My friend Josh left a long, frantically insightful comment on my previous post When process is more important than outcomes. It covers everything from airline fatalities, Scrabble, poker, jujitsu, 3-point shooting in basketball, and marathon running. And it has a few key points that should be mentioned in any discussion about the importance of focusing on "process". I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's a snippet:
"We live in a society where results get noticed, and methodologies are for the classroom. No one cares how many 3 point shots you make in practice if you cant hit it at the buzzer to win Game 7. People forget about how hard you train Brazilian ju jitsu, if you can submit your opponent in the first round of an MMA fight. You might even be the most talented scrabble player on the planet, but if you cant manage to connect on the triple word score with only the letters "X" and "Z" in your arsenal, then my friend, you are "s-c-r-e-w-e-d".
The sad fact is that a lot of these failures, are just normal distributed occurances, and in fact if your process is robust enough (i.e. you train to WIN championships) then these so called "failures" become variance to a normally expected outcome." (emphasis mine)
In case you hadn't guessed it, Josh and I went to grad school together and we took some statistics courses. Josh even remembers some of it. And I'm glad he does because his point is very important.
Statistics is interested not in individual events so much as the trends that result from many repeated events. By looking at a series of events, statistics can start to extract information from them. For example, a career's worth of 1500m races tells you more about Alan Webb than any one particular race, no matter how symbolic that race appears to be.
When you take a long-term, process oriented view of training, it's equivalent to taking the "statisticians" view of your training. Each individual race, no matter how good or how bad, is indicative of progress on a trend line. Sometimes you outperform your expected results, other times you don't. But those times you don't are not "failures". They are opportunities to improve the overall process.
As Josh writes, "you train to WIN championships". Not lose, and not win only one. You're training for sustained, long-term improvement and success. To that end, you must identify a process that gives you the best odds of improving and being totally prepared when it matters. With that focus, you can then treat your races for what they are: events that are indicative of progress at one point in time.
Some will be good, others bad. All are opportunities to improve your process.