When Races Go Bad

To say that my race in Seville didn’t go to plan, is probably the understatement of the year.

I’d trained for sub 3:15, my 7:20 marathon pace had felt super comfortable in training, my long runs had all felt easy, and I’d got quicker over shorter distances/in speedwork sessions. I don’t mind admitting that I was fairly confident that I could run sub 3:15. At the very worst, I thought I’d run a PB as my PB (3:19) was from a very poor run at Barcelona marathon a couple of years ago. ’Flopping’ over the line in 3:28 hadn’t even entered my head as a possible outcome.

There’s been occasions in the past when I haven’t dealt with races going badly very well – we probably don’t need to dwell on the SDW50 in 2016 when, after messing up my race and going from 2nd place at mile 30 to 5th at the finish, I refused to speak to anyone for about 5 days, cried constantly and made a stupid decision to start Brighton marathon a week later to try and make ‘amends’. Not one of my finest weeks!

I’d like to think that I’m a bit more of a mature runner these days, so dealing with my Seville ‘flop’ was a lot easier, and this is what I’ve learnt when races go bad:

Realise it’s ok to have a little wallow

I actually bypassed this stage this time as my race went so badly, it was actually laughable. I’d have been infinitely more disappointed if I’d raced my pink socks off and finished in 3:17. Instead, compared to how badly I ran, I actually think 3:28:26 is a much better result that I deserved and I’ve simply got no grounds for wallowing or self-pity.

Celebrate others success

My lovely friends Rhianon and Stephanie were also running Seville and they both had races which were at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to mine and both came away with super PBs (Stephanie in 3:17 and Rhianon in 3:38) – the last thing I wanted was to be the sore loser! So we laughed, celebrated, drank beer and ate tapas, and I was genuinely over the moon for them. If you’re jealous of other people’s running success then you’re in the wrong game, as unless you win every race you’re on the start line for, there’s always going to be someone who races better than you.

Try and work out what went wrong

As soon as I started my breathing felt laboured and my legs heavy and everything felt like such hard work. So Ian and I looked back over my training plan for this and previous races, and we think I ran a bit too much mileage in race week, but more importantly my easy runs weren’t easy enough in this training block. I’m a huge advocate of running my easy and recovery runs slowly (I tend to work to a minute a mile slower than my MP for easy runs so run them around 8:30 pace, and 90 seconds a mile slower than MP for recovery runs) but Ian wants me to slow them down even further. This is coming from someone who’s a 2:20 marathon runner and yet runs his recovery runs at 9 minute mile pace and slower so it certainly works for him!

A race is only a bad race if you don’t learn anything from it, so as from now my recovery runs are going to be more in the 10 minute mile pace ballpark and next time I’ll run less in race week. I’ve learnt that I don’t race well on tired legs. Even when I run parkrun on tired legs, I’m always about 30 seconds off my best, even if on paper I should be in PB shape. So lessons learned, slower easy miles and less miles in race week.

As a side note, the day after the race I came down with a really bad cold which lasted for about 10 days, so whilst I’ll never use that as an excuse for my Seville performance, Ian is adamant that this will have already been lingering in Seville, and contributed to my higher heart rate, difficulty with breathing and heavy legs.

Don’t lose sight of the positives

As runners we’re training for a end result and it’s easy to forget about the journey, so whilst those 26.2 miles in Seville were some of the worst I’ve ever run, it was also about the 10 or so weeks to the start line. It’s rare to have a training block where every single run went like a dream and that I hit every target, so although it didn’t materialise in the desired outcome, I know the training has set me up for my future races this year. Also enroute to the marathon, I managed to run a small PB at half marathon distance and most importantly even got my 5k PB down, so the fact that my 42 year old ultra running legs ran a 19:42 PB is definitely a positive that I’m going to celebrate!

Don’t make kneejerk reactions

Tom made the very valid point that if I’d had a bad race like this a couple of years ago, I’d have been googling ‘road marathons in March’ as soon as I crossed the finish line, desperate to try and make amends and run another marathon as soon as possible. Both him and Ian said that I could stand on another marathon start line in a couple of weeks and would probably run sub 3:15. But I’ve got a well-planned out year with a whole mix of ultras that I’m really looking forward to (Crawley 24 hours, NDW50, Global Limits Bhutan and GRP Tour des Cirques), so I can be patient and the marathon can wait until December when I’ll give it another shot in Valencia.

Realise a bad race doesn’t define you

Everyone has bad races, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but I think if you dwell on it too much, then it’s easy to end up in a self-fulfilling prophecy of bad race after bad race. One race isn’t a reflection of months and months of training. I’ve got no reason to think I won’t race well at Crawley 24 hours, so I’m going into it having the belief in my training so far this year and the knowledge that it’s another day and another race.


So there you have it, what to do when races go bad….or as Russ Mullen, who summed it up much more eloquently than me said ‘put it in the shit bin, firmly seal the lid and move on!’.

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Seville Marathon. The one that went really shit.
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