QT: How to Handle a Poor Race Day Performance

I got an email from a podcast listener the other day with a question that she thought might be good for the next Q&A episode of the show.

This particular question, and what will inevitably turn into my long and drawn out answer, is much better suited for a QT episode.


Because it’s a common issue that I don’t think gets talked about as often, or as openly, as it should.

So let’s talk about, eh?

Setting the Stage

Here’s the situation, as explained to me via email:

I ran a 10k on Saturday. This is the third year in a row I’ve done this race. Knew what to expect. For possibly the first time ever, I’ve been doing all the “right” things: speed work, strength work, core work, etc. Maybe could have done more stretching, but nobody’s perfect. I ran the 10k 2 minutes slower than last year. And based on my effort, I thought I would PR!

Pretty Much Sums it Up...

The ducks were in a row. The boxes were checked.

And the result? Far from expected.

What Went Wrong?

In this situation, what went wrong? Where did this particular race go sideways?

Obviously, there are a number of factors at play that we don’t know about. But any of those factors very easily could have caused the unexpected result.

What was the weather like? How well did you recover leading up to the race? Did you taper? How was your fueling before the race? Did you warm up?

Any of these seemingly inconsequential details, and a doze others, could have easily thrown a wrench in the plan for a big PR.

And if a few of them are working in collaboration, then all bets are off.

A Bit of Perspective, Perhaps?

While it’s easy to focus on this less-than-ideal result, maybe taking a step back will help you relax about a poor race performance.

First of all, please remember that we are all humans and not robots.

As such, nothing is guaranteed when we toe line for a race.

You can have done everything perfect leading up to the race, and through no fault of your own, you can just have one of those days.

And believe me, we all have those days on occasion.

Clearly, it’s a lot easy to stomach one of those days when it happens to be a random training run versus happening on race day.

But again, we are humans and not machines.

We can’t control when we have a less than ideal day. And those days can, and certainly do, happen on race day once in awhile.

So instead of focusing on this one rough performance, step back and look at the overall trend line.

Are you improving your base of fitness? Do your workouts seem to be steadily getting better overall?

If so, then try not to worry about this bad race!

I know that’s easier said than done, but remember that this one race is nothing but a single data point in your growth as a runner.

As such, it may be nothing more than an outlier instead of being indicative of your growth in the sport.

Also, remember that progress in our sport is far from linear.

There are going to be ups and downs along the way, no matter how much we might wish that our progress/results/success was nice and steadily climbing up and to the right.

Where to Go from Here?

Enough is enough. No more trying to explain away this poor race, because that’s not going to do any good.

Instead, let’s talk about what to do now?

As far as I see it, there are a few options regarding what to do after having a poor race.

Give Up

Who am I kidding? This option sucks.

If you wanted to quit, you would have quit already.

Moving on!

Sign Up for Another Race

This doesn’t work in every situation, but if your poor race didn’t leave you in tatters physically then why not get right back on the horse?

Fall 7, get up 8 am I right?

Take a Closer Look

Are you sure you were doing everything right?

I know for me, that sometimes what I think I’m doing and what I’m actually doing aren’t always in perfect alignment.

Meaning, maybe I haven’t been dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s quite as well as I thought I was doing.

Go back through your training data and any journal that you have kept and make sure that you’re not missing something that likely led to the poor race.

Poor Race? Great Race? Move On!

Ultimately, the goal after every race is to keep moving forward.

Obviously, that’s easier to do when you hit it out of the park instead of having a poor race.

But either way, the next step forward is the most important step.

And the sooner you can get over your poor race, the sooner you can start moving forward toward your next race and other running goals.

What do you do when you have a poor race? #runnerproblems #runchat Click To Tweet

How do You Respond to a Poor Race Performance?

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