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Have you ever had a race that didn’t work out the way you expected it to?  Maybe you didn’t achieve the overall time goal you prepared for.  Perhaps you had your first ever DNF (Did Not Finish).  Or maybe you just had GI issues and the race was no fun. 🤷🏻‍♀️

I had one of those races this weekend.

When a race doesn’t go as planned

It was a trail race and, in the moment, I had a hard time enjoying myself.  Which, if you know how much I love trails, sounds silly.

I was uncomfortable or in some kind of pain for most of the race.  Now before you say, “It’s a race – you should be uncomfortable,” I don’t recall ever settling into that comfortably-hard-yet-enjoyable race groove.  And I ended up finishing with an average pace that was almost 2 minutes per mile slower than I planned (based on doing a shorter distance of this same race a few years ago, with similar weather).

But I don’t say all that to complain, despite how it may sound.

I give it as background so I have a story with which to unpack what to do when your race doesn’t go as planned.

So, what should you do (or not do) when you have a less than stellar race?

Don’t think of it as a failure.

A “bad” performance or an unachieved goal does not equal failure.  Sometimes we can get so focused on an outcome, that we forget to enjoy the journey.  We put all the weight on the result.  

Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves?

Can we just agree to stop measuring success and failure this way?

Just because your race didn’t meet the expectations you set for yourself (whatever they may have been), it wasn’t for nothing.  There is almost always something that can be learned from a race that didn’t go as planned.

Which brings me to my next few points.

Identify what was out of your control.

So many variables come into play during a race.  And many of these will be outside your control. This fact is magnified during a trail race.

You can’t control a crowded course at the beginning of a race (although you can select a smaller race next time).

Cramps and pains may arise. Sometimes these will be due to hydration or pacing issues (which you can make an effort to control), but not every time. The question is, “What are you going to do about the issue?”

And you have no say over what the weather will do. You can be aware of the conditions and prepare for them, but you can’t change them.

During this weekend’s race, the temperature wasn’t scorching, but it certainly wasn’t cool. I had no control over the humidity. Knowing the way heat and humidity can affect performance, I could choose to expect and accept slower times, or I could get frustrated about it.

You have the same choice when it comes to factors outside of your control during a race.

When Your race doesn’t go as planned - Jack’s 50k start
We had no control over 83% humidity at the start.

Take note of what you could have done differently.

Spend a few moments reflecting not only on your race strategy and execution, but also on your recent training cycle.  What could you have done (or thought) differently that might have improved your race experience?

And you don’t have to be a beginning runner to make mistakes – even experienced runners make them from time to time.

Did you go out too fast at the beginning of the race?  Forget to hydrate or fuel appropriately?  Maybe your time goal was a little lofty, relative to where your current fitness level is.

At this weekend’s 50k, I needed to adjust my expectations.  And my race-day pacing strategy.  I went out for the first 9-10 miles too fast for the way I had been feeling all weekend.  I should’ve accepted the fact that I wasn’t in top health and started much slower.  Or, I could have listened to advice from friends and dropped down to a shorter distance that was also offered at this race. And, thinking towards the future, perhaps I won’t again sign up for two Ultramarathons only 3 weeks apart. 🙈

Next time, I will be smarter about what I put my body through.

Learn from the experience and let it motivate you for your next race.

After taking inventory of things that were both out of and within your control, learn from those things.  Allow them to motivate you and propel you towards your next race.  How will your planning, strategy, and execution look different next time?

Will you choose a shorter distance or have a longer training cycle so you have a better chance of finishing?  How about including regular speed work and goal-paced workouts before your next race so you’re more likely to meet your time goal?  Perhaps you’ll incorporate strength training into your plan so you can finish your next race stronger and faster.  Or maybe you’ll have a rock-solid hydration/fueling plan in place so you don’t bonk towards the end of a long-distance race.

When your race doesn’t go as planned, learn from the experience and let it motivate you for your next race
Coming in after the first of four loops…smiling at my friend, but feeling junky. I learned I needed to listen to my body and slow down for the next three.

Don’t make hasty decisions.

Feeling motivated and excited to race again is fabulous.


Don’t go looking for a redemption race in the next few weeks!

Be kind to your body. Pay attention to any lingering aches or pains from your alleged “bad” race and allow yourself enough time to recover properly before jumping into the next one. You’ll likely want to keep the bank of miles you accrued during training, but there’s nothing wrong with starting a new cycle to prepare for the next race.

Similarly, beware of rebound training – which can quickly lead to overtraining – in an attempt to redeem yourself.  This will only set you up for injury or burnout, potentially further delaying any goals to run your next race.

Don’t compare yourself (or your race) to others.

Ugh.  This one is so hard.

I mean, who of us (especially women) can honestly say we’ve never been guilty of this?  As much as I strive not to be, I fall prey to it from time to time.

But the truth is, when it comes to racing, comparison makes the race about the outcome.  It doesn’t celebrate the hard work it took to get there.  It minimizes the joy of the journey because it says, “Well, she was so much faster than me.  I must be doing something wrong.”

We all run our own race.  Some days that’s going to be an amazing race.  Other days – not so much. We all go through different seasons and are at different stages of our running journey. And we’ve been gifted with varying levels of fitness ability.

If you think about it for a minute, when was the last time you compared yourself to someone else actually helpful?

Take a few minutes to jot down a few things that DID go well.

Surely everything didn’t go poorly.  If you think hard enough, I bet you can come up with at least one positive thing you can be thankful for from your race experience.  

I was able to enjoy God’s creation in multiple ways.  I started the race on the beach, got to run on some beautiful trails, and was able to receive encouragement from (and encourage) friends doing various distances out on the loop course.  All things to be grateful for.

What went well during your race?  Were the weather conditions perfect?  Did you improve your time, even if you didn’t reach your planned goal?  Maybe you were able to race injury-free for the first time in awhile.

Whatever you come up with, write it down somewhere so you can look back at your experience and remember that it wasn’t all bad.

What to do when a race doesn’t go as planned - Take a few minutes to jot down things that did go well.
Starting a 50k with this beauty is definitely worth being thankful for!

Remember, a race is JUST ANOTHER RUN!

That’s right.  One bad race (or a good one) doesn’t define you as a runner (or as a person, for that matter).  At the end of the day, every race is really just another run.  Another morning on the road.  Or the trail.  

We all have good days and bad days and, the longer you’re a runner, the more bad days and bad races you’ll experience.  Don’t lose heart.  Take it for what it is, learn from it, and move on.

Now tell me, have you had a race that didn’t go as you’d hoped it would?  How did you deal with it?

What to do when your race doesn't go as planned

Disclaimer: You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in exercise or training I recommend, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge Running With Roots from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown, arising out of Running With Roots. Please speak with a medical professional before making any changes to your diet or exercise. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. The views expressed are based on my own experiences, and should not be taken as medical, nutrition or training advice.

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