On Sunday I did the Cayuga Lake intermediate triathlon. It started with a 1.5km swim, continued with a hilly 24.3 mile bike ride, and finished with a 10k run around Taughannock Park and Falls. For any serious triathlete, this isn't a big deal. But I've only just barely started swimming and biking.
I was brutally disappointed with myself Sunday.
I got over it though, and even felt good about myself and what I'd achieved. I fail a LOT, and it's important for me to be able to cope with failure and to stay positive and motivated. That's what this post is about.
Simply defined, disappointment happens when you create an expectation for yourself and then fail to meet it. It would seem that the easiest solution is to simply not have expectations. This works sometimes. If you ask your boss for a raise, you don't necessarily expect her to say yes, but it's nice if she does!
However, when it comes to training and racing, expectations are closely related to goals. And you definitely want to have goals. Goals are what push you to train longer and harder. If you don't have a purpose for your training - some event you want to crush - then you would have no reason to train hard. Except to eat more ice cream.
|Not a picture of ice cream. ZING!|
If you set a goal for yourself, train your butt off for it, show up at the starting line, and then don't do as well as you'd planned, you're going to be disappointed. So how do you deal with it?
Identify where you did succeed.
It's easy to focus on just the finishing time of a race. But there are a lot of places along the way where you can identify where you did well. Even just showing up on the starting line is amazing! It's more than most folks would ever dare do.
My swim on Sunday was obscenely slow. I was certain I was dead last in the swim, but out of the 233 folks who did the 1.5k swim, 3 were slower! Hooray! But more importantly I swam almost a mile without stopping and despite cramping several times. That may not sound like much, but I've only been swimming for a couple months (not counting splashing around in my youth)!
The case is similar with the bike. My pace was about in the middle, but I've only had Tsar Bicycle the Great for a couple months. Apparently it takes years to get good at the bike. So every ride is only helping build strength!
|Building strength... Slowly building strength.|
But my best portion was the run. Out of the 212 folks who did the Intermediate tri, my run was the 15th fastest! That's pretty darn good. And that was after swimming and biking for almost 2.5 hours.
This was my first ever intermediate (or olympic) tri. And when I think about it, it's pretty impressive that I signed up for it, and completed it, with so little swim and bike training. When I break down my individual successes, I feel much better about the race. I know where my weak points are, and I'll be better prepared for my next triathlon (after sufficient training).
Learn from your mistakes.
Don't just think "I suck" and spend all day sulking. Look at exactly where you fell short. Every failure is an opportunity to grow! And it's not really a failure so much as not having performed exactly to the level you had hoped.
Regarding swimming and biking, I know that it's just a matter of training. A lot. I had hoped, foolishly, that my strength and endurance would translate directly to those events. But that's not how it works. I'm pretty much starting over from scratch, and I just have to accept that and work hard at those events where I'm weak.
In general, there's plenty of things to learn from. Did you eat and rest sufficiently before the race? Did you set your pace early on and stick to it? Did you deal with the hills and terrain correctly? How was your mood? The way you feel during a race is important. If you start thinking, "I'm doing lousy", it's going to slow you down the rest of the time.
If you don't analyze your performance, you're missing out on a great opportunity to learn and to grow. It may be hard to revisit a painful experience, but it's one of your best tools. Failure is only a stepping stone to future success!
Set realistic goals.
It's great to aim high. But if your best 5K time is half an hour, you're not going to run your next one in 20 minutes. One of my goals is to run a half marathon in under 1:30. My current PR is 1:31:31, so this is doable. If I run my next half marathon in 1:31:00, I'd still be happy though, because that would still be a PR! Of course, if the weather is brutal, I might have to accept 1:35. That's just how it goes!
|"I'm going to run a 4 hour marathon!"|
My biggest goal this year though is to qualify for Boston Marathon. I'm hoping to do this at Lehigh Valley in September. I need to run about a 3:07. 3:10 is the official qualifying time, but I need a few extra minutes to be guaranteed to get in. My current PR is 3:14:33, but that ended up being a much more difficult course than I anticipated, and I made some mistakes as well (which I learned from!).
Moment of honesty... If I don't qualify this year, I'm going to be pretty disappointed. Maybe I'll have to go back and read this post. Or maybe I'll just have to drown myself in ice cream.
Regarding the triathlon, I wasn't expecting to finish it very quickly. I knew the swim in particular would be very slow. My run though was faster than I expected! Sure I can normally average 7 minutes or under in a normal flat 10K. But I wasn't expecting to average 7:20 on a fairly technical course after a tough swim and 24 very hilly miles on the bike. You win some, you lose some.
Practice being positive.
If you beat yourself up over a disappointing performance, what you're doing is reinforcing negativity. And it will only get worse over time. It becomes really easy to get mired in negative self talk or even depression. It becomes a habit that's hard to break free from.
|"We're practicing positivity."|
All the self-help advice and "tips and tricks" won't do you a bit of good if you've spent months - or years - practicing at feeling $hitty. Instead, you have to cut that thinking off as soon as you recognize it and reframe it positively. That's what this post is largely about: How to reframe a failure as a success - an opportunity to learn and grow.
Often times during a race where I'm doing badly I'll "decide" to just be awful the rest of the day. It's bizarre, I know, but I actually make the decision to just be angsty and pissed off. But after a couple more miles, I say to myself, "screw you, you whiny bastard. You're going to be cheerful, and you're going to high-five all your friends." And I do!
I was really unhappy with myself after the tri. I knew I wasn't quite ready to overcome that feeling, so I decided to just not talk about it for a while. I tried to be pleasant with my friends later on, although they could tell I was sort of faking it. After several more hours and a good day spent adventuring with people I love, I felt much better. I apologized to my friends from earlier and was able to overcome my disappointment.
Talk about it!
This was critical for me after the triathlon, and after most of my other letdowns. Once my mood had recovered, I wrote about the experience on LUNAR: The good and the bad.
What do you know? I got nothing but compliments and support for my achievement. Nobody said, "wow, you really did suck." And the process of writing about the triathlon helped me see where I did do well, and where I have room to grow. I write this blog for a similar reason. It's a form of catharsis: Letting out the bad stuff, and embracing the good stuff.
|Friends and family make sucking OK.|
It's very difficult to let go of negativity if you keep it bottled up. This isn't just for athletic events. It applies to anything that happens in life. If you're feeling down on yourself, talk to your friends. As a male, this can be tough for me. We guys tend to want to portray ourselves as pillars of strength, and it's hard for us to talk about our failings. But if you don't, it just builds up and builds up. And it gets awful.
I've made a lot of mistakes and failed a lot in life. The older I get, the more willing I am to talk about it, either with the people in life, or online and here on my blog. Not only does it help me overcome my feelings of inadequacy, but it helps others see that they are not alone in their own insecurities. When you share, everyone benefits.
I'm not talking about slamming ten beers to drown your sorrows. I used to do that and...
Actually it was pretty awesome.
But I don't drink anymore, so that's not an option. I'm getting derailed here. What was I talking about? Oh right. Once you've identified where you succeeded and reframed things positively, reward yourself!
BUT, before you can do that, you have to have a reason for the reward, whether it's pizza, ice cream, or wine. Don't allow yourself to gorge on junk food to deal with a lousy mood. Instead, make yourself feel good about what you achieved first, and then treat yourself. Recognize that the prize is for your hard work. The point is that you should reinforce positivity. Treats work just as well on us humans as they do on puppies!
|"How about you give me a treat first,|
and then I'll do something to earn it!"
Accept who you are and feel proud of that!
Not all of us are built to be elite runners. I will never run a marathon in two and a half hours, or even close to that. There are some folks whose best time might be four hours. And that's totally OK! If you run your first marathon in 6 hours (my first one took almost that long) and then work your way down to five hours, or even four hours, that's awesome!
Likewise I will never be an elite powerlifter or bodybuilder. But I still love how I look with my shirt off. I will never crush an Ironman, but I will feel amazed with myself if (when!) I finally complete one.
|Not a bodybuilder. I just fake it.|
You are not competing with anyone else. I've definitely been guilty of comparing myself to others and beating myself up for not working as hard as they do, but this is stupid. It accomplishes nothing. My goals are different. My routine is different. And as a human, I'm just built different than any other human. The only thing I can really do is take who I already am, and make that person slightly better via hard work and determination.
That's all anyone can do. If you normally work out five hours a week, and the next week you work out for 6, be proud of that! If you shave just 5 seconds of your previous PR, that's amazing! If you look in the mirror and you feel just a little bit more pleased with how you look, awesome!
Don't look for reasons to be angry or upset at yourself. Look for reasons to be happy and proud of yourself. It really does come down to an arbitrary choice. You're making the arbitrary choice to work your a$$ off to accomplish a goal most people wouldn't even dream of. You should make the arbitrary choice to be freakin' blown away by yourself.
Heck yeah! You rock!
Failure happens. You will fail. The more you strive to succeed, the more failures you will encounter along the way. If you never fail, it's because you're not trying hard enough. Encountering a lot of failure along the way is a sort of success in its own right. It means you're working harder and pushing yourself more than just about anyone else.
Some people never know the disappointment of failure. It's not because they always succeed.
It's because they don't try.
Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Try...