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Recover from Setbacks and Come Back Stronger

By Will Murray | Oct. 13, 2020, 12:25 p.m. (ET)

While you think about recovery being rest and recuperation from workouts, recovering from a setback is just as important. You might have a tough race and don’t get the result you want, or maybe have a less than stellar workout. These are things you have to recover from, too.


A bad race or unsatisfying workout is usually about one or two things that didn’t go right, and not the entire day. You dropped a bottle on the bike, went out too fast on the run, suffered a flat tire, and that threw you off. When things don’t go as exactly planned, try these techniques to recover and move ahead.


After the race or workout:

1.     Replay and repair the critical event. Once you have isolated the part that didn’t go right, make a mental movie watching yourself, as if on a screen, and see yourself doing that part just the way you wish it would have gone. Make the imagined movie in full color, seeing yourself execute perfectly and run the movie in 20 or 30 seconds.

2.     If you liked how that movie went, run the same imagined movie again, in full color, but this time from inside the movie as though you are actually executing the event. Again, make it perfect.

3.     Think of the next time that you are going to get the chance to execute this same action. Imagine a full color movie of you doing this action perfectly, out in the future, when you will need it again. Now your mind has repaired the unhelpful memory and installed a better outcome for the future.


During the race or workout:

1.     Focus on the race ahead. If you find yourself talking to yourself about the mistake, replace that unhelpful mental audio tape with words about the rest of the race. For example, “I have a lot of race course ahead of me and I’m going make the best of it.” “My race starts right now.” “I can do my best from this point forward.” 


Some of your best and most rewarding races will be the ones that didn’t go as planned, ones when you had to overcome adversity and redouble your efforts. 


Just as physical recovery after a strenuous workout is when you realize your fitness gains, recovery from mentally challenging events is when you realize your character gains. Welcome the chance to overcome setbacks and use these techniques to make the most of them.

Will Murray

Will Murray is a USAT coach and the mental skills coach for He is co-author with Craig Howie of The Four Pillars of Triathlon, Vital Mental Conditioning for Endurance Athletes and has a specialty in eliminating trauma.