Your race blew up in your face, now what?

November 27th 2019

After days, weeks, and months of training, race day arrives. You're excited at the prospect of running a great race and/or perhaps posting a personal best. But, that's not the way it plays out. 

Everything goes wrong. Your race blows up in your face. After all the hard work you did, what you're left with is a disaster. 

You might be struggling to process your disastrous race. You might be thinking you want to burn your running shoes and put your race singlet in a paper shredder. But, don't do this yet.

I've got a few ideas about how you can diagnose your disaster, bounce back, and perhaps run better than ever.

Do a quality post-mortem.

Bad races don't typically happen in a vacuum. There are (almost) always reasons why things went off the rails. Take a close look at ALL the things that might have catalyzed your disastrous race.

It's possible you trained 'too much'. This may sound crazy, but it's very common. Most runners 'overtrain'. If you didn't rest/recover enough or you didn't taper properly, this might have contributed to a lackluster performance on race day. 

It's possible you didn't train enough. I realized about 16-18 miles into my first marathon I hadn't trained enough. It made those last 8-10 miles brutal and resulted in a pretty unpleasant race.

Personal and/or professional stressors may have been at play. People often don't think about it, but stress can TOTALLY interfere with your ability to perform. If you were inordinately stressed out in the days leading up to your race, this might have contributed to your crappy race.

There are a litany of reasons why your race might have gone off the rails. Spend some time sussing them out. See if you can hone in on a few of the culprits.

Don't obsess.

Crappy races wound you. These wounds don't often heal easily. While I'd advise digging deep to hone in on what went wrong, don't hold onto this race too long.

What transpired on race day is likely an aberration. It's most likely NOT an indication that you're not meant to run. It's most likely not an indication that something much bigger is wrong.

So, don't obsess about your disastrous race. Try to think of it as an anomaly. The painful truth is you're not 'really' a runner until you've had a crappy race. 

Move on.

It's understandable that you might not be in the kind of headspace to resume running or training right now. That's totally fine. But, do something to move forward.

For me, this means indulging other passions. I'm a voracious reader, so I dive even deeper into whatever book is on my bedside table. If books aren't your jam, spend some quality time doing something that makes you happy. 

I've found that a few days or a few weeks away from running can be just what I need. Usually, the urge to log a few miles creeps in. When it does, I indulge in whatever way makes sense.

Once I lace up and head out, I'm not thinking of it as training. I'm not even necessarily thinking of it as running. I'm just thinking of it as doing something I love. 

Give it another shot.

This may be the toughest step in the process of bouncing back from a crappy race. Pull the trigger and sign up for another race. The best way to deal with a disastrous race in my experience is to (eventually) get back on the horse and give it another shot. 

In full disclosure, my first marathon was a complete disaster. It was an experience that cut deeply. But, I recognized the errors I made in preparing for my first crack at 26.2.

The mistakes I made informed my next attempt at 26.2. My second marathon ended up being a glowing success. I shaved nearly 30 minutes off my time. 

So, glean whatever insights you can from your disaster and use them. If you can learn something from your disastrous race, it's more than likely your next race will be a much better experience.