You can do everything right in training. You can do all of the training runs, nail the speed work, do each and every strength and stretching session, and carbo load to perfection
Sometimes you can do all of that and still have a terrible race day.
Maybe it’s due to bad or unexpected weather, or a hint of a cold you picked up during your taper. Sometimes even the most well-tested gear causes chaffing and blisters where it never did before.
And sometimes on race day, things just doesn’t come together. You can’t identify the why.
It’s a matter of when, not if, you have a bad race if you toe a lot of starting lines. So what do you do when it all goes wrong on race day? All the planning, all the training, months of preparation leading to… well leading to a big disappointment.
How do you finish the race? How do you move on after?
On Race Day
Be in the Moment
Run the mile you are in.
This is the time to break out any zen and meditation skills that you have. Be present in the race. Don’t obsess over the traffic problem on the way to the start line that stressed you out or how poorly you slept last night. Don’t think ahead to that hill you know is coming and how much worse its going to be with the blister forming in your shoe.
If you are running mile 8, run mile 8. Notice the runners around you, the sights, the sounds. Pay attention to the course and the trees, or the buildings or whatever else is around.
Be where you are, in heart, body, and mind.
It can be tempting to spend the remainder of a race that is going south focusing on your ‘wasted’ training. The miles and the months spent to reach a goal that you will not reach (today at least).
There is nothing to be gained by dwelling. It won’t change your current circumstances, it won’t make the remainder of the race any easier. This one I know from experience – dwelling only makes it harder to keep going.
Keep It In Perspective
There is an old adage: Did you have a bad day, or did you have a bad 5 minutes that you milked for the rest of the day? This is just as true for a run or a race.
While falling short of your goal is a bummer, it isn’t the end of the world. You are still there running. And if it is so bad you have to drop out? Less than ideal, but you made it to the start line. You got the benefits of training and you did your best.
What Went Right?
Be honest. Did it really all go wrong? Are you truly lacking a single thing that you can look to as a success?
I highly doubt it. Something went right. At the very least something didn’t go totally wrong. If you are going to focus and dwell on anything, dwell on that.
There is some positive to be found somewhere. Take a few moments to find out what it is.
After the Race
Crappy Races = Better Stories
Great races are amazing in the moment, but there isn’t much to say about them after the fact. They make for very boring stories.
Crappy races? Now those stories can be told and re-told for the rest of you life.
I’ve recounted my races in terrible weather, bloody falls and disaster after disaster – every chance I get. My running partners can likely recite my stories as if they were there. If I’m at a networking function and something remotely running related comes up, I’m there with the story of my age group win during the trialpocalypse.
Embrace the horrible and remember every detail with an eye towards retelling the story and again and again. Embellishment for dramatic effect is optional, if not entirely encouraged.
Learn What You Can
Is there something you can learn from your bad race experience?
Could you have trained differently? Done something differently on race week?
If so, learn what you can from the bad race to ensure the bad won’t happen again. Minimize the chances of bad things happening, or at try to minimize their impact. But also know that bad things can happen on race day to anyone, anytime.
If there is nothing to learn, there is likely nothing you could have done differently and nothing you can differently in the future. Since you couldn’t have done anything differently, what good is stressing out about it or dwelling on it? Listen to Elsa and Let It Go.
Bad races happen to the best and most prepared runners. While it may bum you out for the day (ok, maybe the week), don’t let it take away your joy of running.