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Bouncing Back From A Bad Race

Bouncing Back From A Bad Race Run Tri Bike Magazine Haleigh Fisher

You did all the training, felt ready and confident even. At the start line you had visions of finish line celebrations at achieving your goals. When the race started you felt a bit off. You ignore it and tell yourself that you’ll feel better soon. Instead of feeling better you gradually feel worse. Your finish line dreams start to melt a bit but you keep pushing. As hard as you try though things keep getting worse. You slow down, you might have to take a break, you might even DNF (did not finish). Regardless, this is a bad race for you.

A bad race like in the scenario above is normal. Anyone that is seeking their potential will have bad races, it’s inevitable.  Bad days happen for a lot of clear reasons like poor hydration, bad weather, lack of preparation, a busy work week, a sick child. The list could go on for a while. But bad days also happen without a certain cause-and-effect relationship. Maybe it’s chance, maybe it’s physiological processes occurring that would take extensive medical interventions to identify, or maybe something else that we can’t pinpoint.

In my work with athletes, I like to spend only about ten minutes trying to figure out the cause of a bad day before turning our attention to the narrative that the bad race has left the athlete with. Bad races can leave athletes struggling with belief in their abilities. When belief in their ability takes a hit, it can start a downward spiral of thinking and behaviors that sabotage growth and wreck belief in yourself as an athlete. The best way to prevent this from happening is by stopping the lies in their tracks with some helpful tips.

Bouncing Back from a Bad Race Tips

  1. Feel Your Feelings – Allow yourself to feel all the feels. Be sad, disappointed, angry. Cry if you need to. Get a hug from a friend. Let out a yell in the woods. It’s good to let yourself experience your emotions. Then talk about it. Talk to your loved ones, a therapist, your dog. Talking about your feelings will help you process them. When we process our feelings, we are able to make connections between the feeling and the thoughts and beliefs that accompany that feeling. This becomes important in our ability to identify the narrative we are telling ourself about our bad race experience.  
  2. Take Your 10 minutes – Take 10 minutes to think about what went wrong. Be honest about what is and isn’t in your control. Some bad races are just chance and there is not anything we could have done to change the result. Accept that some things are out of our control and work to let them go. Make a note of the things that you can control so that you can work to grow in these areas. Maybe you need help getting enough nutrition so you don’t bonk. You can find a registered sports dietitian to help you come up with a plan. Take action on the controllables and let the uncontrollables go. 
  3. Understand Training Theory – In a perfect world, we would do the training and get the desired results. But we live in a messy world where sometimes we do all the training and are expecting to have the best race of our life only to have the worst race. Sport is full of uncertainty. Training and racing aren’t a linear line of success but more a spiral of success, failures, and a lot of average days. Remind yourself that a single race is not an accurate reflection of your fitness, it is just a snapshot of your fitness, circumstances, and physiology on a given day. Bad days happen but so do amazing days. I like to tell my athletes that their true potential is reflected in their best days, not on their worst.  
  4. Separate Your Identity From Results – Your value and worth are secure. There is nothing you can do or not do that can add or subtract anything from it. Best race, worst race, ok race. None of them have anything to do with your value as a person. Believe that with all your heart. You are not your race results; you are loved because of who you are. Repeat as many times as you need to when you feel that “I raced bad so I must suck” lie creeping in. 
  5. Get Back Up And Try Again – Bad races are going to happen. Try to remove the judgment and weightiness attached to them and see them for what they are, a part of sport. Learn from them if necessary or just forget about them. There is always another race to show up to with the belief that today will be your day. 

Bad races are going to happen and they like to come with a consolation prize of self-doubt, distrust in your training, and fear of failing again. Remember that you have the power to say “No” to those narratives. Fearing bad races or being consumed by the negative narratives created after experiencing one is what keeps athletes from starting lines. But when you keep showing up to start lines you get the chance to bomb a lot of races, have a lot of okay races, and have some mind-boggling amazing races. Bouncing back from a bad race takes some self-reflection and work, but it can be done.

Haleigh Fisher Grapevine Wellness Center

Haleigh Fisher is a Licensed Professional Counselor working with athletes to help them train and live happy by helping them develop mental skills and embrace their strengths. She is a former Division I cross country athlete turned trail runner and uses her experience as a competitive athlete and mental health clinician to connect with clients and help them unlock their potential. Haleigh describes herself as a joy seeker, a trail running adventurer, a celebrator of food, an artist, and a lover of people; thrift shopping; and cupcakes.