How to Overcome a Bad Race Result

6 tips on how to recover from a lackluster race result and stoke your fire again

As a runner, chances are you have had at least one or two races that have left you less than excited. Maybe disheartened and frustrated, too. You trained for so long and so hard. You changed up your nutrition strategy, added to your weekly mileage, did more speed work, so how could anything have gone awry?

The truth is, not every race is going to be one to write home about. Training for results takes time. It also takes its toll on us both physically and mentally. While we often feel physically prepared, sometimes we’re left ill-equipped to manage the mental struggle that comes with a lackluster race result.

We’ve all been there. So, here are some tips for busting out of the disappointing post-race result funk.

1. Forward progress takes time.

Often when we want something so badly and are furiously working toward it, we conveniently forget that progress is not always on our schedule. When a race goes awry, or seemingly falls flat comparative to your preparation, it’s natural to feel disheartened. But, this doesn’t mean that all of your work has disappeared. Instead, find comfort in knowing that all of your training compounds for the next go-around.

You’ll arrive to future races with more training backing you. And sometimes disappointment can spur inspiration toward that next race goal. Are you eager to take another crack at the same distance now that you’re a bit wiser? Or, maybe this one left you feeling a little flat and you think that a different race may be your calling. The best is truly yet to come.

2. Even when the result isn’t what you wished for, remember that it still serves as a valuable learning experience.

Groan. Who wants to hear this? It may not feel like it now, but we promise that when you do finally nail that race, the perspective that you gain from this one will be a part of your future success.

Once you’ve taken some time to let the initial sting of disappointment die down, you’ll be able to remember that you added some lifetime miles to the growing vault. That matters, really. Experience can’t be taken from you. So, learn from it. Remember the stimulating feeling of pre-race excitement and take comfort in knowing that will return with more knowledge backing you next time.

3. Review your training log and chat with your coach.

Did you change anything with your nutrition? Were you running significantly more miles than you have in the past? Maybe this race was a new distance for you. Whatever the situation, there are many factors that make up a race result and lead to race day. Don’t be afraid to examine your approach; you may be surprised at details that stand out after the fact. Take note and move forward.

Or, if you neither keep a training log nor work with a coach, weigh the potential benefits of doing both. Keeping a simple training log will help you track progress, times when things seems to be clicking, and times when you’ve struggled. A coach can guide you through these peaks and valleys with some outside perspective, experience and rationale.

4. Chat with other runners.

Remember: You are not alone! Every runner has dealt with disappointment. Hearing others’ stories of defeat and eventual triumphant return can help lift your spirits. Even though running is an individual sport, the supportive community around it is like nothing else. Lean into it. These are your people.

5. Give your brain a breather.

Ride a bike. Go for a hike. Go camping. Grab beers with friends. Sometimes, it’s OK to step away from running.

As much as running is a physical sport, the drive that it takes to push toward a bigger goal also works your mental capacities. You may not realize it, but as you’re trying to get your body to peak for a performance, you’re also training your mind to peak at that time too. So, just as you’re physically spent after the hard effort of a race, your mind is likely pretty weary as well. Treat your brain to the same sort of training break that you grant to your legs.

Besides, when you come back, you’ll feel more refreshed. We promise.

6. Go for a run.

Feel free to step away, but come back eventually! You’re a runner at heart, so what do you turn to when times get tough? Lace up those shoes, grab a water bottle and rip around your favorite trails for the pure purpose of enjoying this beautiful sport without restraint. Remember why you like pushing yourself and embracing the mind-body connection. Use that bit of rejuvenation to get motivated for your next race.

Alia Gray

Freelance writer Alia Gray lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she trains as a professional distance runner with the Roots Running Project. She specializes in distances from the 10K through the marathon and finished 10th in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon.