You've been talking about this race for months, maybe years. Details about training and race preparation have popped into your mind nearly every hour, of every day, for a long time. Your friends and family have supported and encouraged you—at least some of them have.
Finally, race day comes. You feel more alive and excited than you've felt for a long time. The gun goes off and your adventure begins.
At some point during the race, doubt begins to creep into your mind. You don't feel good, something is wrong. Maybe you feel okay, but time is slipping by and your goal time is at risk. A sinking feeling is wedging its way into your body. Ugh.
Your Goal Is Dead
If the description above is a familiar read, you've surely experienced, or are currently experiencing, the death of a goal.
Here's a comment from one athlete that recently dealt with a DNF (did not finish):
"My head is in such a bad place right now. I'd love to try that race again, but I'm now more afraid of the crushing blow I felt bailing than I am of the race itself. My head is screwed."
How to Deal With the Extreme Pain of Disappointment
I deal with disappointed athletes all the time. Those that aim high are bound to fall short of goals now and then. In fact, if you never fall short of any goals, you're probably underachieving.
To help athletes that I don't coach one-on-one wrap their heads around what happened, I ask them the following:
1) What were your expectations for the race? Did you have specific time and pace goals?
Note: If this is the case, I typically advise against it, especially for anyone's first ultra-distance event. I'd rather athletes have a range of goals: (A) Goal pace and time if everything goes perfectly and (B) Goal pace and time if weather, equipment and fatigue all collaborate against you.
2) What did you learn from the portion of the race that you completed?
3) What would you do differently next time?
4) Would you consider taking all pressure off of competition, and place all marbles into the completion category—especially for your first ultra or epic events?
Note: If this is possible for you, it allows you to be much more of a problem solver. This aspect is one of the things I love about ultra-endurance events, versus short-distance events. It allows plenty of time to be smart, solve problems and use endurance and brains to your advantage.
5) What do you want, for yourself, next?