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8 Ways To Turn A Race Around If It’s Going Wrong

If your running race isn't going to plan, here's how to fix it

You’ve followed the training plan, you’ve put in the miles, you’re all ready to ace it on race day… but what happens if your running race turns into a total shocker? You feel ill, you can’t keep up the pace, you’ve got the squits…

Don’t worry, nine times out of ten you’ll sail through a race, but if something doesn’t quite go according to plan, here’s how to turn it round and make disappointment work for you.

1. You’re way off your target time

If you set off on your race with a goal time in mind, it’s easy to become demoralised when your watch isn’t saying what you want it to say, but sometimes you need to re-evaluate your race goals on the fly.

Once the race is over, try and work out where you went wrong – was your target pace too ambitious, did you drink 12 tequilas the night before?

What you can do about it:

We all have off days, find something you can be proud of whether it’s picking up the pace slightly or just making it to the finish line and work towards that instead. If all else fails, ultra marathoner Sophie Grant recommends just enjoying your surroundings, “I always like to take time to be grateful that I get to race in such beautiful places”.

Once the race is over, try and work out where you went wrong – was your target pace too ambitious, did you start too fast and run out of energy, did you not do enough training/get enough rest, did you go out and drink 12 tequilas the night before? Once you’ve identified the problem you can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

2. You DNF

Writer Lorna had to drop out of a race recently

Social media was awash with the beaming faces of people wearing their medals and the disappointment really stung

I experienced my first DNF (Did Not Finish) last weekend when I had to drop out of a much-anticipated race due to injury and most probably a lack of training. At the time I knew there was absolutely nothing more I could do but a few days later, as the pain subsided, I began to doubt myself for pulling out. Social media was awash with the beaming faces of people wearing their medals and the disappointment really stung.

What you can do about it:

The best thing to do is be gracious, remember you gave it your all, re-book a race of the same distance and come back stronger!

3. You need the loo

Torn between losing 40 seconds off your time versus having a bit of an ‘accident’, I know what I’d choose.

What you can do about it:

If it’s a longer race, there will usually be portaloos and comfort breaks along the way. If not, and you’re totally desperate, head off the course and find a suitable nature spot. Your body is already doing a lot of work – don’t ask it to also hold it in!

4. You start to feel sick

Make sure not to try anything new on race day, energy gels can have ‘interesting’ effects if you’re not used to them

Feeling sick is quite common during a running event. It can be caused by a number of factors such as nerves, dehydration, not having enough fuel, or from one too many gels.

What you can do about it:

Ease off the pace and try and eat and drink a bit to see if the extra energy and fluids help. If it’s really debilitating, take a pause, and ask one of the race medics to advise on the best solution.

Make sure not to try anything new on race day too, energy gels and drinks can have ‘interesting’ effects on your stomach if you’re not used to them, so always trial them on training runs first.

5. You hit the wall

Ah the fabled wall. In longer races, such as marathons, some people describe ‘hitting the wall’ – a sudden loss of energy and an overwhelming feeling of downright knackeredness. The wall comes when your muscles and liver run out of glycogen stores to convert into energy – basically you’re running on empty.

What you can do about it:

Eat and drink something carbohydrate rich to up your energy stores

Sophie says  it’s essential to keep a steady stream of calories going in during a longer race (when you’re running  for longer than 90 minutes). Plan your fuelling strategy beforehand so you know when you will need an energy gel or drink to keep you going for the full distance.

If you slip up on your fuelling on race day and the wall is ahead, try to ride it out. Take a short break to eat and drink something carbohydrate rich to up your energy stores and you should start to feel better. Think of it more as a speed bump and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

6. Injury strikes

Your health is more important than a race medal, no matter how shiny and bling it may be

Amid all the distraction of a race it’s easy to ignore niggles until they become serious, but take some time to listen to your body and assess any pain levels.

What you can do about it:

If an injury is causing you pain, take a time out and speak to the medical crew rather than making matters worse. While you may feel you can carry on, this could cause a minor injury to turn into something a lot more debilitating. Your health is more important than a race medal, no matter how shiny and bling it may be.

7. You go the wrong way

Ultra marathoner Sophie Grant says going the wrong way in trail races is more common than you’d think

This one will have you feeling like a total melon and is probably unlikely to happen over shorter distances but is a possible risk if you’re doing a trail run, ultra-marathon or an event with a number or laps and distance options – It happened to a friend and I who were so absorbed in our chat we ended up doing an extra lap and a half marathon instead of a 10km. D’oh.

What you can do about it:

According to Sophie, it’s quite common in trail races where the signposting may not be great. “I no longer listen to music so I can concentrate on where I’m going,” she says. “And if I do get lost, I run back to the last marker and trace my way back on course.”

8. You come last

Be proud that you turned up on the day and finished it. You did awesome!

Running is an individual support so you’re letting absolutely no one down, least of all yourself. Don’t be ashamed, be proud that you turned up on the day and finished it. You did awesome!

What you can do about it:

It’s all in the experience so just keep training for the next event and set yourself incremental goals – the only way is up!

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