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What to do when things go wrong on race day

Sometimes plans go awry, no matter how well you prepare. Here's how to take it in stride

London marathon fall

You’ve trained for months, had a perfect build and come race day morning, you’re ready to snag a new PB. The gun goes off and everything is going exactly according to plan until — disaster strikes. Maybe you get hit with a stinging side cramp, or you have a wardrobe malfunction, or your digestive system betrays you. Whatever the issue is, you can feel your perfect race slipping away from you. Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare for a race, something goes wrong that you didn’t foresee. Learning how to deal with a mid-race catastrophe may not make the problem go away, but it will help you get through it as gracefully as possible.

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Accept the situation

When things start to go wrong in the middle of the race, the first step is accepting the situation. Whether you’re having a wardrobe malfunction, tummy troubles, you can feel a giant blister developing on your heel or you’re simply not hitting your goal splits, accepting that things aren’t going well in that moment will allow you to move forward. It will also make it easier to accept that you may not hit the goal you were hoping for that day, and help you to get over it. It may sound a little harsh, but you can’t change the fact that your stomach is cramping or that you tripped and fell halfway through the race, so it’s best to take it for what it is, so you can think rationally about what to do about it.

Have a backup plan

You always want to go into a race with the idea of achieving your A goal, but it’s a great idea to have a B or even C goal in case things don’t go according to plan. For example, if you’re running in a big race with a lot of people, have a backup plan in case you get stuck in the crowd at the beginning and you don’t hit your first few splits. Having a secondary goal won’t take away your motivation to achieve your primary goal, but it will give you a contingency plan so that if things go awry, you still have something to work toward.

Turn off your watch

Watches are great for helping you stay on track, but if you’re struggling to hit your goal pace and you’re starting to beat yourself up mentally, turn the watch off and run by feel. You’re likely not going to hit your goal time that day anyway, and it does no good to watch your pace gradually slow down.

Take a time-out

It may seem like sacrilege to stop or walk in the middle of a race, but sometimes when you’re dealing with a nasty stitch, or if your mental game is falling apart, the best thing you can do is slow down for a minute, breathe and regroup. Sometimes, a quick break is all you need to get your head (or your body) back in the game, and you might even find that you end up running better because of it.

Stay calm and be patient

If something happens that causes you to miss one of your splits, don’t try and make up the time all at once by suddenly sprinting ahead. Instead, stay calm and slowly work your way back up to where you want to be — panicking will cause you to tense up, which could end up making things worse.

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