Finishing a race you’ve trained for (seemingly forever), is an emotional experience. I’ve found this particularly true of marathons, where training basically takes over your life for months, but it’s true of any race.
Whether the day went according to plan or not, I’m usually in tears by the time I cross the finish line.
Tears of happiness, relief, exhaustion, disappointment. Whatever the source, the tears, the exhaustion, and the emotions are real.
Don’t Make Finish Line Decisions
It’s rarely a good idea to make a major life decision while emotionally worked up.
Deciding at the finish line that you’ll never run again, that you’ll never do another marathon, that you’ll immediately sign up for another marathon because this one was so amazing, or that you’ll sign up for a redemption race to get the PR you just missed at this one, is rarely a good idea.
Most runners, immediately after crossing the finish line of a marathon say they’ll never run another one (I’ve said it after each of my 27 marathons). At that moment you are so focused on the downside of races: the exhaustion and the struggle.
After a little while (the actual timeframe will vary), most marathoners fall into one of two camps: Those who are hooked and can’t wait to run another one, and those who never want to run another marathon ever in their lives.
Regardless of what camp you fall into, be sure your actual decision-making happens in that ‘a little while later’ time, not in the heat of the finish-line moment.
The Immediate Decision
It can be tempting to make an immediate decision about your future in running at the finish of the race, regardless of the outcome.
There are two basic scenarios:
The race was amazing. If the race was amazing, you may want to immediately sign up for another race to relive the glory and excitement. This decision will be made with the rose-colored glasses firmly in place. You may overlook the pain and the struggle to get to the finish (or even to get to the start).
The race was terrible. If your race was terrible, your judgment and your decision (whether to never run again, or to register for a redemption race) will be clouded by disappointment. You may be more focused on facing (or avoiding) your demons.
You may be so focused on righting the wrong of your bad race, that you may lose track of what your true priorities are.
Why You Should Wait
It’s rarely a good idea to make a decision while in an emotional state, any emotional state.
Savor Your Success
If your race was amazing, savor the success for a bit. Enjoy the amazing race you had.
Jumping too quickly into the next thing may cause you to overlook or forget your successes.
Now is the time to savor your success. When/If you decide to do the next race, it may not be as good, and that could cloud the positive memories of this race.
If your race was bad, you may lose perspective. All you’ll be able to see is the need to overcome the demon or the memories of the bad race.
Your motivations may become skewed.
You may lose track of why the race was important to you in the first place.
It can be tempting to push yourself too hard to overcome your demons, and I promise you, nothing good will come from that.
You May Be Setting Yourself Up For Injury
It is important that you rest sufficiently after a marathon. You need to let your body recover from the stresses of marathon training.
Jumping in too quickly will rob your body of much-needed rest.
So When Is A Good Time To Make A Decision?
So how do you make sure you are making the right choice, for the right reasons, when it comes to deciding your running future?
How do you minimize the chances you are making an emotional decision?
Review Your Goal
What is your goal for your next race?
Do you have a goal for the race itself that motivates you, or is the goal just to do the thing you didn’t do the last time? Or to do the exact same thing again because it was so amazing?
Make sure your goal for the next race is important and meaningful to you.
Don’t get into the trap of working towards a goal just because it was once your goal and you didn’t accomplish it before.
Review Last Race
If your last race was bad, consider why it went bad. Was it your training? Fueling? Race-day circumstances? Life-circumstances?
What can you do to make that not happen again?
If your last race was great, make sure you are honest with yourself that you want to do the next race for its own merits and you aren’t (only) looking to relive the glory.
Review Last Training Cycle
If you need to make changes in your training to improve upon your last race (for example doing strength or track work), are you willing to do that?
If you don’t change your training, you shouldn’t expect your performance to change.
Will you do what it takes?
If the last race was amazing, are you willing to do what you did before to increase the chances you have a similar outcome?
What about you? Have you ever made a finish line decision? How did it work out?