7 Ways to Recover Your Confidence After a Bad Race or Run

Today I wanted to talk about something that happens way more than it “should”, but based on what I talked about last week with the way social media destroys our confidence, we think we are alone in just how often we have a bad workout or race.

Recovering from a bad race or run can be tough, I know this, because I have had a lot of poor race performances over the years and moments where I haven’t known what to do after a bad workout.

In fact I had a bad workout on Wednesday, which is why I thought writing about what helps me, so hopefully it can help you too.

Think about this:

What does PR (or PB) stand for in running?

Personal Record (or Personal Best).

That in itself describes what it is; a record, a lifetime best. The whole thing about having a lifetime best is that it doesn’t happen often! We might see records break from time to time, but for the most part, they are SUPPOSED to be hard!

We can fall into the trap of thinking that we are continuously building on previous training cycles, and therefore we should be continuously getting faster, but unfortunately, its just not true, and it is just not going to happen.

In the past I wrote about what to do when you stop running PRs, and how to keep your motivation after a bad race where you did not improve, but that really is the true test of a runner.

Can you stay dedicated and focused when you are not running PRs, when you are out of shape, and when things are not going right.

Anyone can run while things are great, but you have to remind yourself that you are being brave by getting out there and doing it, ESPECIALLY when you know you are far away from a record.

Those PRs don’t happen very often, and that is a good thing, it means you cherish it when it does happen.

Speaking of which:

Use it as motivation for your next race

Bad training sessions and races are not fun.

There is no way around that.

Even if you listen to my advice and hide your GPS watch during workouts, if you are like me, you probably sense deep down that you are running slower than you have in the past….although, hopefully not looking at your watch makes it easier to reassure yourself that all you can do is your best.

But remember, these workouts when you are struggling, these bad marathon experiences are all part of your journey, and they are going to give you an extra motivation and drive to dig down to when you are in the next race.

Write down how you feel right now.

As much as you can possibly think of, in as much detail as you can about the emotions and frustrations you feel. At the end, remind yourself that you should proud for even getting out there and doing it.

Before your next race read what you wrote that day, or when you are in the race, remind yourself that you did not go through all that, you did not fight through those mental demons to give up now.

That day made you stronger, and it is now going to help you stay motivated when it gets tough in a race.

What can you take from your bad race or run?

Okay, so lets break it down.

There are are too many reasons for a bad workout, too many reasons why you ran a bad race, and to be honest, there really is no point trying to find the ONE reason why it happened.

You probably won’t find it, and it will just drive you crazy.

It is almost always a combination of things that cause bad days.

Instead, try to reflect, and think about one thing you DID learn from that race or workout. Think about something you did get out of it, even if it was just that you were breathing hard for a few minutes, which would have strengthened your lungs, making you in SLIGHTLY better shape than you were before.

Try to think about all the benefits of making it through that workout, and once again, be kind to yourself, look at the reasons why you may have struggled today, and give yourself a break!! You got out there and did it!

Stop looking at the GPS in future workouts!

Okay, this one is my favorite.

I have talked a lot about it in the past, and after a bad workout is a perfect time to really drive it home and make it perfectly clear why this is so important.

Does this sound familiar?

You are running along, with that sense deep down that you might be running slower than you hoped you would, but you convince yourself that you are doing fine…

Until the temptation gets too much, and you look at your pace.

And you spiral out of control.

You are running SO MUCH SLOWER than even you thought you were, and panic sets in.

You start to hyperventilate, your legs feel heavy, the devil on your shoulder telling you to drop out becomes almost impossible to ignore.

And your race goes down the pan as your negative emotions destroy your confidence.

Had you not looked at your watch, maybe it would have turned around. Even if it didn’t, you should would have done what you could for that day.

Maybe you just were going to take a little longer to warm up today, and you would have felt better. Maybe you were going through a bad patch, where the good patch was just one more minute away. Maybe you were not going to run a PR, but you were still going to be proud of how you took on the race.

But now you are broken and beaten up, any chance of a good race slips away.

I have done it so many times, and now, most workouts, I cover my watch up, so I cannot see it.

Memorize the button pattern to reset your watch between repeats, so you do not have to look.

Look at it after the workout, but this takes your mental side out of it, and means you focus on what is important; trying your best.

That is why I came up with the effort scale. So many runners have trusted me enough to try this, and they have run HUGE PBs by doing so, you can read more about it, or get this cheatsheet I made, which you can use right away.

Be your best

Rather than me trying to explain it, I think it is better if you listen to this interview with Jared Ward, as he explains it so beautifully.

At the end of the day, all you can do in your races or workouts, is your best. All you can do is cross the finish line or finish point knowing that you tried as hard as you could.

You can’t control what other people do, you can’t control the variables around the race (weather, course, events), but you can control your effort.

Let the result take care of itself.

If today isn’t your day, maybe tomorrow will be.

Take it as a challenge

The more bad races and workouts you have, the more likely it is that a good one is coming.

Use that stubborn runner attitude to fight the curveballs that life throws your way.

I am NOT going to let this break me. I am tough. I am strong. I am going to make it.

This is harder during the race, but after the race, you can reflect, and bring out that (eye of the) tiger in you, use it as a challenge that you WILL overcome.

Focus on enjoying running

This is my final tip, and in a lot of ways most important.

When things are going wrong, we tend to just focus on why we put ourselves through this.

What is the point? I am gonna quit. What is wrong with me? I am fed up of this.

Well, most likely, the reason is, because you enjoy some part of it!

You just have just lost your way, and likely become too focused on the result, rather than the journey. This puts more pressure on you, which makes it even more likely that you will have another bad one.

Instead focus on just enjoying it. Say it to yourself (out loud) before the race or workout; I just want to enjoy it.

Leave it at that. All you want from this day, is to enjoy it.

Of course running is not always fun, no matter how good you are feeling, running hard does not feel good, BUT you can enjoy the motion of feeling fast, the feeling at the finish. If you make your goal to enjoy it, it takes the pressure off, and reminds you of what it is about running you do enjoy, and that is all you really need to do.

Ready to trust me? Maybe even take a look at my Mile 20 Mental Training Course, where there is just loads and loads of great information that I have gathered up to help you mental game a lot which sometimes is what could be holding us back. Take a look!

How do you recover from bad races or workouts?

confidence, mental training

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  • It’s so important to just focus on enjoying running and why you do it. There is no sense in stressing yourself out. Great post Tina

  • Thanks Tina! After a rough 5k on Saturday, reading this was helpful! Thanks for all your writing, always enjoy reading it.

  • Thanks, good post. I had a bad time recently when my swimming time got slower after a lot of hard work. I just have to remind myself that I do it because I like it.

  • We all have bad races. I think you have to let yourself feel the feels, then use it as a learning experience!

  • I had to DNF a 10k on Sunday with a calf straing, and it felt like my Paris marathon was in jeopardy. It could very well still be in jeopardy, but I’m going to try to follow these ideas and see if I can’t pull something from the fire. So thanks for a great post.

  • Beautifully written. You expressed a few new ideas I hadn’t thought of…so thank you! <3

  • I feel like I need to look at my gps cuz I usually have the OPPOSITE problem, of going too fast than a prescribed workout. The watch helps me to keep myself in check. There have definitely been a few times where the watch has been slower than I thought and I have had that spiral down feeling that you talked about and wished I hadn’t looked, but that is on the more rare side, for me. Any suggestions of what I should do in this case?

  • It’s SO hard to not look at my watch. I can manage it sometimes during a regular run but not when I’m supposed to hit certain paces and I’m pretty much addicted during races…even though my coach wants me to run a race with the watch face taped over 🙂 Is there a 12-step program for Garmin addicts? 😉

  • I really like the mentality of focusing on what your best for that day is. Especially when it’s a bad race or run because of something like nasty weather conditions! And I’m sure I’ve said this before, but focusing on effort rather than the GPS has really changed racing for me.

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