Training requires a big investment of time and racing is just a moment. So, what do you do once your A-race is over?
Whatever the result, don’t rush onwards too quickly. Take a breath.
As coach and women’s running campaigner Fiona English says, “if the race went how you hoped, start by celebrating. It can be so easy to zip from goal to goal and people will no doubt ask you straight away ‘what’s next?’. Enjoy the moment of your achievement first of all”.
Put your medal out where you can see it or meet up with others to celebrate. Don’t forget to celebrate those who have supported you too. It’s rare that any good result is solely down to one person. An athlete’s support network is a key part of their performance, so take the time to appreciate those who’ve assisted you in any way.
But what if it didn’t go to plan? You still need to take a moment.
For a well-motivated athlete, the temptation may be to jump online and book another race straight away. Sometimes another attempt is the right thing to do, but it’s never going to hurt to reflect a little first and it could benefit you a lot. It’s also fine to take time to be fed up if you need to. Set yourself a timeframe to wallow and resolve to mourn what could have been and then move on after that time is over.
That means physically and mentally!
Recovering well physically will mean that you’ll be ready to maximise your training when you start to ramp things up again. Recovering mentally will mean that you can hold that training volume and intensity when you really need to in the next block. Depending on the kind of race you’ve run and how it went, your recovery time will be different.
For a marathon, you’d normally expect to take at least a few weeks of no/very low level running. For a 5k, you might be able to go again in a week’s time if you’re smart in between. It can be so easy to ‘feel fresh’ after a race and think that means you can jump straight back into training, but it’s rare that this is the best idea.
Try to remind yourself – what are the negatives of recovery? There are likely to be few. On the other hand, the risks involved in not recovering well are high. So, on balance it’s always safer to prioritise those moments of rest and refreshment.
If your race didn’t go so well, you still need time off to recover. Don’t let that that fire of revenge make you rush back too soon. Try to harness that motivation by writing down your feelings, planning out your careful return and working out future goals. When you are giving it your all in the future, you can use this moment to fuel your training.
Regardless of how the race went, a key part of improving is to take time to reflect and assess your experience. Top sports psychologist Josie Perry suggests that you take a piece of paper and split it into four parts with the following headings:
- What went well
- What you’ll continue doing
- What you could have done better
- What you’d do differently next time
Try to write three things in each section. You can do this on your own, with a friend or your coach. Some will be things you can control and some won’t be.
Sarah Dudgeon at ‘Art of Your Success’ has run 39 marathons both for fun in fancy dress and for times based goals. She recommends keeping a detailed training diary and looking back through it to help formulate this feedback. With this level of detail you might be able to find interesting patterns and have more valuable insight.
These exercises allow for honest feedback while not falling into negative self-talk, which can drive our performance-defeating doubts.
The next thing you’ll want to consider are your motivation levels. Was this a one-and-done event or do you want to do the same thing again and target a harder goal? Perhaps you ran a 5k and you want to progress to a 10k. Or, you might have trained hard for a marathon and discovered that it isn’t your favourite distance and what you really love is a short sharp 800m. The key thing is to work out what target will fill you with joy and commitment and also what is achievable logistically.
If you’ve taken the time to breathe, recover and assess then making a plan will be much easier. Perhaps you ran a 10K, have recovered well, feel that you had something left in the tank at the end and are fully motivated to try again. In that case, you can go ahead and look for another 10K race to run in the next few weeks. On the other hand, you might have run an 800m and finished with a hamstring strain but still ready mentally to train hard. In that instance, you may need to funnel your motivation into getting the injury addressed and working with a physio to strengthen and avoid further issues.
Ideally, discuss all plans with a coach and with your family or dependants. You want your training to be enjoyable and having everyone around you on board with your goals will help with that.
When you’ve got your plan in place and ready to go, you can launch into it full of enthusiasm and with all the tools in place to make the most of your A-race next time around. As the cliché goes – it’s important to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.