Dealing with Disappointment

happinessInjuries, illness, and unwelcome, unexpected interruptions that are part of training, racing, and life will happen – whether you are training for your first race, or looking to have a personal best performance. Obstacles, the unexpected, and things we may or may not have control over, including mechanicals or not following a training program to meet your goals, are issues we all face.

Coach Karen says, “Just like you have some great workouts and some not-so-great workouts…if you race enough you are going to have some great races and some not-so-great races.” When that happens, you may experience an outpouring of emotions – feeling down, confused, and sometimes guilty, thinking that things would have been different if you had only done (fill in the blank).

No one plans to get injured or sick, flat or have other equipment problem. Setbacks, from minor events to the occasional bad day, are just a part of the life of an athlete. My first thought when an athlete I am coaching comes to me disappointed is “that is part of the deal.” Part of training and participating in a sport is risking your emotions when the day does not unfold as planned (insert race plan outline)

The big variable, though, is how you respond. The way you deal with each setback creates a series of emotional events that can help you focus and see the big picture. How did you get past that physical problem or mental block? What did you do in training that may have led to this circumstance? What can you do next time to prevent that problem?
How you deal disappointing results depends on your perspective and expectations, your emotions and how you respond to them, your preparation, and how you race. Was your goal specific and realistic and was your training plan structured to have you peak at your event?

The key is to assess, learn, and move on. When you dwell on a disappointment or failure, you can waste a lot of energy on negative emotions. That energy would be much more wisely spent on preparing for the next hour, day, week, month – and future races. You can’t change the past. You can use it as a learning opportunity, then let go and move on. Overcoming a setback means making a useful adjustment to your mental, emotional, and physical approach to getting back on track for your next race.

You’ll encounter diversions and distractions both big and small. Everyone does, and we each deal with our in our own way based on our perspective and discipline. Those who lose perspective, or lack discipline, learn less and lose more when disappointment happens. Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” Adopt this mind-set, keep your perspective, stay disciplined, and your setbacks help create a foundation for you to move forward stronger than before.

Setting expectations
It is essential that you first define exactly what success and failure mean to you. Are you getting stronger in training? On race day when you reach T1, T2, and the finish line, do you feel good? Are you having fun? Why or why not?

Disappointment is in the mind of the beholder. A finish slower than your expectation may be devastating, or may bring joy and gratitude depending on your attitude and mindset going into the event.
If you base your view of success on “winning,” something that is out of your control, you are setting yourself up to fail. You cannot control how your competition performs, or who shows up to race that day, Instead, establish a personal time goal that gives you a measureable, personal standard of excellence to work toward.
Once a training session or plan is complete, once your race is done, you can’t go back and change what happened. You can only learn from it and use what you learn to improve your next training plan or event. Why feel down and miserable, when, more than likely, your disappointment was a result of events you had no control over. Learn, adapt, and take better control of what you can change for your next event.

Dealing with disappointment

The best way to deal with this disappointment is to accept it as part of the journey. You cannot dwell on the “what ifs.” Focus on your journey, the reason you train and complete. Do you let it define who you are, or is this just one of many things you do? Set yourself up for success with a strong mental game. Your attitude, goals and expectations effect the emotional outcome of every event.

When you have a sub-par performance, it is often helpful if you detail your goals and expectations going into the event. You can write a race report or talk to someone who understands, like another athlete or a coach.

Disappointment hurts and we all desperately want to feel better when we have a rough day and don’t reach our goals. It can really help to talk out our disappointment with fellow athletes or close friends. The simple act of expressing disappointment verbally can be a valuable form of catharsis and nothing can help to ease those troubled feelings like knowing there are others who truly understand your disappointment.

It is also important to accept ownership of any mistakes or weaknesses that may have contributed to a less-than-ideal performance. If you do not reach your goals, you must first acknowledge what went wrong, what part you played, and what you can do in the future to correct or strengthen those areas.

When emotions show up in relation to a disappointing race, be sure to consider what you can control (preparation, race execution) and what you can’t (weather, mechanical, etc.). Were your expectations and overall goal realistic? Did you make a mistake, or did something happen that was out of your control? Can you accept that, learn, and move on with new knowledge?

“Participation in sport for competing or general fitness involves challenges. The better we are at adapting to challenges, the more enjoyment we get from participation. It becomes a new commitment and focus” –Carla.

One important thing to remember is not to let your emotions take over and get the best of you in the heat of battle. One mistake can lead you to lose focus and turn into two, and two becomes three. You may be able to recover from a setback; but a domino effect can sometimes escalate from one little thing going wrong to your entire day being ruined if you let it.

When the race is over and you are back home and recovered, do you reflect and learn what went wrong and return to training with a renewed commitment, or do you sulk and allow some negative behaviors lead to bad habits and regrets? Some athletes are motivated by disappointment, while others are disheartened or depressed by it. Your reaction can be a springboard for you, giving you the drive to sign up for another event and put another preparation and execution plan together.

Sometimes your most disappointing race is one your end up most proud of. After winning the Ironman World Championship in 2008, a year later I found myself walking the marathon. I struggled with confidence and was worried I disappointed my friends and family. I learned I had more strength that day to finish after watching many athletes drop out on the run because they were not having a great day. I finished, and that was and still is important to me not to drop out if I am capable of finishing.

When all else fails, remember the famous quote by the philosopher Nietzsche, “That which does not kill me only serves to make me stronger.” Hang in there, better days are coming.


happinessPreparing – mentally and physically – for your next event

1. Clearly define your goals – they should be measure and realistic – and write them down
An example is finishing a 5k in 25 minutes, your measure, based on what you have done in training, 3X1 mile repeats at 8 minute / mile, is realistic to run a 5k under 25 minutes.

2. Create an action plan to achieve it – create a plan, and consult with a coach to help guide and provide you with the best actions towards your goal.
Going into a race with a clear plan of action based on your previous experience and current training and with contingency plans in case of setbacks gives you confidence and sets you up for success.

3. Follow Your Plan – Know that you may have to overcome an injury, a poor effort in training, fatigue, etc. You have to believe in what you’re doing and you can’t let disappointment get the best of you.

4. Remain honest, set realistic goals, and don’t try to follow someone else’s training and goals
I know athletes, often beginners, who state their goal, follow a plan to achieve their goal, then change their goal outcome during the event or have certain expectation about the event even though they have never participated in it before.
You think you did everything right, signed up for your first race, invested in a coach, followed the plan, and set your goal to finish without injury. Then after training for a while, your goals change to a time goal because you want to beat a friend. You do everything right, but are deflated when you get passed and yelled at on the bike. You get anxious and frustrated, or feel like a failure not being able to go “fast” enough. That creates negative energy and you are not able to recover, enjoy the experience, and finish strong. Always have a plan for whatever may go wrong.

5. After every event, reflect and learn what went right and what you can change Compare it to your goal and plan of action. Use what you learn for your next event.

6. What can you control next time? Did you have a mechanical you could have fixed to finish your race? Learn more about bike repair. If you get sick, look back at your training to see if over training caused the illness or injury. Even the most successful coaches and athletes get sick, injured or have a mechanical. They learn, adapt, and move on.


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Happy training and make it a great day!

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