If I had a nickel for everyone who has told me while hanging out after a race that they had a good swim and bike and then blew up on the run, I’d have bags and bags of nickels! But in most cases, what these people think happened is probably not what actually happened. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions associated with the outputs on race day. If you want to improve, it’s critical that you engage in thoughtful reflection on what actually caused what happened.
An important part of performance improvement is learning from your training and racing. This article focuses on race review, but you can use this model for assessing more than just races (and more than just triathlon).
The after action review (AAR) was originally developed and implemented by the U.S. Army and is now used throughout the military and increasingly into the business sector. There are many variations of the AAR, but they all come down to an analysis of what happened, what should have happened, and what needs to change for next time. Note that AARs should be employed consistently–not just after bad performances.
My recommendation for using the AAR to assess your triathlon performance follows these steps.
In general, I think athletes are pretty good at making these kinds of lists, at least mentally, if not on paper. (Some athletes are really good at the item 2 list…) Here’s where you take this exercise from a list of things to actionable steps.
Note that in some cases, some time may need to pass between your race and your ability to dispassionately complete your AAR. In general, the days following a race are the best time to sit down and complete this exercise. Immediately following the race (e.g., that afternoon) is often clouded by emotion/fatigue/exhaustion–not your best time for thinking. But waiting a week or more after a race will allow memories to fade and the actuality of what happened to become clouded or even rewritten.
My wife likes to say “make new mistakes”. Even after 35 years in the sport, I’m still doing that! Implementing the AAR process keeps me from making the same mistake again.