Had a Bad Race Experience: Now What?

Last weekend I ran the Duo at the Ledges Half Marathon — and it was literally the worst race I have ever ran.  For three years now I have been talking to other runners, along with reading lots of online blogs, forums, articles, etc and everyone who has been running for a while will tell you that eventually you will have that a bad race.

For three years I never believed then. “What do you mean have a bad race?” I thought.  I love race day!  Waking up early, getting to the starting line and  the rush and thrill of running with hundreds of other runners — is just amazing.  I have always been able to run a 10 mile race better than I could do a 6 mile training run.

Although I had experienced bad training runs — which I have talked about before (Having a Bad Run) — I have never had a bad race…. Until this past weekend!  The evening before the race I ate a great pre-race meal, I slept well, woke up excited and ready to run, and felt great when the race started.  So what exactly happened?  What exactly went wrong?

Looking back throughout the race I am not exactly sure what happened or where things went wrong.  The only thing I did differently this race was at the 2 mile marker I drank the water at the water station a little faster than I normally do.  All I know is from mile 2.5 through mile 8 I felt like I was dying.  My stomach felt like someone was in there playing twisties with it while a professional boxer punched away. I was miserable! 

Why Do You Have a Bad Race?

There are hundreds of reasons to answer this question!  Maybe the weather was bad, you were injured or sick, you did not train enough for the race, you did not eat properly to fuel your body, you mentally are exhausted — I could continue to list ideas forever.  If you would like to try and pinpoint why you had a bad race ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Did I really train myself properly?
  • Did I do anything different during the race than I normally do?
  • Did I wear clothes, socks or shoes that I have never wore before while training?
  • Did I supplement with something during the race that I have never tried while training before?
  • Did I eat enough food/fuel for breakfast on race morning and/or for dinner the night before?
  • Did I eat the right type of food/fuel for breakfast on race morning and/or for dinner the night before?
  • Was the weather drastically different than you were used to running in?
  • Were you mentally prepared for the race?
  • Are you injured or does your body feel tired at all?
  • Did you start the race too fast and burn yourself out to soon?

What Should You Do When You Have a Bad Race?

If you have not yet experienced a bad race, count yourself luck — but prepare yourself because if you continue to run one day it will happen to you!  If the race is more mentally challenging than it is physically challenging that you should push yourself through the race to the finish line.  If there is something that happens to you physically throughout the race and continuing on would cause yourself major injury — do the right thing and pull yourself from the race taking a DNF (did not finish).  I can tell you from experience that causing yourself injury to finish is race is just not worth it!  

What Happens Once You DNF or Finish a Bad Race?

Running is a mental sport as much, if not a little bit more, than it is a physical sport! Getting past the self-doubt that a bad race or a DNF can leave you with is difficult.  The first thing you need to do is ask yourself the questions above and try to figure out the reason you had a bad race/DNF.  If the reason is something beyond your control — such as weather or sickness — you cannot let yourself dwell on the bad race.  If the answer is that you did something different or turns out to be something you can control that’s easy — just adjust your preparation and plans for future races and make sure you avoid making the same mistakes in the future! 

Here are 5 tips for helping you get past a bad race experience or having a DNF:

1. IMMEDIATELY AFTER: WALLOW (A LITTLE) — More than likely have spent weeks and months training for your race and not getting the results you expected — and have been training for — can be very disappointing and upsetting.  Expressing your frustrations is natural and should be part of your recovery process.  Cry, mope, blog, vent — do what you need to do for the next or two to help you emotionally get back on track. 

2. THE NEXT MORNING: FIND YOURSELF A POSITIVE — Were you able to push yourself through to the finish regardless of how horrible the race was?  Did you save yourself from having an injury which would have sidelined you for days, weeks or possibly even months?  Although my race this past Saturday was the worst race I have ever ran — I realized that the saying I love so dearly “Pain Is Temporary, Quitting Lasts Forever” is something I can live through!  Now, when I am having a bad race I can think back to that race and I know I will be able to push myself through to the end.

3. A WEEK LATER: ANALYZE WHAT HAPPENED — A week later your emotions will have settled down and you can begin to look at your training plan, diet, race day strategy and the race to see if there is anything you can improve and do better for next time.  Just remember — each and every race is different.  Even if you are running the same race each year, each year your experience will be different!  A race is like a puzzle and to know what went wrong you have to look for clues to help you solve the puzzle.  The questions listed above (and others) should help you solve the puzzle. 

4. A FEW WEEKS LATER: SET YOURSELF A NEW GOAL OR TWO —  Every runner has — or eventually will have — a bad race. (Trust me!) Even professional runners have bad races! Use your disappointment to to fuel you towards your next success.  When setting your next race goal, make sure you make it a manageable goal!  If you struggled to get your training miles in for your last half marathon (or other race), you might want to set a goal to do better training — or set a goal to do better at a shorter distance first. Remember — small victories will help you rebuild your confidence after a disappointing experience! 

5. BEFORE YOU NEXT RACE: MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS — You should start every race knowing full well that when running, there is a chance that something can (and eventually) will not go right — or as according to your plan!  Before the race starts make sure you remind yourself that your performance — good or bad — will not nor does not define who you are!  Running is part of a healthy lifestyle — it can make you feel stronger, happier and is a huge stress reliever.  You are out there doing something that a majority of people couldn’t! Those benefits should outshine any poor race performance you may experience.

Just remember — having a bad race happens to everyone — and how you can push yourself past this experience is what will make you a better and stronger runner! 

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