Sports Psychology: How to Handle a “Bad” Run or Race

Running a Bad Race – The Psychological Impact

When in the middle of a training cycle, nothing can be more demoralizing than a particularly bad run, workout, or race. In general, the majority of runners have “Type-A” personalities, which makes these perceived “failures” even more painful. For many of us, success is seemingly linear: the more work we put in, the more we expect to get out. However, success does not always have a continual upward trajectory, especially in running. There are many factors we cannot control, such as weather, and other factors that we may not realize we have incurred upon ourselves, such as injury or overtraining. When a bad run or race strikes, there are a number of strategies that can be used to regain focus and move on.

The ultimate step in regaining confidence after a poor performance is to remind yourself that workouts are simply part of the process. If single runs or races defined who we are as athletes, then everyone would be considered a “bad” runner at some point, even elite runners such as Usain Bolt or Shalane Flanagan. Instead, remember that each workout is just progression: never be too encouraged by a good one, or too discouraged by a bad one.
A second consideration is to remember that workouts and races are just data. Avoiding placing emotional emphasis on any one run or race is important for developing yourself overall as an athlete. After a workout where your legs felt heavy or dead, use that information to reflect on the previous few days of training and ask yourself whether there may be a connection that you can improve upon for next time. If your race did not go as planned, use the outcome as a learning experience and analyze the details for how you can improve. Overall, races and workouts should serve as measuring sticks for your progress, not indications of your ability as a runner. To best understand workouts and races as data, keeping a running log is highly recommended.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that running is something you get to do, not something that you have to do. Not every run or race will be spectacular, and a poor performance does not define your athletic ability. However, the way you handle said performance does say a lot about who you are as a person and a competitor. Remember that there will always be someone behind you who wishes he or she had finished as well as you, and a “poor” performance for you may be a lifetime best for someone else. Maintaining perspective on your running career and remembering that every step you take is cumulative towards your ultimate goals can help ward off negativity when you are down in the dumps about a sub-par performance.

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