to use one.  But, things go wrong.  Through no fault of our own, we get sick, crash, eat something that makes us sick, or maybe it just wasn't our day.  Don't blame yourself for things you couldn't control. 
  • Honor your effort.  Even though it didn't come out as you had planned, you did much more than most people do.  You did the training, and got to the start line, which many people didn't.  You did a lot right.  Be proud of that even if you're feeling down about your race.
  • REST!  Even if you pulled out of a race, you had a long training season.  Rest like you did the race as planned. 
  • See if it's possible for a Plan B.  If your tough race was a shorter event, or one where races are aplenty, see if you can find another race soon enough so that you can use your fitness level and hit your goal this year.  If it's a longer event, like an Ironman or ultrarun think really hard if you can handle on-going training for much longer.  It's tough to do multiple 12+ hour events in a matter of months, so figure out if you think you can safely handle an additional effort.  It's certainly not worth another bad race or an injury.
  • After a couple of weeks, look back and objectively analyze what happened, and what you can do next time, if anything. 
  • Get back on the bandwagon.  Bad races make us appreciate the good ones and show us just how tough we are. 
  • Before your next race, script out what positive things will happen and read and visualize your detailed successful completion of your goal. 
  • Remember why.  It's important for us to remember exactly why we spend our time doing this anyway.  Most of us will never take home prize money or a trophy.  We could choose 1,000 other hobbies, but we choose instead to dedicate ourselves to a somewhat brutal and cruel sport (s) where we endure hours of physical effort.  That's not by accident.  You chose endurance sports for a reason.  Maybe it's to raise money for charity, or push your own limits.  Maybe it's simply to honor your body that can when so many others can't.   Once it's time to get back on the bandwagon in a few weeks or months, let the "why" guide you to your goal.   Enjoy getting there.

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