When you first start running and you’re gradually building your fitness and confidence, it’s exciting to see your race times keep improving. Each race brings a new personal record (PR) and you’re giddy with excitement about your running progress.
But that racing high doesn’t last forever. Eventually you have one of those races when either the weather was awful, the course was really tough, you weren’t feeling great physically or mentally, or you slacked off in training, and you run a dreaded personal worst (PW).
Ok, maybe it wasn’t your worst race ever, but it was pretty bad. And you’re disappointed. We’ve all had those races that we’d like to forget right after we cross the finish line (if we even made it that far).
It’s hard enough to suffer through a bad race, but dealing with the post-race frustration and disappointment can be even more difficult. Here are some tips for how to bounce back after a race doesn’t go your way:
1. Figure out what went wrong.
When you have a bad race, it’s helpful to understand why it happened. It easy to figure out when the race conditions (extreme heat, cold, wind, rain, snow) are to blame. But sometimes the cause can be harder to determine. Think hard about possible explanations. Could you be overtraining? Did you go out too fast? How was your nutrition and hydration, both before and during the race?
Figuring out the reasons behind your bad race can help you avoid a repeat experience and can also help you make necessary adjustments to your training. Just as failed relationships teach us a lot about ourselves, we can learn from races that went wrong. Sometimes a bad race gives us some new perspective and allows us to address issues that we either weren’t aware of or were choosing to ignore. You can learn a lot about your strengths and weaknesses when things go wrong. Be grateful for the valuable lessons learned.
2. Write about it.
It may seem like writing about your terrible race will only prolong the agony, but expressing your thoughts about it in your training journal or blog can help you work through it. Having a record of what you think went wrong will also help prevent you from making the same mistake in the future. Just don’t dwell on it for too long. Spend a little time thinking about it and analyzing it, but then move on. Make sure you also take note of things that worked well, so you’ll remember those strategies for future races. Focusing on the positive will help you get excited for your next race.
3. Or talk about it.
Every runner has had at least one horrible race experience (ask me about when I pulled my calf muscle during a half marathon and had to drop out), so talk to fellow runners and commiserate with them. Comparing bad run stories with other runners will make you feel better about your own experience because you’ll know you’re not alone. It also a great way to bond with others in your running group.
4. Appreciate your good races.
The silver lining of having a bad race is that it helps you better appreciate your great races. After a terrible race, think back to the races when all the factors lined up perfectly and you felt incredible the whole way through. (It’s helpful if you write about those races, too!) Remember that not every race can be your best (or worst) one. Then, sign up for another race, so you can start focusing on your next goal.