The Loser’s Prayer

This post is about doing the right thing.  Period.  I’ve written more about it here

Before becoming a triathlon coach I was a day trader for 7 years.  I was a discretionary trader meaning that I had to make snap decisions on the spot about when to enter a trade, how many $1000s of dollars to trade, when to exit a trade, and most importantly, when to quit and go home for the day.  I was part of a group of 6 traders and we all traded with slightly different styles.   I’ve seen many people try to learn & fail.  I’ve seen people who knew exactly what they should be doing sit paralyzed in fear as they lost tens of thousands of dollars in minutes.

What’s the golden rule of trading?  The same as in Ironman racing and Ironman training (and probably almost every other area of life)– Do the right thing in the moment given the information that you have.  Period.   That’s what winner’s do.

Ironman racing in particular is much like day trading– you are under stress and surrounded by a mob of people (many of whom are doing the wrong thing) and you need to keep your cool and make an endless stream of decisions.  (Mentally Ironman racing is actually about 100 times easier than day trading because it moves much more slowly and there really aren’t that many variables.  I had to make more decisions in 20 minutes of day trading with more dire consequences than in an entire day of Ironman racing).  We have an idea of what is realistic to achieve on the day but secretly imagine breaking all the rules and hitting it big.  If you make a mistake (put on a bad trade or start pushing too hard), it’s tempting to “double down” and stay on the same path, but much smarter to quickly correct.

One author recommends that traders start each day with a version of the alcoholic’s prayer (acknowledging that you are a loser, that you are helpless against being a loser, and that you need to take it one day at a time).  If you keep making stupid mistakes in your training and racing, you might be well served to start each day with your own loser’s prayer.

But I have a plan!   A great trader said you can give 2 people the same trading rules and someone with the right psychology will make money and someone with the wrong psychology will lose money.  The same thing goes for a training plan and a racing plan.

Sticking rigidly to a plan when common sense tells you to abort is as stupid as ignoring your plan.  Winners simply do the right thing.  A plan is a guide to help you do the right thing, not an excuse to stick to doing the wrong thing.

The interesting thing about the right thing to do is that it’s typically obvious in retrospect:

  • Boy, it was obviously pretty stupid for me to keep pushing hard after the temperature went above 100 degrees.
  • After I threw up on the bike I should have cut out solids and slowed down until I could start taking in nutrition again, but I didn’t want to lose any time.
  • Doing that 25 mile run caused my stress fracture.
  • Getting sucked into an unscheduled group hammerfest the previous day ruined my ironman rehearsal.
  • My legs felt dead at the start of the (bike, run) workout last week but I pushed hard anyway.  Now I haven’t had a good (bike, run) in 5 days and I’m depressed.   Should have listened to my body.
  • I ran 10 miles 3 days after my marathon, now my (insert injury here) is flared up.  That was probably a bad idea.
  • I ignored (heart rate, power, or perceived exertion) because (heart, power, or perceived exertion) was telling me that I was good!  As I was walking on the run it occurred to me that this was probably a mistake.
  • My ankle hurt but I needed to get in my long run.  Now I can’t run for 2 weeks.
  • I barely trained for a month, so I trained double this week to make up for it and now I feel terrible.  Maybe I should have eased back in…
Actually, I’m giving most people too much credit.   These sorts of obvious mistakes are obvious in retrospect only if you actually try to learn from your mistakes rather than rationalize them.   In the last example, the person might “double down” on their mistake and try to train triple the following week.  Poor traders and underachieving triathletes will look to justify their decisions.  Good ones will make a “note to self” for the future.
If most mistakes are obvious in retrospect, then ask yourself the following question before you do something that could turn out to be a mistake “Looking back on this season, what am I likely to think about this decision?  What’s the risk versus reward here?”  Nobody’s perfect (especially not me) but we should all make a consistent effort to make fewer bad decisions that have the potential to undo hours and hours of hard work.  Stop and think!


About Coady

Lucky to be coaching some really awesome & fun people!
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2 Responses to The Loser’s Prayer

  1. guillaume says:

    awesome post kevin – knowing when to quit or dial down can save a race (or season). i learned the hard way going into lanza and then again on race day at CdA (just happened to fall a lot less than the competition)

  2. Coady says:

    Hi Guillaume,

    Yup- the key is to learn our lessons & not repeat our mistakes. Especially when it comes to biking a little bit easier on race day, it’s crazy how LITTLE time it costs you (going MUCH easier on my 2nd loop at IMCDA 2011 cost me a whopping 3 minutes versus loop 1). But I wouldn’t call winning your AG by 10 mintues and qualifying for Kona “learning the hard way” 😉

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