How to Learn from Disappointing Race Results

You’ve trained hard and you’re as ready as you can be. Nutrition is on point. Gear is packed and checked. You know the course from start to finish. You’ve had a full night’s sleep and you’re one of the first to arrive to the event. You’re absolutely pumped and feeling great.

The atmosphere is electric at the start line as you make small talk with your fellow competitors. That nervous excited feeling flows through you as the final countdown begins and everyone starts chanting the remaining 10 seconds. This is it. This is what you’ve trained so hard for and what all the early mornings and after work training sessions were for. The hours of hurt, all done so you can bask in the elated glory of completing your goal…and then something goes wrong.

We’ve all had this happen to us at least once and if it hasn’t, it will and if that is the case, hold on, you’re in for a treat. What happens next will vary wildly between person to person because we all deal with disappointment differently. The particular event will have an impact on how we react too. Perhaps you participated in this event with friends and you feel like you’ve let them down or maybe you’ve travelled interstate or abroad and are financially invested in success.

The important thing to remember here is that it’s just a race. Failure to achieve your goal isn’t necessarily a failure overall and you have the ability to learn, grow and benefit from the experience. Look at it this way. Do you think that Olympians made it to the top of their chosen sports by failing? Of course they did! Failure is an opportunity for improvement. Take the opportunity to learn from it and implement changes. In order to do this, we must first examine the most common things to go wrong on the day.

Your training plan wasn’t sufficient enough

There are plenty of online training programs out there in internet land. When you’re looking to train for a particular distance or time it’s important to do some research first into training plans. Even if you’re a seasoned athlete, you will most likely benefit from a good, well rounded plan.

If you want to go one step further, chat to a coach about what a plan should entail. The benefit of a coach is that they will be able to customise a training plan suited specifically for you, your goal and your event. You can then follow the plan with the utmost confidence that you’re moving in the right direction. A good coach will vary your activities giving you an excellent base and build you up safely. A coach will also guide your expectations for race day, taking into account your fitness and the results you've achieved in training and will set up plan B, C and even D if things don't go to plan.

The conditions on the day were different to what you’re used to

Perhaps the only time you had to train was in the early morning or the evening. Maybe you trained in cool temperatures and then competed in your event in the heat of the day. You might not expect that race day conditions will make a significant impact but they seriously can.

Imagine training on the same flat footpaths throughout your training plan, to use running as an example, and then finding the course at the event to be hilly and undulating. It is pretty crucial to try to emulate race day conditions the best you can throughout your training. It doesn’t have to be with every session, but make sure that you add it in often enough so that you’re not taken by surprise on race day.

You weren’t in a good place mentally on the day

Sure, we get this one. Did you ever do a test at school where you knew all the answers but did really badly because you freaked out and couldn’t control your emotions? Well, the same can happen in an event. Ever heard of Imposter Syndrome? This is a psychological pattern where an individual begins to doubt their own skills and abilities and has a fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Start lines can be intimidating at times too. You might be feeling really nervous on the day and when you look around you see all these super fit athletes looking relaxed and composed and you begin to think that you don’t belong there. All these feelings can throw the best of us off our game and can have a major impact on our performance.

The best way to overcome this is practice. parkrun is a really great way to get used to start lines and pre-event nerves in a very friendly and inclusive setting, I’m using running again as an example, and you might meet people going through the same jitters as you where you can support each other. Strength in numbers.

How realistic was your goal?

Is your disappointment due to the fact that you were counting on a best case scenario result? Trust me, I know people like this. “You can always pull it off on the day,” or, “You get 10% more when you put on a race bib.” Well maybe you can, but I know for a fact that I can’t.

Look, the fact is that if you can’t do it on a training day, it is very unlikely that you can pull it off on race day. It’s probably even more unlikely when the panic begins to creep in because you can’t just stop and call it a bad training session.

Your goals are allowed to be ambitious. They’re allowed to be crazy and outlandish and push you to new heights. It’s how we improve. If we didn’t do that then nobody would have ever ran a marathon. The trick is to know your limits. To know when you’re ready to conquer the mountain or to keep climbing smaller ones.

You tried something new on race day

Come on, put your hand up if you’re guilty of this one. We know you are. It might be a new pair of leggings or underwear that was purchased and reserved for the sole purpose of this race. Such bright, happy colours and the thought that they may betray you on the day never even pops into your head. How could they? They were supposed to bring balance to the force, not destroy it!!

An hour into the race and your thighs feel like they’re about to ignite. Or that new pair of shoes that looked so pretty sitting in the box but are two sizes too small and are now feeling like you’re negotiating the course with a pair of tightened clamps on your feet.

You know the rule people, never try anything new on race day.


This is a common mistake. We all train for the distance but not everyone trains for the nutrition. Confused? Let me explain. How many of us are guilty of failing to develop a good nutrition plan early on in the training plan and implementing it throughout? I know I am. It’s so simple too. You know you’re going to be taking strips or chews or powders throughout the race so why leave it till race day to equip yourself?

So many people I’ve run with complain that they can’t stomach nutrition when they compete. No doubt this exists but for the vast majority of cases it’s because the person has tried to squeeze all this nutrition into their event without first getting used to it.

We all fail and if you don’t, you’re probably not pushing the boundaries hard enough. When it happens, try not to lose control of your emotions. Remember that disappointment, however unpleasant it is, is only a feeling and it will soon pass. Try shifting your thinking and consider it a training run and take the experience as a learning curve.

For those who know me or have been coached by me, you’ve probably heard me say “It’s the difficult runs that make the easy ones easy,” and the same sentiment can be used for failure. Failure is merely a steppingstone towards success and with a healthy respect it can become your most powerful weapon.

As always if you want to share your personal experience comment below, we'd love to hear from you!

Have fun Runnovators!

- Craig

*If you have been struggling with your running goals and you have a specific event coming up feel free to contact Super Awesome Running Coach Craig for a directed training plan via Facebook (Runnovation) or email:

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