There is that expression of you win some, you lose some. Sometimes you win big, and other times, you lose big too. In the course of two weeks, I did both, and definitely learned from both.
Last week was Ottawa Race Weekend, the best weekend to be a runner in Ottawa. People come from all over the world to race and it's pretty exciting to have the city jam packed with so many athletes. If you aren't a runner in Ottawa, you probably should just leave, because you will just find yourself frustrated over traffic and road closures. Two big records fell this year - fastest time in the men's marathon and overall number of participants.
I had a great race, it was difficult to stay hydrated and it was a pretty challenging race- but I came close to a personal best, one that I hope to crush in my next 5k. I ended up getting a win and after that got lots of encouraging words from friends and colleagues and it put me on the right track for the rest of the season.
However, two weekends later, it all came to a crashing end. I ran a 10k and I hit the wall at 3k. There is NOTHING most disheartening than knowing you are not running well and having a long way to go. I was told that I looked like I was in pain the whole time, and trust me- I was. For everything that went well during my 5k, it went wrong in my 10k. It was hard enough to suffer through a bad race, but dealing with the post-race frustration and disappointment was even harder. I felt like I had not only let myself down but also my coaches and those who were cheering for me.
After a bad race like that, I like to take some time a feel sorry for myself. I try to think of excuses. Last night I even blamed my mom for taking me grocery shopping which caused me to stand for too long and affected my race. I mean- come on! Now when I look back at it, it feels so silly, but like grief, post-race frustration has its phases which every disappointed runner must go through. "When you invest so much into your training and don't get the results you want, you have a right to be upset," says sports psychologist Karen Cogan of Denton, Texas. "Expressing your frustration should be part of your recovery process."
However, the next day, I had a good night's sleep and I gained a bit of perspective. Any athlete will tell you that there are some days are definitely better than others. But I think the key is to not let that get you down and to learn from each mistake. I come by this little piece of advice earnestly. After my race this weekend I was complaining to a teammate and she texted me back and told me that you learn from each race and often you learn more from the bad ones than the good ones because the good ones we tend to take it and run (pardon the pun) where the bad races make us reflect and re-evaluate so that we can have a better run the next time. So, if you are like me and have had a bad race, here are some pieces of insight that I have tried to use to help me move on.
First and foremost, when you have a bad race, it's helpful to understand why it happened. Sometimes race conditions (extreme heat, cold, wind, rain, snow) can be to blame, and that's easy enough to figure out. But sometimes there are underlining reasons which are more difficult to determine. Did you overtrain before the race? Did you go out too fast? Did you eat and hydrate properly? If you think that one of these things can be to blame, you can readjust for next time. In my case- I don't think I was well rested enough. I had been out of town for the weekend and sleep was at a minimum. I also think that I took a bunch of days off last week and maybe ran a bit on the longer side this week. "Every race is a puzzle," says Coach Jeff Horowitz, author of My First 100 Marathons. "Look for clues to solve the puzzle." Horowitz has his own story of a bad race. At his 141st marathon, he was on pace for a 3:15 finish. But 22 miles in, he was running out of energy and his calf muscle started to cramp. He eventually finished in 3:35. "I pieced together what went wrong," he says. "I wasn't taking in enough electrolytes." After the race, he adjusted his nutrition strategy for his next race and finished strong, cramp-free---and 10 minutes faster.
Secondly, I would also suggest that you write about your bad race. Put it in your training log- if you keep a record of the race and the conditions etc., when you race next time or when the end of the season comes, you can look back on it and have a more overall picture of the season and what you should probably do next time.
And finally, when it comes down to it, these bad races make you sincerely appreciate your good races. You will realize that one race doesn't make a season or define the rest of your season. This race, bad or not, will only make you stronger for the next one. "Not meeting a race goal doesn't mean that the race is a failure," says Mark Wallis, a running coach and marathoner from Tucson. "If you can learn something from it, a bad race could be a stepping stone to a breakthrough performance. Also, when you work through a challenging experience, you develop mental strength and perseverance that will help you on your next tough run." If you were able to adapt and work through, consider the race a success. Besides, there will always be another race, and another new race T-shirt for your collection. In my case, it makes me want to take things like rest, and running in the heat more seriously to avoid hitting the wall during a race. It makes me more hungry and motivated to have a great race next time. Besides, if all our races were good- what fun would that be? We are in a completive sport for a reason, so we need to develop a drive to reach better results. And I have found that one of the best driving factors can be losses. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) I have learned this from experience.
After reflecting on my race, here are some of the mistakes I think I made. I did the first kilometer a little too fast. I am used to running 5ks, so moving up to the 10 required me to adjust. Although I am not a rookie to racing, I am to running 10ks. And, oone of the biggest rookie mistakes in racing is going out too fast in the beginning of the race. Hence, my crash at kilometer three. The problem going out too fast is burning through stored energy too quickly leaving depleted at the end of your race.
Also, I ran in a pair of flats that I had never raced in before. I didn't want to wear my other flats because they don't offer me enough support and I have had some plantar fasciitis in the past. They felt great in the store, but once in a race, not so comfortable.
And my other mistake after reflection is my warm-up. It was such a warm day out that didn't want to do too much, but I don't think that I did enough. I think that I had not gotten my heart rate up enough so that it was a shock to my body and my legs couldn't maintain the intensity. A good warm-up is important because it dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscles' temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up also helps minimize stress on your heart when you start your run.
I did however, do something right before the race. I didn't eat anything out of the ordinary, I tried to stay out of the heat before, I tried to stay hydrated, and I didn't do anything crazy the day before.
So, after a great race and then a not so great race, I come away with two learning experiences and two stories to tell. The next race, good or bad, will be another completely different experience. However, I hope to come into that race a little wiser than before. Every athlete has bad races---even professionals. Britain's Paula Radcliffe dropped out of the 2004 Olympic Marathon, but three months later, came back to win the New York City Marathon. Someone once said to use this rule of thumb after a disappointing race. Allow yourself to be as disappointed, angry, whatever - but only until the soreness in your muscles wears off. As you feel your legs getting better and ready to train again, so should your attitude. So if we went by that -- I'll be sulking till Tuesday.