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Success and failure. Identifying which is which.

While these two concepts (success and failure) may appear relatively straight forward, there are circumstances where a success is really a failure and a failure can be turned in to a success.  Let me explain.

Some riders are destined to succeed as they do not set their goals high enough.  However, when viewed at a critical level these results should actually considered a failure. Other riders fail to set goals all together and in these cases it’s often easier to view a result as a success rather than a failure. 

One of the primary reasons for this type of behaviour is 'fear of failure' and this often stems from the way many riders approach

their first bicycle race.   Many riders relatively new to the sport attend their first race and promptly get dropped in the first 10km and in their next race they set their goal as 'to not get dropped’ or ‘to finish with the bunch' (a goal that many of us have had and perhaps still have).  The problem occurs ‘n’ number of races later when the rider finishes with the bunch and therefore achieves their goal.  They view this as a success but fail to ‘upgrade’ their goal as they are quite content with just finishing with the bunch.   From this point on it’s hard for that rider not to succeed in meeting their goal.  But what’s the alternative?

For many club level riders this approach may be perfectly acceptable, after all they are enjoying their racing (hopefully).  However, for cyclists looking to improve and achieve their peak performance, this approach is a mistake and any subsequent race without an ‘upgraded’ goal should be considered a failure.  Why?  Quite simply, because failure helps us learn and improve.  It’s only when we fail to meet a target or goal that we keep looking for ways to meet it.  To go back to our club level cyclist, lets assume they fail to change their goals and spend the next 6 months racing in their current grade (lets say its C grade).  During this time their training or race tactics are unlikely to change – why would it?  Why change something that’s obviously working for you.   Maybe they are more naturally gifted (physically) and after 6 months they win a few races and get promoted to B grade, which further justifies their goal making choices – after all not setting a goal of promotion and getting one is a massive success!  At this point their ‘current’ race goal stays the same, ‘finish with the pack’ and nothing really changes – perhaps other than getting a rude shock and introduction to racing B grade when then again get dropped in the first 10km.  

Now consider a more aspiring club level rider, once they meet their ‘C grade’ goal of finishing with the pack they upgrade their goal to finish top 10, then top 5, then a top 3 and ultimately a win – all with the view to getting promoted to B grade.  They don’t rush their advancement by asking to get promoted early, rather then set intermediate goals designed to help them improve as a cyclist and a racer.  They review each performance against their goals and look at changes to their training program and race tactics.  They learn what fitness is required to achieve their desired results and they learn a range of tactics which work in different scenarios.  Within 6 months they meet all of these goals and get promoted to B grade, where they are much better equipped to race and be competitive than other riders who just got promoted.  

Turning a failure in to a success

So you have set yourself a goal and failed to meet it.  You’re upset and unsure how to proceed so you roll back your race goals to your previous one – What.  Wait.  No that can’t be right? It’s surprising how often this happens and in some cases its for good reason as the goal could have been too much of a stretch and going back to a previous goal, or making a new intermediate goal is the right choice.  Either way, they key here is that the failure has introduced new information to the equation and the right thing to do is make use of it.   This is how we turn so called ‘failures’ into success.  We learn from them.

In every race you compete in, you are bound to make a number of mistakes, small ones that you don’t even notice and larger ones that seriously jeopardise your chances of success.   Sometimes you even make lots of mistakes in races that you eventually still achieve your goal.  What’s important is that, when you look back over your race, you don’t view things negatively.  Rather assess your race constructively and ask yourself whether their was anything you could have done better.

You can start this off by ensuring you set SMART goals.  These are:






Specific goals are ones that define an explicit, specific and/or numerical outcome, for example 'to finish first', or 'to complete the course in a time better than 29:24'.

Measurable goals are pretty straight forward in cycling as you always have results to check how you went.

Achievable and Realistic goals go hand in hand and basically it means the result should be within your ability to achieve, preferably with a little stretch/improvement involved as well.  This is the one area that most people let themselves down.  They set goals that they have already achieved or are too easy.  A really good goal is one that is moderately difficult to achieve.  This helps you strive that little bit more to achieve your goal.

Timely goals relate more to longer term objectives but they can be handy in single races as they provide a means to break down an event into smaller goals. 

Once you have set your goal you have something which you can review your performance against. Remember, if you failed to meet your goal then stay positive, assess your performance and develop strategies that will help you achieve you goal in your next race.   Once you have done this you have turned your failure in to a success and are now well on your way to meeting your goal.

So, the next time you head out to a race, be sure to set yourself a SMART goal and review it constructively after the race.  Perhaps focus on one to two things you could do better next time and then set these as part of your goal for the next race.

Best of luck


Jason Mahoney Wednesday 14 August 2013 at 10:42 am | | Tips
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