5 Strategies to Deal with Bad Days

My college track coach (University of Connecticut Head Coach Greg Roy) is fond of saying “the true measure of an athlete is not how they respond to good days, but rather how they respond to bad ones.” Those words have stayed with me in the nearly 3 decades since graduation and throughout my coaching career. For amidst all the uncertainties of training for endurance running events (and frankly any performance based athletic competition), there is one absolute certainty: you will have bad races. And it is how you deal with these disappointing efforts which will allow you to either grow or regress as an athlete. Below are 5 quick tips for how to deal with the day you wish you didn’t have.

1. Allow Yourself to be Upset (for a time)

Being upset after a poor performance is a natural reaction and a sign that you care about all of your hard work. Do not hang on to your disappointment and negative feelings for too long, however, as doing so will only delay your forward progress. I tell the athletes with whom I work to allow yourself a few hours or even a day to be disappointed before flushing that performance down and moving on.

2. Review Your Training Logs

As a coach I am passionate about data and consistently reviewing athletes’ training logs. Buried in this day to day written feedback runners and their coaches can often find the answers to what mistakes might have been made in the lead up to a poor performance. Did we apply too much intensity? Was the athlete not well rested or struggling with illness? Quite often (not always) the answer to “why did this happen?” can be found in black and white.

3. Put the Effort Into Perspective

There are excuses and there is legitimate mitigation. Was your poor performance run on a humid hot day? Was the course hilly? Had you missed significant blocks training before the race? Was the race implemented in the midst of a heavy training load? If so let yourself off the hook a bit as these are examples of mitigating circumstances, not excuses. This perspective will allow you to move forward toward your next goal intently.

4. Understand the Process

In 20 years of coaching professional runners for a living, I’ve run a lot of numbers, ones which may surprise even the best educated New England Runner reader. The average runner I coach races 15 times annually, of which 3 are categorized as “great” races, 4 as “good,” 4 as “fair” and 4 as “poor.” These numbers are on par with other club coaches I know. Bad races happen to every competitive runner and are simply part of the process; knowing this will help you on your drive to goals.

5. Focus on What DID Go Well

Even amidst the worst of races, something went well. Did you close your final mile faster than ever before? Did you beat a competitor you hadn’t before or perhaps attempted a new racing strategy? Something went well. Find that first.

As a quick example of this ever important final point I’d like to turn your attention to one of the athletes I have the privilege of coaching – Josh Izewski. Josh was 17th at the 2020 Olympic Trials in Atlanta, 7 spots shy of his goal. Upon crossing the finish line the very first thing he said to me was “I passed 13 people in the final 8 kilometers. I’ll take the victory.”