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Martin Yelling

Martin Yelling

8:03 PM on Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dust settling. Making race reflections matter.

I recently watched the Virgin Money London Marathon. Great races in both the men’s and women’s events with Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge taking a dominant win and arguably cementing his position as the greatest male marathoner in the world; Mo Farah showing he’s a future force in global marathoning by bagging a PB and a British record; Kenyan Mary Keitany charging off at way inside world record pace and then detonating in the final stages; whilst British elite Lily Partridge ran a super smooth, composed, and well-judged 2hrs 29mins for a big personal best and European Championships qualifier, David Weir secured an impressive, sprint finishing wheelchair 8th victory and Madison de Rozario scorched to Australia's first women's wheelchair win and her second in a week!

I wondered how each would assess their relative races and what would make them happy and content about their result. How they’d reflect on their performance, their preparation, the changes, tweaks and refinements they wish they’d made, and might make next time, the things they wish they’d done differently, and the insight for future planning they gain from this. Easier for Eliud!

Evaluating a race performance, however it went, is an important part of a reflecting as an athlete, and in my limited experience, it isn’t something we’re terribly good at! Here’s a few thoughts on how to review your race, the good, the bad and the ugly of it.

What we tend do;

Make snap, emotionally driven, rash, outcome based evaluations. For example, immediately post-race, looking down at your watch and being disappointed. “I failed to run the personal best I wanted”, “I wish I’d gone faster”. I’ve noticed, no matter how well an athlete performs, they always seem to want more. It’s never quite enough. Now I’m sure this is related to the often achievement focused, performance orientated, perfectionist personality traits of some runners (perhaps just those I mix with!), yet at the same time it’s important to seek to over-rule this and evaluate a race within its full context and parameters.

What we could do;

Wait for the dust to settle. 3 to 4 days after a race is a good time to let your emotional heart beat calm down and reflect on you performance through a clearer lense and a more considered approach. Was the outcome one you wanted? Was it desirable in any way? What did you learn about yourself? Was the training and race day worth it? If so, what made it worth it for you? Remember, ‘worth it’ doesn’t, and shouldn’t, simply be based on a narrow-minded view of outcome focused performance based criteria. Being a happier runner (and arguably a more content and competent one) isn’t about ‘hitting race day KPI’s”. Instead, focus on broader, more meaningful objectives that will help shape your training and racing next time around.

What we tend to do;

Reel off all the things that went wrong. It’s like a long list of race mistakes! We’re too quick to highlight perceived errors, poor judgements, ‘failures’ and excuses. It’s not about what went wrong and what you coulda, shoulda done. It’s about what you did. What happened and why. Exploring the context and the reasons for your race outcome will help your frame your overall performance with perspective.

What we could do;

Ask yourself what you feel you did well. Even if it didn’t work out quite as well as you’d hoped. Be honest with yourself about anything you didn’t get right, but also about the things you did. When did you make sensible choices, what did you do, what worked? What were the outcomes? Pay close attention to the things you did well and attend to the positive dimensions of the moment. Identify, appreciate and amplify your strengths in a race to help you make bold shifts forwards. Prioritise positives and possibilities rather than focus on negatives and obstacles. This doesn’t mean ignore what you didn’t do so well. You’ll certainly want acknowledgement and awareness of that, but then use these observations to inform how you might structure your future race preparation and race day strategy.

What we tend to do;

Beat ourselves up about it. This process always lasts too long. It’s emotionally and mentally destructive to feel guilty about a performance, feel like you let yourself and others down, keep analyzing and over analyzing results, and getting frustrated and angry with yourself.

What we could do;

It’s alright to feel sorry for yourself for a short time but don’t dwell on a poor performance. Keep a healthy life perspective. I know this sounds a bit cheesy but it’s hugely important to be kind to yourself. I'd urge you to be encouraging about your performance and reflect on ways that would shape the process of approaching a successful race time around. Give yourself a few days to process the outcome, then review it carefully, before moving on from it with clear, purposeful, positive and intentional action.

Have you raced recently? What did you do well? How does this inform what you’ll do next time?