If you’re an athlete, you’ve been there. In fact, pretty much anyone who has lined up for a race on more than one occasion has been there. That’s right: Every single athlete, no matter how talented he or she is has had a bad race. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you’ve had a few. It seems to come with the territory.  Some races are just kind of bad – or rather, they didn’t go exactly how you would have liked -while others are SO bad we sometimes think death would actually have been better than reaching the finish line in the way we did.  And some races are so bad you actually start to question why the hell you do any of this in the first place!?!

Sometimes the weather is to blame. Those who have done a long distance triathlon during a heatwave and know exactly what that can translate to by the time you get to the run (death march!), know what I am talking about. Other times an injury can stunt your performance or force you to withdraw from the race altogether. The simple fact remains that you can train flawlessly for month upon month with the best planning only to line up at a race and have it completely blow up in your face. The reasons why can vary, but it always feels the same: horrible! When this happens, the key is to figure out what went wrong, why, and what you can do to prevent it from happening in the future.

It just so happens that although I had a great triathlon season this past summer, my first race of 2014 took place this past weekend and it was one of the worse races I have taken part in. Admittedly, things have been a bit challenging for me the last few months. I haven’t mentioned it in this blog to date but in late August, right after the aforementioned awesome triathlon season, I found out I had long term/chronic Lyme disease. Finding out was a big surprise because although I obviously knew something was wrong, I could have never predicted this was the root cause of all of my symptoms. Needless to say, I started Lyme disease treatment shortly thereafter and took a much needed break from everything for a few months. The first couple of months were pretty hard mainly because I was more tired and run down than I have ever been, and within a few weeks I could barely remember HOW I even trained for and completed in two half ironman triathlons this past summer.  Though I have since gotten past this, I am feeling much better, and have resumed training, I am still undergoing LD treatment. It’s definitely something I have to keep my eye on and monitor but so far so good. That being said, when I signed up for this race (the NYC Half marathon) I had absolutely no intentions of “racing” it and my overall plan was to run it as a refresher race to get back into the swing of things. For me, it would be the ultimate fun run, through my favorite city.

Unfortunately, it was a run that was 100% devoid of fun. Save the first mile, which was very crowded, I was on point and chugging along until about mile 7, where I just didn’t feel right. I don’t know how to explain it, but all of a sudden I felt off.  By mile 8 I was completely toast; despite keeping things tame over the hills in Central Park, my legs felt like 30 pound bowling balls from that point on, and I ran like they were. I came pretty close to crying around mile 9 or 10 because that’s how much I was hurting and how down and out I was feeling mentally. Right after mile 11 I tripped on a pothole which really hurt because I fell on my knees when I tripped, RIGHT on the very parts of both knees that had yet to fully heal from my treadmill fall a few weeks prior. So, when I fell, I went from already feeling pretty horrible to down right in pain. I honestly have no idea how I even finished this race, or restrained from resorting to walking, except for the fact that I knew that the sooner I finished the sooner it was over. That was the only thing that pulled me through.

More: How to avoid bonking in a race?

Having been through this situation this past weekend and a few times in the past, I never let my head hang too low because I have bounced back from things like this before. When this happens, I find that doing the following helps me recover and turn the page.

  1. First and most importantly you need to come to grips with the fact that this has happened to everyone. If you consistently participate in races, the odds are stacked against you and everyone else – one day, it will happen. It’s similar to your training: There will be days that are just better than others, for whatever reason. No matter what you do, how prepared you are or how much heart you throw into it, there are some races where you just will not have it. And, the most important thing to remember is that this is expected, normal and overall, it is OK. We have all been there.

  2. You may start beating yourself up, but try and move away from doing this as soon as possible because it’s poison. Self deprecating thoughts are damaging and you will not gain anything from them. We have all had these thoughts when we fail at something, but fight them! Learning from your mistakes is one thing, beating yourself up for being human is another.

  3. Look back and try to figure out what went wrong. I am not saying that you should spend time digging for excuses, but rather when you look at things, you can often find clues as to why you had a bad race. Maybe it was some kind of inefficiency in your training such as training in a cold environment, not investing in training in the heat whatsoever, and then racing in a hot location. Maybe you were sick, just getting sick or injured. Maybe you were over or under trained. Maybe you weren’t eating enough, or were eating too much junk food and it affected your performance. Nonetheless, if you look back on what happened, you will better understand that this is an opportunity to learn exactly what you need to work on, avoid or do better for the next one.

  4. Talk it out! Talk to your coach, other athletes, your friends and your family. For some people, such as myself, who are quite stubborn, this can be tough because more often than not I am left feeling embarrassed, and who wants to harp on things when you feel this way?  But talking about it will often unearth other people’s own experience that will likely be very much yours or even worse. Hearing this will further enforce the fact that you are not alone. Talking it out can also help you get a second opinion and additional perspectives from your peers.

  5. Focus on another race or set your sights on the next race on your calendar – Just don’t quit. It is natural to feel intimidated and as if you want to quit following a bad race, but instead I urge you to go home, get on the internet, find another race and register for it. Give yourself something to shoot for and a means to apply the lessons you learned from the bad race you just experienced.

  6. Learn from your mistakes: This applies to every avenue of life but basically once you have evaluated and identified what went wrong in a given situation, you are armed with ammo.  At this point, you know what went wrong and have talked to other people about what went wrong. You also know why it went wrong and what you need to do differently. You can now apply what you learned. You are set!

So why did I have a bad race, what lessons did I learn and how will I apply what I learned? After talking with both my sports nutritionist and my coach, it was clear that I was likely very dehydrated and very low on electrolytes going into the race and this is what did me in. Thinking back, I realized that I really had not placed enough emphasis on what I was eating and drinking the days before the race, I just wasn’t paying attention to any sort of preparation outside of training and gear. This doesn’t mean I was out eating pizza and drinking beer every night, but I realized that because I considered this a fun run, I somehow loosened my usual pre-race rituals. I had walked a great deal the day before because I was in NYC and rushing around, I also did not drink nearly enough water the day before AND the morning of, and likely did not eat enough the day before as well. I didn’t have the fuel I needed, and  that’s likely why my legs felt heavy and forced me to run like I was crawling. I also failed to take into account that the Lyme medication I am currently on could have also affected me negatively, and it’s something I should definitely monitor in the future. All of these things were avoidable mistakes that I made; ones that forced me to realize that fun run or not, I need to pay closer attention to nutritional intake for every race, no matter what effort I plan to put into it.

Thankfully, I am running my next half marathon next weekend so I can redeem myself by applying what I learned, and proving that this bad race was just a blip in my season. This is how I plan to “turn the page” on a bad race and remind myself why I keep at it.

Have you had a bad race? What happened? What did you learn and what did you do in next race to prevent yourself from repeating your mistakes?

Image Sources: Angry Jogger and Best Damn
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