What Do You Do When Your Marathon Didn’t Go As Planned?
Have you ever finished a marathon, missed your goals, and spent the next several days and weeks playing the “if only I had…” game?
- If only I had run 7 seconds faster per mile.
- If only I had been able to hold my pace in the last 10k.
- If only I had been more realistic about what I was capable of.
- If only I had taken one more Gu…
I recently finished my sixth marathon, 11 minutes off of my goal.
I finished 2 minutes slower than my last marathon, which is disappointing because I thought I was in better shape.
Heading into the final 100 yards, I was deflated knowing my “A” and “B” goals were totally out of reach. I summoned enough energy to raise my arms for a decent finisher photo, then wandered around wondering what happened. I have PR’d in every marathon I have ever run until this point. After seeing faster and faster times, I was used to a certain finish line euphoria that never came. As I stood there lying to Carrie Tollefson about how much “fun” I had, I was trying to figure out what went wrong, and what I could have done differently.
After reflecting for the past week, three big picture things come to mind when figuring out what to do after the marathon didn’t go as planned.
- Evaluate your race and training.
- Remember tomorrow is a new day.
- Move on.
These are probably good things to think about even if your race went well. We are less likely to be critical of PR’s though. Here is what these three things look like for me right now.
This is probably where most of your time will be spent. I’ve been using a process to evaluate my last few marathons. It focuses on three key metrics (with several sub-metrics):
- Training Strategy
- Race Strategy
- Mental Toughness
Here are a few quick observations.
My Training Strategy
After my awesome 2014 marathon, my coach Antonio Vega and I talked about what was next for me. I had run a 10 minute PR, and qualified for Boston by 27 seconds. Knowing I would need another 60 seconds to get an “un-official Boston qualifier,” I wanted to run another marathon soon to make sure I got in.
He thought I could break three hours.
Knowing the challenge ahead, he put together a great plan. The basics were to fully recover, spend a few months building a solid base followed by 12 weeks of intense marathon specific training.
Unfortunately that plan was derailed when a nagging achilles injury forced me to start everything almost three months late. I certainly wasn’t starting from scratch, but I didn’t get to tackle the original plan.
Looking at notes from my training log, none of my key workouts went really well. They didn’t go terrible, which is why we kept the goal. Also, for a variety of reasons, sleep and strength training were also two areas I didn’t give as much priority as I have in the past. That was dumb.
Conclusion: Because of the early injury, I may have missed out on some higher mile weeks. I also wasn’t fully aware how tired I was going into the final week. More miles doesn’t automatically mean I would have made it, but it lead to a lack of mental confidence (more on that later).
My Race Strategy
My race strategy was pretty straight forward: settle into goal pace in the first few miles, zone out and hold on. I knew if I wasn’t able to hold my A pace, I could back off and settle into the B goal pace. Here are a few questions Antonio asks about the race itself.
Did you hit your splits? Not really. For the first 10 miles, I kept bouncing between the A goal and B goal pace. I couldn’t decide what I should do. At the end, I was just trying to finish.
How did you feel during the race? Terrible. Almost from the beginning I felt sluggish and my stomach felt weird. Gu’s didn’t go down normally, and I was forcing fluids.
What happened towards the end of the race? I wanted to sit down and be done around mile 23. The cramping in my right quad and left calf was brutal. At one point I contemplated asking a medic for a ride to the finish.
Conclusion: Even the best race strategy can’t offset the fact that sometimes you just don’t feel good.
My Mental Toughness
Unbridled optimism is not the same thing as being mentally tough during a marathon. Confidence in front of friends, family and blog readers is one thing. Being able to realistically evaluate where your training is at, is another thing entirely. Deep down, I always had this sense that I couldn’t run as fast as I was planning.
Despite Antonio’s continued confidence in me, I should have listened to my gut and adjusted my goal from the beginning. I’m not sure if that would have changed the outcome, but the voice in my head shouting obscenities at me may not have gotten as loud.
I also believe that I’m faster than I think I am. Perhaps through some less aggressive goals first, I can build the mental toughness to convince myself of that.
Conclusion: If you doubt your ability going into a race, you’re screwed. This will be the topic of a future blog post… stay tuned.
If you’d like to watch me process this a bit with Antonio, check out this video. I have found these conversations really helpful. Here is just a brief segment from what we talked about.
2. Remembering Tomorrow is a New Day
There are moments when I think achieving this somewhat arbitrary marathon goal means the world to me. When it has become a sole focus for months on end, it’s hard to let it go. It has become deeply personal.
Sometimes running mirrors life. When you work hard at something, you expect to see great results. But that’s not always how it goes. Remembering that tomorrow is another opportunity to work hard at something is part of what makes that thing worth achieving.
After the race, I went home and told my two year old son this. He just kept saying, “Running! Daddy running!”
As runners, we’re not doing this for short term gain. It’s a lifetime pursuit of something bigger. Inevitably, there will be peaks and valleys. How we choose to respond to them is what determines the type of people we become.
Running is a gift. No matter how disappointing a race may be, it is important to never forget what a privilege it is to run.
3. Moving On
Moving on is healthy. That may mean moving on from the marathon distance all together. It could mean an extended break from running (hopefully not too long).
Moving on means reevaluating the goal you had when you decided to run that marathon in the first place. Is it still important? Do you still want it?
For me, that answer is yes. My goal of running the Boston Marathon before I’m 40 is still very much alive (tick, tock).
I still have a long shot of getting into the next one, but at this point it is unlikely. In some ways, that just fires me up to try harder next time.
To do that, moving on means fully recovering from the marathon (and enjoying the downtime), running some shorter distances, and then ramping up again.
The cycle continues…
Have you had a Disappointing Race?
If you recently had a disappointing race, what did you do to get over it? Be it a 5k or marathon, what was helpful to you as you moved on from it?