How to Bounce Back from a Bad Race

Photo by Michael Scott

from Running Joyfully

You know those races – the ones that leave you bummed, disappointed, a little sad, and hungry for more. We’ve all had them. Whether it’s a 5k or a marathon that’s left your running heart broken, a bad race can sting a bit. So what do you do to get over it and move on?

I’ve had some experience in bad races lately – hello, USA’s and the Peachtree 10k! Here’s what I’m doing to pick myself up again, as well as some tips that I share with the athletes I coach when their day has gone south…


If you have a disappointing race, it’s ok to be upset about it – being sad that you came up short means that you cared about the big goal you were chasing. If you had an off day and you weren’t a little bummed out, I’d be worried – frustration is normal. Go ahead and be upset, but put limits on how long you all those dejected feelings to linger – I like to allow myself the cooldown to be mad or sad, but then it’s time to regroup – see tip #2 below.

After I ran the Olympic Trials 5k last year in Eugene and led for the 1st half of the race, only to fade and not advance to the final, I was disheartened and really bummed. So you better believe that I let myself cry on the cooldown; the Eugene weather gods seemed to feel my pain, as it started raining while I jogged woefully. Hope no one minded my tear-streaked, messy mascara… I was sad and frustrated about not making the final, and it’s ok to mourn that loss.


Find a friend to help you shake it off!

Find a friend to help you shake it off!

While I think it’s important to honor your frustration and let yourself experience that emotion, you also need to not dwell in that space for too long. Being mad is only productive for so long – and if you let that emotion fester, it can be detrimental.

After the 5k, I had to regroup – because I was leaving for my European track season just days after. I couldn’t let the disappointment linger – I had to get back into a good headspace so that I could race again. So when you cross the finish line wishing things had gone differently, grab your headphones and crank up some T Swift tunes to shake it off!


My good friend Ro McGettigan Dumas, author of the Believe I Am journal that I like to use.

I try to find the silver lining in my bad races by learning some lessons about myself as an athlete. Since the race sucked, I may as well try to get something out of it! After finishing a whopping 2 minutes slower than my 10k personal best at USA Outdoor Nationals last month, I sat down with my journal to figure out where things went wrong. I watched replays of the race to see where the pack broke away, where my form broke down, and where my face turned to a grimace (unfortunately it was pretty early in the race!). I talked with my coach, analyzed with my brother, had a debrief with my mentor Dena – and I took their feedback, in addition to my own reflections, to figure out where the wheels came off. Through this reflection with others and through journaling, I’ve made some mental notes about mistakes I don’t want to make again.

Need a good journal to help facilitate this reflection? Check out my friend Ro’s Believe Training Journal! Can’t recommend it more 🙂

4)    SHARE

Your first instinct after a bad race might be to turn away and hide. But try as you might to be invisible, your race results are out there for all to see – whether you ran in a local 5k or on the big stage at a national championship. So own up to the fact that things didn’t your your way, and share it honestly with your community – be it your team, your running buddy, your family, or an online community. You’d be surprised how cathartic it can be to share about your experience – yes, you’re human, but guess what, so is everyone else, and they’ve probably (definitely) had bad races too! I’ve found that in sharing about my failures, I gain both comfort and strength in connecting with others about their similar experiences. This support is one of the things I love about the running community (on social media, on this blog, and in person) – the hugs, virtual and in real life, help me pick myself back up again! Surround yourself with good people after a bad race and you’re sure to feel better pronto!

Post Olympic Trials 5k, my support crew, helping me turn that frown upside down!


Post-USA’s with family, still smiling despite a rough 25 laps.

Easier said than done, I know. But that’s truly what I try to do after a far-from-positive race. It’s easy to focus on the negatives, but it’s important to not let one bad race define you. Go back in your training log and revisit all the great workouts you had; reflect back on the races you rocked. The running trajectory can’t always be going up – there will be highs and lows, peaks and valleys, for everyone – from the pros to the weekend warriors. But I think one of the things that’s so important in running is being able to find that positivity and hold your head up high, even when you’re feeling low. My mentor Dena once counseled me to conduct myself after a bad race as I would after a mess-up at work. At work, I wouldn’t wallow in my sorrows – I’d be a professional about it — I’d address the issues, learn from my mistakes, and make the necessary improvements. Same goes for running – if you can act like a professional and remain positive (pro tip: smiling helps!), you’re bound to have more good days than bad.


Sometimes, all the positivity and professionalism in the world isn’t enough to help you bounce back – sometimes, you’ve got to take a step back to address the issues. That’s where I found myself earlier this month, after 2 disappointing races at the end of a long season. I’d been avoiding a few hiccups from late spring, namely a crappy immune system and a really nasty ankle sprain that continued to nag. It was time for me to face the music and focus on getting healthy, so that’s what I recently did.

On a walk in Cape Town, scouting out running routes for when I’m back to training again!

It’s unfortunate to end an-otherwise awesome season on a sour note – but I’m taking my own advice and choosing to see the positives. I ran one of the fastest 10ks by an American this spring, I had some great top-10 finishes in big races and notched a win at the Bellin Run, and I improved a great deal. The late-season hiccups are frustrating, but they don’t define me as a runner. I just finished up a week off of running to rehab my ankle and boost my immune system. Now, with some rest under my belt, I’m eager to get back to training in South Africa, where I’ll be for July and August doing grad school research. While here, I hope to log a bunch of miles and run in some pretty darn beautiful places, all the while dwelling in joy.

For those of you coming off a bad race, I hope this advice is helpful – if you have any tips of your own to share, please do so in the comments!


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