When goal races go bad

November 3rd, 2015 by | Posted in Running Well | Tags:

Sometimes weeks of hard work don’t go as planned. Seanna Robinson tells us about her race day flop and why she thinks goal races are always a bit of a gamble. 


Not all runners run races. I don’t need to race in order to enjoy my training. I run hard in order to feel good and to stay fit and fast but every now and then, I like to measure my efforts with a race. Sometimes I need to have a goal to motivate me and keep me honest in working hard. I also like testing myself by putting it all on the line in a big performance. I love racing when I feel well-prepared, fit and ready to go. I don’t feel the need to do this too often (hey, it’s hard and stressful) but usually once or twice a year I put a big “goal race” on the calendar.

This fall, I decided it was time. The training was about eight weeks. I anchored it with weekend long runs with pace-specific work and Wednesday morning interval workouts aiming to get faster and fitter each week. On top of that, I did running-specific strength training with core work and daily runs to hit my mileage targets. I was doing all of this to get ready to run a fast half-marathon. I was getting excited to get out there and see what I kind of speed I had come race day.

Sometimes this...
Sometimes this…

Then I got sick. Leading up to race day, I was hopeful that I’d recover. That lasted right up until the night before but as I lay under the covers with the chills and body aches, I knew I wouldn’t be able to race well. I decided not to go.

Big goal races are like that. Out of my current network of runner friends, when it comes to this fall’s goal races, the ratio of runners who were happy versus unhappy with their results is about 60:40. In the ‘not happy’ category are those who got injured, sick, or just raced below expectations.

RELATED: Why a little self-hate goes a long way in running

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... takes the place of this.
… takes the place of this.

It’s really hard to put a perfect training block together and have everything turn out perfectly on race day. The odds, although slightly on your side, are not great. It’s anything but a sure thing. We’re up against work stress, family circumstances, physical injury, poor weather, cold and flu viruses and poor nutrition choices (OK, that last one might be in

our control). To add to this, training plans are not sure-fire recipes for success and adapting perfectly to a training plan without over or under-doing it, taking all your other stressors into account, is a fine art. I think there’s a lot to do with luck too.

This is not to say we should give up and stop trying. It is just a reminder not to beat ourselves up when we land in the 40 per cent group of runners who didn’t reach their goal. I’m finally there. I’ve been doing this for long enough that I don’t feel mad or upset that I didn’t race. There will be more and I”ll enjoy training towards that goal, and if it all comes together I will realize what a special thing it is and celebrate that with all my heart.

And then I’ll go out and buy a lottery ticket.