When your plan goes wrong

It’s a scenario that sometimes runners face, it’s not a good feeling and it’s something where lessons can be learnt and a different approach taken in future,

You find yourself in a race and it’s just not going to plan. The goals you’ve set yourself are slipping away, the reasons can be many but the result is still the same. You’re losing a battle and it’s not a physical one, it’s a harder battle and it isn’t easy to fight back against.

A month ago I smashed my half marathon PB time by nearly 9 minutes, running 2h04m32. A run I now have realised was better than I realised at the time. That was a day when things didn’t go to plan either – but then I over-achieved and rode the wave and was fit enough on the day to surpass all my expectations.

A fortnight later, in my next half, I’d been ill the previous week and struggled with stamina after 10k. My pace was quite reasonable up til then, but the effects of being under the weather zapped my form. I still managed to run 2h23 which was my 6th best time out of 12 halves I’ve run. So even when I feel like I’ve had a bad run, perspective is important. I know I’m capable of better but you can’t expect to be at your best when there are other factors that affect performances.

Moggy's plan failed :(
Moggy’s plan failed 🙁

Yesterday at Edinburgh Half, I thought I had an ideal opportunity to get near my better times, not necessarily a PB but ballpark near where I thought I feel I could achieve. My preparation wasn’t right though, my race strategy wasn’t right, my expectations were too high, it was still rather soon after being ill the other week and my busy race calendar wasn’t suitable for pushing so hard so often.

The weather forecast was predicting heavy rain and high winds. On the morning, it was a bit chilly but hardly raining or windy. By the time the race started at 8am, it was dry, and getting to be quite warm. I’d worn a base layer, running top and a hat. By mile 3, I was overheating. I had two paces in mind at the start, not a good one and a comfortable one, but a pace to beat my PB, and a pace to smash it! Confidence is one thing, but reality is important too!!

At the start I set off too fast (that old chestnut!), Mile one was good, mile two was decent, both in line with my targets. Even by 5k I was still on for a PB. I would have knocked about 2 mins off my 10k PB at that rate.  Starting too fast only leads to disappointment when you’re dealing with distance running.

This was the first half marathon that I had run solo without music or with someone else to run with. Headphones were banned from the event, though it turned out thousands still wore them! Having a chat with someone on way round, or having tunes playing out helps distract the mind from running. So when I started to suffer with the heat and running too quick, I missed the distraction of music to keep my head focussed.

Stripping off my base layer and hat helped but the race pace had gone by then and I was no longer feeling up to it. By mile 6 I was not just facing a 13.1 mile challenge, I had a challenge upstairs to take on too. Music was still missing and I needed that lift I’d previously turned to. The plan hadn’t worked and I needed to sort it.

By just after 7 mile, I’d started to get messages of support come through and they helped tremendously and pointed me back on track. Feeling that lift, I also started running with my phone in my hand with music blasting out. This was not as good as with headphones, but it was something extra to power me on. I think I missed that from the start really, I do need something to distract me from the fact I’m running!

Two runs in a row, I’ve done decent times up to 10k, but for different reasons I was struggling beyond that. But it’s not as if you can expect to be at peak performance levels all the time. This is doubly the case after a period of illness. When you have dips in form, it takes time to build up again, and too many races in a short space of time isn’t good for pushing your limits. So adjusting goals and targets is necessary when faced with changes.

  • Bad preparation can throw you massively
  • The wrong race strategy can be damaging for a result
  • Can’t expect to perform at peak level every single race
  • After illness, you can’t expect the same level of performance
  • Too many races in a short period isn’t good for pushing limits

From those messages of support I got on the run, I received some fantastic much needed words of advice. These top tips for when things aren’t going to plan all make sense and whilst some easier than others, they can help bring you back to your comfort zone, bring you back to a happier place, and to bring you back to performing better than when you started slipping backwards.

  • Go to another plan – if plan a isn’t working, have a plan b or other plan in mind.
  • Relax and enjoy the run – remove those pressures from your event, it’s not all about times, it’s not important enough to get upset about.
  • Concentrate on your breathing – by breathing well, the body can perform better. If you’re struggling with your performance let your body help you out.
  • Don’t let it beat you – you are more than capable, you have done this distance before, you’ve proved to yourself what you are capable of, now show some glimpses of what you got in the locker.
  • Follow your own advice! Believe, smile, enjoy. – I laughed out loud when people reminded me of these! Those three things are often what people associate me with, so practice what you preach, it’s not just words – it actually helps.

Remember those who are willing you on – the love and support and belief people hold in us is a powerful tool to motivate us. Don’t let it upset you, let it drive you! They want the very best for you and they want you to succeed, and won’t feel disappointed in you even if you don’t, they’ll be even more supportive and when you know that it can be the most powerful driving force possible.

Each race is just a race, it’s not that big a deal, but what is important is how you feel, how you deal with any issues and frame of mind on the way. Turning negatives into positives is crucial in life, and it is that positivity that will help you have a better run next time round.

Perspective is something that isn’t easy to get at the time, but I believe that when you get that realisation that things aren’t as bad as they seem at the time it is easier to gloss over the experience. Yesterday’s run was still my 6th fastest half out of the 13 I have done, and still over 2 mins faster than at Chester a fortnight ago despite the run walk second half.

How you handle that perspective is then up to you. Changing your expectations and altering what you want out of the next run is all within your own remit.

I hope this post is helpful to people who have experience a bad race or a bad run. It’s not something that needs over-analysing (worlds worst culprit here!) but it is a scenario where you can make changes and get back to running with a smile through the miles.

Don’t stop believing…

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