If you run enough races, eventually you’ll have a bad one.
Maybe it didn’t go according to plan, maybe it was terrible and everything felt off.
Maybe it wasn’t too terrible, but you know you could have done better.
The temptation after a bad race can be to move on as quickly as possible and pretend it never happened. But even when a race is terrible, there are things you can still learn from it.
You can become a better runner and racer because of it, but only if you spend some time considering what happened and what you can change going forward.
Maybe you can even journal about it (I know, I know. Sometimes I’m a cliche of myself, always suggesting journalling about things, but I swear it helps).
After a Terrible Race
After a bad race, allow yourself a little of grace, especially if this was your main race of the year.
You’ve been focused on, and training for, a big event for months and months (and months) and it didn’t go how you wanted. That isn’t something you should just blow past.
Allow yourself to mourn what could have been. However, don’t let that mourning turn into dwelling and obsessing.
Wallow, but give yourself a time limit.
After a bad race, I’ll give myself a day or two to be all mopey, then it’s time to move on and get productive.
Questions to Ask Yourself After a Bad, Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Race
If you are honest with yourself and reflect on your terrible race experience (your words, not mine), you’ll realize you learned something.
Something good can come from your terrible race, even if what you learned is what doesn’t work for you.
Why (Specifically) Do You Think Your Race Was Bad?
Without reflection, a bad race can easily be over-generalized as ‘totally terrible.’
But dig a little deeper.
Don’t just leave it at ‘it sucked.’ That leaves you with nothing to learn and nothing to improve upon.
Consider why you think it sucked. And be super specific.
Was it because your finish time isn’t what you wanted?
Or because the pouring rain wasn’t the blue-skied ideal you’d been dreaming about?
It’s easy to brand an entire race as terrible, when in reality, only a single bad thing or one less-than-ideal measure happened.
After you’ve considered why you think your race was terrible, consider a few other measures you can use to judge the success of your race.
OK, maybe your finish time wasn’t what you wanted, but how did you feel? Was your fueling on point? Was your performance OK, but hampered by weather or other factors out of your control?
What (Specifically) Happened and Why?
Now that you have some idea of why (you think) your race was terrible, consider what (specifically) happened and why.
Did you miss your goal time because you went out too fast?
Did you hit the wall because of poor fueling and hydration choices in the first half of the race?
When looking at your race experience, consider not only race day actions like pace and fueling, consider what you did in the days before the race. Maybe you did everything right on race day, but you didn’t sleep well or drink enough water in the days before the race, which impacted your performance.
How Can You Prevent a Similar Thing From Happening Again?
Obviously, you can’t change the past, but you can learn from it and prevent (or minimize the impact of) the same thing happening again.
This is the only time woulda/coulda/shoulda thinking is worthwhile.
If you missed your long trained for PR, but the race was in the midst of a heat wave, that’s one thing. You can’t prevent that from happening again (although you can prepare for the unexpected too).
If you missed your long trained for PR because you didn’t pace the first half of the race according to your race plan or because you didn’t fuel properly, that is something entirely different.
You had control over that, and by considering what you could have done, and – this is key – what you can do (or change) in the future, you can prevent a similar thing from happening again.
What Would You Tell a Friend?
Imagine one of your running friends was telling you about this terrible race they just had, and their circumstances were the same as yours.
What would you tell them?
Be as objective as you can and try to see your experience as someone else would see it.
Advise yourself accordingly.
How Did You Do Physically? Check the Photos.
Check out your race photos.
I know, I know, few people like them, especially if you didn’t have a good race. But review your photos with a more specific purpose in mind: Check out your form.
Compare photos from earlier in the race to those later on.
Did your running form breakdown somewhere along the way?
Did your body or leg alignment go all askew?
Use this information to improve your running form, strength, or endurance.
What Went Well?
I guarantee you something went right, even on the worst race day.
Spend a little time considering what went right on race day.
- What did you do well?
- What is (at least) one good thing that happened on race day?
Be grateful for the things that went well, no matter how minor those successes may have been.
Where Does This Race Fit in the Bigger Picture?
Consider where this race fits in, both in your running and in your life.
Not every race will be a PR. You aren’t always going to improve.
Review your last year or more of running. Review your overall improvement. Hopefully, you’ll see that even if you had a terrible race, it was just that, a single terrible race.
Keep in perspective.
Don’t let a bad race ruin your day.
Don’t let a bad run cause you to doubt your abilities as a runner.
Don’t spiral from having a bad race into doubting your worth as a person or wondering why you ever thought you could run.
Finally, consider where you go from here.
Set a small, doable, short-term goal to regain your confidence. Don’t let this bad race keep you from setting a tough goal next time.
Consider how you will address the issues you had in this race. More speed work? Yoga? Strength work? A review or fine tuning of your form? Addressing fueling or hydration needs? Mindset?
Tweak your training to minimize the chances a similar bad race will happen to you again.