When The Run Doesn’t Go As Planned

lessons learned from mistakes

Lessons Learned From My Mistakes And Unexpected Happenings On The Run

I’ve written several posts about risk management and running and about being prepared for the risks of a run. These posts combine my professional training in risk management and my personal interest in running.

A common theme in my advice is to learn from your past. Learn from that massive mistake you made or from that thing that happened on that one run that you never expected would ever happen.

Maybe you could have foreseen and prevented the problem, maybe it really was the most unanticipated thing to ever happen to a runner.

Consider your running past and use that as a jumping off point to consider (and prepare for) what could go wrong in the future.

I’ve also suggested talking to other runners about their mistakes and unexpected issues. Listen to other’s stories and consider what you would have done in their situation.

My Lessons Learned

This naturally got me thinking about my running history.

My lessons learned from mistakes and unexpected happenings on the run.

The Wrong Run For A New Gel

Training runs are all about testing stuff out. Trying new gear and fuel and seeing what works (and what doesn’t). An important part of the testing process is sometimes doing the wrong thing and learning about what doesn’t work for you.

Usually ‘mistakes’ during training runs are fairly minor. ‘I didn’t like that shirt’, or ‘that flavor GU wasn’t great’ (French Toast I’m looking at you). 

The biggest training run regret I have was trying a new (to me), vegan chia-seed based gel on a long trail run (read: no bathroom access).

A 15-mile trail run is a terrible time to learn what doesn’t work with my stomach.

I’ll spare you the details.


‘Nothing new on race day’ is a classic piece of advice for a reason. I’ll extend the lesson: Testing new food and gear during training runs is a necessity, but plan accordingly.

Test new food on runs where bathroom breaks will be possible.

Test new gear on days with vaguely normal circumstances. Trying a new shirt in a heat wave sets a high bar for a first impression.

Time Cushions Are Your Friend

I’m an obnoxiously prompt person, so I always have a time cushion on race day. Even so, I’ve had (at least) two instances that re-enforced my love of race-day time cushions.

2003 Marine Corps Marathon

My mom and I were in in Washington DC, standing on the Metro platform, waiting for a train to take us to the start area.

Train after train went by, already stuffed with runners. And since it is super early on a Sunday, trains were short and they didn’t come by very often.

As time ticked by, all us runners waiting on the platform began to nervously check our watches.

We eventually sardined ourselves into a car and made it to the start.

2018: Salt Point

It’s about an 1 1/2 drive to this trail race, so I left about 2 hours before the start. I figured I didn’t need too much of a time cushion, it would be 4 o’clock on a Saturday morning after all, I sure didn’t need to factor in traffic jams.

Less than 5 miles from my house, traffic was at an absolute standstill. I later found out there had been a shooting overnight and all lanes of the Interstate were closed because of police activity. All traffic was being funneled onto a 1 lane exit ramp. It took me nearly 30 mins to go the equivalent of 5 blocks.

I made it on time (with admittedly questionable compliance to speed limits).

Read MoreSalt Point 26k Race Recap


#1 Generally speaking, public transportation on race day is your friend. But be sure to review the schedule in advance and keep in mind many races are on Sunday, when public transportation usually runs less often.

#2 Just because you are driving to a race super early in the morning, doesn’t mean traffic will be light or easy. You’ll still need a time cushion for the unexpected.

Last-Minute Cancellation

2013: Death Valley Marathon

I trained for months for this trail marathon. I travelled to Death Valley and carbo loaded and hydrated.

Then, the night before the race, the National Park Service forced the cancelation of the event because of extreme low temperatures (the forecast was 6 degrees at the start – Oh the irony, in Death Valley where there are signs everywhere warning of extreme high heat).

The park didn’t want to potentially have to send their people out into the canyon where the race was being held in the case of emergency.

So much for that training cycle.


#1 Your race isn’t guaranteed. You can do all the training runs, but ultimately, mother nature (or the National Park Service) may force a change of plans.

#2 Know how the race will communicate last-minute alerts to the runners. This was pretty easy in Death Valley since nearly all runners were staying in one of two hotels. But most other race’s communication plans are a little more involved than posting a sign on the hotel door.


2012: Lagoon Valley

For runners of Brazen Races (organizers of some of the best trail races in the Bay Area), there is a shorthand way to identify other long-time hard-core (or is it insane) trail runners: Did you run in the Trailpocalypse? Others who were there immediately nod and give you a look (this race has turned into a Woodstock kind of event- more people claim to have been there than could have possibly been there, but I digress).

The race started in a light drizzle. Over the next hour, the weather devolved into the worst weather I have ever been outside in: downpour, hail, wind, ankle-deep mud. It was absolute insanity.

But in the end, I won my age group!

I eventually figured out this was because the course was cloverleaf-shaped and looped near the start/finish area several times. Faster runners in my age group (who went out in shorts and tank tops – remember, it was only drizzling at the start) dropped out when the course looped near the finish. I, on the other hand, went out in my BUFF and my jacket.

I kept my head down and continued plodding along as the weather got worse and worse.

Read MoreAge Group Win


Be prepared. There is a fine line between being prepared and lugging pounds of extra gear, but if it’s raining as you start, don’t automatically assume it won’t get worse.


2017: Skyline to the Sea Marathon (for me); 2018: Rocky Ridge (for others)

I’ll spare you the gory details and summarize: face plant and blood gushing everywhere.

This has happened to me on the run and at last year’s Rocky Ridge Half, I came upon another runner who had just fallen and was bleeding pretty badly.


#1 Have First Aid Kit (or at least kleenex) if you are going further afield. Learn basic wilderness first aid. Stuff happens.

#2 Pay attention! I don’t know the specific circumstances that cause the other gentleman to fall, but for me, it wasn’t the tree roots or rocks that I’m often so wary of on the run that got me. I fell on the flattest bit of the course (relatively speaking) when I’d stopped paying attention. You can never take your safety for granted.

What about you? What lessons have you learned?

lessons learned from mistakes

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