A blog by runners. For runners.

Bouncing back (mentally) after a bad race

bouncing-back-after-a-bad-raceIt was October 2010. I’d been marathon training for four months with one goal on my mind: to BQ. My training went fairly well and I truly thought I had a shot.

Then race morning came and my nerves got the best of me. I was barely able to choke down breakfast. Then during the race, I couldn’t eat or drink anything without it coming back up. At mile 12, I dropped out and earned the furthest thing from a PR or a BQ: a DNF (Did Not Finish).

Recovering mentally after a bad race can be anything but easy. Moving on from the disappointment takes time. But following these tips can help you heal and bounce back:

  • Review what went wrong. Did you go out too fast? Fuel improperly? Not taper enough? Look back over training and race day, try to figure out why things went awry, and learn from your mistakes. Then move on. Focusing over a disappointing race experience won’t change the outcome. Just vow never to make the same mistake again. If you can’t find the reason why that bad race happened, that’s OK, too. Poor runs happen to all of us from time to time for no clear reason at all.
  • Run another race. What’s that saying about the hair of the dog? The quickest way to get over a bad race may be as simple as running another race and doing well. I pulled out of the marathon at mile 12 because I knew there was a local marathon two weeks later. So, I saved my legs and ran the other marathon as my plan B. I still didn’t BQ but I felt like I redeemed my DNF. 
  • Take some time off. Stepping away from running temporarily may rejuvenate both your mind and body. Or try another event. Focus on shorter distances for a while or even give triathlons a try. A new challenge may be exactly what you need to feel enthused about running again.
  • Keep things in perspective. Remember this was just one race. And unless you were competing in the Olympic marathon trials, chances are your life wouldn’t have changed dramatically regardless of the outcome. A disappointing race doesn’t make you a bad runner or mean you’re doomed to have another bad race. Almost every runner – even the pros — have at least one poor race experience.
  • Focus on other goals. I put way too much pressure on myself with the BQ goal. Looking back, it was clear that the goal was too lofty for me at the time. I’m glad the DNF happened though because it forced me to be more realistic with my running goals. Now, I always have A, B, and C time goals for race day. I have non-time goals, too – completing a round of training without injury and logging good training runs are also reasons to celebrate.

Tell us: Have you had a disappointing race experience? How did you move on?

Written by Jen Matz.