Bounce Back From Any Setback

The five stages of getting over a bad race experience - and running better next time


Posted: 1 April 2010
by Kelly Pate Dwyer and Ruth Emmett

You've trained for months, but race day arrives and something disastrous happens: a bad night's sleep has drained your energy, a freak hailstorm slows you down, a killer cramp forces you to walk. Was it still worth it? Of course it was, if you heed what went wrong.

"A bad race can be a stepping stone to a breakthrough performance," says running coach Mark Wallis (markdwallis.com) "Working through a challenging experience helps you develop mental strength and perseverance." These five post-bad-race stages will help you reset your mindset.

1. Immediately after: WALLOW (A BIT)

"It's natural to be disheartened when things get tough," says Mark O'Hara, author of The Winner's Monologue. Cry, mope, blog, vent to a fellow runner. Do what you need to for a day or two - it'll help you move on. "Just remember why you have such an emotional attachment to the sport," says O'Hara.

2. The morning after: FIND A POSITIVE

Wallis says finding the silver lining will help you get over it. "If you were able to adapt and work through it, consider the race a success," he says. "Focus on something positive that came out of it, whether it's running through a different city or getting a new race T-shirt."

3. A week later: ANALYSE IT

Once your emotions settle, review your training plan, diet and race-day strategy. "Every race is a puzzle," says coach Jeff Horowitz, author of My First 100 Marathons (£15.99, Skyhorse Publishing). "Look for clues to solve it." Did you rest enough during your taper? Did you go out too fast? Did you drink enough leading up to - and during - the race? What went wrong is sometimes within your control.

4. Two weeks later: SET NEW GOALS

Remember that Paula Radcliffe dropped out of the 2004 Olympics, but three months later won the New York City Marathon. If elites allowed themselves to get caught up in a single bad race, they'd be out of work. Adopt this mindset.

"Your running career isn't about one race," says sports psychologist Neal Bowes (simplypg.com). "Use disappointment to fuel your next success." Just make your next goal manageable. If you struggled with mileage, target a shorter distance and set smaller goals along the way. A few 5Ks will calm those butterflies before your next big race.

5. Before your next race: MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

Before you toe the line again, remind yourself that your performance - good or bad - doesn't define you. Running is part of a healthy lifestyle; it can make you feel stronger, happier and saner. Those benefits outshine any post-race glow.


Embrace The Process

Sports psychologist Neal Bowes recommends being process-focused rather than outcome-focused. Here's how to enjoy your journey to the finish line.

Outcome-focused: You focus on a highly ambitious, perhaps unrealistic time goal.
Process-focused: Your time goal is based on training runs and recent races. You also focus on mindset, pacing, fuelling and nutrition.

Outcome-focused: Your confidence as a runner is based on race times. You're driven by how people will view your achievements.
Process-focused: Your confidence is based on your ability to execute a race plan, your development as a runner and the role running plays in your life.

Outcome-focused: Your routine is strict - you train through pain and risk injury.
Process-focused: When you notice a potential sign of trouble, you back off and give your body time to rest.

Outcome-focused: You measure race-day success in terms of times and placing. If you miss a goal time, you feel like a failure.
Process-focused: You measure race-day success partly on times and placing, but also on the experience itself.  You learn from mistakes and come back stronger.


This article is featured in our March 2010 issue (available on the newsstand now). Also in this issue: eight can't-fail moves to build spped and power, the best cross-training workouts for winter, six essential marathon training tips and ten must-do world races.


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