Unfortunately, not all races go well.
Maybe the weather was terrible. Maybe you didn’t train as well as you should have. Or maybe it was just one of those days where everything felt off.
Especially if you are a new runner, a bad race can be discouraging and demoralizing. It feeds that little, mean voice inside your head that says you aren’t good enough or strong enough and you should just quit.
You may be tempted to say you’ll never race again.
Let me say right out the gate, it is perfectly fine if you never register for another race.
Doing races isn’t a requirement to be a runner. If it’s not for you, don’t do it.
Do your daily or weekly runs, enjoy them, and leave it at that.
However, if you want to run another race, but are wary because of your last race, that is a different story.
So what do you do if you cringe at the idea of registering for another race after nothing went to plan last time?
Figure Out Why Your Last Race Was Terrible
Consider what happened at your last race.
Can you identify why it was so terrible?
Was it something under your control or out of your control?
Change What Went Wrong, If You Can
Consider what went wrong; change what needs changing.
If you trained wrong, change your training.
If your gear created an issue, change your gear.
Didn’t fuel or hydrate properly? Change your fuel or hydration.
Prepare For The Unpreventable
You can’t control what you can’t control.
Don’t dwell on the things you can’t control, it will only drive you nuts. But you can learn to manage how you respond to the things you can’t control.
The most common race-day issue you can’t control is the weather. You wake up on race day only to find that it’s raining. Or it’s super windy, or it’s ungodly hot and humid.
Get used to running in less than ideal conditions by having a training plan and sticking to it, even in less than ideal conditions.
Train in whatever conditions arise. Since you don’t know what race day will bring, get used to it all.
Don’t bail on training run because it’s raining. Use it to test your rain gear and as practice so you are used to running in wet shoes. If it’s super hot on a training day, get used to carrying more water and adjusting your pace.
When you’ve learned to adapt to conditions in training, when less-than-ideal conditions arise on race day, you won’t blink an eye. You’ll be ready for the unexpected.
The same thing holds true for days when you don’t feel like running. Run anyway.
If you are truly sick or injured and need a rest day, by all means, take it.
But if you just aren’t feeling it, get out there and run. Maybe that’s how you’ll feel on race day.
Visualize All Eventualities
Practice visualization exercises so you are ready to deal with whatever may arise on race day.
Imagine race day. Visualize the start line, the course, and the spectators cheering you on.
Imagine the course in ideal conditions, and when you feel amazing.
But also practice imaging less than ideal circumstances.
Imagine it raining, or your favorite piece of gear causing problems.
THIS IS KEY: also imagine yourself overcoming those obstacles.
Don’t dwell on potentially negative scenarios (trust me, no good comes from that), but having at least considered bad scenarios and imagining overcoming them (again, that part is key!) can make it a little easier to deal with on race day should something bad happen.
Try A Different Race
Different races have different vibes.
Some are super-competitive, others are super low-key, everyone cheers for everyone affairs.
One isn’t inherently better than the other, but depending on your personality and your race goals, you’ll likely react to them very differently.
Know what you like, know what you are looking for in a race experience, and register for races accordingly.
Do A Different Distance
If you are newer to running, a 5k and a half marathon may seem like the same thing, one just takes longer to do. Or that road running and trail running are the same thing, just done on different surfaces.
But they are surprisingly different races, with different training requirements and different racing strategies.
If you did a shorter race and didn’t like it, consider doing a longer race (or vice versa)
It may seem counterintuitive to do a longer race if you didn’t like a short one, but different runners respond differently to different distances.
Personally, I can’t stand 5ks. They never go to plan for me and I can never find a good pace. I’m always miserable after a 5k, but give me a half marathon any day of the week.
For you, it may be the opposite.
It takes all kinds.
Change Up Your Training
Review how you trained for your last race, and do it differently next time.
Add in some speed work, track work or hill repeats (or do less of it, if you think you overdid it last time).
Add in strength training or yoga. Consider swapping out a day of running for cross training.
Run with a group if you usually run alone (and vice versa).
Changing how you train can provide novelty and a bit of distraction. A much-needed change of pace that can alter your mindset just enough to push you through the tough times in training.