Race Analysis: How to Move On from a “Bad” Race

A group of people running down a street in a city.

By Coach Lindsay Zemba Leigh

“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”

~Ellen DeGeneres

You’ve trained months and months, tapered well, had high expectations for your day. Yet, you had a subpar or flat-out “bad” race. Now what? 

I wrote “bad” in quotes because sometimes our worst races are the ones that teach us the most. We may not learn as many lessons from the races that go as planned or that exceed our expectations. But, we can learn some hard and valuable lessons on the races when we miss the mark. 

In this post, I offer a few steps you can take to help you learn from an off race, and to set yourself up for ongoing growth in the future. These are not steps that you have to complete in a sequence. And, you may find that you need to return back and repeat some of them.

Step 1: Wallow, Process, and Move on

Yeah, yeah, yeah…. you’ve heard this all before, but it still sucks. And it is okay (and necessary) to take time to be upset and feel the raw disappointment and heartache.

Allow yourself to take a day or two, but don’t wallow in it for longer than that. Process the feelings, then move on.Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D., a certified mental performance consultant, high-performance coach, and author of Beyond Grit: 10 Powerful Practices to Gain the High-Performance Edge suggests using a “burn phrase” like “let it go” or “burn it” or “history” to help you move on from a bad race. If you find you get stuck on the wallowing, use your burn phrase to reset and redirect your thoughts.

Step 2. Get Perspective

Talk to others about your race, especially other athletes who raced with you. Hearing about their experiences, especially if they struggled with similar things you did, may help you feel better. Or if they had even more struggles or hurdles during the race it may help put things into perspective about the challenges that the day brought. If you talk with someone who had an awesome day, what can you learn from that that will help you next time?

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

~Henry Ford

Look at yourself objectively, from an outside perspective, and how you’d view your friend’s race. You’ll find when you take that outside perspective, you won’t judge the day quite so harshly.

Write out a race report, including all that went wrong, both the things you could control and those that were out of your control. This process can be cathartic and can help you to look at the race objectively, learn from it, and move forward. If something was out of your control, how can you shape your repsonse to it better in the future so it may not derail your day? Find the positives in the race and be grateful you were able to be out there racing, even if it wasn’t the result you wanted. So, if you had a good swim, or you nailed your fueling, or you hit the target cadence on the bike, celebrate it. No matter what the outcome, there is always something positive we can find in the experience.

Step 3: Look to the Next Part of Your Journey

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”

~Johnny Cash

Look ahead to your next race, or if you’re not registered for anything, register for another race (or experience) that excites you. Figure out what you’ll do differently (if anything) to set yourself up for success. Set some new goals and embrace the process of training. Visualize yourself crushing your goals at that race.

Your race result does NOT define you as an athlete, and especially not as a person. Repeat that sentence to yourself several times.

Bad races happen to good athletes. And the more races you do, the more likely you are to have a bad race. Do not let your race affect your confidence, enthusiasm, or motivation for the sport. Learn what you can and move on!

The most successful athletes have a short-term memory of their failures and a long-term memory of their successes because they are intentional with their focus. Be like them, and cultivate a focus that allows you to see one race as but a single stopping point on a long and wonderful journey of experiences.

Enjoy the next leg of your journey!

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

~Winston Churchill
Race Analysis: How to Move On from a “Bad” Race
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