Smart Athlete

Big Goal Got Cancelled. What now?

Big Goal Got Cancelled. What now?

At the present time (March 2020) we have a worldwide pandemic that has canceled pretty much everything for…well…for a long time. Things are very serious and no one really knows what will happen next. We are lucky to even be thinking about sport and how it fits into our day.

Beyond our present situation, races can get canceled or removed from your season for all sorts of reasons. Family emergency, race permitting/finance, weather, illness, and injury. It is always a blow to motivation and a threat to long term consistency.

With any disruption, our first concern must be our health. Recovering mentally and physically before resuming training. If stress from life is still present then we must be conservative in our training load to avoid further disruption. As you resume training focus on feeling/rpe much more than power, it will come back but be cautious going deep.

To distract myself from all that is going on right now, I turned to an old friend, The movie ‘Wedding Crashers’, for distraction. I ended up also getting inspiration for how to cope with canceled races.

“I knew I was never going to be a professional bullfighter, but that’s not why I did it.”

Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers

The reality is that none [few] of us can logically be using sport for ‘extrinsic’ (outside of us) reasons. We are not racing in the Olympics or The Tour De France, and no one is paying us. True, you might like the thrill of competition, the glory of an age-group podium, or the social side of races but if you are reading about training and racing than you have a love for the process. You are motivated and enjoy some variation or combination of: moving, training, adventure, connecting with people, nature, health, fitness, speed, pushing your limits or skill development.

So what now? 

As I work through this situation with the athletes I coach, I am finding that variations of the below two questions, or thought experiments, help to frame a couple of next steps and reflect on WHY we do any of it.

There are no wrong answers here. We are just looking to pull out what you like to do and what you would like to do more of in the future, even if the foreseeable future is uncertain. [You may have to watch Wedding Crashers a few times before your WHY becomes apparent.]

Thought Experiment #1 – Race or No Race 

A) If there are no races for this year … what would you do? Think about this in terms of your daily/weekly routine and workouts and hobbies … would you change anything?

 — OR —

B) If your goal race was 100% happening for sure … what would your day to day life/training be like? 

Are there differences between the 2 scenarios above?

What are they? Why? 

If there is a large difference between the two extreme scenarios, reflect on whether you can bring more of the no-race lifestyle into your day-to-day now, even for a few weeks and see if your fitness, motivation, or enjoyment of training changes. 

Planning a virtual race or challenge for the extrinsically motivated athlete (one who needs a goal to motivate training) can also be a good idea. Zwift, Strava, and FKT (Fastest Known Times) are possible avenues to look for more controllable outcome/event goals. 

Would you go to a Bike Park and jump your bike more? I know I would! Why can’t I do more of this regardless of racing?

Thought Experiment #2 – Long-term, Dream, 1-5 year goals? 

What do you want to do in 2021 or in 3-4 years or in? or 5+ years? (Think about your skills, fitness, achievements, athlete-self, lifestyle, etc) 

Do you need racing to progress in that direction? (Could you improve key skills or elements of fitness that would benefit even if there’s no racing this year?)  

Does racing NEED to be here to move in that direction? (Could you refine your technical skills by riding very technical MTB trails? Or ride more gravel without a gravel race?) 

What can you do without racing? 

Many of us want to be racing at a higher level or be ‘more of an athlete’. There is so much we need to learn and so much that DOESN”T need racing. Focus on what we can do NOW/this year. 

Ideas For Disrupted Times: 

Would you adventure with friends on crazy trails more?

Set Process/Practice/Skill Goals That take advantage of no Racing

Depending on what your current situation is, you may still be able to ride outside. If so, consider:

  • RIDE FOR FUN – this is often missed due to race weekends. Now, try to enjoy your weekends as much as you can in this situation.
  • RIDE BY FEELING – it is likely you are busy/stressed/tired … use your RPE/Feeling, resist the urge to hold onto wattage or HR at this time. Think consistency. [thanks to Adam D. for this thought in comments]
  • Technical & Hilly riding – Getting to technical/hard/awesome areas that you don’t usually go to due to travel to races and race schedules. Make your normal week of riding harder so your ‘normal’ is at a new level. (Please be careful on technical terrain, as you don’t want to injure yourself now.) 
  • Dismount/Mount – this is just important and translates into so much else on the bike in addition to helping save/recover from crashes. 
  • Speed Skill – Cadence, spinups, shifting, accelerating  – getting comfortable with high RPMs, going quickly and adjusting speed and effort. (e.g. 5 x 30 seconds at high effort/cadence)  
  • Executing Intervals outside – this is a skill that gets missed or lost due to racing but that will make you a much better cyclist/racer. 

Set Outcome/Experience Goals to Replace Racing

  • FKT (Fastest Known Time) or big rides can provide much of the ‘post-race high’ and still feed into your experience as an athlete. 
  • Improving your ‘base’, volume, fitness: With no racing, we have the opportunity to do more as spring comes then we usually would not be able to. For many cyclists, this is a very rare experience. Take time to learn about actually going through training blocks outside and raise your fitness (base).  
  • Improve your tests (fitness) – Seeing your training pay off in a measured way is something many people haven’t seen. (e.g. do 3-4 x 8-12 minutes hard *but sustainable* intervals 2x a week for 3 weeks and then rest and recover and re-test) 

I leave you with more Wedding Crashers:

“We have no way of knowing what lays ahead for us in the future. All we can do is use the information at hand to make the best decision possible.”

Christopher Walken in Wedding Crashers

More Insights/Perspective on Strategies for when Races Get Cancelled.


Contact me – or – Book a phone consult if you need help with reworking your season and setting targets

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  1. Thanks for posting this positive message Peter. Outside forces that many of us thought “could never happen in Canada” are on our door step. As stressful as the situation is there is also a great opportunity albeit a forced opportunity to operate our daily lives outside of our comfort zone.
    Learning to adapt to an ever changing situation such as COVID eventually will make us all tougher, smarter and realize how good we normally have it. On the training side I personally am noticing my numbers and RPE have changed because of these new external stresses. For the first time I can feel and see in the numbers the effects “life stress”. It’s hard not to panic train through this perceived decline in performance. I am however lucky and have a great coach making sure I don’t just pile on volume and intensity in an attempt to train through it. Easing of the throttle and focusing on continued base conditioning is helping the mind , body and soul.
    This is my long winded way of saying that in my mind and in my experience focusing on the process always works.
    Thanks for your posts and podcasts. Keep them coming.
    Stay safe, healthy and fit ‘ish’

    Adam DeBiasio

    1. Adam – thank you so much for reading and this great thought about not losing our Feeling, or even focusing on FEELING during this time and adjusting load accordingly. I am going to add this thought into the post!

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