How and Why to Do a Post Marathon Race Assessment

Marathon Monday: How to Do a Post Marathon Race Assessment

Hi, everyone! Who raced this weekend? How did you do?

Even though my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in the humanities, I have an analytical mind and I enjoy working with numerical data. This is probably while I love running and training so much—there’s always numbers which I can study.

After a race, usually a week or two later once all the emotions have settled, I review my training log, my race splits, and other aspects from the entire training cycle and race day and attempt to objectively analyze what worked for me, where I need to improve, and how I can address any issues to avoid problems in the future.

I encourage all runners to do a post-race review of any race distance, whether you’re running for fun or trying to PR. There’s a lot you can learn about your strengths, weaknesses, and abilities from this exercise.

Many of us running bloggers already do this when we compose our race recaps, but I think it is also beneficial to do so well after the race and really take some time to dig into those numbers (which people may not want to read in a recap!). You can follow these general guidelines and specific tips for guidance on how to do a post marathon race assessment.

How and Why to Do a Post Marathon Race Assessment

General Guidelines

Be Objective

No one ever wants to say “I did this wrong.” We sometimes try to pass the blame off to someone or something else (I am certainly guilty of this): “the hills got the best of me,” “the weather was too hot/cold/wet,” or “the crowd went out too fast.” Instead, look what went well for you and what was your downfall objectively: “I did not pace myself well up the hills,” “I did not prepare my hydration or attire appropriately for the weather,” or “I started out too fast.” These things will reveal areas in which you need to improve for a future race.

Being objective also means that you should not be falsely modest. As hard as it is to admit an error, many of us avoid noting what we did right because we are afraid of seeming arrogant or think it was just a fluke. If you ran a good time or a PR, it was not a fluke—it was the result of hard work and dedication! If you paced yourself well, if you master your nutrition plan, if you passed people in the last 10K of a marathon, do not demur – these are successes that should be celebrated and then noted so you can repeat them!

Be Positive

If you ask anyone who knows me personally, I can be very hard on myself (Ryan is emphatically nodding his head as he reads this). After I missed my goal to BQ at Portland because of stomach cramps, I realized I had two options: I could beat myself up about what I did wrong, or I could be positive and embrace my success: I ran a 3:49 for my first marathon, I pushed through discomfort, and I ran a marathon! You can note where you need to improve without using it as a tool for self-beration; rather, celebrate your victories (finishing a race, no matter the time, is always a cause for celebration) and view the areas where you need to improve as goals for the future that you can and will achieve.

Look at the Qualitative and Quantitative

Numbers don’t lie, but they do not always reveal the full story. You could achieve your PR and still have a miserable race, or you could miss your goal but have a wonderful experience. Make note of both how you did in terms of pacing, nutrition, hydration, and finish times and how you felt in terms of physical effort, mental effort, and any discomfort, pain, or bonking. You want to learn from the entire race experience; after all, for most of us, we run out of enjoyment and the emphasis of racing should be on enjoying the experience, whether the enjoyment comes through achieving goals or the act itself of racing.

Specific Tips

Make Lists

Sit down and write it all out: how many speed workouts, how many tempo/goal pace workouts, how many long runs, and how many supplemental and cross-training workouts. From there, you can analyze your training. Did you get in fewer long runs than you realized? We were slacking on strength training? A list compacts your training into shorter form and allows the quality workouts to stand out, so you can focus on the trees instead of the full forest.

Find Your Weaknesses

My RRCA instructor repeatedly iterated this short and simple tip for becoming a better runner: work on your weaknesses and do the workouts you hate. First look at the race: what went wrong? Do you have a lot of speed but always fall apart in the end of a race? Then work on your endurance. If you struggle to having a finish kick and you notice you didn’t include strides or fast finishes in your training, be sure to add those in next time, even if you’d much rather skip them.

Second, look at your workouts from your training. Most runners have workouts where they almost always hit their splits and workouts where the prescribed pace presents a significant challenge. Your splits don’t lie. You can easily see what types of workouts were your strongest and which ones need more work. One more thing to consider: what workouts did you skip? We usually skip the workouts we hate (hill sprints, anyone?) and we usually disdain those workouts because the task is difficult for us.

Find What Worked Best for You

While you want to improve your weaknesses, you also want to focus on your strengths because those are often where your natural abilities lie. When you know what type of runner you are, you can better adjust your training and your race plan. Do you see huge improvements when you do tempo runs and threshold intervals? Then be sure to include those next time. You can also pinpoint exactly which workouts build your confidence before the race.
You should also make note of what worked for you during the race, including nutrition, hydration, gear, apparel, mental mantras, and pacing strategy. So many things can go wrong in a race. By noting what went right, you can keep those factors the same (control factors) and then experiment with what did not work best for you. For example, my fuel (GU) worked well for me during the Portland Marathon, but I found I needed more electrolytes, so now I know to experiment with liquid electrolytes (Ultima or Nuun), higher-electrolytes gels (Salted Caramel or Salted Watermelon GU), or electrolyte tablets (SaltStick) until I find what works.

Plan for the Future

Once you have assessed your training and your race, you can go ahead and plan your next cycle of base building and specific race training. You can plug your race into a calculator to determine your new training paces (unless your race was significantly slower due to mid-race issues or injury, in which case it’s best to use your most recent PR); the McMillan Calculator and Jack Daniels VDOT Calculators are my personal favorites for this. 

Weekly Workouts, 10/12/15 – 10/18/15

Monday: Rest.
Tuesday: 30 minutes of strength/resistance training.
Wednesday: 5 mile run, 8:39/mile.
Thursday: AM: 5 mile run, 8:13/mile; PM: 30 minutes of strength/resistance training.
Friday: 7 mile run on the treadmill, 0.5-2% incline, 8:37/mile, followed by some myrtls and core work. 
Saturday: 7 mile hike, 1800 foot elevation gain.
Sunday: Rest. 

17 miles of running. 

Questions of the Day:
What would you add to this list? How do you assess your races?
How was your weekend? Did you race?
How has this week’s training gone for you?

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16 Responses

  1. I def. analyze my races to see what went wrong and what went right (usually more wrong than right). Going out conservatively is always the best way for me to start and sometimes I analyze how I could do this better (I always seem to suck at it more when it’s a race with a lot of start line hype). Sometimes there’s only so much you can control, like weather, course, etc- and sometimes you have those races where everything just comes together. I’m pretty analytical too and try to see the big picture- if I’ve been running 45+ miles a week for the past 3 weeks… a 5K PR isn’t very likely, hahaha!

    I feel like blogging gives us a chance to really analyze the whole race as well as our performance.

    1. I totally agree with you on it being hard to start conservatively at a big race with lots of hype – so much adrenaline and energy from the crowds! Blogging does help us analyze the whole race – which then can help us realize what we couldn’t control (course, weather, etc).

  2. I love reading how involved people are when looking at their training, because I am SO not that way. Running for me is about NOT putting the pressure on–I got way too much of that when i still rode horses. I’m willing to do it for others (especially as a coach), but for me, I’m all about the general trends. Also, if anything, numbers mean squat to me after this training and my marathon result!

    1. I didn’t do competitive sports as a child – all my pressure was in school-related things – but I can get how competitive riding could have a lot of pressure. And sometimes it’s good to get out of our own heads and just approach things organically!

  3. I think these are some great suggestions and reflecting on your race performance is such an important part of becoming a better runner. I think that blogging gives us an advantage in that we usually write out a lot of our thoughts on the experience plus we get lots of helpful feedback from other runners:)

    1. The feedback from other bloggers definitely helps a lot! I think a lot of us can be type-A about running (I know I can) and the feedback can help us realize just how much we have accomplished.

  4. These are some great reasons to go back and analyze your training and I like the idea that in doing this, you will (hopefully) avoid repeating the same mistakes. I do like to look back at my training as well as pay attention to what seems to be working and not to then make adjustments going forward. Great points here, thanks for sharing Laura!

  5. These are some great suggestions, I think it’s important to look back at the race on a micro level as well as a macro one. I think that often times I forget how cool it is to just finish a race, and what an accomplishment that really is!

    1. Oooh, I love the micro vs. macro assessment idea, especially since training should be broken down into macro, meso, and micro cycles. And finishing a race is always such a great feeling and accomplishment, regardless of the time on the clock!

  6. This is a great post, and I love the suggestions! I think I do a lot of this intuitively after races, although I don’t go into this much depth/detail. After every race I do, I know what went wrong and what didn’t work…whether or not I want to ADMIT it is a different story! 🙂

    It was tricky for me after Grandma’s because, not to sound braggy, but there really wasn’t much that went wrong in that race. It just exceeded my expectations in so many ways – nutrition was spot on, I paced like a champ, and I nailed all the key workouts in training. The only thing I can think of is that I could have spent a little more time easing into goal pace (I started out easy but I was up to goal pace by mile 2-3 and ended up running pretty even splits for the first 22 miles)…but, I still finished fast anyway. PIttsburgh, I know, will be a different story. Unlike Grandma’s, it is a TOUGH course and while I’ll do everything in my power and more to prepare, I know it won’t be as easy and will throw more challenges my way than my previous two marathons.

    1. Thank you! Admitting what we did wrong in a race is a huge step – I think it took me a couple months to look at my worst race to date and be admit that my poor pacing is what made it bad. It sounds like you had an amazing race at Grandma’s! Pittsburgh will be a good challenge for you – and think of how strong you will feel when you conquer those hills!

  7. Oh I totally do this even after running a race really well! I’m always looking for ways to improve. It’s what makes running fun for me. I love sitting down with a pen and paper, making lists and goals, and then checking them off. Best feeling ever.

    1. Checking off lists of goals is SUCH a satisfying feeling! And the constant improvement of running is so much and what makes it so addictive for me, because there’s really no upper limit per se.

  8. There’s some great info here! I’m a pretty analytical person but I don’t overdo the numbers on running. I like what you said about how you could have a PR and have a terrible race because I’ve had a few of those! While this past marathon was not a PR and not a BQ, I’m happy because I pushed through a lot of misery those final miles and finished strong AND because when I looked at the numbers, I had consistent splits the whole race. Ok, so those last 8 miles were slower than I normally run, but they were consistent. That showed me how far I’ve come as a runner and that I ran a smart (albeit slow) race!

    1. Thank you! I really believe a smart race trumps a fast but poorly run (getting injured, sick, etc) race! It’s key to durability as a runner, our enjoyment of the sport, and our lifelong participation in it. I’m so happy you had a positive experience at Chicago!

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