5 Ways to Get Over a Bad Race Experience

4. Two Weeks Later

Set New Goals

Every athlete has bad races — even the ones who do this for a living. Britain's Paula Radcliffe dropped out of the 2004 Olympic Marathon, but three months later, staged an impressive comeback by winning the New York City Marathon. Elites like Radcliffe are able to bounce back because they have to, says sports psychologist Neal Bowes, of McLean, Virginia. If they allowed themselves to get caught up in a single bad race, they'd be out of work. You may not get paid to run, but you can adopt this mind-set. "Your running career isn't about one race," Bowes says. "Use your disappointment to fuel your next success." When setting your next goal, though, make it manageable. If you struggled to put in training miles for your last marathon, you might want to target a shorter distance. Also, to increase your chances of reaching your ultimate goal, set smaller goals along the way. If prerace jitters threw you off, race a few 5Ks before your next big race so you learn to calm those butterflies. "Small victories help rebuild confidence after a disappointing experience," Cogan says.

5. Before Your Next Race

Manage Expectations

"I go into a race knowing full well that part of running is taking the chance that something will not go right," says Kim Maxwell, a coach in Stillwater, Minnesota. Also, before you toe the line again, remind yourself that your performance — good or bad — doesn't define you (see "Embrace the Process," below). Running is part of a healthy lifestyle; it can make you feel stronger, happier, and saner. Those benefits outshine any post race glow.

What you do during the hours you're not running can make (or break) your workout. Make sure you're getting enough rest.

Feel Better
If you're still mopey weeks after a race, consult a sports psychologist. Red flags of depression include lack of energy and motivation, appetite loss or overeating.

Embrace the Process

To enjoy your racing, sports psychologist Neal Bowes recommends being process-focused rather than outcome-focused. This allows you to see ups and downs as part of becoming a stronger athlete, rather than tying your self-worth to a time goal.

OUTCOME-FOCUSED: You focus on a highly ambitious, perhaps unrealistic, time goal.
PROCESS-FOCUSED: Your time goal is based on training runs and recent races. You also focus on mind-set, pacing, fueling, nutrition.

Your confidence as a runner is based on race times. You're driven by how people will view your achievements.
PROCESS-FOCUSED: Your confidence is based on your ability to execute a race plan, your development as a runner, and the role running plays in your life.

Your routine is strict — you train through pain and risk injury.
PROCESS-FOCUSED: When you notice a potential sign of trouble, you back off and give your body time to rest.

OUTCOME-FOCUSED: You measure race-day success in terms of times and placing. If you miss a goal time, you feel like a failure.
PROCESS-FOCUSED: You measure race-day success based partly on times and placing, but also on the experience — what you can learn and how you can apply it to future races.

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