If you've raced for any amount of time, you've likely had it happen.
You train your butt off- you swim, bike, and run, putting your heart and soul in to every session. You study the race course, knowing what to do when it's hilly, what nutrition to take and when. You plan it down to every minute detail and know, within reason, what your final time could be.
Then, race day happens. Maybe you're sick, or it's unbelievably hot outside, or you get a flat tire. Maybe your nutrition falls out of your pocket, or your goggles get kicked off. Something happens and what was supposed to be an amazing accomplishment turns in to, for you, a letdown. It's devastating.
The feeling after this is what I call post-race blues. We, as triathletes, are almost universally Type A go-getters who expect perfection of ourselves at every level. When things go wrong- sometimes when it's even that we didn't get that PR we were hoping for, it can be a huge blow to our egos. We spend weeks or months focusing on our goals and doing everything we can to reach them, and then, when the event is over, that focus is widened to the bigger picture, suddenly, and we're at a loss when the glory we imagined is gone.
I've dealt with this feeling twice so far this season. The most recent was documented with my post on Jack's Generic Tri. The other was after Ironman Texas. Both races left me feeling a bit at a loss for different reasons.
Most acutely, Jack's Generic was crushing to my ego because I KNOW I could have done much better. I know that being ill was a huge contribution to my exhaustion and slow pace. When I saw my results, I walked over to Bryce and I cried. I couldn't help myself- I was embarrassed. Bryce, my friends, anyone could tell me all day long that I'd done awesome and it's OK because of whatever extenuating circumstances, but that didn't matter. I was hurt.
A more complex feeling was after Ironman Texas. It was my very first time and I had no benchmark. I trained incredibly hard and obsessed over the race for 6 months, having stress dreams about backpacks for Pete's sake (that came TRUE!) I knew that, should all go well, I should finish within a respectable 14-14.5hrs. It didn't go well, and I finished in just over 16. When I was done, I puked, and then just felt relief that it was over. But almost immediately I felt conflicted in my celebration. Every time someone asked me how it went, I reacted with, "well, I finished." rather than, "awesome- I finished!" An Ironman finish is a big deal, and yet my pride and the knowledge that it could have been even better robbed me of the feelings of joy I had imagined for so long I would feel.
That feeling of joy that was missing, that's the most devastating part of dealing with race day disappointment. Recently, someone posted in a Facebook group I'm in for women in triathlon about her similar feelings, prompting me to examine my own, and as I explained to her how I dealt with mine, it was obvious this is something that has to be dealt with head on, or I'd risk losing the joy I get from training and racing all together.
It's easy for people on the outside to tell you to suck it up, especially those not involved in the sport who are just excited for you that you accomplished such a feat. Their comments come from a place only of support, because they want you to be as happy for yourself as they are for you.
Here's my first tip- just let yourself be sad. But, give yourself a time limit. Maybe a week, maybe a few days, but let yourself let it out. If you don't, you'll never be able to reach the next step in the process. Let yourself internally (or, to good friends, externally) whine about all the mitigating factors that led to your perceived failure. Let yourself mourn the heart you put in to it for less than the return you expected.
Then- Take a deep breath, and consciously tell yourself it's time to move on. Let. It. Go. When you start dwelling, make yourself think about something else- what fun thing you're doing that weekend, what your next project is at work. Hell, what you're going to make for dinner that night. Just something else!
Next- Make a new plan. Whether it's signing up for another goal race, re-focusing on a hobby that you really love, or just planning to enjoy your sport for a while as you re-organize your thoughts, you need to give yourself a new goal to work toward. In the case of the Ironman, I gave myself the goal of doing Ironman Boulder. I'm excited to explore a new city and race on new terrain, and will likely spend some time in the mountains- my ultimate happy place. In the case of Jack's Generic and the Texas Tri Series, I made myself new goals. I have two races left and have focused hard on nailing my bike to run, adding in serious bricks every week that force me to push myself.
Finally- Reflect on the good. Do what everyone else has been pushing you to do since you ended your race. Focus on what went right, and congratulate yourself. Tell yourself that it CAN go better next time, that some things are out of your control, and that you're doing this sport because you love it and it's fun. If you forget that last part, then you might as well quit and take up something else, because there's no use putting your passion in to something that gives you back no joy.
Better luck next time, champs! You'll be fine!