Thursday, December 9, 2010

How NOT To Have A Bad Race When You're Racing Badly

Just to show that I was indeed a little brain dead and racing in short sleeves and shorts with a bleeding right knee in Sunday's Joe Kleinerman 10K, I present to you this race photo compliments of brightroom. As you can see, despite the pained expression on my face and the blood trickling down the side of my leg, I looked pretty cool and color coordinated despite it being 30 degrees. Score one for me. (Yes, that's the only highlight from my race so I'm milking it for all I've got!)

Over the past few days, while remembering and analyzing the range of emotions I felt during this race, I came across this great Running Times article on Racing Your Best When Feeling Your Worst. In it, the author Matt Pulle discusses how NOT to throw in the towel at the midpoint of a race when things just aren't going your way. The article was apropos to my racing experience in my past two road races (Philly Half, JK 10K) because there were moments during each when it became painfully obvious that a PR would not be in the cards for me that day. My first instinct in each of these circumstances was to just bail and quit. After all, what's the point in racing if the end result would be disappointing or embarrassing anyway? But then, somehow, for some reason, in Philly and then again in Central Park, I continued running and racing hard until the end. How did I managed to salvage what would've otherwise be a poor performance or a DNF?

Although I tried hard to erase those forgettable races from my memory bank as quickly as possible, I still remembered a few tricks and tactics I used to keep my brain occupied and my legs turning over as quickly as possible instead of just giving up. First and foremost, I told myself NOT TO QUIT. In both circumstances, I felt I had to press on because that's what runners do. I also knew that if I gave in to the DNF temptation in these races, it will be that much easier to repeat the same patterned behavior in the future.

Once I convinced myself that quitting was not an option, I began to develop strategies that would motivate me to race the remainder of the course. For starters, I forced myself to devise an alternative goal or plan that seemed somewhat worthwhile to pursue despite having lost the overall battle against the clock. In Philly, it was let's see if I can just run the last 5K faster than I did last year. In the JK 10K, it became a rallying cry to break 40 minutes. When that didn't work, I'd tell myself to forget the race and get back to basics. After all, no matter the result, races are still an extreme form of speedwork, meaning that I can still work on my breathing, my form, and my mechanics even if the rate of forward progress was a little slower than I would have liked. Finally, during the last mile of the respective races, when the physical pain seemed to have caught up to the mental anguish of a disappointing performance, I would force myself to remember (and say) that despite everything, I was still having fun and that racing/running is always better than the alternative. I remember succinctly thanking and appreciating running as I was sprinting toward the finish in the 10K which seemed so awkward to acknowledge in retrospect because I was hurting so much at the time but I needed to remind myself why I was out there in the first place and motivate myself to do the best I can given the circumstance.

Looking bad, I can say that although I'm a little disappointed that I didn't prepare adequately and missed a great opportunity to PR in the 10K and the Half, I'm proud that I didn't fall apart despite the troubles during the race and kept it together to finish each race in a decent time. Personally, I learned it is just as important to know how to race badly as it is to race well since as you gain experience and chase PRs, that's probably more likely to happen than not.

Just curious - What do you guys/gals do to motivate yourselves to race well when the race is going badly? Any tips/strategies for success you'd like to share?


J said...

Great post Lam! In races where things have gone bad (like my half in Sept, 5k in July, 5k in april) I taken it one step at a time and tried to tell myself that I just need to get to that point up ahead. I know there will be bad races in my future, I need to remember to remind myself that I am thankful to just be out there running!

Milano Running Mom said...

Just ran a marathon with a stomach virus. Got badly dehydrated. Refused to give up. I just kept telling myself "You can rest when it's over" and One step, one breath. Got me to the finish line. Great post.

Anonymous said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again: There is something to be said for having an off day and being able to finish and put a good spin on it. It can be tough to finish when you know the time isn't what you want, but looking at it the way you are is a good thing.

I often end up fighting with myself when I'm having a bad day...and sometimes its just best to accept it and salvage what you can. It happens to all of us!

sisterbison said...

When at the 10 mile mark during the Chicago Marathon this year, I knew there was no way I was going to make my goal (or even PR), you bet I wanted to quit! I contemplated quitting for a good 5 miles! What kept me going were 2 things: 1) thinking about all my friends/family who knew I was running it. When they asked how it went I sure didn't want to have to say I quit! 2) I think we are all role models for non-runners or new runners. I didn't want to set a bad example by quitting. When the going gets tough, the tough keep running!

Check out my blog at:

runner26 said...

i like this a lot! i've had plenty of bad races and have always tried to just end them. i like this idea of focusing on form, breathing, leg-turnover, whatever as an alternative goal to a PR when it's just not gonna happen.

this is why i look up to you--it really is!

aron said...

ahhh yes great post. i had to do a few of these things during CIM. i decided to make it fun, to enjoy the crowd/scenery and actually SMILE at the cameras for once! might as well try and have fun a little bit while you are out there suffering ;) i always re-evaluate goals too and try to go for a different one to get me moving if the A goal is gone.

Chase said...

I don't usually run if i have a bad day, don't want to ruin my love of the run.

Laura said...

Motivation can be REALLY tough. When I was doing my 50 states, it was easy - motivation was to just finish the race in whatever time I could, so I wouldn't have to replan my schedule and go back to that state. Now that I'm done with the states, it's much harder not to quit in the middle. In the Thanksgiving Marathon, I gave up halfway through and turned it into a half marathon. It was a decision I don't really regret (it was a rocky trail, I fell once, and I didn't want to injure myself when I was even more tired on laps 3 and 4), but it makes me nervous that I'm becoming a wuss who gives up too easily. This weekend is the Christmas Marathon, and with temps predicted to be in the high 20s, I worry that I'll bail again.

Lauren said...

Great post :) I think this can work for non-races as well :) Just... bad days :)

Clicky Web Analytics