To set big goals means that you accept the possibility of failure. No matter how hard we train, the possibility is always there that things may not go as planned. The first thing to understand is that it’s alright. Progress is not a straight line, and there will always be as many valleys as there are mountain tops. So, what does it take to get back to center after things didn’t go as planned? Dealing with setbacks and letdowns is part of being an athlete, and it’s the way they’re handled that separates successful athletes from those that let disappointment derail the pursuit of their goals.
Tackle the Mental Aspect
Once you’ve suffered a setback it’s okay to take a few days, or even weeks, to re-adjust. You need to allow yourself time to sort through the feelings you’re having. Endurance athletes become highly emotionally invested in their pursuits, and disappointing results can have a dramatic impact on short-term emotional health. This emotional investment is what makes endurance sports so special, but can also be what makes it even harder to deal with missteps along the way. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to rush back into structured training. You may need an opportunity to go out and “just run” or “just ride” without the pressure or expectations that a structured workout can bring. This is also the time period when speaking with your peers and coach is very important. Having the support of a community when things don’t go as planned makes things much easier to handle, and can make for an even smoother transition back in the direction of your goals.
While it’s important to allow for some mental space, as soon as you’re able, start thinking about how to get back on track. Don’t leave too much time between focused preparation or your goals are more likely to slip out of sight and out of mind. Chances are the results you got in the last race impact your plan moving forward. Think critically and take time to reassess. How should things be different moving forward? Are there things you can do to better set yourself up for success? Athletic goals, like many aspects of life, can and should be malleable. Just because you had your sights set on one thing doesn’t mean that things have to adhere to the same course. It may be worth considering shifting your expectations to better align with different goals. Often times the best athletes are adaptable and are able to quickly and confidently re-focus as circumstances change, or opportunities present themselves. Adjust, or certainly access, both your near and long-term race goals to ensure that the next steps forward have the best chance at being productive ones.
Address the Physical
What was it that kept you from getting the results you wanted? Chances are there was some physical component, or lack thereof, that led to the results. Whether it’s bike handling skills, tactical sharpness, or the ability to produce race winning efforts, don’t be afraid to tackle the problem head-on. Every event, no matter the outcome, should be seen as an opportunity to fine-tune your training approach. Whether it’s the types of intervals you’re doing, the way you’re doing them, or the people you’re doing them with, there’s much to be learned. No matter how prepared you felt you were, there’s always room for improvement as it relates to the specifics of an event. Make a list of the critical components of your goal race, and double check that every one of those pieces is included in your preparation. Specificity will not only ensure that your body is prepared, but it will also prepare your mind for the rigors of race day. The key to success is to use moments of failure as opportunities for growth. Learn from your experiences and use that to fuel your approach to training.
Disappointing results don’t have to be seen as negative. They are inevitably a part of being an endurance athlete and being willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. The mental component is often the hardest to address and the easiest to overlook. Take time to sort through your emotions and restructure your goals if needed. Only after you’re mentally prepared can you then move on to tackling the necessary training. Train with focus and specificity, and feel confident that any setbacks you’ve had will only serve to move you closer to eventual success.
Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) and has more than a decade of experience in the endurance sports industry as an athlete, coach, race promoter, and team organizer. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels and specializes in both a scientific and metrics-based approach to endurance sports. They guide athletes in all disciplines of both running and cycling. Browse their pre-built training plans on TrainingPeaks, or for more information on personal coaching and custom training plans visit www.thomasendurancecoaching.com. Follow TEC at @endurance_coach.