It started last year, or the year before. You've spent months preparing mentally, endless hours physically, all building towards THIS EVENT, this focus. Or maybe it's just a Saturday and you went racing. Either way the let down and psychological weight of a sub-par performance can be a slippery slope, so what can you do to move forward?
I saw an interview with a rider recently who claimed he'd never had a bad performance. This young talent has shown promise for "big things" in the future and seems on a steady path towards reaching the pro ranks, but it gave me pause that he'd say that. While it may be true, I think it is also true that eventually he WILL have a bad race. We all have bad races, and I wonder how that might affect him.
This past couple of weekends are great examples. Several of my clients had important events on their respective schedules and had prepared as such. One was a National Championship, one was a State Championship, and one was a personal goal. Three different riders, three different disciplines, all with a high priority on the race outcome, yet each had a sub-par race in the end, albeit for very different reasons.
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Impromptu Life Events
One of my long-term clients had put a ton of time and effort into his preparations for National Championships a few weeks ago and promptly went out and had the worst performance since we've been working together, and immediately the doubt creeped in for both of us. Had I pushed him too hard? Not hard enough? Did we taper too much? Not enough? Why, why, why...
We had a couple of long conversations about it, mulling over different scenarios that might have contributed to the let down. In the end we had a few insights that mattered. He probably should have put off the major rebuild on the pier at his cabin for a few weeks. Eight hours of heavy lifting and hard labor the week before one of the season's biggest events probably wasn't very smart. Of course had I known that was his plan (I think it was pretty impromptu actually), I'd have advised against it, but c'est la vie.
Similarly, earlier in the year I'd seen a couple of red flags on his training that caused me to dial down the focus on long steady state efforts that are essential for his discipline in favor of a more varied program that would keep him "mentally fresher"—in retrospect it was somewhat illogical since he's shown tremendous resiliency and fortitude. We probably won't do that again.
Another athlete was primed for a mountain bike race. He'd finished well the year before, but really wanted to take the win this time—heck, it was why he asked me to coach him in the eight weeks before the race! It was a stage race format and he sat in first place after the opening stage, so things were looking good. Unfortunately a series of mechanicals on the next two stages robbed him of the coveted victory and again we are left to wonder why.
This one is a bit easier, if slightly more esoteric...in my opinion repeated mechanicals are simply a sign of incorrect preparation and lack of mental focus. Taking nothing away from the athlete—he's a busy guy with a TON of day-to-day responsibilities—if you suffer mechanicals, especially multiple mechanicals, in a race it's pretty much your fault! The slipped seat post cost him a few seconds in the time trial, not terrible, certainly something that can be overcome...but he followed that up with a small cadre of similar issues (bar/stem/valve stem/etc) that derailed his confidence and performance. Hoping that doesn't come up again, betting it won't!
Weathering the Weather
The last athlete suffered through weather conditions that were sub-optimal for her body type. It was world-class windy and she's about 120 pounds. Not too much you can do about the weather, but the wind was compounded by her choice to use a disk wheel, a subtle derailment of her warm up protocol thanks to an impromptu interruption, and sub-optimal nutrition before the race. All told it cost her the chance to set a new PR on a course she's very experienced on, and that's too bad.
Fortunately, all of the athletes above are pretty good at keeping things in perspective so we're not anticipating a huge blowback psychologically from the missed opportunities, but it does give one pause for sure. I think there are a couple of take-aways from these examples: