Save your Race When you Are Having a Bad Day

Athlete running in a triathlon
June 30, 2024

Will Murray


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Not every race goes just the way you hope.  If they all did, multisport would not be the exciting, challenging, let’s-see-what-happens-now sport that it is.

But we all, really, want to have the race go the way we want.  So we train, and write a race plan, and do our mental rehearsals before the race to enhance our chances of the race going the way we intend.

Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don’t.

So….what to do when your race goes wrong?

  1. Refocus your attention.  Even when your race isn’t what you planned, focus on what you can do at that very moment to gain a small victory.  Get to the next buoy or aid station, then the next.  Focus on your foot strike or elbow swing or nice strong posture (when running).  Focus on cadence on the swim or the bike. Place full concentration on the actions that you are actually doing and let the course take care of itself.  Okay, sure, pay attention to where you are going, just as your parents taught you as your very ever first lesson (safety first and all).  
  2. Replace your unhelpful self-talk.  When you hear yourself saying defeatist or quitting talk, replace it with something more useful.  Replace “I hate this”, “why am I doing this”, “I’m doing awful”, “my race is ruined”, “blah, blah, blah de damn blah” with something helpful. Something like, “I can do what I can at this time,” “this is a good chance to gain some toughness,” “I will be really glad when I gut this one out and don’t give up on it,” “let’s do what we can given the day” or other true and useful phrase.
  3. Re-plan.  Your goals for this race may no longer be attainable. Consider setting a new goal during your race.  “Okay, I had a mechanical on the bike and I won’t hit my target.  Now, though, I could use this race to gain more confidence in the run by passing a lot of other athletes.  I’ll see how many I can run past now that I’m way back in the pack.”   

You can use almost any unwanted race situation to find something good to achieve.  And, sometimes, almost miraculously, by refocusing, replacing and re-planning, you just might get back in the race. 

Mental Skills Performance Coach Will Murray often hears triathletes saying that the sport is at least 50% mental and 50% physical, but he has come to notice that athletes spend very little (if any) time doing mental training. Fortunately, it’s easy and fast to train-up your mind to help you achieve your triathlon goals. He’s been lucky enough to bring mental conditioning techniques to first-time athletes and Olympians, kids and seniors, triathletes who want to finish the race, and those who are gunning to win.

Will is a USAT Certified Coach, holds a practitioner’s certificate and more than 100 hours of advanced training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a certified administrator of the Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories Protocol. Will is co-author, with Craig Howie, of The Four Pillars of Triathlon:  Vital Mental Skills for Endurance Athletes and Uncle: The Definitive Guide for Becoming the World’s Best Aunt or Uncle.

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