Monday, February 1, 2016

Your Best Bad Day

by Gina Kehr

Bad races -- all of us have them. With three disciplines, the odds for something to go wrong is pretty high. But what do you do with a bad race? Do you use it as an excuse for why you did not meet the goals you set for yourself or do you take what you learn and apply it to the next race? A bad race can serve a purpose but you need to look at it the right way.

I have two bad race experiences that I will never forget. They molded me as an athlete and helped me make a decision to become the athlete I wanted to be.

It was the Professional National Championship in Bethesda, Maryland in 2002 (but it was so long ago I could be wrong on the date). I had been training pretty hard and was putting my focus on making the Worlds team. It was a draft legal race and I knew who all the players were. My plan was in place and I felt I knew what I had to do to stay in the mix for the run. The race started and while my swim did not go as I had planned, it was not a disaster, so I shook it off and waited for the second pack of the bike. The pack came by and I got in. My legs started burning and it was game on. I lost focus thinking about losing the first pack and the next thing I know I was being dropped by the second pack. I struggled to get back in, my legs felt like crud, my heart rate way too high and after a few attempts at hanging on the wheel of the last person in the pack, I just sat up.

I had just sat up in a major race. WHAT!?!

I was floored at my behaviour and pretty much stunned at this point. When I saw a third pack coming I tried to regain my will and jumped when they came by. I got in and sat there now thinking about losing the second pack. When the pace lifted I once again was operating negatively and pretty much dropped myself from the group. I was now solo, confused and befuddled. Some stragglers passed me and at this point I knew I was quitting the race.

I hung out on the course. I don’t really remember how I got back to the finish area, but I do remember walking up to my husband and his look of disbelief. He asked me what happened. Of course he thought that maybe I had some sort of bike issue, but and all I said was, “I don’t know, I just quit.”

We stayed around until the end. Once people began finishing I started chatting up some of the racers and after the dissection of the day, when it was all done I found myself back at the hotel with an empty feeling. It was yucky. The banter in my head started: Did I quit for no reason? Was I having an off day so it was good that I stopped? Did my legs really feel that bad? Could I have tried harder? I relived the race over and over asking myself endless questions. Was I overtrained? Even if so, the big question was, why did I quit? Was rationalizing easier than facing the fact that I may not be good enough to make the worlds team? Was that easier then potentially finishing last? The bottom line was, I could not answer any of the “what if” questions. All quitting did for me was make me feel weaker. I decided that I would never quit a race again.

Two weeks later I was scheduled for the ITU race in Lausanne, Switzerland. Heading to that race I was still recovering mentally from Nationals but I was determined to have a better race. A very long story short: The race started and before I knew it I was in the exact same place I was two weeks earlier. I had been dropped by each group and was now solo. The last stragglers passed me and there it was again, the quit zone. I was dead last. I am not going to lie, I sure thought about quitting. There was a steep hill we had to go up on the bike three times and all the spectators were there. I remember the crowd would get quiet as I would go by; I was so bummed and embarrassed. But it was at that moment I said, “Gina, if you quit this race you will contine to quit when races get tough or are not going to plan. You have to stay in this race.” So, that is what I did.

I took my learning moment from two weeks prior and applied it to this race. I finished the race in last place. Was I disappointed with my result? Yep. Was I questioning my training? Yep. But I was able to hold my head high. I learned that finishing the race was not as bad as quitting. I could answer the questions needed to dissect what was going on with my training and recent bad performances. I learned quitting only gets easier the more you do it and that your bar of what is tough is lowered every time you quit. I truly believe without that experience I would not have had the many great performances in the following years of racing. That was a defining moment for me and for all the races that I have done, that one moment was gold.

So, think about your best bad race day. What can you learn from it? Reflect on the lessons from that experience and apply it to your future racing.


Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at GinaKehr.com.
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