Bad races happen. Bad training runs happen. But we pick ourselves up and press on. That’s what makes the running community so unique. We keep moving forward until we achieve our goals.
That’s all well and good, right? But what do you do when you have a bad race? How do you handle it — both mentally and physically?
I had a disappointing race on Sunday. For the amount of effort I put forth, I was dissatisfied with my time. But time doesn’t tell the whole story, does it? It doesn’t tell the weather conditions, or the mental game, or even the hydration and nutrition aspect. No, time is just an arbitrary number. Useful? Yes. But the end-all, be-all of a race? Certainly not.
What are the factors that affect race performance? And how should you deal with them?
Race Performance Factors + How to Deal With Them
Heat, humidity, cold, windchill. Rain, sleet, snow, over-abundance of sunshine. All of these things play a huge role in overall race day performance. For most runners, ideal running temperatures are between 35˚ and 45˚ F. And that doesn’t include inclement conditions such as rain, sleet, snow, or wind.
When the weather doesn’t play nice come race day, it’s important to factor in the variables. When it’s hot and humid, you need to adjust your pace accordingly. And if it’s snowing or sleeting, you might be able to run at your ideal pace but you need to be more aware of road conditions so you avoid slips, trips, and falls.
The Mental Game
The mental game of racing is real. It’s not just in your head — no pun intended. You can easily sabotage your own race just by thinking negative thoughts or not being in the zone. But it’s also much more than that. My own coach and I were discussing my performance on Sunday, and he sent me a page out of one of his books, which I found extremely fascinating. Excerpted, it reads:
“When we exercise in the heat, critical fatigue occurs when core temperature reaches around 40 degrees Celsius… Anyone who races in the heat knows that it isn’t a case of race hard until you are hot and then you slow down. Instead, you slow down early on in the race… Essentially, if your core temperature is rising too quickly for you to finish the race unscathed, the brain will start shutting you down early to slow your pace and thus slow the rate of heat accumulation.”
–The Science of Running, Magness, Steve.
Fascinating stuff right there, folks. This alone gives credit to both the actual and perceived effects of weather and the mind game. It’s not just all in your head! Or is it?
A somewhat obvious factor in race performance is race-specific training. What this means is that you should train for the race you’re running. For example, I’m currently training for a road marathon. While I truly enjoy trail running and I see a lot of benefit in it, I need to limit my trail miles while I’m training for a road race. Likewise, if you’re training for a full marathon and use a half marathon as a training run and not as your ‘A’ race (as in my own situation over the weekend) then you shouldn’t expect to crush your half marathon PR. Race specific training means you start with general base miles, and end with race-specific pace training. When this doesn’t happen prior to a race, cut yourself some slack when you don’t snag that personal best.
Nutrition and Hydration
Here we go again with the nutrition and hydration — but how many coaches really drill in the importance of proper nutrition and hydration? Most — if not all. Because it’s really that important. Remember, if you’re dehydrated by as little as 2%, it can — and will — affect your race performance.
If you’re prone to injury or don’t feel generally good while running, you may consider having your form checked. Poor running form can contribute to poor race performance. Check in with your coach to have a form analysis done if you’re experiencing any issues.
There are truly so many variables that can affect race performance — both positively and negatively. The thing to do is to celebrate the victories and learn from them, while simultaneously brushing off the losses and learn from them as well. I know it’s easier said than done — been there, done that. But every race (and training run) is an opportunity to learn more, study more, and ultimately do more in preparation for the next one.
Tell me your thoughts… what’s the one variable that almost always affects your performance (either positively or negatively)?