Sunday, January 31, 2016

Setting Expectations: Racing After Defeat

I remember my worst nightmare race like it was yesterday. What I remember most was how humiliated I felt, how insecure I felt and how hard it was to stay positive while preparing to race again. Having a race that does not go well can take a toll on you mentally and if you’re not careful it can set you up for long term habits that are hard to break.

I am currently in my sixth year coaching and this is one of the hardest parts of working with athletes as you want nothing more than to have your athlete always have a great day on the race course. Great races help build confidence and set athletes up to continue on the path with what is working in training by having more diligent and focused workouts. On the other hand bad races and especially those that end with a defeatist result can lower if not crush one's confidence and that can have a much more lasting effect than the 10 great races the athlete had prior.

So how does one work past the bad races that come out of nowhere? I find a lot of time these races can come from setting high expectations prior to the race. They can also come from the unforeseen circumstances that only happen during races like extreme conditions or random malfunctions of the bike. These circumstances are much easier to recover from as a lot of times these are out of your control. The expectations however are totally in your control.

How do we set up our expectations? When I was training at my highest level I was working with an outside sports specialist. He use to discuss with me how to have expectations with no expectations. That was his exact saying: “You need to have expectations with no expectations.” My response: “What does that mean?!?”

What I learned was it was all about flow. He would say, flow like water, don’t crash like a waterfall, just flow. Be flexible in your racing, be flexible with your expectations. Set standards that are realistic as well as aggressive but do not get locked on them. Getting locked will set you up for a defeatist result because you have set your limit. You have limited yourself from believing in yourself that your overall result can come from the day as a whole not the specific splits.

I can tell you the defeatist race I speak about above was the exact result of having expectations. I went into the race with a master's mind, thinking I knew everything there was and how the race was going to happen. I was a veteran athlete and had done this race many times... why would it be any different? I had it already set up where I would be in discipline and what to expect and when it was not happening I forgot to flow and just kept plowing forward waiting for the predetermined plan to happen.

So, how did I race after that defeatist race? I recognized that I was the one who got in my own way. I took responsibility for my master’s mind. I was humbled. I am not going say it was easy; mentally it was tough to bounce back. After digging deep into my expectation set up and stopping looking for something to blame I was good to go. My next race was a PR and my expectations were back to where they should have been -- with no real expectation.


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 AffinityMultisport.com.
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