Emil Zatopek, the great Czechoslovakian distance runner of the 1950s, once said that “training is principally an act of faith.” He was right. There are no guarantees that you will have a good race simply because you do certain workouts. The human body doesn’t respond the way a machine might. Doing “x” doesn’t always produce “z.” It’s simply too complex. There are lots of variables, lots of things that can go wrong. Many of the variables result from your unique physical and mental make up.
It should be accepted at face value that race outcomes aren’t always going to be what we planned for and hoped would happen. Things can go wrong that appear to be outside of your control. A muscle cramps, your stomach shuts down or the competition is simply tougher than what you expected.
Equipment can contribute to a poor race performance. Do you have a decent bike that fits properly? How about your wheels, shoes, wetsuit, goggles and clothing? Was a flat tire the culprit? Did the battery go dead on your heart rate monitor, power meter, GPS device or accelerometer during the race leaving you with only your poorly developed sense of perceived exertion to gauge intensity?
Then there are the even bigger variables such as your genetics. How much slow twitch muscle do you have? Are you big or small? How difficult is it for you to get down to racing weight? Do you seem to be better at short races rather than long ones – or the other way around.
There are also mental issues that may have contributed to your demise. Perhaps you threw in the towel as soon as the competition heated up. Or you just couldn’t seem to stay focused during the race. Maybe you were so nervous before the race that you made lots of rookie errors such as not eating enough or starting much too fast.
The bottom line here is that a race outcome can’t be predicted like a science experiment. You train with the faith that you are doing the right things given your unique situation. Because of this things can go wrong and you don’t always know why. Or perhaps you do. Regardless, when “luck” seems to turn against you and you have a “bad” race a common reaction is to look for the next race you can do, hopefully very soon, so you can prove to yourself that you’re ok after all. These are called “redemption” races. You’re seeking salvation for your shortcomings with the hope of making your world right again.
This is seldom the best course of action. What I usually see happen at redemption races is the athlete is too tired, too sore or too tapered to race well again right away. This often results in a second “bad” race which brings not salvation but rather eternal damnation. Athletes then sink into a morass of mental self-abuse so deep that it causes some to quit the sport or at least come to the conclusion that they are indeed worthless when it comes racing. I’ve even seen athletes who come to believe they are not even “good” people because of a poor race performance. Sometimes we tie too much baggage onto race performances. You are not your last race.
So I’d suggest not doing redemption races. The only exception would be if you DNF’ed (did not finish) the race due to some obvious and easily fixed problem over which you now have total control such as a mechanical issue with your bike. Such a situation means you are not completely fatigued and the cause is obviously correctable. Otherwise, consider what went wrong and what can be done about it so that, hopefully, a similar problem doesn’t occur again. But keep in mind that you may not be able to figure out a cause. So you’re back to relying on faith again. That’s alright. Press ahead.