Before a race, we train our hearts out, study the course, prepare our mind, visualize success, taper marvelously, sleep more and eat all the right things. Yet for reasons beyond comprehension, sometimes the day just doesn’t go the way we envisioned. It’s a tough pill to swallow for any athlete, no matter the circumstances, but you can find solace in the fact that it does happen to everyone at some point (if not multiple times) in their racing career.
We all have the ability to hold onto things that no longer serve us well, because as we all know, the unknown of the future can be somewhat frightening. The same way we’re meant to celebrate the highs of momentous achievements, sinking into the disappointment of a bad day is a natural part of the decompression process.
Take your time to fully understand the experience, for it’s not what happens to you, but how you respond to it. Because in actuality, it doesn’t really happen to you, but rather for you—an opportunity to take a half step back, reflect and grow. Even when it seems like everything went wrong, there is no doubt many things went right. Celebrate those little things. There is incredible value in having a tough race, arguably more than running a nearly flawless race—the one we all dream of. When you have an exemplary day on the trails, there’s far less to learn. The opportunity for improvement is diminished.
Spend the same amount of energy you did preparing for the race understanding where your missteps were taken. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, paint a picture that starts to put the pieces together and then identifies what you might do differently next time. As challenging as it might be to swallow, we are all imperfect, mortal beings who experience growth through trying times and defeat.
Going through this process can be therapeutic, and therapy has no set timeline. Taking time away from training is great from a physical as well as mental standpoint to refresh your motivations. When the fire is burning inside again, plot your comeback but wait until you are ready. Once your emotions have subsided and you can be objective about your race, figure out the mistakes you made and think about how you will react differently next time.
Complete the recovery process by identifying what you did well and end the race analysis on a positive note. You’ll likely find that you executed many more things way better than you thought you did. That is why it’s best to take your time bouncing back.
Let’s be honest though, letting go of the past is always easier said than done. Proceed on your own terms. By taking all the lessons learned, both good and bad, you’ll ultimately get to where you want to be, and future redemptive successes will be remarkably sweeter.