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Out There: So Your Race Got Cancelled

What should an athlete do when his or her race is cancelled? Susan Lacke weighs in.

What should an athlete do when his or her race is cancelled? Susan Lacke weighs in.

The word of the day is “cancellation.” It ain’t a fun word, but it seems to be thrown around a lot lately.

Last week, I learned a local race I was training for had been cancelled by the race director due to “organizational changes.” The announcement came on the heels of another big cancellation of a big marathon in the running mecca of Boulder, Colorado. Finally, this past Sunday, I woke up to cheer on my friends at Ironman Lake Tahoe, only to learn the race was cancelled minutes before the start due to a forest fire.

For some athletes, the race to be done was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For others, it was just another race in an already full season. Though the stories are different from one race to the next and even from one athlete to another, the emotions are the same. Thousands of athletes registered, trained for and invested time and money into their big day, only to have their hopes dashed before the starting line. “Cancellation” evokes a lot of emotions for athletes, few of which are positive ones.

Athletes may not be able to control the weather or the decisions of the race director, but athletes do have a choice in how they respond.

Option 1: Get Angry

Light the torches! Pull out the pitchforks! WRITE A STRONGLY WORDED TWEET. The more f-bombs, the better.

Pros: It sure feels good to vent. Having justification to call someone all the names you normally couldn’t say in polite company can be really fun. Let it out. Let it all out.

Cons: Anger doesn’t really solve anything. Once a cancellation is announced, the decision very rarely gets reversed, no matter how long or how often you call the race directors names. Also, holding onto anger can be counterproductive; sour grapes don’t usually ferment into a fine Pinot, but instead devolve into something resembling prison toilet wine.

Option 2: Knee Jerk

The best decisions are made impulsively. You’ll be damned if you finish your season without anything to show for it. Sign up for the first replacement race that works with your schedule!

Pros: Your fitness won’t go to waste, and you’ll have a sweet finisher’s medal to show for your hard work. Besides, a race is a race … right?

Cons: Race day is a victory lap for all the training you’ve done over the past weeks and months. If the race you trained for was flat and fast, but you’re suddenly entered into the Plan B All-Uphill Bonanza, is that really the best way to showcase the work you’ve put in? Chill out for a second. Evaluate what’s best for you, your long-term goals and your current fitness, instead of scrambling to find the most convenient replacement.

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Option 3: Emotional Eating

In times of stress, we often reach for comfort foods. Usually, these foods are the ones we’d be eating post-race—pancakes, pizza, ice cream, cheeseburgers and potato chips—but now you don’t have to deal with all that pesky mileage. Buttercream frosting is the balm that soothes the sting of loss. Go ahead: Eat your feelings. They’re delicious.

Pros: There’s a reason they’re called “comfort foods”—chocolate chip cookies washed down with red wine can create a serious case of warm-fuzzies in an otherwise stressful situation. Or maybe the wine just dulls the sadness. Either way …

Cons: Despite my assertion that there are zero calories or grams of fat in food that makes you happy, the resident nutrition experts at Competitor tell me otherwise. Apparently, indulgent foods are a bad thing in excess. I call shenanigans.

Option 4: Self-Loathing

Pity party, your table for one is ready! After the race is cancelled, it’s easy to fall into a state of despair. “All that hard work for nothing!” you’ll cry. “This was a complete waste!”

Pros: Sometimes a pity party is just what the doctor ordered. It’s OK to grieve—there was a loss, and that’s a real bummer. It’s better to acknowledge those feelings of disappointment than to try to repress them (see above, re: “prison toilet wine.”)

Cons: It’s one thing to be bummed—it’s another to wallow. “All that hard work for nothing”? Really? Don’t negate the hard work—the process itself is just as important, if not more important, than the outcome. Think back to when you started training for the race. Think back even further, to the life you lived before you started running. Step into the shoes of your pre-running self and look at yourself as you are today.

“All that hard work for nothing,” my ass. There’s something, and it’s pretty spectacular.

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Option 5: Don The Big-Kid Pants

Maturity isn’t as fun as cursing up a storm or as delicious as a pepperoni pizza, but it’s probably the healthiest way to cope with the race cancellation. Take a realistic appraisal of your situation—sure, you’re 99 percent certain you could have handled the adverse conditions, but what about that one percent? Do you really want to find out what it’s like to inhale forest fire smoke or be struck by lightning? Will complaining on Facebook or Twitter really make the race director reverse the cancellation? Will dwelling on the situation help you to move on? Is your life over because this one race was cancelled? Probably not. Are there other races? Absolutely. I hope I’ll see you there.

We endurance athletes are resilient people. Some might even go so far as to say we’re stubborn. We like to be in charge of every element of our training and racing, from the pace we run to the calories we consume, to how much we sleep each night. It makes us feel better, like we’re in control.

But no matter how many variables we think we’re governing, it’s all just an illusion. Sometimes, life happens—and it’s out of your control. There’s one thing you’re always in charge of, however, and that’s the way you react to the situation.

And how will you react to the situation?


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she is a featured contributor to Triathlete and Women’s Running magazines. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with four animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, a pinscher and a freakishly tall triathlete named Neil. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke