Did you have a spring marathon or a similar event that you’d trained hard for over a period of many months cancelled at the last minute? Are you feeling frustrated? Psychologist Dr Josephine Perry reveals how to turn disappointment into opportunity.
If you had trained hard for a marathon, half marathon or similar event, only to have it cancelled, you must be feeling frustrated. Hundreds of thousands of us faced the same situation. All full of training, ready to race and had nowhere to go.
Focusing so strongly on a specific date always leaves us open to the blues when it is over, but to not even reach the date understandably leaves people disappointed and upset. We all know the reasons why and completely understand. Health matters so much more. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to grieve the race that never was. But after a short while, the grieving process is done and then it is time to get positive and get proactive. There are five steps to get you on your way…
Reframe the situation
Our first job is to reframe. We can choose to see the training with no race at the end of it as hours of wasted efforts – or we can get spin doctoring and see the benefits we can take from the journey. The hours of training and efforts become data for next time; what worked well and what didn’t. The mental approaches we took in build up races show which mindset suits us. The excuses we made when it got hard show us where we are weakest. Very rarely do we get something spot on first time – the delay to our racing gives us a second chance. And with the news of the virus spreading the fact we were able to be out there training at all can make us very grateful for our health and fitness.
Calm your internal chatter
Even the bounciest and most positive people get fed up sometimes and have to navigate the unhelpful self-talk going through their heads. No-one is immune. In day to day life, and certainly race situations, we can end up saying horrible things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to anyone else. They rarely help our performance and just suck the joy from what we do. A long training build up is where many of these phrases will sneak out so we can use the current period of reflection to identify them. Once we start to spot trends in our self-talk, we can use mindfulness to distance ourselves from some of those thoughts, so we still think them, but we are aware they are simply thoughts and that our thoughts are separate from us. This means they are less powerful and less able to harm our confidence.
Enjoy training without pressure
With our races cancelled much of the pressure we had put upon ourselves drops off. Not knowing when races will start up again means we have a rare opportunity to go back to basics and do our sport purely for enjoyment. One runner who has been doing just this is Kate Carter. Before the cancellations she was already reflecting on her love of running. ‘Somewhat ironically, I remember actually saying: “If every race was cancelled, I’d still run just for pleasure” I had no idea that was actually going to be prophetic’. Carter, a sub 3-hour marathon runner, was preparing to race London when everything got cancelled. With all racing off the agenda she has discovered what it is about running that enthrals her. “I love races and testing myself but above all I just love the feeling of a good run, moving through space, the world flowing around you. I’m determined to enjoy that now while I can – take full advantage of the calming effect it has on me. Absolutely no pressure – if there was ever a time to not give two hoots about your pace or time, it’s now.’
Investigate your motivation
Carter’s approach doesn’t just mean she is able to enjoy it more. Her reflections have helped her understand exactly what it is about her sport that she loves. We can all benefit from doing the same. It is good to ask yourself how you honestly felt when you heard your race was being cancelled. Were you genuinely gutted or did you feel a little bit relieved? Did you stop training immediately because you couldn’t see a point or carry on because it was never about racing in the first place?
The feeling you had when you heard about the cancellation can give you a good guide as to which type of motivation you have for your sport. If you train even without a goal for the way it makes you feel, then it is likely you are intrinsically motivated and have found your sport. If everything was focused on the goal and the time you were aiming for and there seems little purpose without it then you may be extrinsically motivated, often looking for validation from others. This is less conducive to great wellbeing so perhaps use the time without race pressure to think about the elements you love and how you can do more of those, so you enjoy your sport more.
Come back stronger
Once you know why you are training and doing your sport then you can plan world domination. Well maybe just local domination but enough to give you your mojo back and feel like you are moving forward. Alun Murchison is a Michelin starred chef and a super speedy cyclist. He races regularly with his girlfriend Vicky Gill, one of the fastest time trialists in the country. They are using this period as a time to work on their weaknesses. “We are doing double core days and we are working on fine tuning the TT bike position on the turbo.” When race season starts up again, they will be able to hit the ground running.
Create a new opportunity
Spend a little time thinking about the start of your sporting year and what you felt was your biggest weakness. Make that weakness the focus of the next few months and aim to come out the other side with it having become a strength. Use the situation as a chance to become more flexible. Mental flexibility is a great skill to have as someone competing in races or outdoor adventures and the more you are able to roll with the punches the more enjoyable it will be. Develop one new habit. If you keep meaning to try mindfulness, or get your glutes firing properly or stretching for ten minutes a day this is the time to start that habit and build it into your routine.