My Worst Race Ever {Just Run Round Up}

Just Run: My Worst Race Ever

There are two common experiences to which almost all runners can relate: the elation of achieving a big goal and the frustration and heartbreak of a no good, very bad, bonk/hit the wall/crash and burn race. In this month’s Just Run round up, running bloggers share their worst race experiences – and what they learned from them.

I have had my share of mediocre races: those races where I still ran well, relatively speaking, but I missed my goal and was disappointed. But one race stands out as my worst race ever: the Portland Marathon, which I ran as my first marathon in 2015.

Just Run: My Worst Race Ever

It was the sort of race where my husband found me, just outside the finisher’s corral, sitting on a curb in the middle of downtown Portland, unwilling to take another step. I felt like crap for almost a week after the race.

My worst race ever starts in training. I opted to follow the Hansons Marathon Method and sharply increased my mileage. I forced my goal pace – a BQ pace – in the grueling tempo runs. My body began to rebel; my already sensitive stomach raged against me, I constantly felt fatigued and bloated, and many of my runs felt like a slog.

On race day morning, I was wracked with nerves and could barely eat. I managed to eat about a cup of dry Chex cereal and a banana and a meager cup of coffee (in comparison, now I eat a full bagel with peanut butter, honey, and a banana before a race). 

The first 10 miles or so of the race went well enough, although my pacing was erratic despite sticking with a pace group. In retrospect, I went way too fast up the steady climb from mile 1-3.  I skipped a couple water stations. My mistake here was twofold – not taking in electrolytes, just water, and skipping aid stations. I wagered that my GU (another mistake – GU isn’t the best fuel for me) had enough electrolytes, right?

Around mile 10 or so, I started to experience upper abdominal cramps. I debated following the half marathon course and just being done for the day. At mile 14, I starting taking walk breaks and my mile splits dropped by about 90 seconds per mile. I couldn’t get down enough fluids, my stomach continued to cramp, I felt bloated, my legs could barely move, and the prospect of running a full 26.2 miles seemed near impossible at this point.

And then there was the St. John’s Bridge: that grueling climb at mile 17, one of those hills where you nonsensically curse at everyone from the race directors to the city planners. I walked, my slumped posture indicating just how craptastic I felt. A medical person checked in on me and told me to take electrolytes. I started to drink Ultima at the aid stations (which let me tell you, does not taste good) and continued my shuffle of run-walk.

Just Run: My Worst Race Ever

Finally, at mile 22, I was able to run and only stop to walk through the aid station. Each mile made the finish line feel even further away. My hopes of a BQ were well out the window, and all I wanted to do was finish in under four hours.

I finished in 3:49, swayed and shuffled through the long queue of the finisher’s corral, and sat, aching, exhausted, grumpy, and defeated, the first place I could: a street corner, just outside the finisher’s area.

That all said, I learned a few valuable lessons from my worst race ever:

Do not attach yourself to time goals.

I ran my first 10 miles too fast because I was set on qualifying for Boston and was overly attached to that time goal. My best races have been when I detach myself from a time goal, thus removing pressure, and focus on smart pacing, proper fueling/hydration, and a good mental mindset.

A bad race is just that… nothing more.

Unless you severely injure yourself or harm your health (and I hope you would DNF before that happens), bad races are only that, nothing more. All runners who toe the start line experience a bad race – even the elites. A bad race does not reflect your abilities as a runner or who you are as a person.

A positive mindset can salvage a race.

Even in my worst race ever, I managed to pull it together in the final few miles and pick up my pace to finish as strong as I could. Mindset is powerful during a race: if you let some bad miles get to you, they will set the tone for the remainder of the race. In contrast, when I ran my third marathon (CIM 2017), I had some rough moments, an achy knee, and pelvic pain – but I didn’t let those harder miles affect how the race would go, kept a positive mindset, and achieved my goal of breaking 3:30.

Bad races happen to every runner – you can read the other Just Run bloggers’ experiences with their worst races ever – and how these races changed them as runners:

Angela at Happy Fit Mama

Just Run: My Worst Race Ever

Carly at Fine Fit Day

Just Run: My Worst Race Ever

Nellie at Brooklyn Active Mama

Just Run: My Worst Race Ever

Allie at Vita Train for Life

Just Run: My Worst Race Ever

[Tweet “@happyfitmama @BklynActiveMama @CarlyPizzani @vitatrain4life and @thisrunrecipes share their WORST races ever – and how these races made them better runners #JustRun #runchat #running”]

Linking up with Coaches’ Corner and Wild Workout Wednesday

What was your worst race experience ever?


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20 Responses

  1. You have come so far since running that marathon a few years ago! I definitely agree that a positive mindset can make a huge difference. I know the races that were really hard for me were also ones where I gave up mentally. Its something I have worked on and gets easier the more Im racing regularly.

  2. That race sounds very similar to my NYC marathon but it was like my 7th one!!! Sometimes everything just goes wrong and, sometimes we make very bad decisions but, like you said – we learn from them and move on! I think you’re first point is the most important – don’t attach yourself to time goals!!!!
    Love this link up 🙂

    1. I love this link up also! Each marathon makes me nervous for that exact reason you said – sometimes everything goes wrong, whether it’s the first or seventh!

  3. my worst race was the Fitness Magazine Women’s Half in 2014. I realized a few miles in that I didn’t feel right, I think I was getting a little light headed and not myself. It was warm for April and I didn’t feel well enough to continue so I cut off the Central Park loop and stopped running in the race. Then I went to the bathroom to see I got my period while running which made everything make a lot of sense! I’m glad I didn’t force myself to keep running when I wasn’t feeling myself. I think I maybe ran 7 miles? I don’t even know, I just know it’s the one race I didn’t finish!

  4. Sounds like my first Chicago Marathon which so killed my mojo that I didn’t do another one for 3 years! It’s those tough races that teach us the lessons, though, and it sounds like you’ve learned a lot and moved on.

  5. My bad races have all come from being undertrained, so it’s hard to count them as bad races because I knew they would be bad, if that makes sense. By all accounts my recent Chicago Marathon should be my “worst race ever”. I was undertrained, it was HOT and SUNNY, and after having to take copious walk breaks in the last 10K, I finished 30 minutes off my PR. 30 minutes! I ran a 12-minute positive split and ended up with a 12-minute PW as well.

    But I don’t really think of Chicago as a bad experience. No, I didn’t run a good time and the weather was miserable, but it took a lot of strength to push through that awful 2nd half in the full sun. I was also proud of myself for showing up and finishing what I started in spite of my undertraining and slight embarrassment at being so much slower than I used to. I owned it all and made no excuses, and never complained. And most importantly, I just enjoyed the experience of being in Chicago and running a WMM! We had such a fun weekend in the city. I look back on all of it, even the slow race, with fondness. There will always be opportunities for PRs, but you can only have an experience once.

    1. That’s awesome that Chicago is a fond memory for you! Perspective can be everything when dealing with a race that wasn’t as fast as hoped or worse weather than hoped.

  6. This sounds like my second marathon. I put a time goal on myself and the race just ended up being horrible from start to finish. Once i knew I couldn’t hit my goal time, things just got worse. It was a total mental battle just to finish the race. I ran my third marathon earlier this month and although I didn’t PR, I had such a better experience!

  7. I couldn’t agree more! Attaching yourself to a time goal does put a lot of pressure on and it makes it to where you kind of block out your body signals. I think it’s great that you were able to turn it around on the back end but it sounds like you’ve grown so much as a runner since then!

  8. I love reading these! My first marathon was one of my worst- similar to what you described… under fueling and falling apart, but you’re so right about that mental piece!

  9. I’m sorry you had such a rough experience for your first marathon. You still did an amazing job and toughed it out! I’m starting to worry a little bit that in my excitement for the New Jersey Marathon, I’ll make mistakes and forget to properly fuel. Thankfully I don’t have a time goal in my head for the race!

    1. Thank you! I think you will have a good race at New Jersey, especially if you are diligent about the little details like fueling. Your training for it has gone well so far!

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