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How to Bounce Back from a Dumpster Fire of a Race

There are countless rites of passage one experiences as a runner — many are wonderful things, like posting a personal best or running farther than you ever thought you could. But, not all of these rites are pleasant.

One of the more unpleasant rites of passage is having a real dumpster fire of a race. I’ve talked a bit about how to identify why a race sucked. But, how do you bounce back from a race that fell apart at the seams?

Wounds leave scars. Scars take time to heal. Particularly deep wounds can take a long time to heal.

But, virtually all wounds do heal. So, don’t throw your shoes out the window. Don’t burn your race singlet.

I’ve got a few ideas about how to expedite the healing process. Some of these ideas might help you bounce back.

Don’t dwell

It’s very easy to take an unpleasant race and generalize. Clearly, this crappy experience you had is indicative of a MUCH larger problem. You’re just not meant to be a runner. This just isn’t your thing.

Don’t succumb to this fallacious notion. The best runners on the planet have crappy races. Virtually ZERO (that I know of) packed it in after falling short. This is part of what makes them the best runners on the planet. They get back up and keep fighting.

Examine what went wrong in your race. Identify whatever developmental opportunities you can. But, don’t fixate, dwell, and ruminate. It won’t help you move on.

Let it go and move on

Don’t leave any stones unturned. Do some quality due diligence around your dumpster fire. But, then it’s time to let it go and move on.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pull the trigger on another race and segue into another training cycle. But, it does mean moving forward in some way. This might mean taking a break from running, and that might be just what you need.

If you’re not feeling in love with running right now, that’s fine. Dive deep into some of the other things you love. I’m a voracious reader. I’m even more voracious when running isn’t lighting my fire (for whatever reason).

Do something that gives you joy and makes you happy. If running isn’t that thing right now, no big deal. You don’t have to be in love with running right now.

Just because you’re not in love now doesn’t mean you can’t fall in love again down the road.

Talk to someone

You might find yourself challenged to simply get over it. Maybe the dumpster fire you just experienced was a particularly hellacious one. Maybe this race had special significance to you.

While I think time heals most wounds, some wounds cut particularly deep. If you’re dealing with one of those deep wounds, you might need more than time to heal. You might need some help.

I’m a fan of therapy. If I find myself flummoxed by something and I just can’t seem to get past it, I’ve got a therapist I’ll likely dial up. It almost always helps.

Just the process of talking through whatever has you stymied can be therapeutic. A third party who doesn’t know you might be able to see things you can’t see. Some professional help might be just what you need to glean the insights needed to move on.

There are plenty of great sports psychologists out there who have extensive experience dealing with whatever is ailing you. If the idea of seeing a professional doesn’t work for you, seek out a trusted friend, a coach, or a mentor.

Talk to someone. Talk through whatever is preventing the wound from healing.

Find the love again (if possible)

Falling out of love with running sucks. But, it can totally happen. It’s happened to me most frequently when I have some kind of negative experience with running (shocker).

But, just because the love is not there now doesn’t mean you can’t find it again. There are ways to potentially rekindle it. The spark may still be there.

If I’m struggling to find the spark, I will usually take a break. There are no hard and fast rules around exactly what this break looks like.

It could be a few days. Maybe it’s a week. In a few instances, it’s been longer.

Take a break until the hunger returns. If running is really something you love, you’ll likely find yourself craving a few miles. When the urge hits, indulge it.

Don’t think of it as training. You don’t even necessarily need to think of it as running. Just think of it as doing something you love.

Start small. Jog a few easy miles on a sunny, beautiful day. This may be the only firestarter you need.

Try to get back to the reasons why you first started running. It’s likely you love running for a variety of reasons. It’s also likely many of these reasons have little or nothing to do with racing.

Try again

It’s understandable why you might be hesitant to sign up for another race after taking one on the chin. But, sometimes the best way to exorcise a demon is to confront it head on. Toeing the line at another race is one of the best ways to exorcise the demons.

My very first marathon was a dumpster fire. I took some time to lick my wounds and process the ass kicking I endured. Then, I signed up for another marathon.

The second time around was markedly different. The wounds I’d endured informed my training cycle. I had plenty of runs that simulated what I’d endure on race day.

I knew I would be tougher the second time around specifically because of what I had endured the first time around. Nietzsche generally knew what he was talking about when he said, ‘That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.’

I can promise you that whatever disaster you endured at your previous race has made you stronger. But, there’s only one way to find out. Try again.

Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!

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