|The 'Oops' Factor
the excuses! (from April 2013)
By Rick Hellard
While walking around the finish area of a race, I often
hear various answers to the inevitable question “How
was your race?”
1. This injury or that injury has affected my training.
2. For this reason or that reason my race was affected.
3. I did or did not PB.
4. I think it was long.
5. I think it was short.
I rarely hear “I ran the best race I could today.”
Or “I did everything right and am happy with my day.”
Anyone who knows a bit about goal setting also knows that
goals have to be controllable. A person can only give 100%
of themselves. As romantic as the idea may be, they cannot
give 101%. It’s nothing personal, no one can, just
like no one can really control the other competitors in
the field. If they are faster, accept it. No one can control
weather, either, or the exact course length (it is from
the start line to the finish line, however accurately it
is measured), or the crowd and the congestion it can cause.
You can, on the other hand, control how you deal with the
weather, how you pick your line through the crowd, and how
you execute your fueling and pacing. These are pretty much
the only things you can realistically control.
I can tell you the days where everything goes right –
weather, course, legs, lungs, heart, equipment, interaction
with the rest of the field – are very rare indeed.
Savour them and learn from them.
Another thing you can control is your lead up to the race,
and your expectations. What you do in the days before will
affect your race day performance. They should also affect
your expectations. For example, if your job requires you
to stand for hours, then your legs will be more tired than
if you were seated and relaxed in the days pre-race. If
you know your best race day breakfast is oatmeal and you
decide to go with bacon and eggs, that’s okay, but
you should expect a different result than if you had your
best fuel. Similarly, if the weather is not your favourite
or conducive to fast times, lower your expectations.
In order to figure out what works for you, I suggest you
try many things leading up to your less key races and when
something works, do the same thing the next time.
• If that routine works again, then adopt it as a
somewhat permanent routine to race preparation.
• If your routine did not work, then make note and
learn from the experience.
• Change things up for the next time until you find
a routine that does work for you and stick to it.
I like to use the analogy of a golf swing. Golf is a frustrating
game when only about 5% of the shots in any one game are
the ones that make you want to play again. All the others
want to make you throw your clubs in the woods. And yet,
all golfers do go back in the hopes of making 6% of their
shots good ones.
Racing is the same thing: you can’t and won’t
nail them all. Accept it, but keep trying. Focus on the
good things, especially the good things within the not-so-good
things. Assess the events in your race by what went right
and how you dealt with what went wrong.
Okay, so that was more of a dissertation. What’s
Well, in my humble opinion, the Oops would be ignoring
KEY QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
• How was my lead up to the race: days before, breakfast,
stress levels, warm-up?
• How well did I pace myself?
• How well did I deal with adversity?
• Did anything go wrong? How wrong did it go? Was
it just a glitch or catastrophic failure?
• How much did whatever went wrong cost me? Anything
less than 20 seconds is not worth mentioning, unless you
missed your best time by 19 seconds. Someone in your way
in the aid station is just bad timing or an elbow at the
start is just part of the race. Forget about it and keep
• Was there anything I could have done to avoid whatever
went wrong that would not have cost me time? (like look
ahead or turn the volume down on the iPod so I could hear
the people around me)
• When things got tough, did I crumble, or stay relaxed,
fix the problem and move on losing little-to-no time?
KEY TRUTHS TO CONSIDER
• There are faster and slower race courses.
• There is such a thing as a fast day (reasonably
flat course, fast field, windless and temps around 12 degrees
Celsius) and there is such a thing as a slow day (small
race, temps in the 30’s and maybe high humidity or
• Injuries do affect results, but sometimes they help
(more rested and inspired), so if you did not feel the injury
during the race, you cannot claim it adversely affected
• Age and experience (or lack thereof).
Rick Hellard, head coach of Zone3sports in Ottawa, is a
lifelong running addict. He’s also made or seen just
about every mistake under the sun, making him a world-class
expert in oops-prevention.