By Sarah Kaufman — A bad run or a bad run can really cut our hearts. If you’ve been working hard, preparing, and training consistently, it can be quite demoralizing to feel that the energy and time you’ve invested aren’t paying off. Sometimes it feels like a bad run or run is a deeper reflection of who you are as a person or an athlete. Try to separate these feelings of inadequacy and see it as a single result and an opportunity to gain experience. (If you want to learn more about changing your psychology on this, check out Breneì Brown’s work on guilt versus shame).
There are days that are hard to explain and we don’t have a clear way to identify what went wrong. But usually there is one or more reasons why things did not go as we would like or expected and here are some questions to help identify what might be the cause. I write these considerations to be relevant to both a key workout and a race/event. When an athlete I coach writes in their notes that the practice or event didn’t go well, here are the things we usually address in order;
If they are training with power and we have a clear idea of their physical condition, we must first assess their expectations. Was it as bad as they think? If it is a race result, do their expectations match their current physical condition? Are they just too hard on themselves?
If it was a race and below the athlete’s current ability, we dig and find what specifically caused the result. In a gravel, MTB or CX race, was the athlete wasting time in the pedaling sections or the technical sections? In the above or a road race, were there any tactical errors made?
If there is both heart rate and power data, I look at both and compare whether the heart rate is abnormally high or low for the power output. Abnormally high heart rate, especially with poor recovery, can be related to heat, dehydration, dysregulation of the central nervous system (a kind of outside stress), lack of sleep, suboptimal reduction , at altitude, the athlete may be about to get sick, there may have been a refueling problem, or many other things, and this indicates that something is wrong. A path to follow. An abnormally low heart rate for power output could indicate general fatigue or overtraining, also a refueling problem, cold temperatures and, again, many other things, but, again, a sign that something is wrong. thing is wrong. If there is no power but we have heart rate data, we can still get an idea of whether HR was high or low compared to how that person’s HR typically behaves at these intensities. If this is the case for you, assess whether you felt like you were pushing as hard as you could and at your physical maximum, but not going as fast as you could reasonably expect OR if you had the felt like you couldn’t access deeper intensities and you felt ruled.
What did you eat and drink during the event? If you’re confident that your endurance fitness is solid, but you passed out late in the race, chances are you haven’t refueled or haven’t hydrated yourself properly. appropriate. If your race fueling and hydration seems adequate and appropriate, review what you ate and drank in the 24-36 hours before the race, taking into account the 4-6 hours before the race. Was it balanced and adequate? Have those foods and drinks you’ve consumed before been successful?
Did you sleep enough before the event? We worry less about the night just before but pay more attention to the overall trend over the previous several nights.
If the rider is female, is she about to start her menstrual cycle? Women experience ups and downs with training depending on when in their cycle. We typically see a decrease at certain training intensities (largely peak and neuromuscular energy output) in the week or so before menstruation and/or around ovulation. Although this is often mitigated in a running situation, a bad run could be attributed to the timing of its cycle. A bad workout could more likely be attributed to this. Tracking your cycle is a great tool for this purpose and can help determine the likelihood. The Notes app on your phone or a dedicated app can be very helpful. Although sprinting and neuromuscular energy production are the intensities most likely to be affected, PMS can affect overall energy levels and increase exogenous carbohydrate requirements. So the need to stay on top of supply becomes a higher priority and what you might normally think is enough could leave you underpowered. Likewise, core temperature is elevated in the days leading up to menstruation, so the likelihood of being underhydrated also increases.
Finally, were there any outside factors that could have contributed to a poor outcome? Was it excessively hot or cold and/or were you not acclimatized to these conditions or were your clothes not suitable for the temperatures? Was the departure time earlier or later than your normal travel time and could this have disrupted your pace? Were you at high altitudes from where you normally live/train? Each of these different factors could be its own column and each of them can be mitigated with some planning and different protocols.
A “bad” ride or race is an opportunity to learn. A victory or a good race is good, but it doesn’t give us the same opportunities. Try to change your perspective so that the disappointment is not a reflection of yourself but an opportunity for growth. Ask yourself these questions and see if you can avoid the same mistakes in the future.
Sarah Kaufmann is the owner of K Cycling Coaching. She is an elite level XC and CX racer for DNA Pro Cycling Team. She is based in Salt Lake City, UT and can be reached at [email protected] or 413.522.3180.
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