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Had a tough season? Here’s how to reset like an Olympian

Middle distance champ Maddy Kelly's ability to reframe challenging races is a skill we can learn

Maddy Kelly running up hills

Whether your season resulted in podium finishes or you faced some serious challenges, taking some time to reflect and reframe can make you a better athlete.

If your season didn’t go as planned, you aren’t alone–even Olympians face similar setbacks and doubts. Canadian Olympic middle distance runner Maddy Kelly had what for her felt like disappointing races at both the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. But rather than fixate on those specific results, she reframed her experience, reminding herself of what else she achieved in 2022. (A lot: she made three national teams, regained the national title she had first won in 2019 and ran sub-2:00 (800m)–twice.)

Here’s how to find the positive takeaways from your running season, reframe setbacks and move forward, regardless of your season outcome.

woman resting in hammock
Photo: Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez

Recover and reflect

Your body and mind need some time to recover, even if you feel like you didn’t run your best. While opinions (and your training schedule) will differ on how much time to take off, experts agree off-season recovery is vital to staying healthy and injury-free. Take a few days or weeks to focus on lower-impact movement for your body (cycling or swimming), or take some full extra rest days. Focus on getting adequate (even extra) sleep and nutrition.

Pinpoint both successes and challenges

Give yourself credit for things you did well, particularly process-based goals, like getting up early twice a week to run, or learning more about nutrition. If you didn’t have any process goals, it’s still worth noting what parts of your training you excelled at and what was a struggle. If time management was an issue, make a note if it without berating yourself. You’re doing this to improve, not to make yourself feel bad.

person writing and reflecting
Photo: Unsplash/Green Chameleon

Don’t be afraid to tackle your weaknesses

Once you’ve taken a good look at your season and given your body some time to recover, explore ways you can improve your weaknesses. We often do the most work on the aspects of running that we excel at–if you love hill sprints, you’re less likely to find an excuse not to do them, and you end up becoming very strong at running quickly up ascents.

Look at your weaknesses as future strengths. Really dislike speedwork? Know that if you stop avoiding it, it will get easier and you will become a better athlete. Embracing a weak area can be fun, once you get past the initial avoidance–you’ll be rewarded as you improve.

person running stairs
Photo: Unsplash/brunonascimento

Remember why you run

If you’re struggling to reset after a tough race or season, come back to the basics. Remind yourself why you started, and take some time to run for fun. If you started running because you felt good moving your body, find ways to bring training back to that focus.

That could mean short, easy runs with friends for a few weeks. If that doesn’t get you out the door, maybe you need to do some feel-good activities that aren’t running-related until you feel that itch to lace up again. Know that it will come back, and sometimes a break and some time to reflect is exactly what your body is asking for.

man and child running
Photo: Unsplash/Steve Wiesner

There are no hard and fast rules that will work for everyone, but easing the pressure you place on yourself during racing season, focusing on sleep, drinking plenty of water and dialing in nutrition, and bringing your running game back to fun and simple movement are great ways to begin rebuilding. Remind yourself that you want to be running for years to come, and putting in the recovery time (even when it’s hard to do so) is vital to years of healthy training and racing.