If you’ve been running long enough, you know by now that not every race is going to go perfectly. In fact, some can be downright awful and tad bit heartbreaking. In spite of doing everything seemingly right, some races go horribly wrong.
So how do you handle that and move on? From my own 15-plus years of experience, I’ve developed some strategies that help me get over a bad day and move forward. Here’s what I’d recommend:
First up: Wallow a bit. It may be a bit self-indulgent and may even smack of immaturity to you, but do yourself a favor and take some time to feel low. If you’ve put months of dedicated training into something, it’s hard not to feel bad when you don’t get the results you wanted. For a few days, just go through those sad, disappointed feelings until you feel ready to pick up and start moving on.
Second: Take stock. On the surface it might seem like you did everything spot on, but dig a little deeper and see if there’s not something in there that threw you off.
Things to consider include nutrition. Did you follow through with race-day nutrition exactly as you’ve practiced? Or did you try anything new the day before or on race day?
Also look at your paces. Did you start out too fast? Did you have a truly realistic goal heading into the race? Were there any spots in there where you think you might have gotten caught up in the competition and not run your own race?
Another thing to evaluate is your taper. Did you get as much rest as you should have? Or too much and your legs were left lacking some race-day sharpness? Was there anything you’d change about this training cycle?
Third: Start moving on. Pick another race off in the distance to start focusing your energies on. I don’t really recommend a “redemption” race. I know it’s tempting (believe me!) but such efforts often backfire, leaving you feeling even worse than before the first race. Instead, rest up and pick a new race further down the line where you can get in a fresh training cycle.
Fourth: Incorporate any of the changes you think you might need after taking stock of what went wrong. Sometimes just looking at new approaches to training for the same distance can help shake things up a bit and lead to performance improvements. Just because one approach worked for you in the past does not mean that it will work for you now.
Case in point: I have run marathons successfully in the past on less base than I have built up right now. But I am older and my body is different now, so I have taken the time to build an incredible aerobic base before moving into specific marathon training.
Final word of advice: Even though your race didn’t go as planned, remind yourself that you still crossed a finish line and that any time you complete a race, you need to congratulate yourself.