Unexpected result? Now what?

Yannick Asselin 2010 05 30

Did you recently run a race and surprise yourself? Or did you run a workout that you didn’t expect to go the way it did? What do you do when this happens?

First, don’t over react. A good result is a good sign, it doesn’t mean everything will now come easy. A bad result may signify a problem but it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to failure.

Let’s break down how we should handle an unexpected result from best case scenario to worst case scenario.
Of course, all of this assumes the unexpected result is legitimate. Running a 2 minute PR on a short course or being well off your time on a long course isn’t unexpected. It’s incredibly unfortunate but the result is no indication of your performance on the day.

Unexpectedly good race result

This is the best of all worlds. You went into a race hopefully with high expectations and exceeded them. Congratulations! You just had a dream race day.

Now, how do you move on?

If this is the last race of your season, you need to make sure you don’t get too greedy. Maybe everything worked out so well because you timed your peak perfectly. Try to fit in another race and you may be past your peak. You may not like the result.

If this is your situation, enjoy that experience. Savor in it and end your season as originally planned. Let the glow of this result carry into your off season. Think about what went right and plan to not just replicate it but build on it for an even better next season.

If this is not the last race of your season, I have some good news for you. You can’t out race your fitness so you really are as fit as the race indicates. That may or may not mean you want to adjust your goals for upcoming races.

What it doesn’t mean is that you should change what you’re doing in training. A lot of people convince themselves that this great race result means they need to step up their training to another level. Then they end up doing too much and burning out. Remember, it was the training you were doing that led to that great result.

Unexpectedly good workout result

I hope we’ve all experienced at least one of those workouts where things just go right and we end up running faster than we planned or hitting target paces while feeling like we’re barely working. As with an unexpectedly good race result, this is a true sign of your fitness. You can’t out run your fitness level.

As with an unexpectedly good race, you don’t want to turn your world upside down just because of one workout. Keep this one in your memory. Recall it on race day to remind yourself of how fit you are. But don’t suddenly think every workout should be that much faster. You caught the workout on a good day. You’ll taper and prepare for race day with the expectation that it will be another good day. But you’ll still be doing other workouts on days when you’re running with tired legs or after a long day at work or under some other less than ideal circumstance.

Remember this workout but don’t get upset if it doesn’t become the new norm.

Unexpectedly bad workout result

We all have a bad day every once in a while. Chances are you just had one of those. What do you do now? Well, first think about what might have gone into it not going right.

Were factors out of your control affecting your run? If so, move on.

Were the factors within your control? Then think about how you can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Unexpectedly bad race result

This is the most difficult to take, especially if it was a goal race. The first thing you need to do is accept the result. It happened. It sucks. Get mad, then move on.

Once you have moved on, ask yourself why it happened. I would recommend doing so privately or with your coach if you have one. I’ve always been a very open person when it comes to my race reports and I’ve gone through this thought process publicly in my race reports. When I have done so, people would sometimes accuse me of making excuses when I really was just looking for what to correct. I’d recommend not subjecting yourself to this. Keep your thoughts on this private.

Once you figured out what happened to make things go bad, you have to figure out where it falls in three categories:

  1. Within your control: If what went wrong is within your control, then you can do something about it to prevent it from happening again. Went out too fast? Practice going out on pace. Even plan to start a little conservatively.
  2. Completely out of your control: If what went wrong was completely out of your control, you need to accept that you were dealt a bad hand, get over it, and move on. A family emergency came up the day before and left you exhausted on race day? Things like that happen. That’s unfortunate but not something you can control. Hopefully you will face better circumstances next time.
  3. Somewhere in between: In most cases, a bad race is the result of multiple factors, some of which were under your control and some of which weren’t. The best way of handling these is by combining the above two reactions. Let go of what was out of your control, then figure out what you’re going to do to prevent what was within your control from happening again.

What do you do?

What have you done when you have had an unexpected result, good or bad? How has it worked for you? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Photo credit: Yannick Asselin 2010 05 30

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