You’re only a failure if you fail to learn from your mistakes and make changes in your training and racing.
Brad asks: I’ve been trying to break two hours in the half-marathon for more than a year. After my most recent failed attempt, I’m struggling to maintain my motivation to train. What should I do now?
One of my most devastating athletic failures was my first Boston Marathon qualifying attempt. After I cried it out, I dusted myself off, put on my big-girl pants, and refocused my race-day pacing. In my next marathon, I ran alone, in a smaller race, where the weather was cooler and the course was rolling – and I qualified.
That’s where I found my PB race. Yours is out there too. Feel the disappointment and then keep moving forward. Your sub-two-hour half is out there for the taking – if you are able to learn from what you’ve done. Here’s how:
Reaching for a specific time goal almost always includes failed attempts. However, you can learn more from these failures than you can from your best races. After each race, focus on what went right and what went wrong, and then strategise what you’ll do to fix missteps next time. If you let your finishing time define your performance, it will whittle away at your confidence and become an obstacle on your quest. Instead, use the data (pace, heart rate, weather, course, training stats, health) to optimise future performances.
Here are some questions to ponder:
• What was the course like? Some runners run best on flat courses, while others succeed on rollers.
• How did you pace yourself? The number-one reason for failed PBs is going out too fast.
• How was the temperature? Heat and humidity can slow you down.
• What about wind? Trying to maintain your pace in a headwind can suck the energy right out of you. It’s better to run by effort on blustery days, which also allows you to take advantage of a tailwind.
• How was your training cycle? A PB requires a 100-per cent effort in training – which is impossible if you’re sidelined, even for just a week, with an injury or illness.
The difference between a PB and a slower finish might come down to these variables. (Read more about this here.) Let your failed attempt be the lesson plan for your next race.
Break the cycle
Albert Einstein is credited with the line, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Once you evaluate your previous performance, it is time to revise your training plan.
Even if you have a solid base of training and racing, your plan may need to evolve to include more advanced workouts like race simulation long runs, longer easy runs, or a variety of speed, tempo, and hill workouts. If you’re not doing any form of faster-paced running, start to weave this in, and give yourself a season to make the most of it. Follow a structured training plan that starts from where you are. Many runners do well with one harder-effort workout, one long run, and one to two easy-effort runs each week.
On the other hand, if you’re already doing speedwork or other hard workouts, perhaps you need to adjust your easy-effort runs. If you’re running them too hard – that is, faster than a conversational pace, which may be slower than you’d like it to be on the day or two after a hard workout – it delays recovery and prevents you from running your strongest the next time you have a big effort planned.
Take a big-picture look at the flow of your training: is it a long enough season? Are you running too many days or too few based on your life schedule? Are you progressing your long runs gradually, starting from where you are at the beginning of the cycle? This zoomed-out approach can help you identify whether there’s a training-related reason why your race didn’t go as you’d hoped.