5 Tips for When Race Day Doesn’t Go According to Plan

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You have put in the training miles. You have worked your body through countless hours and have lost weekends, maybe even missing out on some friends or family events in order to keep your body rested for your long training run. You have run through rain, snow, wind, freezing or scorching temperatures. You have spent money to pay for race entry fees, running kits, travel, and accommodations for your dream race. Time, persistence, along with hard days and good days have ultimately brought you to the race day in hopes to achieve your goal. You have made it this far and feel ready and anticipate a great race. But…maybe race day doesn’t go according to plan. Maybe you have really terrible weather, maybe your body doesn’t cooperate, maybe despite your wishes your mental game starts to crack. Preparation only goes so far and each race can bring drastically different results than anticipated, especially on long endurance races. What can you do to try to get through the unexpected, emotional rollercoaster of a race that doesn’t go according to plan?

Here are 5 tips to try to get you through the race when it goes awry and things get super tough.

Envision the finish: Imagery can be a blessing. When the going gets tough, start to think about all the good that will come from getting to the finish. Think about your pose for the finish line photos. Think about your medal and parading about town with your new bling around your neck. Think about embracing your family and friends and telling them all about the high and low points along the race course. Think about the celebratory foods and drink at your favorite restaurant once you have completed. Think about your nap. And after thinking about all these finish lines feels, maybe another 1 or 2 miles have passed by without you realizing it.

Look for the positives: When your race pace is regressing in speed or a freak onset of pain or stomach issues arise, it may feel like nothing could possibly help you get through the rest of the run. However, trying to look for positives and putting your mind over the physical matters could maybe ward off bad feelings. Try thinking about the positives of the training program you went through to get to this point. Think about the current weather, or look to the sky, the trees, the water, the nature that is around you. Think about the new environment you are running in and take in and try to appreciate the views and architecture. Thank the volunteers who are taking time out of their busy day to help you get to the finish. Look to the spectators, shouting, cheering, screaming your name, and providing funny signs to keep you going. And maybe another mile or 2 has gone by without thinking about the pain and suffering you are going through.

Repeat your favorite mantras and/or quotes: If you are having difficulty finding positivity by yourself or in your environment, try going back to mantras or quotes that you go to for inspiration and motivation. Here are a few examples:

“Never limit where running can take you. I mean that geographically, spiritually, and of course, physically.” – Bart Yasso

“I breathe in strength and breathe out weakness, it is my mantra during marathons – it calms me down and helps me focus.” – Amy Hastings

“There is magic in misery. Just ask any runner.” – Dean Karnazes

“As athletes, we have ups and downs. Unfortunately, you can’t pick the days they come on.” – Leena Kastor

“Get going…walk if you have to, but finish the damned race.” – Ron Hill

Help others: If your legs are feeling like cement and you just can’t muster any more speed, you may have come to the conclusion to toss out the idea of this race is one for a personal record. At this point, you could try to provide assistance to others who may be displaying difficulties greater than your own. Give a smile, nod, high five or speak some kind words of encouragement. Maybe give an arm for balance or provide water to those who need it more. Acts of kindness will not only help someone who may be suffering more than you but may help you forget about your own troubles that are making the race difficult.

Walk: Sometimes taking a small walk to just recoup and get your mind, fears, or pain to calm down a bit and regather your strength to try to muster back up a good rhythm, is not something that should be frowned upon. Walking may ease the high impact forces that are abusing your body and a short walk may give you just enough rest to get going again. A small walking break may also provide a moment to help you determine if maybe there are more serious red flags to consider such as: is what you are feeling just physical pain or are you having trouble with vision, swallowing, or concentrating? If you are finding symptoms aren’t subsiding with a bit of rest, checking in with the medical team on the course may give you a proper health clearance on whether you can continue or not. Playing your cards correctly and safely is nothing to be ashamed of. If a ‘does not finish’ occurs, although it may be one of your biggest fears, a medically sound choice is ultimately better and will help you stay safe to run longer in the future.