The Excuse of "It was Tough"

Endurance athletes train to succeed, not when everything goes perfectly, but rather when things aren’t! Below, we explore the how some athletes simply weren’t psychologically ready to take on a competition and how we can learn from it to ensure we build for the next experience.

Training is tough! If it isn’t, then you aren’t preparing your mind and your body to race tough races!

Training is tough! If it isn’t, then you aren’t preparing your mind and your body to race tough races!

As athletes get stuck into the race season there is one very clear, almost surprised, message from anyone who did not win trending in social media posts, race articles and post race interviews: "It was tough”.

When you think of the psychology of this simple turn of phrase we can see through the door into the mind of athlete and maybe we can see why they fundamentally weren’t first to the line.

It’s also a stark difference to more reactive skills-based sports like say tennis. In tennis, the opponent returns the ball deliberately exploiting or exposing weaknesses in your game. You are either able to withstand the barrage or you get beaten. There is a very clear reason for defeat: my backhands weren’t good enough; I struggled on my second serve. etc. But for the endurance athlete there is no such clear answer. Especially when the race is held in a fine balance: dig too deep on the bike, suffer on the run. etc.

However, for an endurance athlete to state at the finish line that they didn’t succeed because “it was tough” has to be one of the most laughable excuses you can find.

Endurance athletes train specifically for when it gets tough. The course is usually pre-determined when you sign up for the event, the weather is usually reliable (if you are reading this in the uk assume it will be wet in the middle of the summer!), most of the times needed to get you in the ball park of say a podium are consistent across races and even some races have clear cut offs too! There are limited unknowns: there uncontrollables – the weather, mechanical failure which you can only plan or adapt a plan for (in many ways part of your skill as an athlete)! On the other hand, most other things, come race day can be rehearsed, planned for and it is a matter of executing the plan.

“Success is measured by how high we bounce when we hit rock bottom.” – G. S. Patton

In other words, if you found it tough, then you are racing an endurance event. These distances become tough because you are trying to go faster and challenge yourself against the distance. If you don’t believe us, walk a 10k instead of running it!

Therefore, if it is tough and you are using that as your reason for not converting success then the chances are you didn’t prepare yourself physically or mentally and fundamentally. If you didn’t have the race you were wanting then the stark reality was really simple but quite hard to take: you weren’t good enough. In which case it’s ok to review the race, see where improvements need to be made, start planning and rebuild for the next attempt. But that’s better than hiding behind a “tough” experience. (Not sure you have prepared, check out this article on: Preparing to Suffer on Race Day.)

At the end of the day, we chose the sport because it’s “tough”, the endurance athlete looks for the opportunity to take on more “tough” adventures and the we would get bored of it wasn’t. To succeed in this sport at any level, personal or external, we need to be committed to the fact that come race day, things will be tough. As the saying goes, if it was easy, everyone would do it!