Finally! Your epic race is here! You’re suited up, ready…and it’s cancelled, shortened or otherwise no longer epic. Use these tips to make it suck less and move on.
It’s your “A” race and it was going to be epic… until nature interfered. Maybe one of the most notorious swims on the circuit isn’t being held (as in last weekend’s Escape from Alcatraz), the bike course has been cut to less than half (Ironman Beach to Beach Battleship Triathon 2016), or the whole event got the plug pulled on it (think New York City Marathon 2012).
Yes, ouch. Of course it’s not your first choice. But there are plenty of things you can do instead of get mad and obsess about the hours of training that you put in, the money you spent to get to the race, and the bragging rights that were almost yours. “We compete in a sport where the playing field is out in the elements. The rub is that sometimes the elements compete back,” says Alcatraz competitor and age grouper Adam Smith of Greenville South Carolina. But you can get over the disappointment and recoup your mojo with these moves:
Change your focus. Like so many others at the starting line, this year’s Alcatraz winner, Olympian Ben Kanute, had that moment of disappointment when he learned the swim was called off. “It was a huge disappointment—the swim is one of my strengths. So I gave myself the trip back to transition to be not happy about it,” he says. “But my dad has always told me that something’s going to go wrong in a race, but how you handle it makes you a champion. I still had goals to hit on the bike and run, so I had to refocus.” Clearly, it worked: He caught Cameron Dye halfway through the bike and stayed in the lead.
Race the rest at your best. Sure, you sunk a lot of money and time into getting there. “But it would be more of a loss overall to not put yourself out there and not give your best effort in the rest of the race,” says Kanute. “I’d come all the way to San Francisco to race really hard and that didn’t change. There was still a race being held and there was still pride on the line for me.”
Put your fate in your own hands. Stop worrying about what just happened to the race and focus on what you can control, like your process goals. “I have a checklist for each section of the race,” says Kanute. “On the run, for instance, I try to keep my shoulders relaxed, keep my forward lean, and pay attention to how my foot is placing. They’re little things I can check to make sure I’m doing everything right so I’m running as fast as I can.”
Give yourself something else to brag about. You went there for bragging rights? Then go out and find something to brag about. Did you have your fastest bike split ever? (“I’d much rather my kids see me slay the bike course than pitch a fit,” says Smith.) Did you stop and fix a flat for someone who was freaking out? You might not have the opportunity that some NYC marathoners did when they used their fitness to help clean up areas devastated by the hurricane that cancelled the race in 2012, but you can still find plenty to be proud of yourself for.
Call yourself whatever you want. So a leg of your Ironman gets nixed or cut short. Can you still call yourself an Ironman? Whole forums of discussions have been devoted to this, and the bottom line seems to be that you get to tag yourself in whatever way feels good to you. “Becoming an ‘Ironman’ is really about the work you put behind the race. All you’re doing in the race is crossing the finish line,” says Elizabeth Waterstraat, founder of Multisport Mastery in the Chicago area.
Keep perspective. The cancelled swim at Alcatraz “was definitely a bummer,” says Smith. “The way I looked at it, I could either get upset and focus on the negative thoughts like all the money I spent to bring my entire family to San Francisco for a week to see me swim. Or I could preserve the value of the entire experience and just enjoy the race. When I started triathlon, it was to gain some positivity in my own life. The cancellations, date changes, and lost equipment is just part of the game, and if I couldn’t handle that, I would be forsaking the very reason I got into triathlon—to achieve positivity through amazing accomplishments.” Plus, triathletes are used to doing hard things. “Triathlon is my hobby—it’s where I go to get away from my job,” says Smith. “It’s my release from stress, not my source of it. If I can make it through 140.6 miles, then why wouldn’t I be able to handle a minor disappointment?”