Responding to Failure
“Failure is not the opposite of success, rather a vital component.”
How do you respond when you come up short of your goal? Failure can be an incredible motivator, a reality check, a kick in the pants. A race is an indication of your fitness level, sharpness, focus, grit and determination on that one day. It should be a reflection of your training and preparation, but there are several factors that have an effect. Focus on what you can control. Every race should be a learning experience, and I learn the most from the races I don’t win.
“The way to enjoy life best is to wrap up one goal and start right on the next one. Don’t linger too long at the table of success, the only way to enjoy another meal is to get hungry.”—Jim Rohn
Have the courage to fail
There is a presentation I like to give to high school and middle school kids with this message. Depending on how you look at it, you could consider my athletic career as a series of failures with some intermittent success. In 8th grade our basketball team lost every game. In 10th grade I was lapped in the 2-mile race at regionals and had to exit the track. In my first XTERRA in Keystone I had a panic attack in the water and barely finished.
Get this, that same basketball team, with the same kids, won 20 out of 22 games our senior year of high school. On that same exact track for regionals 2 years later I won the 1600 meters, 3200 meters, and the pole vault. In my second year on that Keystone XTERRA course I improved by 45 minutes and on the same course two years later I had my first professional win. I came up short 14 consecutive times at the XTERRA World Championship and won the race on my 15th try.
When expectations exceed reality
Success occurs when reality meets or exceeds expectations. There is nothing wrong with having high expectations, but they need to be grounded in reality. If you find yourself disappointed after every single race, then you may need to recalibrate your expectations. Even within a disappointing race, there may be small victories. Often we are our own worst critic, but too much of that negative self talk can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy. It will be more constructive and a lot more fun to be honest with yourself.
Success is a journey, not a destination
You train all season for a race, then something happens to derail your training days or weeks before the event. Your performance is subpar. You think of the hours, miles, and financial commitment to get you to the start line and your first response is to think it was all for nothing, a waste of time. However, it is never a complete loss. I am reminded of hearing a coach talk about the Olympians in 1980 who dedicated their entire running careers for that shot, thousands of hours of training, and then the USA boycotted the Olympics. Was that 4 years a complete waste of time for those athletes? Absolutely not. Everything you have done to this point in your life has made you the athlete and person you are today.
The tendency after a bad race is to double down on everything, thinking the only answer is more volume and more intensity. This is where a training log and a coach can be very valuable. Critical workouts may have been missed or performed incorrectly. Is it possible you sabotaged your race with panic training too close to the event? Were you 20% undertrained or 2% overtrained? The answer is not always more volume and intensity, but it could simply be sticking to the plan, executing the key sessions, polarizing your training, overcoming life obstacles that derail your training, or trusting a taper.
Don’t wait until you are ready
Triathletes are planners and like to look ahead, but don’t look too far ahead. The data points have been assessed and next year is going to be your year. You learned from your mistakes and you are going to correct them all next year. In the meantime you will continue your bad habits, inconsistency, and lack of focus. It’s just like the person waiting to start a wait loss program while they continue their bad eating habits and inactivity through the holidays until they are ready to start. Plan for the future but live in the present. You are what you consistently do.