Running, Triathlon
November 29, 2017

How Having A Bad Race Can Make You A Better Athlete

Female runner resting

Not every race can go to plan.

Sometimes you just you have a bad day, things go wrong or you feel like sh*t.

What sets the great athletes apart from those athletes of lesser ability, is the way they deal with these experiences.

While some athletes see a bad race and a poor result as a failure, others see it as an opportunity to learn and improve themselves.

It’s these athletes that truly excel over the long-term.

To be clear, having a bad race sucks. When you dedicate such a large amount of your time and energy to achieving a goal and fall short, it’s devastating. But what’s more devastating is failing to learn from the experience.

To learn from the experience, you need to take an objective look at how your race unfolded.

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What Can You Control?

In every race, there are things you can our control and things you can’t – knowing the difference is important when assessing your race.

Within Your Control

  • Equipment choices
  • Pacing strategy
  • Fuelling strategy
  • Form
  • Mindset

Outside Your Control

  • Weather
  • Route
  • Race start time
  • Other participants
  • Support staff and spectators

If your bad race was due to things that fall outside your control, let it go, refocus and put your energy into the next one – there’s always another race!

If it was due to something (or a series of somethings) within your control then you can assess each one and use this as a platform from which to build for the next race.

What You Can Learn From A Bad Race

When you break it down, there is a lot you can learn from a race. Here are a few of the most common things that I used to look at when assessing my races.

My Preparation

  1. Training and taper
  2. Nutrition
  3. Recovery
  4. Mindset

My Strategy

  1. Pacing
  2. Fuelling
  3. Tactics
  4. Equipment choices

My Weaknesses And Strengths

  1. Physically
  2. Mentally

4 Ways Having A Bad Race Will Make You A Better Athlete

When you’re willing to look at a bad race as an opportunity to learn and grow, it’s likely you’ll benefit more from this experience than you will from any successful race.

Here are 4 ways I have seen bad races improve myself and the athletes that we work with at Coached.

Motivation And Desire

When you assess a poor performance and identify what went wrong, it often lights a fire within. You know what went wrong and how you can fix it.

That knowledge, fuels your motivation to get it right the next time you toe the line and so you continue to show up and put in the work. Which leads us to resilience…


When you get knocked down and pick yourself up, dust yourself off and continue to show up and do the work, you develop a resilience that will help you in training, racing and in life.

You learn you can handle more physical and mental challenges than you previously thought and begin to subscribe to the mantra: ‘get knocked down nine times, stand up TEN!’


After assessing a bad race and identifying the things that caused your “failure”, you put in place a plan to remedy things.

This plan intensifies your focus and you pay more attention to the small areas of your preparation and strategy.

Where small things used to slip through the cracks, like going easy when the plan says EASY or eating within 30mins of finishing a session, you resolve that this won’t happen again.


When you make poor decisions that lead to a bad result, it reinforces the necessity of control. The best athletes in the world (regardless of sport) perform with the most control – whether in training or on game day.

By control, I do not mean rigidity. In fact, it is quite the opposite. An athlete in control adapts effortlessly to the various situations that arise and calmly adapts and executes within the limits of what they can control.

In Closing

My hope for this post is to make it clear that there are no bad races or failure when you are willing to learn from your experiences.

Instead, what you are doing is building a valuable database of experience that allows you to look into it at a later time and make better decisions every day and in every race.

While it’s not an easy process and it takes time, it’s a rewarding process that will make you a better, more consistent and “successful” athlete.

Head CoachBen PulhamBen Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personal training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.