Take time to recall your 2012 training blocks and goal events. It's wise to review how things went so you can make adjustments in the new year. "If you had a great race, you'll want to know how to repeat the experience," says Alexa Martin, a running coach in Gig Harbor, Washington. If you fell short of your training target, whether it was a time goal in a race or a key workout, you can learn from that, too. "As gut-wrenching and heartbreaking as these experiences may be, if you assess the carnage thoroughly and honestly, you will uncover the clues that will lead to your next big running breakthrough," says Martin. Discover what went right—or wrong—by conducting the following post-mortem as soon as you catch your breath. (Did you pick the right goal for you? Learn How to Pick a Running Goal.)
Record the Facts
Write down everything you did the week before and during a race or big workout. Include when and what you ate and drank, how you slept, what you wore and how it felt, and how your warmup went. Also include weather conditions and any aches and pains. No detail is too small. "If you wear a hat you've never worn before and it's bugging you, that can throw your race," says Jess Cover, a running coach at On Track Performance Coaching in Burlington, Vermont. Separate the things that went well—like your fueling and hydration strategies, for example. These are now part of your formula for success. Then identify the things you had no control over, like the freak thunderstorm. What's left are the factors you can improve. Prioritize them during your next training cycle, but focus on just one or two at a time so you don't get overwhelmed, says Tom Holland, author of The Marathon Method.
Examine Your HeadDid you fall apart or stay strong throughout your run? Were you distracted or energized? Did you have fun? Jot down everything about your mental state that day, taking care to note fluctuations in mood, says Martin. "I know that at about 60 percent through a race, I typically decide racing isn't fun, and it really doesn't matter," she says. "Then suddenly, about 85 percent of the way through, I care again." Identifying such patterns can help you devise coping strategies. To overcome tough stretches, Martin uses mantras like "Stay loose and relaxed" and "This is only temporary." (For more mantras and motivation, try these 10 Mental Tricks to Help You Run Better.)
Also note any circumstances that brought you down—a huge crowd stifled your start, perhaps, or your iPod died. "Stress is a choice," says Holland. "It's a process, and it's often unnecessary." You can't control what's happening around you, but you can control your reaction: Practice positive self-talk to counter anxiety, like "I did my homework, I am ready" and "I feel great."