Four Ways to Stay Motivated After a Bad Race

By Chris Kaplanis | Sept. 26, 2017, 11:30 a.m. (ET)
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Did you just have a bad race?

Congrats, and welcome to the club.

Bad races happen to everyone occasionally. However, if you manage this unfortunate experience properly and stay motivated, there's a good chance it will be the precursor to your next PR.

That being said, stop sulking and stop making excuses. Pick your chin up and put on your game face. Below we will go through a process to help you learn from your bad race, stay motivated and get you on track to PR in your next race.

For this exercise to be most effective, it is best done in the days immediately following your race and it's important to write down your answers. Additionally, you'll need to set your ego aside and take emotion out of the equation. You must be honest with yourself in order to paint a realistic picture and objectively review your bad race.

Reflect

  1. Were your goals realistic, given the time you had leading up to the race and your personal background and experience?
  2.  Based on your goals, how was your preparation leading up to the race? Did you complete all of the prescribed workouts ... on the day they were intended and at the proper intensity level? Be honest. This is important.
  3. Did you overtrain, attempting to do more or go harder then you can realistically sustain and absorb on a consistent basis? On the flip side,... did you get in the critical volume necessary for the distance you are training for?
  4. How was your rest and recovery during your most recent training block and in the week(s) leading up to your race? Often athletes sacrifice sleep and recovery for more training. This couldn't be a worse decision.
  5. How was your taper?

Evaluate

It's important to consider a few things before evaluating your race day performance.

Comparing results from one Olympic-distance race to to another Olympic-distance race isn't the best thing to do. It presents too many variables that may affect your times and standing. Further, just because you placed in your age group or finished in the top 50 percent of your age group at one race doesn't necessarily mean you should expect the same at the next race. The size, scale and brand behind each race attracts different caliber athletes (example: USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships vs. smaller, local race).

I also caution you when comparing results from the same race year after year. While this may sound like a good idea, doing this is not always as accurate as one may think. It can actually be fairly misleading. This is largely due to weather conditions even if they don't seem obvious. Needless to say, extra movement in the water, head/tail winds, heat, rain, etc. will all affect your finish time. Other factors include fresh pavement and an incorrectly measured course.

It is usually best to assess your performance based on what you did on that day. How did you compare to others in your age group? Is this normally where you finish? If it's worse, how much worse?

Sometimes it's best to evaluate your race performance by how well you managed the things you were able to control. Did you swim in a straight line? How was your cadence on the bike? Did you keep your heart rate under control? Did you stay on your nutrition? More times then not, a process-oriented approach will deliver the outcome you hope for. This is how the very best in our sport race. And although results are never guaranteed, you can still sleep well knowing you gave everything you had on that day.

Analyze

What went wrong?

Poor race execution is common among age-group athletes. This often leads to race results that may not be an accurate reflection of your current fitness.

How was your race fueling and hydration? Do you have a strategy for this? Not sure? Did you have cramps? Were your energy levels low? Did you spend time in the porta-john mid race or have GI issues? Did you experience light headedness? These are all signs your fueling approach needs to be refined.

How was your pacing? Did you run out of gas on the swim or did you have to walk or significantly slow down on the run? Did you have a strategy going into the race?

It's important to anticipate how and what kind of things can go wrong during the race. It’s rare for a race to go perfectly. Part of the challenge is rolling with the punches, thinking on your feet and overcoming unexpected obstacles.

Do you know how to change your tire? What happens if you lose a water bottle or drop your salt? It can be beneficial to write down various scenarios of how things can go wrong and how you will react if they do. You can create this list by drawing on past experiences and stories you have heard from others. By doing this, you will go into your race confident and prepared.

Learn

This is perhaps the most obvious, and it's also the most important.

Everyone makes mistakes, but it's those who learn from these experiences who are ultimately most successful. After you figure out what went wrong, write down what you're going to do differently and make a plan for how you will be better prepared for your next race.

Ultimately "bad races" need to be viewed as learning experiences. They should be fuel for your fire. Remember, progress in sport is rarely linear. The combination of good and bad days are all part of the journey. So take a deep breath and try not to make the same mistakes again. This race was just a bump in the road on the way to your next PR. Onward and upward! 

Chris Kaplanis is the co-founder and assistant head coach at RTA Triathlon. RTA works with athletes from across the country, offering a variety of services to make you a better triathlete. He is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and USA Cycling Level II Certified Coach. Kaplanis is a five-times IRONMAN finisher, in addition to IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship and USA Triathlon National Championships finisher. He is a USA Triathlon Al- American. Learn more at ridgewoodtriathlete.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.