How to Handle a Disappointing Goal Race


Broad Street Run 2015, around mile 6. Thanks, Alex, for capturing me when I was really feeling awful but trying to power through.

This past weekend, in what was meant to be my goal race for the Spring season, I not only missed my target finish by 4 minutes, but most of the race was a struggle. It wasn’t that I was ill-prepared – because I wasn’t. But getting sick with a head/chest cold meant my goals were simply no longer in the cards. Oxygen is vital while running (obviously!), and especially necessary when racing. Naturally I was disappointed, and also not feeling well. Not the best of combinations. But I told myself that while I couldn’t control being sick on race day, I could control my attitude. I’m sure I am not the first runner to have a bad goal race – in fact I know I’m not – and thought this could be a misfortune that could turn into a coaching lesson. After all, I am trying to look on the bright side.

If a goal race isn’t going to go the way you had hoped, there are a few things you can do. Here are some common scenarios and tips:

  • Accept the things you cannot change. Modify your plan, goals, and expectations. Being in denial isn’t helpful, and just delays your disappointment.
  • Perhaps poor weather is in the forecast. Adjust your wardrobe for it. Hot sun will mean you’ll need to fuel more frequently than perhaps anticipated. Rain means you may want to wear waterproof gear, or few layers. Wind means you will possibly need to adjust your paces. Nobody wins in a race against headwinds. You will simply need to modify your pacing and finish time expectations. Don’t believe me? Ask the folks who tried to fight the wind in the 2014 NYC Marathon.
  • A stressful week or weekend leading into your goal race can cause issues. The odds are you have put race pressure on yourself, and if you are experiencing “taper tantrum,” you may naturally be more on edge. Remember to relax. Look at the big picture, and don’t make mountains out of mole hills.
  • Bad health and minor injury are unfortunately unavoidable. For example, I had no control over the chest/head cold that plagued me this week and hit me hardest over race weekend. If you have a minor injury, all you can do is attempt to keep it happy. If health appears to compromise your goals, you need to accept that and modify your expectations and strategy. If IT Band issues plague you on race weekend, be prepared to pause and stretch on race morning. Also be prepared to change your pace and gait if you are tight or in pain.
  • If you are late to the starting line, don’t panic. You may miss your corral, or be in a rush to get into the porta potty line or bag check – but loosing your cool will only lead to a frazzled race. Instead, remember you can always drop back to a different corral. Not ideal, but if you settle into those first few miles, the odds are your race pace won’t be compromised at all in the big picture. Stay stressed and abandon all reason, and you are asking for the wheels to come off.

It can be really sad, frustrating, and upsetting to miss the mark on a goal race. But remember, as long as you are safe and smart on race day, your racing career is far from over. Instead, I urge you to go out there and enjoy the morning as much as possible – even if that means running through a heat wave, or blowing snot and coughing up gunk in your lungs at an epic rate. Every race is a journey, and we cross that finish line slightly different from when we crossed the starting line. Enjoy the journey between those two points. You’ll have your day to capture that goal – it simply just may not be today.

Report from the Trenches: Broad Street Run 10-Miler

imagesOn my 5-year anniversary of my first race ever, I headed back to where it all started – the Philadelphia Broad Street Run. This 10-mile race was my first, and I have gone back every year. It’s silly to think that I have only been part of race culture for five short years. Those years have been packed with so many growing pains, knowledge, growth, and a love affair with road racing that won’t quit.

I remember how for years I ran, but never entered a race. I would run 20-30 mile weeks, simply to clear my head, sweat out stress, and feel good. I liked it. I don’t know how fast I’d run, and I have a rough idea on distance, but I was by no means the runner I am today. Like my journey, I am sure many of you have grown as athletes and human beings by leaps and bounds over the last five years. It’s really quite amazing to process that.

While my plan for this year’s Broad Street Run was to train my butt off and work to finally crack the 65 minute mark (my last two Broad Street Runs were 65:XX), this winter’s weather, being sick over and over, and my coaching load shut down that goal. I was slightly disappointed, as I love the opportunity to compete against myself. But pacing runners in races and long runs, and a terrible winter simply meant I had a winter filled with easy distance miles, not track repeats or tempo runs. 

I decided the next best thing was to run the race with someone special. Luckily, I had a ton of special people running the race this year. Miracle of miracles, via lottery, my brother, friend and boyfriend all got spots. Since Alex and Chris (friend and boyfriend) were of similar pace and planned to run together, I decided I would run with my brother. At his first Broad Street Run in 2013, he ran about a 1:22 on barely any training. 

I should mention here and now that while I love my brother, James, dearly; he is one of those people who always excels. He was the kid who wouldn’t study or would do his homework on the bus, and get straight A’s. Plus he was always cast as the lead in school plays, and a talented basketball player – and it all came easily to him. As his older sister who had to work for her good grades and extra curricular activities, I sometimes found this annoying. Now I find it amazing. 

In true James fashion, he once again barely trained for the Broad Street Run. It’s not that he didn’t care or didn’t want to, but it wasn’t a priority. I told him we’d get him a PR of at least a sub-1:20. I knew that even if he were just in the shape he was last year, I could push him enough for that goal. And again, in true James fashion, he blew his current PR out of the water and ran a sub-1:12, on barely any training. 

Race morning was cool, and it looked like rain. Still, we all agreed that cool and rainy was probably better than the 85 degree morning I had on that same course five years earlier. James and I said goodbye to Chris and Alex, and they walked to the green corral. James and I walked towards the starting line, and into the purple corral. It’s amazing to me that the race is now 40,000 runners. One of the things I love about Broad Street is that it truly is a Philadelphian’s race. Most of the runners live in Philly or the suburbs, and it’s often an event friends do together, tailgating for the Phillie’s game is a popular post-race choice. There are some runners who travel into town, but I’d say this race is as Philadelphia as you can get. I like it. 

In the corral, James and I chatted as we tried to stay warm. I told him to not push the first mile, and to wait for the crowds to thin. Wasting time weaving around runners would add distance and expend energy, taking away from the benefit of a flat and fast course. Again, in true James fashion, this guy aced the notion of a negative split. Our first and slowest mile clocked a 7:34, and James told me he would be happy if we averaged 7:30s. Our miles slowly picked up pace as we went. As we passed the Temple University campus and the marching band, a spring in our step took us quickly towards City Hall. You can see City Hall from miles away. I told James that we’d pass City Hall after the 5-mile mark, so we should settle and not burn out until we hit the halfway mark. Our pace still continued to speed up, but because James didn’t look or sound like he was working very hard, I didn’t pull him back very much. 

Around the 7-8 mile mark, James said his legs were beginning to tighten up. Did this slow his pace? Nope. At this point we were running 6:55-7:05 miles. I was simply in awe at how someone who has run maybe a dozen times since January could run 10 miles at this pace without feeling terrible, gasping for air, or getting injured. Who is this kid?!? Our last mile was our fastest, a 6:41. Ironically, I was winded at the end. My allergies made the last few miles hard on my breathing, and so when James took off at the end I was left to watch the tree tattoo on his back a few steps ahead of me. James had crushed his previous PR by over 10 minutes. On barely any training. Ridiculous. 

At the finish, we grabbed refreshments and our medals, and waited for Chris and Alex at the family meeting area. James pointed out the many different gaits and running forms we saw on the course. I laughed, as I totally knew what he was talking about. The more you run, the more you notice things like running form. 

I told James that I wondered what kind of time he could clock if he actually trained. I think he could whoop my butt and run 60-65 minutes – maybe faster. I am in awe. Again, knowing how hard I’ve had to work for certain race times, watching him pull off a time many runners out there that day didn’t have a prayer in achieving, probably while training – its amazing. As his big sister, I am super proud. As a coach, I would very much love the opportunity to coach him one year and see what would happen. However, in true James form, he’s probably too busy with other things (he does work a lot!) and will probably still go back and set a new PR in 2015. 

As for me, I absolutely love pacing someone to a PR. Hopefully next year will be the year I go after that sub-65 minute finish. I know if I work hard, and weather cooperates on race day, its there. I know it is. I just need to make it happen.

Pushing Past Ourselves

635204713309974156Most runners have the same post-goal race process. While we recover, we analyze and go over moments that seem like a blur from the recent race. It’s our time to mentally process what we achieved, failed to achieve, and how to move forward.

In the days following the Philly Marathon, I was in something of a fog. Perhaps that was due to my immune system finally collapsing, and therefore battling a cold. My lead-like legs certainly were due to the beating I put them through over 26.2 miles, and my left IT Band made sure I was aware that it wasn’t happy. As my body slowly recovered from race day, and then took on a cold, my head had some time to wrap around just what happened during those 3 hours and 5 minutes I spent on the race course.

One of my team mates, when she saw my crazy negative split, asked me if that was a half marathon PR, achieved during the second half of my marathon. Her question got me thinking. No, it was not a PR for the Half Marathon, but it certainly was a fast second half. Her question got me thinking about myself as a runner, a human, and other PRs.

After some analyzing past race stats, I was reminded that some of my PRs were contained in larger race distances. For example, my 10K PR was the first 10K of the 10 MILE Broad Street Run in 2012. Yes folks, apparently I can run a 10K FASTER when I still have 4 miles to go than I can when towing the line for a 10K.

My question: why?!?

Sure, the elevation and weather are factors, but why is it that my PR for a 10K hasn’t happened at a 10K race? Clearly it’s mostly not solely physical. So, what’s going on in my head? And if something goes on in my head, does the same thing go on in YOUR head? This made me think about my clients and their goals. Why is it we sometimes struggle and other times we blow ourselves out of the water?

Perhaps mentally, it’s easy to put up a mental block against certain numbers and distances. Perhaps for me, when I wasn’t thinking about the possibility or option of a 10K PR in 2012(my mind was focused on the 10 MILE PR), my body and mind didn’t even register that a 10K PR would have to happen in order for the 10 mile PR to occur. Maybe we get in our way more than we are aware.

Another example of mental madness: As previously mentioned in past blogs, I struggled with speed this Spring. Getting my speed back after injury and rest was tough. Before the 2013 Broad Street Run in May, I struggled HARD to hit 7:00 miles during tempo runs. I remember feeling completely unprepared as I stepped up to the starting line. You know what I ran for 10 miles? 6:33s. No, it wasn’t my best 10 mile race, but I was so shocked and confused as to how I pulled that out of myself when I had struggled to clock 7:00 miles for a few miles at a time. Once again, how and where did that come from?

Unfortunately, I don’t know. I wish I had the answer.

I clearly remember my first marathon, where I went into it determined to set a BQ. Failure was not an option in my mind, and I didn’t have anything to compare my first marathon to. I didn’t doubt it, or even really think about how hard a BQ was for most people. I just went out and did it. Sure, it turned out I had above average running abilities, but I am also going to argue that sometimes ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is power, but sometimes being a know-it-all or a veteran means we can psych ourselves out, or “decide” before the gun goes off what we are capable of, instead of just going for it.

As I ponder over my most recent marathon, I am left wondering how I can knock down any preconceived limitations I have put on myself. And as a coach, how can I help other runners see past their perceptions of who they are as runners. Is there a way to combine the bliss of ignorance and the power of knowledge to create a mentally stronger athlete? Of course we all of our own limitations. I, for one, will most likely never win a marathon. However, who am I to say what “time” I am capable of? The future is unwritten. And that goes for you, too.