Reader to reader: Bouncing back from a bad race

How do you pick yourself up after a bad race? Here are your motivational tips


Posted: 18 June 2007
by Catherine Lee


No matter how much preparation you’ve done beforehand, sometimes on race-day things just don’t go to plan. But for this week’s questioner, a disappointing performance has left her void of all motivation to continue – can you help her regain her confidence and persuade her to sport her trainers once more?

“I started competing in March this year at the Liverpool Half-Marathon. I was really pleased with a time of 2:06 and felt like a proper runner. I was confident I could do two hours on Sunday at Blackpool as the course was flatter, so was devastated with my time of 2:32. I’m absolutely gutted and thinking about hanging up my trainers... can anyone out there help?” Jennifer Barrow

Your best answers

  • If at first you don’t succeed...
    Just think of it like a bad day at the office - they happen. My missus was gutted for weeks after her (in her mind) poor show at the World Triathlon Champs last year. She underperformed by her standards – even coming 24th (of 50) in the World for her age-group was not enough to console her. She came home and won her next event to make up for it, but she was a pain to live with for weeks – fat buddha
  • ... try, try, try again
    Sign up for another race. It's the best way to get over a disappointment. It'll give you a fresh challenge and make you more determined. – Broado
  • Put the fun back into your runs
    Go out for a couple of watch-free, scenic runs, just for the joy of running. It will help you remember why you enjoy it. Or try going for a run somewhere new. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for being able to run a half-marathon at all. If you're a novice, I bet you couldn't do that at all a few months ago. – OJO

  • Re-channel your energy
    You really should run for the sheer enjoyment of it - for the freedom and health benefits it offers. Getting too hung up on times ruins the fun and you will run better without the stress of running against the clock. When you have a more relaxed approach to running you will probably surprise yourself and run a PB. – kam kunar
  • Throw yourself into something new
    If you're struggling to get motivated, do something different. I had a nightmare Cardiff marathon, but the next 'race' I did was the Sodbury Slog - 9 miles or so of mud, fun and forumites. Again I've struggled since then to get motivated, but I've just entered a sprint triathlon. There's nothing like a fresh challenge to get you going. – SoVeryTired
  • Focus on what you have achieved, not what you haven’t
    It's perfectly understandable to be disappointed, but at the same time try to see the positives. I ran my first marathon (FLM) in April last year and was deliriously happy with my time of 3:58. By October I was hoping to break 3:45, but was quite ill the week of the marathon and had a really rough race - finishing again in 3:58. Since then all I've done is run one personal worst after another - I would give absolutely anything for another sub-4:00 right now. What I'm saying is appreciate your fitness, because situations can change and when they do it can make you realise that what you had before was actually quite good. – MadameO
  • Count your blessings not your bruises
    I get over a bad race by telling myself not to be so self-indulgent and reminding myself that there are lots of peeps with some injury or another who maybe haven't run for months. They would relish the chance to race. – Namaste
  • Re-size your set-back within the bigger picture
    I too had an awful half-marathon result recently - running much slower than I expected after six hard months of training. I was so disappointed, but my trainer said me "it is not the destination, but the journey itself, that is of greater importance". Be proud of your achievement in sticking to your training regime for the race. You are fitter and more experienced than when you started training, despite your disappointment at the end. So many people would not have even contemplated (let alone have completed) the training. Be proud that you completed the race, especially in the heat, and be proud of your ability to 'pick yourself up' after the disappointment. This is your absolute strength. – Petite Oiseau
  • The tortoise and the hare
    Could you be trying too hard? When you are new and enthusiastic it is easy to turn every run into a 'race'. I know that’s what I did! – SFC
  • Cast your mind back to your original goals
    Don’t forget the reasons you got into running in the first place - losing weight, being healthy, feeling better about yourself etc. I don't know many runners who got into running to post a PB every race. That comes when you start pushing yourself further. When you're feeling bad about a race time, just think back to life before you started running and how lucky you are that you have the health to do it. None of us should ever take that for granted. – Petite Oiseau
  • Learn to see the positives among the negative
    It's all part of the rich tapestry of running. It may have been a lack of hydration, incorrect training, excessive performance anxiety, hot temperatures, poor race strategy etc. It's easy to be downcast as a novice when these sorts of thing happen, but it's important experience to get under your belt, and will make you appreciate the good days even more. Good news is you finished in one piece and got a medal. In time you'll come to look back at it as a useful experience and you might even treasure the memory. It's a victory of sorts to even keep on going when everything's going wrong. – Broadsword Calling Danny Boy
  • Think of it as fuel for next time
    Everyone has a PW at something - use it as incentive to improve next time. Also, at the weekend I came across this philosophy - if you're not on for a prize and the race costs a fortune to enter, take your time and get your money's worth! It works for me. You can't do a PB every time you race – Cath.
  • Remember: anyone else would feel the same...
    I agree with all of the above, but I would also add… don't feel bad about feeling bad (if you see what I mean). We invest a lot of time and effort into our preparations, whatever our pace so it's natural to feel disappointment when things go wrong. – XL-Man
  • ... but in time you might think differently
    Believe me, I'm ready to chuck myself into the blender when I have a bad race. However, you can either 1) hang up your trainers, waste three weeks then realise you miss running and come back having missed training or 2) get over it and pick a 10K race somewhere with no time target and a no watch. Give it a couple of days and move on - you won't believe how quickly you forget bad races! – Pugheaven™

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Started competing in March this year - Liverpool 1/2 Marathon. Really pleased with 2.06 hours - felt like a proper runner. Confident I could do 2 hours on Sunday at Blackpool as course was flatter. Devastated with 2.32 and all manner of nasty side effects which I can't write down. Absolutely gutted and thinking about hanging up trainers...Can anyone out there help?

Novice runner
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 14:46

Everyone has bad days Jennifer, you just ask Paula Radcliffe how she got on in Athens! You think how many months went in to training for that one, and she didnt even finish!

Wasnt Sunday really hot anyway? I always struggle in the heat.

Keep smiling, and dont hang the trainers up!!
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 14:52

At the risk of trivialising it these things do happen. Sometimes at a race, and sometimes on a training run. But yes it is difficult to get over.

Dont hang your trainers up. From what I heard about Blackpool yesterday it was very warm . It can be v difficult to run in heat. My first gnr went really well when my longest training run was 10k. The year after, and after much training and preparation I made a total @rse of it.

Dont give up. You would still be a proper runner at 2:32.

Personally I would enter another race to re-motivate myself.

Good luck!
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 14:53

everyone has bad race results occasionally, and its hard to not beat yourself up about it. The solution is to dust yourself down and get on with focusing for another one.





Posted: 04/06/2007 at 15:01

As stoxy said, sign up for another race. It's the best way to get over a disappointment. It'll give you a fresh challenge and make you more determined.

I ran the Boston marathon 15 mins behind my target time, and 12 mins slower than my previous marathon. I was gutted as I'd trained for six difficult months but just had a bad run on race day. It happens. A few days later though I got the bit between my teeth and told myself I'd be back next year. I signed up for another marathon this September and I'm really looking forward to it.

Keep your chin up, and more importantly, keep running.

All the best
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 15:08


SFC
Hi JB
Agree with everything posted here but....
I have been running for 18 months and had my 9th race on Saturday. In the last 2 week have reduced half pb from 1:52 to 1:48 and then 1:45 and 10k from 49 to 47:31... the reason, I think...
started running regularly, a couple of times a week with OH at a much slower (2mm slower) pace than I have been running for months.. I think this has helped..

Could you be trying too hard? When you are new and enthusiastic it is easy to turn every run into a 'race'... thats what I did!

Good luck with the next one!
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 15:10


OJO
Jennifer, I hope you don't give up. I was just going to offer some empathy. I'm a racing novice too and felt exactly the same as you after my first half marathon a couple of weeks ago (Sheffield). I went out too fast, got too hot, ended up run/walking the last couple of miles, really didn't enjoy the bulk of the race and finished in 2.17, which was about 10-15 minutes slower than I thought I should have done.

The cure? A couple of weeks on I've been out for a couple of watch-free, scenic runs whilst away for the weekend...just for the joy of running. And I've remembered why I enjoy it. Even if you can't go away somewhere scenic for the weekend, you could try going for a run somewhere new and possibly attractive and try to put the fun back...

Oh and pat yourself on the back for being able to run a half-marathon at all. If you're a novice, I bet you couldn't do that at all a few months ago. I know I couldn't.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 15:13

Been racing for around 15yrs on and off, more so over the last 10 and believe me,bad racing is a fact of life.
Just move on to the next one, for every awful run there will be a race when everything falls into place and you surpass your expectations.

Posted: 04/06/2007 at 15:20

but well done on the two halves you've completed, thats 2 more than a load of people.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 15:21

I was racing (badly) at the other end of the country, but I spared a thought for the poor souls up in Blackpool. You did brilliantly to get round at all, stuff the time.

The best way to get over it is to get right back in the saddle. I recommend a much shorter race!
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 15:31

just think of it like a bad day at the office - they happen

my missus was gutted for weeks after her (in her mind) poor show at the World Triathlon Champs last year in her age group - first time in GB kit as well........she underperformed to her standards and even coming "only" 24th (of 50) in the World for her group was not enough to console her.........

she came home and won her next event to make up for it but that bad day at the office was a nightmare for her - she was a pain to live with for weeks.....

it still rankles with her nearly 12 months on but she looks back on it and recognises what went wrong so she can eliminate those in the future

so JB - carry on racing - everyone gets bad days
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 15:39

Jennifer, well done on completing Blackpool on a day when the weather conditions were challenging.

As everyone else has said, bad races happen, and sometimes good races don't result in PBs. I was racing badly yesterday too - a 10k more than 4 minutes slower than my PB - but rather enjoyed it.

And if you had definite things go wrong which slowed you up, you've got something to work on. Over the years, Things Going Wrong have given me lots of opportunities to adapt to overcome those problems, from recognising that I'm not designed to run well in the heat (and therefore should do my target races in winter) to discovering that I shouldn't try to use gels.

Give yourself a bit of breathing space then do another race. A shorter one so that you start off knowing that if it feels hellish it's only going to be for a short time.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 16:06

Jennifer - as everybody has said, well done on getting round and try not to beat yourself up too much. While there are often easily identifiable reasons why we have bad days (and the heat/humidity yesterday certainly wouldn't help - and I'm not sure I could take the smell of Blackpool chip shops while trying to race) sometimes it just happens and no amount of stressing will make it better - usually the opposite.

Have a few days off, get rested, then go out without your watch and just enjoy running without any pressure. You're not a poor runner and you haven't become a less good one just because you had one bad day.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 16:27

Jennifer, I've done both Liverpool and Blackpool and of the two races, Liverpool was by far the best. Everyone has bad days racing and training. The best thing to do is pick yourself up and don't dwell on it too much. Everyone has a PW at something - use it as incentive to improve next time.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 16:38

Believe me, I'm ready to chuck myself into the blender when I have a bad race, which is usually 1 in every 2 races lol.

However, give it a couple of days, and move on... everyone and I mean EVERYONE has bad days... you had one... and it's horrible, but we've all been there.

1). Hang up trainers... waste 3 weeks then realise you miss running and come back having missed training...

2). Get over it and move on... and set yourslef a little 10k race somewhere with no time target and a no watch... just race...


You wouldn't believe how quickly you forget bad races!


Pug
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 16:39


Nam
I get over a bad race by telling myself not to be so self-indulgent and to "get over it" and remind myself that there are lots of peeps on the bench with some injury or other who maybe haven't run for months and would relish the chance of a race no metter how crap.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 17:47

I didn't run so well at Blackpool either - my half PB is 1.51 but I ran 1.58 yesterday. Don't worry. It was quite hot, which is never ideal, and the course was mentally more difficult than I remember (the long straight to Bispham in particular). Put your T-shirt on and enjoy the fact you did it at all :)
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 19:45

Go and do your fav run with no watch on - just for fun as fast or as slow as you feel like. Mine would be going to the local woods which involves a long steady hill but when you get to the top and look back down at the view it really shows me why I enjoy running.

If you feel a bit rubbish then just make it shorter. Maybe you were just too enthusiastic and expected too much from your second race.

I set my 800m pb in my 3rd race ever and failed to beat it after about 7 races that season despite training better.




Posted: 04/06/2007 at 19:53

Jennifer,don't hang up your trainers! I was training for a half marathon earlier in the year and when I went out on a long run,hoping to do 12 miles I had to stop and walk/run home after 7miles and only totalled 10 miles.
I was gutted as I felt so up for it.I posted a "feeling sorry for myself" topic on RW and got so much support that the following week I went out and my long run was fine.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 20:02

Thanks for all the brilliant advice guys! Today is another day and now my pride has stopped hurting I'm back on the road tonight - watch free for now!
Posted: 05/06/2007 at 07:52

If I seem like I am on for it at 5K, I'll go for it, otherwise just throttle back and sightsee. The day the time consumes me, I'll give up racing.

Well done on the Halves BTW
Posted: 05/06/2007 at 08:53

Also... at the weekend I came across this philosophy...

If you're not on for a prize... and the race costs a fortune, take your time and get your money's worth!

Works for me. Can't do a PB every time you race.

:o)
Posted: 05/06/2007 at 08:55

Hello guys

Thought this would make a good Reader to Reader so look forward to hearing more of your motivational tips and tricks!

Thanks

Catherine
Posted: 11/06/2007 at 11:50

hi jennifer,

i have been running for around 5 years. the first 2 years were very successful and during that time i managed to reduce my half marathon time from 2 hours 10 mins to 1 hour 41 mins. desperate for the next challenge, i managed to secure a place for the london marathon only to suffer a knee injury when i reached the longest training runs. i didn't end up running london that year. for the past two years i have entered marathons again but had the same knee problem. my on going injury has disrupted my training so much that i am almost back to the pace i ran when i started out running which has left me very demotivated and resulted in me missing training runs and falling out of my routine. the only advice i could give you is the advice i give myself most days as i find myself trying to get back into running - that you really should run for the sheer enjoyment of it...for the freedom and health benefits it offers. getting too hung up on times ruins the fun and you will run better without the stress of running against the clock. like me a few years ago, when you have a more relaxed approach to running you will probably surprise yourself and run a p.b.

kam.
Posted: 11/06/2007 at 13:46

Hi Jennifer,

Firstly well done for completing 2 half marathons, what an achievement. I know that you are really disappointed with your time this weekend but please don't beat yourself up too much.

I think as runners we put so much pressure on ourselves to get a PB each time we run that we actually forget about the enjoyment and why we started. I read an article recently (I'm afraid I can't remember where otherwise I would let you know.) about leaving your stop watch, heart rate monitor and GPS unit at home and just go out for an enjoyment run. I did that after a bad race and actually looked at my surroundings as I ran, thats when I realised that running is about enjoyment. The best thing to do possibly enter another race or just leave everything that 'counts' miles, times and calories at home for a week of runs and see whether you can get the enjoyment back...

Let us know how you are doing as we are all have been there... look at my thread 'desperately need motivation'!

Take care and we're all here to support you and each other.
Eleanor
Posted: 11/06/2007 at 13:54

I had a bad London Marathon this year, way off my target pace and really fed up at the end. I've since had some time off running (planned before the marathon) to make sure I had a good recovery. This time has made me realise how much i actually enjoy the running and miss not doing it - maybe a short break will help you remember all the good bits!
Posted: 11/06/2007 at 20:40

answer jennifer is the realisation that a poor race don't mean a poor you and there will be plenty to improve on later:O)
Posted: 11/06/2007 at 20:44

Agree with all of the above,but I would also add

don't feel bad, about feeling bad
(if you see what I mean).
We invest a lot of time and effort into our preparations, whatever our pace;
it's natural to feel disappointment when things go wrong.

Those feelings will pass though, good luck.
:0)
Posted: 11/06/2007 at 20:53

No matter how fit or fast you get, there are always going to be bad runs. But i have found that this only makes the good runs even more enjoyable.
Posted: 12/06/2007 at 12:44

Hi Jennifer,

It's perfectly understandable to be disappointed, but at the same time try to see the positives. You've run two halves and have experienced the good and the bad. Both of these can help you in training and preparing mentally for future races.

I ran my first marathon (FLM) in April last year and was deleriously happy with my time of 3:58. By October I was hoping to break 3:45, but was quite ill the week of the marathon and had a really rough race - finishing again in 3:58. Only this time I was disappointed, and saw it as a failed attempt at 3:45 instead of a sub-4. Since then all I've done is run one personal worst after another and I'm currently having problems with my iliotibial band following my third marathon two weeks ago. That one was 4:37, and I would give absolutely anything for another sub-4 right now - or even to go out and run pain-free for more than a couple of miles.

What I'm saying is appreciate your fitness, because situations can change and when they do it can make you realise that what you had before was actually quite good. Good luck :o)
Posted: 12/06/2007 at 13:18

Jennifer - take a little time to think back over the race and see what you can learn from it. Was your pacing wrong? Bad preparation? Unforeseen circumstances?

Learn from what you can change, ignore what you can't, and enter your next race.

If you're struggling to get motivated, do something different. From my experience... I had a nightmare Cardiff marathon. The next 'race' I did was the Sodbury Slog, which was 9 miles or so of mud, fun and forumites. I've struggled since then to get motivated, but I've just entered a sprint triathlon. There's nothing like a fresh challenge to get you going.
Posted: 12/06/2007 at 14:04

Hi Jennifer

I too had an awful half-marathon result recently - running much minutes slower than expected after 6 hard months of training. Like you, this was a race in the heat.

I was soooo disappointed, but my trainer said this to me "it is not the destination, but the journey itself, that is of greater importance"

So, Jennifer, be proud of your achievement in sticking to your training regime for the race. You are fitter and more experienced than when you started training, despite your disappointment at the end. So many people would not have even contemplated or even completed the training

Be proud that you completed the race, especially in the heat - temperature can make a HUGE difference to your performance.

Be proud of your ability to 'pick yourself up' after the disappointment. This is your absolute strength. Start searching the RW events pages on line and sign up for another race to motivate you again- I have!!!!!

Good luck!





Posted: 12/06/2007 at 14:47

It's all part of the rich tapestry of running.

It may have been a lack of hydration, incorrect training, excessive perforamce anxiety, , hot temperatures, poor race strategy etc etc.

It's easy to be downcast as a novice when these sort of things happen. However, it's important experience to get under your belt, and makes you appreciate the good days even more.

Use the difficulty, ie use it to fuel your motivation to do better next time.

I remember having a hellish marathon in Rotterdam, my knees locked up at halfway and I walked the next 12 miles to finish in 4:52. I went back to Holland 6 months later and did a 1:25 half at Amsterdam.

Good news is you finished in one piece and got a medal. In time you'll come to look back at it as a useful experience and you might even treasure the memory. It's a victory of sorts to keep on going even when everything's going wrong.

Keep your chin up!
Posted: 12/06/2007 at 15:35

Just to add another to the list, to emphasise that you're not alone, I had a nightmare Windermere marathon in May. I cramped up and ended up walking the last 6 miles. I added an hour and a quarter to my previous marathon time. I was a bit gutted to say the least. I took a complete break from running for a week, and then got back into it. It helped clear my had and give my legs chance to recover. I'm enjoying my running again now. Bad days will happen, but I reckon the good days more than make up for it.
And well done for still finishing, a lot of people probably would have dropped out when things went pear shaped.
Posted: 13/06/2007 at 11:53

hey me love,
I'll just add to what the other folks have said! I ran over 7 mins slower for my 10k this year, and i had put more training in and even been to the gym for my sins! i was gutted to say the least. I was 1/2 stone lighter this year too, but still a slower time (grrr!). I also had chaffing and a nasty burn for the very first time which did not help either! I'm doing the Edinburgh Moonwalk next weekend and look forward to getting my very first PB over a marathon distance (and that will be done walking in a pink decorated bra!). Go out and relax, enjoy ourself...it happens to us all!!! L x
Posted: 13/06/2007 at 12:56


4dj
Seriously dont worry about it !!!! i ran a 1.24 for 10 miles in training only to race 1.28 just over a week later ... really doesnt make sense.
I like to work on the basis that for every bad race there is there must be a good one inside me on a different day ...
Posted: 13/06/2007 at 13:54

I agree with all the comments placed here. It is utterly disheartening when you have a bad race. Try not to give yourself such a hard time. For me, I had one just a few weeks ago, a terrible 10k. The heat zapped my energy levels and I moaned to my partner for hours afterwards about how much I hated it!!! And I was never to race again...blah, blah, blah!!! Still, I took a few days rest, collected my thoughts about how I could do it differently etc etc and have entered another 10k race for tonight. Lets see how I do!!! But I might take the advice of others here by focusing on the enjoyment rather than the timing. Good tips :)

Dont hang your trainers up, we're all rooting for each other on here!!

Lucy xx
Posted: 13/06/2007 at 16:14

Everyone I've read so far is talkng about PB's and focussing on their times. Just don't forget the reasons you got into running in the first place. Losing weight, being healthy, feeling better about yourself etc. etc. There are many. I don't know many runners who got into running to post a PB every race. That comes when you start pushing yourself further and you get this false idea that anyone really cares apart from you. (there are loads of people on this thread who actually think that you care what their PB is. Do you?) When you're feeling bad about a race time, just think back to life before you started running and how lucky you are that you have the health to do it. None of us should ever take that for granted.
Posted: 15/06/2007 at 08:18

Mnay responses I've read so far talk about PB's and focussing on their times. Just don't forget the reasons you got into running in the first place. Losing weight, being healthy, feeling better about yourself etc. etc. There are many. I don't know many runners who got into running to post a PB every race. That comes when you start pushing yourself further and you get this false idea that anyone really cares apart from you. (there are people on this thread who actually think that you care what their PB is. Do you?) When you're feeling bad about a race time, just think back to life before you started running and how lucky you are that you have the health to do it. None of us should ever take that for granted.
Posted: 15/06/2007 at 08:21

I had to drop out of a 10k after 3k on Sunday as it was hot and I felt terrible. Two days later I knocked 24 seconds off my 5k time with a 20:35 clocking. Bad days happen - sometimes you can put a finger on why, sometimes you can't. If you're confident you did everything right then you just have to put it down to being one of those days. Get yourself in another race, maybe something a little less strenuous than a half marathon, and prove it.
Posted: 15/06/2007 at 17:05

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