The old maxim that ‘times don’t win races, racers win races’ was proven again this week at the Olympics where we saw some high profile meltdowns. Emily Seebohm did the nation proud but felt she had failed in missing out on a gold medal, and James Magnussen didn’t fire as expected in the 4X100m freestyle relay final. Channel 9 helped make matters worse by conducting some train wreck interviews at a time when both athletes needed some space to process their emotions and thoughts so soon after the end of the race (and catch their breath). Most of us who race have had our dog days, when things just don’t go right, and many would have sympathised with James and Emily. Here’s my guide for ensuring that race day isn’t a disaster or at least learning from it:
1. The medal is never won till its won. There are other people in the race and they have also worked hard. Your times prior to your race are simply an indicator of your potential in the race, the race still needs to be won.
2. Don’t let race day occasions get to you if you are trying to achieve something special. You need to have your business head about you, thinking clearly and making good decisions. If emotion powers you that’s fine but keep it in check. Racing is serious business, and the decisions you make on the day will determine success or failure. Get emotional afterwards, when the business is done.
3. Disasters are educational experiences in disguise. It’s painful on the day, but there is so much you can learn. Both Seebohm and Magnussen are world class athletes who will go on from here and be all the wiser, their opponents had better watch out. James has already had the chance to show that in the 100m freestyle final where he was edged out by 1/100th of a second, a great performance. My greatest ever running disaster was my first marathon, but it has made my running career (as modest as it has been).
4. Hype doesn’t belong in athletic disciplines, and approaching a race with humility and respect ensures no egg on the face afterwards and less pressure put on yourself to live up to expectations. In this year’s Comrades Marathon I had set myself the goal of a silver medal and told people as well. The pressure during the race to stay in the time zone to achieve that was immense and at times almost paralysing. Some people need that and I respect that, but for most putting undue pressure on yourself places most of your races at risk of failure.