Almost a year ago I wrote an article describing my disappointment at missing my favourite race Strade Bianche due to COVID. I first felt mad, then sad, then sucked up my disappointment, focussed on the next race and reminded myself ‘next year will be my year.’
Fast forward one year and as the time crept closer to hitting the famous ‘white roads’ in Tuscany, I came down with a head cold only days before the race. I immediately took two days off the bike, rested, slept, ate well, steamed my face, chomped down vitamin C and zinc, and travelled to the race regardless. This is probably not the advice I would give to a friend…
Come race day, my legs were feeling good (fresh, from the days off) and my head cold was seemingly on the way out.
In a twist of fate, karma, or simply nothing magical all – I had three flat tyres in a space of a few kilometres – which in a race like Strade Bianche meant my race was over.
After I had been reminded by the jury that I was out of the race, I processed the disbelief at the pure bad luck and then began to hold back tears and rage as I still had to find my way back to Siena.
Had it not been for some other straggling riders collecting behind me and eventually catching me – I may have just spent the 40km ride back to the team bus feeling sorry for myself and searching for something or someone to blame. Being amongst others and calming down a bit, being grateful I wasn’t injured, it wasn’t raining, I was still in beautiful Tuscany on my bike and I would have plenty of other chances.
Of course, as soon as I farewelled my other DNF’ers, I did get on the team bus and burst into tears. I wrote down a whiney Instagram caption in notes (which I thankfully never posted, the therapy was simply in writing it down) and gave myself until that afternoon to be mad, then I had to move right on and prepare for the race the very next day.
I didn’t just ‘get over it’ – it was a race I cared about and as an athlete, you spend every day preparing to show up and perform your best at these big races. So here are the conscious, active steps I take to help myself deal with disappointment- no matter the cause. Otherwise, I might as well throw a tantrum like a toddler and not many teams would want me and my emotions on their roster again.
It’s not your fault, not some god trying to punish you, not karma, it’s just a fact, a situation and the outcome affected you emotionally, as it should if it means you can’t do something you care about.
How you relate to the situation, is the situation.
This is a super helpful process to engage thanks to Tara Brach.
- Recognize what is happening;
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
- Investigate with interest and care;
- Nurture with self-compassion.
Practice overt optimism
“Maybe these flat tyres were a blessing in disguise – I didn’t get sicker, I can now shift focus to the next event.” Maybe there’s another event you were uncertain about doing but now it’s in your mind’s eye. Or if it is really grim and void of anything positive, thinking about how it will be a story in the future I can tell people.
Put a time limit on the bad feels
Let yourself feel it all, and then say, by dinner, you have to be done with your whingeing otherwise it lingers and feels gross in your body.
Your preparation isn’t wasted
The daily processes, improvements, and discipline have all cemented themselves in your being and will no doubt make the journey toward the next goal easier
This can apply not just to sports. If athletes dwelled deeply on each setback, there would never be a forward. We would feel stuck and then quit. The ones you see at the top, for lack of a better term, are the ones who don’t give up. But not giving up doesn’t mean rushing through setbacks, it means respecting the time they take to remedy and looking at the bigger picture.
More is Less
Yes, you read that correctly! The more time you take to recover from say, illness and injury, the less time it takes to feel good on the bike again once you are healthy. As athletes and active people, we want to take the bare minimum time away from the sport we love and get right back on there. Perhaps in theory you ‘can’ do an easy ride or get around a race, but that doesn’t mean you should. If you go back to training too soon, you will simply feel sub-par for longer.
Remember that stress is stress. Maybe your illness or bad luck is passed, but the remaining stress lingers, and you need to allow time and compassion for this too.
Forcing yourself back into training or routine when you are underslept or overwhelmed means you won’t actually get the best from your training session.
So take the time, show compassion, and then straighten up and take more strides forward.