Pre Race Protocol
I've written before, as have other Toolbox contributors, about the importance of your pre-race ritual. I'd like to expand on that one-day model here by emphasizing the importance of your pre-event preparation from a macro perspective. The little things matter on race day, but they also matter two weeks before the race too!
Dramatically altering your training plan, or even your day-to-day plan, can have a substantive impact on your preparation. The example of working on the pier is as clear as can be. For someone who does this type of work day in and day out it is far less of an upset than the athlete who does a day or two of this per year. It seems obvious now, but still the choice was made and that may have contributed to the race result achieved.
Similarly, the athlete who didn't examine her equipment in the two weeks before her big race suddenly found that she needed the set of aero-wheels sitting in her garage with old cracked rubber on them. Yet here is a confound...she had a spare set of wheels that were lower profile than a disc with her at the race, but chose not to switch them out as it was outside her comfort zone.
Successful athletes have to be both a little bit obsessive about their process, but at the same time extremely malleable to the ever changing situation on the road. A more experienced or resilient athlete might simply swap the wheels at the first sign of wind and not fret the potential impact. Would it have made a difference in her performance? We don't know, but based on her experience in the wind—having to ride higher and slower to maintain control of the disc—it might have.
OK, let's presume you've managed your pre-race well, arrived at the line seemingly well prepared—and you still had a terrible race! The first impact is immediate; most athletes can tell pretty quickly if they are on an off day. The body may not feel right as small aches and pains creep into your consciousness. Quickly recognizing that you are a bit off is tough, but can make a huge difference in re-framing the race in a positive light a little faster.
Of course the immediate impact from events seemingly outside your control is a much harder to take in the moment. I've certainly had those races where things are going GREAT and suddenly you flat, or crash, or have a mechanical...in my younger days I was known to throw a bike or two in upset at the situations! Looking back that seems a silly response born largely of pent up adrenaline than well-placed anger. I am often reminded by a couple my pro friends just what composure looks like. They have suffered any number of interruptions during a typical season, yet they never get angry or flummoxed, they simply take it in stride. I like to think of this as being calm in the mind, and it is an essential skill that you have to work to develop!
A calm, matter-of-fact demeanor might have led my mountain biker to spend a few extra minutes checking the various components on his bike to make sure everything was perfect. As he's a pretty low key guy to begin with I don't know that it would have, but my guess is he was a bit put out by the first mechanical and simply lost track of his 'to do' list a little bit.
More troubling than the immediate impact is the potential residual impact of a bad performance. The un-disciplined rider will let the result fester, will constantly ask "what if" or lament their luck. This is a long-term no win for them. You must be able to put the race and performance in an appropriate context. To do that I will often spend a few minutes, or a few hours, looking at both the training leading up to the race, and at the race itself for answers.
Often these are easy to see, but just as often the true reason for the failure is not readily apparent. Still, it is a worthwhile way to qualify the efforts put in and those in-and-of themselves are as valid a feedback loop as the performance itself. If you can learn one or two little things that will help next time that's great. If you can look at the training as a process—and the value in a process versus outcome based approach—then you are truly on your way to appropriately managing the little let downs that come with competing. Whatever comes next, have a great race!
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