In English: No More Excuses

  • By
  • Published Sep 21, 2009
Being a professional triathlete isn't always thrilling. Photo: Carr

Coach Cliff English provides advice on how to cross the finish line with satisfying results.

Written by: Cliff English

Do you ever feel like you are putting in the training and hard work but your results on race day don’t reflect where you want to be? Spending a little time hanging around finish lines, one does get a rather clear glimpse of the emotions and sentiments of athletes just moments after the race is over. Many triathletes seem to have a slight dissatisfaction in their results.

It is common to see disappointment at the finish line of races. Photo: Carr

Granted, this is a common reaction in competition as soon as an athlete crosses the finish line. It is beneficial to let a few hours pass and let emotions dissipate before examining a performance.

We often hear of underproducing and underperforming in professional sports. Many people say that professional athletes are “overpaid prima donnas” who are “not trying hard enough” or are “saving themselves for the playoffs” or are “in a slump.” While it is easy to be on the outside and talk about athletes’ performances, it is much more difficult to look at ourselves and ask why we are not performing. The first phase is always denial—the excuses come out in full force. I am not going to list them because we all know what I am talking about. Let’s keep it at that.

Many performance-limiting issues may actually be valid in a few races each season, and some athletes just have terrible luck all the time. However, once you work out the kinks, you should have a decent number of good races in the race season.

Let’s keep things pretty simple when it comes to racing and training: There are things you can control and things you can’t. When things you can’t control come up, you have to address them with positivity and good problem solving skills. It is just how you deal with it. When we think of what training actually is, we realize that there is so much more to it than just the physical component. You are preparing, you are practicing, you are reinforcing and you are relearning a skill. Your training should prepare you for all the rigors of the race, including the physical, the mental and the emotional components.

There is also a lot to be said about the self-fulfilling prophecy, which means that if your everyday life is hectic and not going according to plan, there is a good chance that your racing will follow a similar pattern. Some athletes are so fearful that they will swim poorly, bonk on the run or cramp that it usually happens in their races.

The first step to putting an end to underperforming and getting you on your way to performing as consistently as possible is identification. This is the same for any problem. Identify the reason or reasons you didn’t perform to expectations. What are some of the performance inhibitors? And then identify which ones you can control and which ones you can’t.

Some of the things we can’t control are life and stress, our competitors, the weather, trouble sleeping and multiple flat tires. We can control our training, our taper, the mechanical state of our bikes, condition of our tires, our mental preparedness and our nutrition.

While there will always be a legitimate reason for things going well or not going well, a reason can become an excuse when a person shifts the blame and ultimately removes personal accountability. How one uses or perceives the reason is the big step towards accepting responsibility for what happened.

More than one issue can impede your performance on race day, so doing a complete post-race report or debriefing after each race with yourself or your coach is important. Keep a log and write it down. Once you start putting words on paper, you may be quite surprised to see what comes out. If there is a pattern, you will find it. And then you can work out a way to better deal with the issues that are out of your control.

If you need to make a change, then take responsibility and make the positive change(s), even if they are hard to make. If you are content, pleased, happy, estatic or satisfied with where you are with your performances, then what more can you ask for? If you are throwing around excuses then it’s in your best interest to figure out your issues and be accountable to yourself while working toward your goals.

Coach Cliff English has more than 15 years of experience coaching age-groupers to Olympians, first-timers to Ironman champions. For more on coach Cliff’s coaching services or training camps, visit


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