The Race Recap: Learning From Your Mistakes

It's interesting that athletes will spend so much time closely monitoring their training before a race, but very little time evaluating their actual race performance.

Race data is some of the most useful information you can gather—it tells you exactly which areas need attention. These areas may include pacing, pre-event and event nutrition and hydration, tapering, mental skills, race strategy or tactics, and specific performance limiters like strength endurance.

Athletes often walk away from a disappointing race with no real concept of what went wrong, only to return to the same training methods they were using before the race. Perhaps you recall the adage "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it?" This applies directly to racing.

Gathering Race Data

First and foremost, don't be afraid of your mistakes. A key component to becoming a successful athlete is the ability to learn from your mistakes and adjust your training and racing accordingly.

If you're discouraged, it's probably because you worked hard and didn't get the results you wanted. Your results may, in fact, have nothing to do with your fitness, training or mental fortitude, but could easily involve an outside factor, like nutrition or hydration (which are the main causes of performance reduction and DNFs).

Knowing what factors produced your race results is like unraveling a mystery: Look for all the clues first and then narrow down your performance limiters to the root causes.

The clues are in your race data, so you can't analyze it unless you have it! The more race data you can get, the better. Gathering the data requires planning, so you must be familiar with your monitoring equipment and its proper use. This can be as simple as a stopwatch or as complex as a power meter. I personally like the new GPS/heart rate monitors because they provide speed, elevation and pace data, as well as splits and heart rate.

Putting data into a graphical format makes it easier to analyze. Devices that allow you to upload your race data are a big help. But be careful not to let your equipment distract you. You should be able to operate it with a simple touch, without a lot of scrolling or examining. Race day is not the day to try out a new piece of equipment.

Analyzing Race Data

Now that you have the raw data, it's time to break it down. At The Sport Factory, we have an online race recap form for our athletes to fill out after each race, when their race results are fresh in their minds. This simple form takes a few minutes to fill out and gives our coaches a very good picture of what occurred or didn't occur during the race. These recaps are great for comparison throughout the season or from one season to the next.

This questionnaire works best with a post-race interview. You can design your own race recap using the following questions:

  • Was this the first time you raced this event? This will allow you to compare races from previous seasons. It's important to compare apples to apples.
  • What were the course conditions? Again, if you're trying to compare previous performances at the same event, you need to know if the course conditions were different. A disappointing bike split may not be so disappointing if there was a strong headwind. Rain on the run or a choppy versus calm swim can drastically affect race times. We also look at the elevation and terrain.
  • Was this an improvement or PR? This is the most important question of all.
  • What was your race time and splits for each leg? A lot can be learned from this section. For multi-sport athletes, this will identify which sport needs attention, and what work is necessary in transition times and pacing.
  • What were your mile splits for run? This gives you a good idea of how the run was paced and whether performance degraded over the duration of the run.
  • What was your average speed and cadence on the bike (wattage)? Wattage is a pure number that can help determine your performance on the bike.
  • Heart rate data. Average and maximum heart rates for each split indicate pacing and fatigue levels.
  • Race fueling and hydration. This is often an area where things went wrong. How well did you adhere to your race nutrition plan?
  • What was your pre- and post-race weight? This can tell you whether you drank enough or too much fluid.
  • Do you feel positively about the race? It's important to write down your perspective on the race and to carefully consider your performance. Mental skills are a big part of racing. If you're able to identify mental limiters then you'll be able to work on them before the next event.

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