Updated: Nov 9, 2022
We’ve all been here: we missed our goal time in a race and we begin to dissect all the things that went wrong. While identifying what went sideways is the first step, the second step is to separate the reasons from the excuses. Let me explain what I mean.
I like to look at reasons as things outside of our control and excuses as things within our control. Differentiating between the two will help us identify what to work on for next time, and to accept the things that were out of our control and not waste energy overthinking them.
Let’s start with the excuses. If we excuse everything that caused our race to go sideways it will be a lot harder to get it right. Accepting areas in your training and or life you could have done better is important. For example, did you run all your recovery runs too fast? Did you train harder but neglect recovery, nutrition and rest? Did you run your race efforts way too hard for those extra Strava kudos? Did you skip a lot of runs in your training block? Did you throw your pacing plan out the window as soon as the gun went off? Was your goal time a massive stretch? Be honest with yourself! You won’t learn from your mistakes and do it better next time if you’re not.
Now come the reasons. Have you ever tried running in 40kph winds at race pace in training? Yes, you probably have. And you soon learn it’s unsustainable and you must adjust your effort for the conditions. You accept that in training, so why would it be different on race day? If extreme weather hits race day - whether that be heat, snow, wind, etc. - it doesn’t matter how hard you’ve trained, your goal is much less likely to happen. This is something runners must accept because not a single one of us hasn’t faced this situation before.
Are you a female that struggles with heavy periods that unfortunately lands on race day? Are you sick? Have you recently had something drastic impact your personal life – a death in the family, a relationship breakup, a loss of job, to name a few? The list goes on…but identifying these reasons is key to really understanding what is not worth dwelling on. It’s not your fault! Quit beating yourself up and move on.
Let me describe my first marathon to you. It was in 2014. I had qualified with a half marathon to run NYCM. Some of you may recall the year – the year of 50 mph gusty winds from the north. I was finishing up my CPA and working fulltime. I had moved. I ran EVERYTHING too fast in training (just ask my coach at the time). I took in 1 gel for the entire marathon. I went in with a goal of 3:10. I missed that goal. I was devastated. I didn’t run a marathon for another 4 years.
As a much more mature runner, 8 years later, I would have been ecstatic with my time given the situation. I would have been able to step back and say each and every reason I’m about to list is enough to derail a goal race time, including: no experience running a marathon, terrible weather conditions, mentally and physically exhausted from my CPA, work, and moving.
But I also need to own up to my excuses that could derail a race result as well: running everything at marathon pace and ignoring my coach’s pleas to SLOW DOWN as well as not fueling properly, or really at all.
My next marathon training block in 2018 looked a lot different. I ran exactly 20 mins faster than my first marathon and exceeded my goal time that day. What were the reasons? Weather was near perfect. I was healthy. My life was simpler during my training block. And I had learned to trust the process and the training plan by not running everything faster than I should.
Why not try this exercise with your last race that left you feeling deflated? The sooner you can move on from a devastating race result and learn from it, the sooner you will reach your goal.
Reasons vs. excuses.
Written by Melissa Paauwe, UESCA Certified Running Coach