Regrouping after a disappointing race

A key race comes with a lot of emotional and physical investment. The hours spent training and mentally preparing are too numerous to count. Anticipating the event can cause moments of excitement nestled in an anxiety ridden wrapper. Thoughts of well executed training sessions are intermingled with memories of horrendous workouts. All of this momentum culminates in The Day – the months of hard work all come down to a few hours of racing. What happens if the race turns out like crap? How do you handle things if you don’t get to race at all due to illness or injury or in my case, cancelling out due to poor weather?

After I made the decision to not race CIM last weekend, I spent a few hours sulking and guiltily hoping that race day would turn out rainy and windy and horrible (it did). I thought about all of the hard workouts, the physical therapy, the interminable gym sessions and I felt dejected. My immediate thought was, “What a colossal waste of time”.

When I finally came to my senses, I realized that the training I put in for this race was not for naught. The fitness gains I made in running and the improvement in post-injury strength and functionality don’t get washed down the drain because I didn’t race. I will be able to build on the experience of training for this marathon and apply it to whatever athletic endeavor I choose next.

That is when I realized I needed to find another goal. Quickly. As a goal-driven athlete, more important than anything else is finding something and then going after it with vigor. Since the end of the year marathon ship has sailed, I am re-focused on running some local races with an eye on a fast half marathon early next year and ultimately qualifying for the 2016 marathon Olympic trials. Boom. Just like that my mind is at ease with new goals already in place.

Recovering from a race gone awry requires several steps:

  1. Allow some time to wallow in disappointment. Put an actual limit on your brooding and adhere to it. Anything over 48 hours is unacceptable.
  2. Focus on the positives of the lead up to the race. Whether it is gains in run speed, improved swim technique, or increased power on the bike there is always something positive to glean from a training block.
  3. Enjoy the training for the sake of training. If training is a chore and un-fun, the disappointment of poor or missed races will be exacerbated. However, if training is social and enjoyable and the workouts themselves are used as mini tests of progress, there will be fewer feelings of discontent following a race that doesn’t pan out well.
  4. Assess what went wrong. In the instance where a goal was missed, it is important to figure out what happened and apply that knowledge to future racing and training. Determine whether it was pacing, nutrition, over training, under training, a taper gone wrong or just a plain and simple bad day.
  5. Pick a new goal. Unquestionably, finding a new focus is imperative. Having a concrete goal in the immediate future helps ease the frustration that comes with a race that does not live up to expectations.

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3 Responses

  1. Great advice! I was disappointed in my time at Vegas RnR (wind). I have been implicitly following these steps – but your articulation gives me greater comfort that I am on the right track post-goal race. 🙂 Kristen (check spelling of assess)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I love your blog, once again. Such an amazing writer and I hope you start publishing in a magazine for runners/triathletes or even a newspaper that has a section for triathletes/runners/endurance athletes. Maybe we can open up a newspaper together or magazine.
    Anyway, you give the best advice and you give me the inspiration to try again. I thank you so much. I know I have to put in many hours of work with the person you gave me to work with including getting my arteries functioning fully so I get all the blood I need in my legs to run well.
    I love training, and the feeling I get after and during. It is so satisfying. Makes me feel accomplished and healthy. I wish I had a teaching job near where I lived that is conducive to training. Do you know of a nice place in Boulder to rent from May-August? I want to come there in the summer to enjoy the great weather and training. Let me know. I don’t care about the rent, I save up for this all year:) Teaching in Boulder is probably a tough one to get a job, but that could be a goal in the future.
    Thanks Joanna, you always give me inspiration.

  3. Hi – it’s nice to discover your blog (I got the link through the ultrarunnerpodcast daily news feed). I wrote a similar post on “how to recover from a race that sucked” ( but came to a slightly different conclusion after researching the work of a sports psychologist, Neal Bowes, who explains why and how it’s important to be more “process focused” than “outcome focused.” He highlights what you describe in point #3, training for the sake of training, and encourages less emphasis on goals that have to do with a specific finishing time or placing against competitors. I like what he had to say about being a little less goal oriented; or, rather, redefining goals to be about the process of training and executing a realistic race plan rather than focusing more narrowly on meeting a goal time. Good luck with your training in 2013!