Reviewing a not so great performance after a race

How did you do? Possibly the most annoying question after a race.

Imagine the scene – you’ve got round the course in record time for you and you’re over the moon. What a feeling. You are chuffed to bits and feel like you couldn’t have done anything better.

Pontefract Half Marathon 2019

Pontefract Half Marathon 2019

Now imagine the other scene – you’ve not done any of that. You feel like throwing your shoes away, quitting your training and not feeling up to taking to the start line again for quite some time.

Chances are, that you may have experienced both those extremes at some time as a runner. It really is a concern when you go from one extreme to another and can’t see the positives in a performance straight away. How has form disappeared so quickly? Well, chances are it hasn’t but let’s look at it a bit closer.

That same day when you’ve crossed the finish line in what is to you a disappointing time, or a time you know you could have done better than. It’s a tough time for a runner to process. You are naturally pleased, or should be, for other runners who have done well. You should also be realistic enough that sometimes the conditions don’t make it as optimum as it could be for them. There are many times when you shouldn’t over analyse a race, good or bad, too soon after the finish. Here is why.

Analysing too soon?

If you’ve done really well, you’re not objective enough to see what could have been done differently as you’re still floating from getting a good time. If you’re achieving a good time, there may not be a need to analyse so closely anyway. You may see other areas where you can improve for next time too.

If you’ve not done so well, there and then may be the worst time to make decisions or to classify your run. The next day or a few days later could be more use in finding out improvement areas or identifying areas outside of your control.

Areas that we may want to look at other than ‘I just didn’t run well enough’ are how much rest did you have beforehand? Did you fuel yourself well enough before and during the race? Have you been over-training? Are you trying to do too much? Should you get a sports massage? Did you go out too quickly? What can you do to control your early pace? Was your pace inconsistent?

All these are resolvable and aren’t major issues if you allow the right mindset to try and address them properly, or to seek help or advice where necessary.

Here is an example.

After yesterday’s race, I felt like I had a good 5-6 miles or so then nothing like usual left. I then found something for several bursts later on. Strangely I lacked distraction and concentration simultaneously. I know that’s an issue for me. With the right distraction I can keep my concentration. If I don’t have a distraction, then I struggle to retain my concentration. Sounds odd, but is also logical.

It's not always smiles through the miles!

It’s not always smiles through the miles!

Seek advice from more experienced runners

I spoke with someone beforehand asking how I can become more consistent and the sage advice was that it comes with practice. We can’t just magic up pace or form over multiple distances. It needs to be something that is developed and nurtured to a distance. There are aids that can be used to help – either a running partner, or beeping settings on your watch, but it’s still you that needs to temper your performance to suit your expectations.

Other possibilities

There’s the question of how tired or rested you are. Often races come thick and fast together and it isn’t easy to get the right rest in between when we still want to run our normal midweek runs too. After yesterday’s run, I had ran 48 miles in the previous 8 days. Is that wise to then expect a good quick time?

How sensible should we be in our choices? The fear of missing out or peer pressure is an issue for some runners. The frustration of rest days also kicks in so we think it’s ok to squeeze another 3-4 mile run in when we should be resting. It’s not easy to get the right balance at busy times of the year.

Looking back on your time and performance a day or two later can help take the emotion out of the process. Your time may have been still ok but you’ve been used to achieving better recently. Context is important in any review. I got frustrated at a run result recently because I achieved my average time for the distance rather than the upper end of my performances. A few days later, you can see how silly that looks.

My tips

I would certainly countenance rest and fuel as key components as to why you may not have achieved a time you wanted. Without the right amount of rest beforehand – and rest days mean rest – then you aren’t going to be able to be at your top end. By not sticking the right fuel in the tank before or during the race or run, you can’t expect your machine of a body to crank out the performance.

One last thing that I would also recommend is that expectations are addressed BEFORE a race. Are you rested? Are you supposed to be taking it easy? Are you a bit under the weather or carrying a niggle? Drop back your expectations! You’re not going to be above average in ALL your runs – mathematics doesn’t allow that, let alone the human body!

What next then?

Looking back on my run yesterday, I know I can do better. I know that the weather conditions can certainly be better but that’s out of my control. I know I can prepare better. I know I can rest up better beforehand. I know that if I respect the distance and be ready for a challenge which all longer distance races are, then my performances can be better than if I don’t do these things.

Pontefract Half Marathon 2019

Pontefract Half Marathon 2019

Top tip to take away from all this – don’t beat yourself up on race day or even the day after if your time wasn’t what you wanted. It’s a lesson for the next time, and identifying that is an achievement in itself. Head up, let’s go again next time!


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