I am pretty sure you have been there. I know I have been there. Pretty much anyone who has laced up their running shoes and stood behind a white line waiting for a race to start has been there. We all have had bad races. Some races are just bad. Some are so bad we think the sweet release of death would actually be better than making it to the finish line. Even worse, some are so bad they make us question whether we should even be running in the first place.
One Really Bad Race…
If you have not had such a race experience, all that means is that you have not done many races. I know that I had one of those races during my first marathon in Seattle, WA back in 2011. That was the year that I did the Seattle Rock n’ Roll Marathon.
The race started in Tukwilla, WA and ended near Safeco Field in Seattle, WA. I had managed to injure my back the week before playing freeze tag with a local Boy Scout group. I was flat on my back leading up to the race but when race day came, I decided to see if I could give it a go. As the race started I certainly was not near 100% but I actually started off at an ok pace in the mid- to high-8 minute mile range.
There were so many people in the race that I swear that I ran more lateral miles than forward miles. The course had a lot of hard concrete on it and by the time I hit the bridge over Lake Washington, my feet were starting to feel very beat up. The problem was that was like mile 10 or so.
The rest of the race involved running through stuffy tunnels and along the concrete byways. At mile 19 my feet could not take the pounding any more and I had to walk an uphill for a bit. My time goals were long gone and as I made my way back towards Safeco Field I found the most unfortunate portion of the course. Once you got to Safeco, you actually had to cross nearby the finish line and do an out and back leg of several miles along a lonely concrete highway right through an industrial section of southern Seattle.
I made it to mile 23 and felt a really sharp pain in my right foot. I stopped, sat down and removed my sock. It turns out that pain was one of my toe nails that had come off and was digging into a section of my foot. A medial attendant on a bike hooked me up with a band aid but I could not get my compression sock back on so I had to finish wearing one sock while carrying the other in my hand.
I tried to slowly jog but I was too trashed to do much and ended up walking most of the next 3 miles. Eventually I made it to the finish. I have heard all sort of stories of people feeling elated and filled with accomplishment when they finished their first marathon. Let’s just say I did not. It was horrible. While most beamed with pride, it took me quite a while before I could talk about it with others. The ironic part is that when I finally got brave enough to talk about it with other runners, they all had similar stories of horror.
I actually thought that perhaps this whole running thing was out of my league. The best move I ever made was to put those thoughts out of my mind and signup for a second marathon.
Most Important Things to do after a Bad Race
Having experienced several horrible races myself and knowing many runners who have had similar experiences, I have concluded there are some very important things that we can all do after a bad race:
- Realize you are not alone: If you have a bad race you end up thinking you are the only person in the world that has ever had such experience. Let’s face it, if you have run any number of races, you have had a bad race. Just like there are training days that are better than others, there are races where you just do not have it. It is ok! We have all been there. If you think you are alone, you starting thinking things like, “I am not meant to do this” or “this is so easy for others, I must just suck.” You are wrong! You are not alone here. We have all had those thoughts and we have all failed. That is what makes us human and running is a very human experience. Put those thoughts out of your mind!
- Evaluate what went wrong: A lot of times there are circumstances behind our bad races. Perhaps, it was a hilly race and we trained on flat ground. Perhaps we were injured or sick. Perhaps we did not train as much as we needed to. Perhaps our diet was not there. Perhaps we are trained for long distances and not short, fast ones. Perhaps we just did not have it that day. I am not recommending that we look back to find excuses. Nonetheless, if you look back on what happened you come to not only a better understanding and appreciation that this was just a bad race but also allows that opportunity to understand what we need to learn for the next one.
- Talk about it: Easier said than done if you are like me. If you have a bad race your first thought is to not let anyone know because you are embarrassed. We have all been there and we are all willing to talk about how we have had similar experiences. It helps us all feel we are not alone. By talking with others about a bad race, you get the benefit of not only their understanding but also their perspective and knowledge that you can apply to your own running toolbox.
- Signup for another race: Do not let a bad race be your last race. The natural inclination following a bad race is to never do one like that ever again when the response should be to go home, find another one on the internet and register for it. Best move I made after Seattle was to sign up for a marathon later that year. That gave me something to shoot for and something to apply my corrections to but also kept me from accepting the natural thought that I was not cut out for what I was trying to accomplish.
- Learn from any mistakes: We have evaluated and identified what went wrong. We know we are not alone and we have talked about that fact with others. We are now signed up for another race as well. Now it is time to execute and apply all of what we have learned for the next one. Perhaps that means more miles, maybe it is faster miles, maybe it is loose the donuts, maybe it is new shoes, maybe it staying after from injury likely situations. It could me as simple as realizing that this was just not a good race and there is nothing that needs to be changed. Now is the time to apply what we have learned. If we have learned that we need to make changes and do not actually apply them, well you cannot reasonably expect anything different.