7 Top Tips To Get Over A Bad Race

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You’ve booked a race to run, bought a load of running clothes & gear, put tonnes of hours into training, but you had a bad race. It happens to all of us; us runners are humans after all. If you’re down about a bad race, it’s important to get over it and bounce back stronger next time. In this article, we’ll look at 7 tips to get over a bad race.

What exactly is a ‘bad’ race?

Okay, ‘bad’ is a subjective word and what equates to a race being ‘bad’ is all a matter of opinion.  By dictionary definition, bad means ‘not such as to be hoped for or desired;unpleasant or unwelcome.’ or ‘of poor quality or a low standard.’

Ultimately, you can decide if your race day is good or bad depending on whether you hit your desired standard or not. Maybe your desired standard is to run the race without feeling an obvious struggling sensation or to finish before a set time. The standard could be to avoid injuring yourself or even just to finish! If we don’t meet our desired race day standard, we have reason to believe our race was ‘bad.’

What are the most common reasons runners have for a race being ‘bad’?

Not running a target time
Runners get frustrated when they cross the line on race day slower than their target time. Maybe you’re aiming for a sub 1:35 half-marathon but you cross the line in 1:41 instead. Us runners can get annoyed when this apparent ‘failure’ to achieve our target time happens. We believe we’ve put in all the necessary training, eaten correctly, adopted the best race strategy, but – come race day – we find it just isn’t enough to hit the time mark. Not running a target time is one of the biggest causes of post-race frustration, so read on if you want to get over this for the next race.

Maybe you hit the race too hard in the early stages and ended up pulling your quadriceps or hamstrings. Not good. Not only does a race day injury mean being in pain, it also means either a much slower time or having to pull out of the race altogether. Ouch.

Have you ever been halfway into a full or half marathon but found yourself breathing so heavily, legs screaming in pain, you question whether you’re about to keel over and die? Sounds dramatic, I know. However, it’s not uncommon for runners to struggle during race day which can lead to the interpretation of a ‘bad’ race.

Reasons for struggling on race day include not having trained enough, hitting the first half too hard, a tough course, bad weather and so on. Let’s be honest, we’ve all experienced a race day struggle. It’s meant to be our very best running effort, after all!

Having to withdraw
DNF. The dreaded acronym no runner wants to see next to their name in the post-race results. If you ‘did not finish’ the race, you will have had to withdraw from the race and subsequently won’t receive a time.

Reasons for withdrawal include injury, confusion & disorientation (typically through over or under hydration), lacking the willpower to carry on, having an asthma attack and so on. Withdrawal typically brings with it the most post-race blues because it means not getting a time and not getting a medal. Not good!

The weather
We can know almost everything there is to know about a race course such as the terrain, distance, landmarks and where the water stations are. Knowing these things ahead of time means being prepared come race day. However, we can never know what the weather will be like on race day. After all, how are you to know if a mid-May marathon you’re booking in January will be raining, cold, sunny or incredibly humid? Simple answer; you won’t!

Unfortunately, the weather can – and frequently does – lead to a bad race experience for runners. For example, running a marathon in the middle of an unexpected heat wave will mean a slower time. If you’re contending with pouring rain you’ll not only be slower due to the force of the water but will also need to spend more time looking where you’re going.

Despite bad weather being entirely out of anybody’s control, some runners get down about a slow time on race day when the weather isn’t ideal.  This can lead to negative and low feels post-race which need to be gotten over as soon as possible so the runner can bounce back better for next time.

Fuelling problems
When running a race, a runner’s fuelling strategy is one of the most important aspects to success. A sports car travelling at a high speed, with all it’s parts working optimally, needs to be supplied with best & correct fuel. Without it, the sports car will travel slower and won’t be able to perform optimally. As runners, we are no different.  If you don’t eat the right pre-run foods (e.g. bananas, nuts, energy bars / gels, toast, porridge) and stay hydrated, you won’t perform at your best on race day. As a result, you’ll get fatigued quicker and run a slower race which can constitute a ‘bad’ race day experience. Not ideal.

7 Top Tips For Getting Over A Bad Race

Okay, now we’ve established exactly what a bad race day is and the main reasons for one happening. Now let’s look at some practical tips for you to get over a bad race day so you can come back stronger and better for next time.

1. Relax immediately after the ‘bad’ race

Immediately after your bad race day experience your main priority should be to relax.

Take some time to chill out: have a shower, eat some food, drink water or squash and do something you enjoy like reading a book or watching a movie. Get yourself into a positive frame of mind and don’t think about the race.

After crossing the line, you’re not going to be in the best mood. Before you start over analysing everything that went wrong and unnecessarily beating yourself up, focus on winding down from the chaotic race atmosphere. If you’re worked up about a poor race performance, you’re not in the right frame of mind to productively evaluate what went well and what could be improved for next time.

Therefore, your focus should be on relaxation immediately after the ‘bad’ race finishes. Put some distance between yourself and the ‘bad’ race experience. You can think it tomorrow!

2. Reflect

Now the ‘bad’ race experience is over and you’ve had some time to relax, now is a good time to reflect. Doing a reflection exercise after your ‘bad’ race means you can learn from the experience, no matter how catastrophic you think it may be! As John Jacobs said, ‘you either succeed or you learn. Take failure off the table.’

Critically evaluate your race day performance. What went well? What didn’t go very well? How could you have prepared for the race better? What could you do next time to improve? What did you learn from the experience, regardless of how ‘bad’ it was?

Maybe you got swept up in the pre-race excitement and started far to quick, only to feel knackered halfway in. If this is the case then you have learnt you need to pace yourself better next time. It could be that you weren’t prepared for the course terrain and couldn’t cope with all the hills. If so, you need more hill training.  Perhaps you didn’t adopt the best fuelling strategy and found yourself out of energy. Next time, experiment more with fuelling strategies during training so you know what works best for you.

I always jot these reflections down onto a note pad. After a race, I always have so many thoughts and ideas about my performance swimming around my head so I find getting everything down onto paper extremely helpful.  Doing this helps me clear my head and reflect on the race from a fresh perspective.

After a bad race, be sure to reflect! Understand what went wrong and learn from your experience. Use reflection to your advantage and get better for the next race.

3. Recover

After every race (not just the bad ones) it’s a wise move to take some time out for recovery.  Avoid getting to work bettering your running performance right away and give your body – and mind – time to recover and recharge itself. This allows you to come back stronger.

It can be tempting to jump headfirst into a strenuous training regime to improve the weaknesses which held you back during the race. However, this is unwise because your body – and mind – need enough time to recover.

If you hit a training regime hard immediately after a ‘bad’ race, you risk overworking and subsequently injuring your body which would mean more time out of running altogether. Not good! Also, your mind needs time to recover from the intense race day atmosphere so you don’t risk feeling overwhelmed in the days following the ‘bad’ race.

Once you feel fully recovered (believe me, you’ll know) then you’re ready to slip the shoes back on and begin proper training. You’ll come back stronger, fitter and more ready than you can imagine. I know from experience!

4. Get advice from your running community

Whatever went wrong on race day, you can bet your bottom dollar that somebody you know has experienced the same problem as you at some point in their running career.

Why not ask around in your running community for a bit of advice? Running clubs, parkrun and other running groups tend to have a wide variety of members with collective years of experience stored in their minds. Practically a goldmine of running experience and information for you to access.

All you need to do is strike up a conversation with a fellow runner, explain what went wrong during your race and ask for some advice. You’d be surprised at how helpful other runners can be.

For instance, I couldn’t quite work out why my half-marathon time wasn’t getting any quicker. I peaked at about 1:33 but over the course of 3 half-marathons just couldn’t seem to improve this time. After consulting the advice of a fellow parkrun runner, I found that virtually all of my training was on flat ground. Whilst this had helped me build a good level of stamina, the larger gains to speed and stamina I wanted would come from challenging hill runs. I followed this advice and added two hill runs to my training regime per week for a month. Come race day, I smashed my PB and crossed the finish line in a time of 1:30:30. It worked! Following the advice of a runner in my running community worked!

If you’ve experienced a ‘bad’ race, workout what went wrong and your running community for advice. It’s free, easy to obtain, and can do wonders for your race day performance.

For more information on the running community, check out the following posts: 

5. Zoom out and look at the bigger picture

Okay, right now you’re feeling pretty down about how ‘bad’ the race was. It’s fresh in your mind and it still stings to even think about it. Take a moment to zoom out of your current situation and look at the bigger picture.
This one race is just a single event in the long timeline of your life. Are you really going to be on your deathbed, thinking about how bad this race was and that you’re bringing the regrets of the awful race with you to the grave? Of course not! That would be ridiculous because the race really isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.
One event won’t define your entire existence; the race really doesn’t matter as much as you might think! Once you do this zooming out exercise, you’ll find it easier to let the race go and focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past. After all, you can’t change what’s already happened so why not focus on making your future better?
Take a moment to zoom out of your current situation and look at the bigger picture. It’ll help you move on and help you get your confidence back (if you’ve lost some of it).

6. Use the ‘bad’ race experience as motivation

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.’ — Henry Ford

If you believe you have failed in achieving your race goal, do not despair. Did you know that most successful people only become successful after experiencing multiple failures?

Bill Gates was a Harvard dropout and co-owned a business called Traf-O-Data, which was arguably a total failure. Einstein couldn’t speak properly until age 9 and was expelled from school. Abraham Lincoln failed in business in 1831, had a nervous breakdown in 1836 and was even defeated in his first shot at presidential election.

Walt Disney dropped out of school and failed to join the army, one of his first studios ‘Laugh-o-Gram’ went bankrupt and he was fired from a newspaper for not being creative enough. Vincent Van Gough suffered extreme bouts of mental illness, couldn’t hold down a relationship and only sold one painting in his entire life but that didn’t stop him from painting!

We often forget that famous people who we regard as highly successful had to go through their fair share of hardship and failure before achieving greatness. It was these failures that taught them the valuable lessons necessary for success. Smashing your race day goal is no different.

Success is failure in progress.’ Albert Einstein

Every time you fail to reach your race goal, use the experience as a learning curve. Eventually, you’ll learn enough about what will drive a brilliant race day performance and you’ll blitz your race day goals.

Don’t see failure as a negative experience. Use it as fuel, use it to get better, use it as motivation to achieve your race day goals. After all, failure never stopped all those people we consider legends in their quest to achieve greatness

7. Plan and start training again

After you’ve taken a few days to relax, reflect and come to terms with the ‘bad’ race day, it’s time to get back in the saddle and think about running again.

Using the knowledge, you learnt from race day – and whilst analysing your performance afterwards – begin creating a plan of action to better yourself.

Maybe your stamina wasn’t up to scratch and you need to up your weekly mileage. It could be adding weekly hill workouts to the mix if tough terrain caught you out. Perhaps you need to experiment with your fuelling strategy because you just don’t have it quite right yet.

Whatever the case, your priority should be coming up with a plan of action to implement what you’ve learnt so you can train to smash your race day goal. Once you have your plan together – including the changes you need to make – it’s time to slip back into the shoes and get after it again!

(If you’re injured, make sure you take time out to recover before running again. The last thing you need is to make your injury worse and risk having to sit out of running for months).

Thank you and happy running

Well there you have it. My top 7 tips for overcoming a bad race day, all from personal experience. I have had my fair share of bad race days and they are not fun. Seriously. I wish you all the best in bouncing back and smashing your race day goals next time around. Happy running!

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