How to salvage a rough race

Earlier this week, in my review of last week’s Alexandria Turkey Trot, I promised I’d share some lessons from my own performance. My big take-away: Having a bad day, running-wise, doesn’t mean you have to have a bad race.

I ran the flat, easy course in 44:33, or just under 9-minute miles. Typically, that’s a true jogging pace for me, which would have been fine if I’d meant to jog. Unfortunately, I’d intended to race it, but just couldn’t find the next gear when I tried to upshift. Here’s what I *didn’t* do when I realized my body wasn’t cooperating:

1. I didn’t beat myself up about it. I did a quick survey of the things that might have caused my sluggishness (Bad night’s sleep? Yes. Stomach troubles from the night before? Yes. Stone in my shoe? Sun in my eye? You get the picture …). Then, I stopped thinking about reasons, and started just accepting the conditions on the ground. As is the case in life, the sooner I got over how the race was *supposed* to be and accepted how it actually was, the situation improved.

2. I didn’t give up on the race. Once it became clear this wouldn’t be a PR, I decided that I’d go for mental toughness rather than time. I decided I’d try to run evenly paced 9-minute miles, knowing that would feel challenging but do-able, and that I’d try to keep my head in a good place—no trash-talk, no self-pity, no throwing in the towel. In that respect, the race was a huge success.

3. I didn’t let any of the above ruin my race. Rather than spending 45 minutes beating myself up, I spent it interacting with spectators and other runners, eying cool-looking houses or and restaurants in Del Ray and appreciating how much fun it is to be able to take part in an event like that at all. As a result, I was more observant than usual, noticing the baby bulldog at the turnaround point (aww!) and the plate of bacon at an aid table (eeuww).

Have you managed to turn a rough race into a good day? Share your tales of mental toughness below.



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4 responses to “How to salvage a rough race

  1. I am proud of you Amy. It takes real grace to let a race go when you wanted to PR. Kudos to you for allowing yourself to enjoy the run for what it was. And I hope to “race” you next year!

  2. Great lesson to be learned here, Amy!

    I wish I knew the trick to getting marathoners to think the same way when they fall short of expectations. The prep time and commitment for a marathon is so much greater than for shorter distances, and that seems to result in a more dramatic reaction when runners don’t meet their goals.

    I worked with a runner recently who experienced a pretty hard crash in the Marine Corps Marathon, and he was completely distraught afterward. His legs just gave up at mile 16 (against my advice…he ran too many of his miles on a treadmill) and what could have been a 3:50 marathon turned into a 5:00 marathon.

    In the end, I tried to convince him that the “win” in his situation was that he pushed through a very difficult situation and got himself to the finish when many runners would have just stopped. I keep telling him that all of this will make him a much better runner next time out…but getting him to “buy in” has been a challenge.

    We put so much pressure on ourselves to perform (and there’s nothing wrong with that) that we tend to lose sight of the greater benefits from running. Don’t get me wrong…I’m still a performance guy (knock on wood)…but I wouldn’t trade any of the numbers…for the journey.

    I just had a decent run in the Philadelphia Marathon, but you know what I’ll remember most from that day? The cups of hot chicken soup they were giving runners as they crossed the finish line! How AWESOME is that!?!?

    • Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. I agree that it’s *much* harder to get over the disappointment of a rough marathon (I write about my own personal experience with that here). Letting go of a short race I hadn’t really trained for was simple by comparison. Still, I hope learning this lesson on a five-miler will help me have a better attitude on my next 26.2!

  3. I’m still commiserating over my last half marathon race – missed my goal by 23 secs. ..
    Kudos to you Amy for not “beating yourself up.”
    Running involves so many dynamics.
    The mental stuff is the hardest!

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