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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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?
Receive Weekly Running Tips & Motivation
Subscribe for my weekly newsletter and receive a free download of injury prevention exercises for runners.