You’ve trained for months hitting the pool at 6am every morning and you’ve even given up your daily chocolate fix in preparation for your race. But on the big day, it all goes a bit pear-shaped.
Don’t lose heart. We’ve all been there. Even the best athletes have had a bad race, which is why mental training is just as important as physical training. Here’s what to do next.
1. During the race When things go wrong, quash negative thoughts before they spiral out of control. “We rest so much on a race performance that if you fall short of your absolute best, you feel like giving up,” says Dr Josie Perry, a Sports Psychology Consultant from Performance in Mind. “But you don’t know what’s gone wrong with other competitors. I know of one triathlon where all the elite men went off course. None knew the others had made the same mistake and it was the swimmer who didn’t let it get to him who ended up winning.”
2. Dissect and learn After the race, assess what went wrong. “You’ve never failed if you can learn from it,” says Josie. If a disappointing race has knocked your confidence, she recommends this simple task: “Take a piece of paper and fold it into quarters. In the top right, write the things you did well. In the top left, the things you didn’t do well. Keep the points equal so you don’t get consumed with the negatives. In the bottom right, record what you will continue doing. In the bottom left, list what you will do differently next time. The bottom quarters are your action plan.”
3. Tackle your weaknesses “Once you have pinpointed what caused you to go wrong, expose yourself to it,” says Swim Coach Phil Tibenham. “Did someone put you off? If so, swim in more crowded places. Did the race adrenaline disrupt your breathing? If so, do more training races. Perhaps you turned up late and flustered, in which case work on your race preparation. Having things to work on can be motivating.”
4. Keep a training diary Training notes will help you identify triggers for good or bad performances. “Write down how you felt during a session. Did you have cramp? Were you tired or demotivated? Include what you ate before or if you drank the night before,” suggests Josie. “Look at the races or sessions where you performed well and see if you can spot patterns. You might discover you perform better at certain times of day.”
5. Refresh your goals A bad performance can bring on a case of race fatigue. “If your goal doesn’t get you excited anymore, spend some time remapping it,” says Josie. “It might be that you need a different version of something. For example open water, a longer distance or going on a swim holiday. Some athletes don’t have goals, which is fine if you enjoy training, but most of us need a reason to stick at it. Your goal should be the thing you want to proudly tell friends on New Year’s Eve when someone asks what you achieved this year.”
If you experience a disappointing race or even a disappointing workout, the main thing is to learn from it and move on. Everyone has an ‘off’ day once in a while. Don’t be hard on yourself. Remember, you’re still lapping everyone who’s on the couch.
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Disclaimer: Always consult with a professional healthcare provider before starting any diet or exercise programme, if you are pregnant or if you are potentially suffering from a medical condition.