My Running Life: Dealing With Race Day Disappointment

In the weeks and months leading up to a race, you’ve probably built up some expectations for how the day will go. You’ve trained, prepared for the big day, and probably studied the course map more times than you care to count. While most race days come with unexpected pleasant surprises, some days you wind up with a less than stellar performance. 

Even the best and most prepared of runners will have a hard day, and it’s never fun to cross a finish line feeling a little frustrated. If you’ve recently had a disappointing race day, here are a few ways you can bounce back and set your sights on a new goal.

Analyze What Happened

While training, you probably had hopes for how you thought race day would unfold. After the race has passed, take an honest look at your performance. Did you train as much as you needed to? Did you do everything you needed to feel confident the night before the race? Were you prepared for the race day conditions? Did you set realistic expectations? Unfortunately, even if you prepared as much as you needed to and remained realistic, there are factors out of your control that can negatively impact you on race day. 

External conditions such as humidity, warmer than average temperatures, incline, and even a crowded race course can impede performance. While you can’t control these factors, the only thing you can do is adapt to them as best as possible, which often means adjusting and slowing your pace and perceived effort and subsequently affecting your goal finish time.

Acknowledge Your Accomplishment

No matter how your race panned out, never lose sight of what you accomplished. Whether it was finishing your first 5k or a marathon, don’t undervalue your achievement just because you had a bad day. Even the best of runners will have poor performances, and unfortunately those bad days might fall on race day. Instead of beating yourself up for not doing as well as you anticipated, wear your medal and race shirt with pride and realize that you still accomplished part of your goal in just finishing the endeavor you started.

Stay Hungry

When I failed to set a PR at the Austin Marathon, I realized a hidden benefit to not doing as well as you expect on race day: it keeps you hungry. Within two hours of finishing the marathon, I was hungry for another. Because I didn’t PR (nor did I expect to), it left me wanting to do it all over again just to improve upon my performance. Granted, I’m probably slightly crazier than most runners out there, and I’m very aware of that, but not getting exactly what you want makes you crave it that much more. And if nothing else, it will make finally accomplishing your goal that much sweeter. 

So, the next time you have a sub-par performance, remember that there’s always another chance to have a good day. If nothing else, just crossing a finish line means you’ve earned a post-race celebration (in my case, a tasty brew).

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