In 2022, I had two ‘big’ long-distance races. Both went well and I was proud of my achievements and full of beans for setting myself newer, bigger goals.
And, as 2023 draws to a close, I can confirm that none of my big goals happened as I had hoped for. I had a swim panic during my second 70.3 half-Ironman and stopped after the bike portion as I felt terrible. More recently, I missed my mountain ultramarathon, a tough 55km race that I’d trained with a lot of determination for over the summer, due to sickness.
Was I disappointed? Of course. While I don’t earn my living or my sense of self-worth from competing, I trained hard for these events. I cried after the first race and really had to have a stern word with myself not to do the same for the second.
Here are a few tips for dealing with disappointment when your race doesn’t go to plan. I think these tips apply to most situations in life.
“All that training…for nothing.”
Success isn’t made of doing the thing that you get recognised for being good at. Great runners spend the smallest percentage of their time racing and running at ‘race pace’. They spend more time doing drills and practicing the same movements. Next time you find yourself doing something impressive at work, take a moment to remind yourself it isn’t a fluke – it comes from your previous experiences and hard work. Success comes from doing all the repetitive small things that don’t get the attention. This is what I reminded myself when I was complaining about wasting months of training. The truth is I am still fit and healthy; I’m a wiser athlete. I had months of fun weekends cycling or running with friends. That was not for nothing – that was my life.
Acknowledge your feelings
Being authentically in touch with yourself is something most of us can work on. Having a good cry and a wallow over a disappointment is absolutely fine. It’s better to go through this than avoid dealing with the emotions. Recognise them, respect them, but acknowledge who is in the driving seat, and reverse out of that dead end as soon as you feel that you can. Think of a time when you thought you would never get over something; I’m pretty sure you did. See? We can get over most things, and resilience and grit are huge predictors of ultimate success. I tell myself this during long races when I’m secretly thinking of good excuses to sit down and have a little nap.
“It’s normal to feel everything you are feeling. Just don’t stay there too long, your people are rooting for you.”
“I was in my pity party for way too long after my disappointment. Don’t be like me!”
“You are admired, respected and loved. When do I get to see your beautiful face?”
Go to people who can lift you up and lean on them for goodness sake. Now is not the time for stoicism and independence. Sometimes, just sharing your feelings with someone who cares can lighten the emotional burden.
Share your feelings with a trusted friend or write them down in a journal to gain clarity. Many of us are proudly independent, so it helps to remind ourselves how good it makes us feel to help others – your friends and loved ones are there for you, too.
Set realistic expectations
While it's essential to have goals and dreams, it's equally important to recognize not everything will always go your way. Adjusting your expectations can help prevent future disappointments.
As much as you practice your sport or professional skills, the skill of resilience is crucial in keeping you on the road to success. The ability to bounce back is a huge predictor of success. One win doesn't determine or define you, and neither does your setback.
Be kind, and stay open to new possibilities
It might seem like the end of the world at the time, but one of the silver linings of disappointment is that it often clears the path for new opportunities. Sometimes, what initially seems like a disappointment can lead to a more fulfilling path you hadn't considered. Treat yourself with the same compassion you would offer a friend. Tell the negative voice inside your head to be quiet
Communications & Media Consultant from Dubai
Coach: Lee Harris - Running. Rory Buck - Triathlon