Recovering from defeat

Taking the rough with the smooth is all part and parcel of being a triathlete, it’s how you turn a ‘turn a turn into triumph’
says our columnist…

Even JK Rowling admitted she reached rock bottom before Harry pottered along

During the lead up to the 2012 Olympics, many professional triathletes realised their often lifelong dream of getting to the Games; managing to secure a place on their national team and participate in the biggest sporting spectacle the world has ever seen. But for every athlete that has achieved their Holy Grail, there’ll be more that failed to qualify, who have to cope with the intense disappointment, frustration and even anger of having the Olympic-ringed rug pulled from under them.

Of course, it’s not only professional athletes that have to deal with disappointment. But coping with a bad session, a sub-optimal race, a DNS, a DNF, injury or failure to qualify for the Olympics is about as easy as the vertical climb up Alpe D’Huez. It’s hard work. You have no doubt invested time, energy, money and emotion into your performance. The feeling of ‘loss’ if you fail to live up to your expectations can be massive. So how do we deal with these post-race blues and learn how to turn a turd into triumph?

1. Cry, stamp your feet, rant, rave and throw your heart rate monitor out of the pram. It feels good. And then stop. Remember that the feelings of disappointment, despair or frustration are temporary and they are under your control. You can either choose to wallow, and hence prolong the agony, or else make that conscious effort to replace them with a ‘cup half full’ attitude. Smile, laugh – it’s easier than frowning.

2. Get over the A-type personality’s unwillingness to admit ‘failure’ as
weakness and talk to, and lean on, friends, family, teammates, a coach or Jeremy Kyle. They will provide a shoulder, an objective assessment and opinion, and/or give you a sharp kick up the posterior, tell you to kindly zip up your tri-suit and encourage you to (slowly) move on.

3. To plunder the words of the Japanese poet Masahide: “The barn has burned to the ground. Now I can see the moon.” Having set the barn alight, the ‘failure’ gives you the clarity you need to look at the lunar landscape, so take time to really learn the lessons: have a look at your training log; did you factor in enough rest and recovery? Did you have one too many kebabs in the lead-up? Did you have a few tough weeks at work or an argument with a loved one that preoccupied your mind? Did your equipment choices bite you on the backside? Did you let pre-race nerves strangle you?

Work out which of these, if any, were under your control and which were not. Then focus on the controllables, make a note of them and use training to minimise the risk of history repeating itself. If you get nervous, develop a strategy for controlling your fears. Were you stranded and unable to change your flat tyre? Ask someone to teach you the skills of the rubber change. Did you get cramp on the run? Look at your muscle conditioning or your hydration/nutrition. Get help from trusted sources, including a coach, to work on your weaknesses, whether it be in training, nutrition, strength work or training the brain.

4. Focus on the positives. You might not have had the overall performance you wanted, but you might have had a great swim, or a superb run, or you might have finally managed to learn how to pee on the bike without having to duck into a bush. With every shocker there has to be some element of success – you just have to dig a little deeper to find it. Write those positives down and focus on them. Keep your cup half full.

5. Read about athletes who have overcome adversity. If they can do it so can you.
Even JK Rowling admitted she reached rock bottom before Harry pottered along.

6. Recall the ‘good races’ when hunky and dory came together. Having a clunker of a race makes you appreciate the good times even more. Look at your previous winners’ medals, watch old race videos, remember the promotion you got at work…

7. Fire up the mojo by giving yourself a new, realistic yet ambitious goal, and set about working towards it. Split that jour­ney towards the goal into smaller, manageable steps, so you can celebrate success – and the inevitable bad day – along the way.

Ultimately, achieving your goal is about the journey to that start line, enjoying each and every moment, and never letting that race day performance – good or bad – totally define you.