Every single runner’s worst nightmare is a shitty race. We aren’t talking a meh half marathon we are talking a catastrophically shitty race where everything that can go wrong does go wrong. You know the one, we all have a battle story. Who knows why they happen, it could be as simple as waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Sometimes nerves get the best of you while in the very worst of cases it’s the all too common case of …well…let’s just say your fastest intervals will be the ones spent sprinting in between porter-potty’s. So what do you do when the stars don’t align and you start battling the, “Just quit now” and the “I hate this so much?” Here are my tips to getting to the finish line:
Dress Rehearsals and Nothing New
Any website or article harps on this more than any other piece of advice so let’s not spend too much time on it. Basically you train to prepare for a race, why wouldn’t you practice your pre/mid/and post race fueling? My last dress rehearsal for the NYC Marathon was the Staten Island Half and I had to run 7 miles before the half. Well something in my pre-race meal plan didn’t sit well and I spent the entire race fighting cramps and stomach issues. I spent most of the race sitting in the different plastic thrones throughout the course. I don’t even know what my half marathon time was I was so mortified. It was probably the worst running experience of my life. But I was able to delete the food that didn’t work and I had no problems come marathon day. Stick with what you know works. (And keep an Imodium in your checked bag. They are good to have on hand should disaster strike.)
Break the Race Up
Don’t even WORRY about the finish line instead focus on very small increments during the race. For half marathons I break the race up into 5k’s, 1 or 2 miles if I am having a really bad day. For marathons I break the race up into a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon and then I start over and break the second 13 miles back up into 5ks. For me being at mile 20 and telling myself I have less than a 5k left feels so much more manageable than saying I have 2 more miles. Every single race is different, it depends on where my head is at. Just break the race up and focus on very small distances.
A lot can be said for just simply smiling. Nervous? Smile. Angry? Smile. Indifferent? Smile. Smiling for 2 minutes alone changes you physiologically. So even if you are a breath away from dissolving into a puddle of tears, smile. Make eye contact with spectators if they are out there, smile at them. Use them.
Focus on Passing People or Things
This is one of my favorite tricks to make the time go by. I employed this during my very first half marathon at mile 11 when I actually spent a good 5 minutes scared out of my mind that I wasn't going to make it. Luckily a girl who was running for Team in Training ran up to me and asked if I wanted to run with her since we had spent the majority of the race running at the same pace. She suggested we focus on putting our attention on someone ahead of us and trying to pass them. You don’t have to sprint after them, all you have to do is slowly inch your way closer and closer. Then when you pass them you pick another runner or a landmark.
If you are seriously over a race and ready to quit, just walk! What’s wrong with walking? Why do we runners hate it so much? A part of me is like, “I’d rather quit than walk.” Really? Why? Look if worse comes to worse and you have to take some time to walk, THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT! WALKING IS WONDERFUL! Sometimes, you just have to walk. Walk it out!
I’m not saying take selfies with hot guys but the reason I did it that very first time during the NYC Half Marathon was to distract myself. I hadn’t trained and decided to run the Friday before. I was really afraid of how I was going to do and the idea came to me before the race. I had never laughed so hard during a race and I never once stopped to wonder where I was on the course. I just had fun. Sometimes getting into your music or running with someone can be a great distraction from the race itself.
Talk to Yourself Like A Crazy Person
I’m not kidding, talk to yourself. Find a couple of phrases that mean something to you and repeat them in your brain or even out loud if you have to. Whenever I'm driving the struggle bus you can see me actually muttering to myself, “You’ve got this. You’re incredible. You’re a bad ass. Just keep going.” It’s crazy but it works. It’s a great way to take your mind off the race and like smiling it changes you.
Put Your Name on Your Shirt
Even if you are having the WORST race, if people are cheering and screaming your name it will get you through. I’d never done it before the NYC Marathon and I regret not doing it sooner! It only cost me $20 to have my name screen printed onto my race day shirt and to have complete strangers scream, "Go Kelly" or "Looking good Kelly" was incredible. I know it sounds vain but it made a world of difference. I wish I could have stopped to hug everyone who took a second to cheer for me.
I say this to you as a hypocrite who ran the first 10 miles of the NYC Marathon around my 5K pace, so I understand how difficult this is. SAY IT WITH ME, START SLOW. Force yourself to run 10-20 seconds slower than your goal pace if you are running a half marathon or a full marathon. Start slow, start slow, start slow. At least try to start slow because it’s the best way to not suffer and have a rough end to a race.
Leave a Bad Race at the Finish Line
Sometimes you have a bad race. They happen. Maybe the conditions weren’t the best, or your head wasn’t in it, you didn’t feel good, who knows! But when they happen you have to take a minute to figure out what went wrong, come up with a plan for next time, learn from it, and then just forget about it. Don’t kick yourself, don’t dwell on it, just leave it. Look at it like a learning experience and just be proud you had the courage to sign up, participate, and finish. There’s always next time.
Bad races really can mess with your mind and leave a bad taste in your mouth. All you have to do is try to make it to the finish line. What’s your favorite tip for a really shitty race? Until tomorrow friends, #RunSelfieRepeat.