I ran 1:40:54 at the New Orleans Half Marathon last month. My chip time was 1:40:54, and I recorded that time in my log. That time is recorded in the race results for the entire world to see. It was not my best half, and it was far from my goal of 1:30. In fact, it was the worst half marathon I ever finished. It was my Personal Worst, or “PW.”
As endurance athletes, at some point, we are destined to have a bad race. There are so many variables that have to align in order for us to have that perfect day. One mishap can affect our entire performance. Even the elites have bad races. The important thing is to treat it as a learning experience.
So how do you recover from a personal worst?
First, a quick race report:
From the moment I woke up on race day, I just felt ‘off.’ I didn’t sleep well that night, and my stomach hurt. My legs felt heavy during the warm-up, and I couldn’t do a stride to save my life. My race plan was to start around 7:10 pace for the first three miles and chip away at it for the next 10. Miles one and two went smoothly in 7:08/7:06, but by 2.5 miles, my stomach started to hurt, and my head just felt warm. My legs started to feel heavy, and my breathing was way too hard. I honestly didn’t think I would make it to mile 5. I told myself to try and shake it off, but I felt worse and worse. By the time I reached mile five, I had already shut off my watch.
Our friends lived near mile eight, so I figured I would drop there, but I was in such a daze when passed, I forgot to drop out. I decided to keep jogging as best as I could because I had no idea where I was in the city. An 8:00 mile felt like a 6:00 mile, and my legs felt like I had at least 20 miles on them. My stomach hurt so bad, I couldn’t run upright.
I met my husband at the finish line feeling worse than I did when I ran my marathon PR; unable to even drink water. After the race, we had the opportunity to go into the VIP area where Mo Farrah, Kara Goucher and the other elites were resting. I felt so awful, I didn’t even try for a photo op! (Now I am kicking myself)! I had to sleep for nearly three hours immediately following the race, and the only thing that helped calm my stomach cramps was three servings of nasty Pepto Bismol. Ugh!
After some rest and forcing myself to eat some oatmeal, I managed to meet a few friends out for drinks on Bourbon Street. We had all raced that day and while discussing our performances, a friend asked if I was pissed about my race. I answered ‘no’ almost immediately. Sure, I was disappointed having spent so much time and money to race, only to come away with a PW, but I decided that I wasn’t going to let it ruin my evening or the rest of my weekend. Besides, I had to put this experience into perspective and think about how it could make me a better athlete!
So onto the meat of this post: how can we use our PW races to make us better athletes?
Do: Assess The Situation. How were race conditions? Did you get enough sleep the night before? Are there work or personal issues on your mind? Is it that time of the month? Sometimes, it can be simply that it just wasn’t meant to be that day and there is no clear cut reason; however, it is good idea to try and determine what may have caused the poor performance so that you can learn from it for future races. After I returned home I took some time to go back through my log to determine if I set my expectations too high, or to see if I was overtrained. I decided that my poor race wasn’t due to either of those, but after replaying the previous two days over in my mind, I realized that I accidentally had eaten some gluten the night before, which triggered my allergy–thus the stomach cramping and pains. I wasn’t 100% for another two days!
Don’t: Seek Revenge. When a bad race happens, don’t seek revenge. Don’t do a hard workout the next day to prove a point. Don’t sign-up for another race the following weekend with the intentions of crushing it. Do workouts and races because you want to not because you’re mad.
Do: Stay Motivated. Treat the poor race as a learning experience. When I realized that I had eaten something bad for me, I immediately felt motivated and relieved that my race was due to neglecting my diet, which is something that I can control. This is great news, because it means next time I can do better! I was motivated to do my next workout and long run, and I executed both wonderfully the next week.
Don’t: Dwell. OK, so I mentioned above that it’s good to assess the situation to learn why it happened, but don’t let your PW control your mood. Nobody likes being around a ‘Debbie Downer’. Once you figure out what went wrong, move on and use it for future reference. I had a much nicer time with my friends in New Orleans by letting go of the negative emotions my PW caused.
Do: Feel Grateful. Think about what’s most important in life: friends, family, job, health. A bad race is nothing if we have balance in our lives. Three years ago, I lost a dear friend to breast cancer. When I get stressed out or think life is rough, I think of her and how her family would love to hear about her stressed out days or bad races. Comparing myself to someone else’s misfortune kind of lame, but it really does help remind me how grateful I am that we get to run and experience this wonderful sport. You gotta take the bad with the good!
What have you done to help move on from a personal worst? How do you consider it a learning experience?