Most of the time when I tell people I’m a profesh track athlete, I get a blank stare where people attempt to comprehend what that even means. But every once and a while I get a knowledgeable track athlete that has been waiting for this moment. The moment where they can word vomit a whole slew of questions that they have carefully constructed at long runs and cool downs and post race parties. Questions they think that I, as a professional, have the secret answers to.
The most common question when I get bombarded by questions:
In honor of my epic blow at Mt. SAC relays, I thought I’d share:
How do professionals cope with a bad race?
We don’t. We quit.
Here’s how the bad race usually plays out: Usually it starts way before the gun goes off. Like days before. It could be triggered by a bad practice, a not-feeling-so-go-for-whatever-reason couple of days, or nerves.
Or sometimes the bad race starts at the warm up. You don’t feel so hot and over analyze it, and BOOM, you are stuck in a negativity cloud waiting to demolish all dreams of a good race.
And sometimes, like for me that Friday, the bad race starts 100m in to the race.
I waltzed on that track like I would coast to a PR. Practices had been going great. My mileage is up. I was feeling good. And I had completely forgotten about the pain that accompanies the 1500m. I totally thought I would PR without pushing myself. I thought that because I am probably an idiot.
At 300m I came through in a pretty slow split and didn’t feel stellar. There is one thing you shouldn’t do when that happens: Hit the panic switch. So I hit the panic switch. If the 1st 300m feel shitty, imagine how shitty the last 300m will feel! This is the kind of logic that leads you straight to the last place with your tail between your legs.
After a bad race, you enter what I call post-race depression. PRD is terrifying because:
A. You feel like you aren’t worthy of being a human. I am not sure why for a short time after a race you define your entire identity as a number, but you do. Sometimes that number is 1.58 which is code for: YOU ARE TOTALLY BAD ASS! And sometimes it’s 4.22, which is code for: YOU DON’T EVEN DESERVE TO BE HERE!
B. If you aren’t careful you can end up in the endless-bad-race-negativity-loop.
So the easiest way not to have a bad race: Don’t have a bad race. There, simple. But unfortunately, completely unrealistic.
Here are my steps in preventing the endless-bad-race-negativity-loop.
1. Long cool down.
Cool down until your emotions subside. I use headphones so people won’t talk to me. And sunglasses so people can’t tell I’m teary eyed. This is my time to be embarrassed and have some self-pity. But this is my only time to do so.
2. Short term memory.
This is easier said than done. Don’t let your CD skip reliving the nightmare. It’s not going to change regardless of how many times you replay it. In fact. You will only feel worse about yourself.
3. Go eat dinner with your team.
And get dessert. I, too, wanted to clam up in shame and embarrassment and punish myself by going to bed with no dinner and no socializing. This makes you feel sorry for yourself and makes you have a bad association with racing. Don’t do it.
4. Joke about it.
Not all the time, maybe just once, and MAKE SURE it is in a light hearted kind of way, instead of an I’m-a-crappy-runner kind of way. Like I found the Flotrack gang and acted offended at why they didn’t want my interview!
5. Sit down with coach and go over what you should potentially change for next time. Don’t dwell, just hit the major mistakes and possible means of improvement.
Remember, nothing is unfixable. So be pumped you have something to improve on.
And people only remember you by your best races, not your epic blow ups. I’m still a pretty damn good runner. And you probably are too, so remember those good times (literally).