Dear Coach: How Do I Cope With a Canceled Race?

Olympian and elite-level coach Ryan Bolton answers this season’s hot question.

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This week’s “Dear Coach” on dealing with a canceled race is courtesy of Olympian and coach Ryan Bolton, a former collegiate runner-turned-pro triathlete who now coaches athletes, from beginner to elite. For more expert advice, mental techniques, and 16-week training plans for all levels, check out The Triathlete Guide to Sprint and Olympic Triathlon Racing, out now from Velopress.

Whether it’s something as simple as a sudden change in plans by a race organizer or something as unusual as a global pandemic, it’s good to have a solid plan in place when races are canceled. If the race that got canceled was just a tune up/rust buster/training race, just get in a good training session that replicates the race effort on that same day and then jump right back on the schedule and get ready for your upcoming higher priority races. However, if the race that got canceled is one of your main races of the year, heed the following advice:

Give Yourself Some Down Time

Yes, it’s very disappointing to miss a race, and the first thing that you may want to do is go out and train hard. However, that may be counterproductive to your longer-term goals.

Depending on how long it is before your next big race, allow yourself to relax a bit. If you have another big race in the next couple months, limit this to a week or so. If the next big race isn’t for many months, extend this out for a couple weeks. I’m not saying sit on the coach, eat potato chips, and watch reruns of The Bachelor (unless that’s your thing, of course). I know we’re all triathletes and training is pretty much a daily part of our lives. What I am saying is keep it light, simple, and do what feels good. 

Always wanted to go check out that new running trail? Go for a ride with your kids? Hop in some open water and splash around a bit? This is a perfect time for all of those things. This is the same kind of stuff that I would suggest doing after actually completing a big race, just on a bit of a lesser scale and for a shorter amount of time. Don’t forget that the emotional stress of a race cancellation, an upended routine, and greater concerns going on around you can create a physical reaction as well—this downtime will help balance out those new stressors.

Reset Focus To Your Next “A” Race

If it’s not the end of the season, you likely have another “A” race on your calendar for the year.  After the aforementioned down time in training, reset both your focus and your training plan on that race. If your next “A” race is uncertain, set up some alternatives: a fallback time trial, an online race, or something that you know, no matter what, will occur. Get right back into a good training rhythm and start getting ready for the next big one.

Work On Your Limiter

With your current relatively high level of fitness, this is a great time to work on a limiter. You likely have a solid base already, yet you have some time before your next scheduled race and no rush to get there. 

Need to develop more power on the bike? Great! Run cadence getting you down? Fantastic! Use your current fitness to put some extra emphasis on whatever limiter that needs work. I suggest doing this for a specified period prior to resuming a normal training schedule that will then take you up to your next race.

Get Back In The Saddle

Growing up in Wyoming, a common phase we’d use when something wasn’t going your way, and you wanted to give up: “Get back in the saddle.” Of course, the saddle we were referring to was the type you’d have on a horse. For triathletes this term can also be used figuratively as well as literally. After the aforementioned break period and reprioritizing, get yourself back out there, get in some fresh air and sun, and remember how fortunate we all are to have the ability to participate in our great sport of triathlon!

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