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Discussing and Handling a Disappointing Race

Discussing and handling a disappointing with grace (on either side, runner or supporter) requires a deft hand and emotional tact. Link up for Running Coaches’ Corner and share your running related posts!

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Discussing and Handling a Disappointing Race needs to be done with tact and courtesy. Here are some tips for helping a runner deal with a bad race. Also, Running Coaches Corner Link up!

When You or a Friend has a Disappointing Race

If you follow running and marathoning or have friends in the sport, you likely heard about the catastrophe that was the Vermont City Marathon: the weather was so hot that the race director made the decision to cancel the race MID-race.

As the race was canceled after nearly 4 hours, many of the runners were nearing the finish, but had not quite reached it, leaving them high and dry after what had already proven to be an extremely trying experience. Making the situation even worse: the cancellation was accompanied by a great deal of miscommunication between volunteers, spectators, and runners.

And I had a client running it. When she texted me (during the race) to let me know, I was dumbfounded. My heart absolutely ached for her. Not only was this her first marathon, but she had fought through a difficult training cycle, the second half of which was plagued by a tough schedule and shoe issues. And now this. What could I say? What could I do?

Honestly, I didn’t know at first. But maybe that is ok. She told me she was in shock (as was I) and needed some time to think. As we both look back at the situation, I have placed myself in her shoes time and time again, and here are the four considerations I would want my friends to honor when discussing and handling a disappointing race.

Four Considerations when Discussing and Handling A Disappointing Race :

1) Give them a little space (but not too much)

Check in on them, tell them that you are there when they are ready, but don’t force the issue. When a bad race happens, you have to think of the reaction to it on level with a true grieving process. This is something that they have been working for weeks, if not months or years, for! They are going to experience a litany of emotions, and in my experience, it is best to let them feel those emotions without them feeling like you are abandoning them. But don’t let them stew for too long!

2) Don’t ask if they are going to go for a retaliation race

Trust me, they are already considering it, or they want nothing to do with it. And both of those decision will likely change within the next 24-48 hours. Also, asking someone if they are going to go back for a retaliation race after their goal race goes south is just… rude. Think about how much this race meant to them, and the likelihood is that their body needs some time as well. Let them decide when they are going to get back in the saddle.

3) Bring them a beer (or wine, or what have you)

Trust me, they will appreciate it.

4) Make sure that they take care of their recovery plan

Even if they didn’t run the full distance, they still did work. They might tend towards staying away from running for a while, or they might want to get right back out there. Make sure that they discuss their recovery with someone who is qualified to help them figure out their next steps. If the runner didn’t go the whole distance, they might not need to take off as much time as they would have for their A effort, but they still need to give their bodies a few days off to bounce back. Make sure they don’t rush their recovery because they feel they haven’t “earned” it.

And here is a given: Just be there for them.

They might need to rant, they might need to cry, they might start laughing hysterically. Or they might need to sit there in stony silence. Whatever they need, give it to them (within reason). Give them a few days, and then start to gently nudge them back to life.

We all will have massive disappointments in our lives at various points. Running a marathon is more than just a few days worth of work, more than a few hours worth of emotion and effort. As much as we try to rise above and remind ourselves that the training is the real test, that the race itself is just a victory lap, having a disappointing race HURTS. Support your friends and fellow runners as they go experience their emotions.

Get that chin back up with Coach @suzlyfe's advice on handling a disappointing race! #runchat Click To Tweet

On a more positive note, I hope you are all ready to rock another season of marathon training! Many marathon training programs started in the past few weeks, and good luck to you all!

Do you have any experience or advice to offer those handling a disappointing race?

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Have you read these gems?


  • Reply CARLA

    I love this because AS ALWAYS it works for racing fitness and plain ole LIFE.
    I always do the SPACE one.
    I make sure s/he knows Im ready willing waiting and able when she wants to talk—but that I know she might need to process FIRST.

    June 15, 2016 at 5:07 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Patience, and a bit of persistence after some time!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:24 pm
  • Reply Annmarie

    Great advice Suz. My disappointing race was definitely the Syracuse Half. It was epic on so many levels but I didn’t get to race it as I had trained for, definitely left me feeling a little bummed for a while!

    June 15, 2016 at 5:25 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’m sure, lady. ANd yes, it was certainly epic…

      June 16, 2016 at 4:24 pm
  • Reply Michelle @thedogtribe

    This is good advice- I think this article would be helpful especially for someone who has friends/family that do not understand the weight a race can hold for said runner. It covers all the bases.

    So important to have a good support system in place when these issues come up.

    June 15, 2016 at 6:01 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Even those of us who understand have a tough enough time!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:24 pm
  • Reply Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious

    Mid race? I’ve heard of races being cancelled but not typically mid race. That is hugely disappointing for sure!

    June 15, 2016 at 6:04 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I know! and it isn’t like you can just get a redo!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:23 pm
  • Reply Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home

    I know all those sayings about it’s all about the journey and not the destination but that doesn’t make it any better when you’ve had a disappointing race! The hard part is that it all comes down to one day! Last year’s Chicago Marathon could have been disappointing for me–I had such lofty goals but I adjusted my plans and salvaged what could have been a disastrous race. I kept reminding myself that I don’t HAVE to run, I GET to run.

    June 15, 2016 at 6:31 am
  • Reply Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy

    I am a firm believer that a glass of wine will always help. That and just listening to them if they want to talk.

    June 15, 2016 at 6:35 am
  • Reply Emily

    I love this, because it doesn’t make you disappear out of your friend’s life, but it keeps the balance between being too nosy and being uncaring. ๐Ÿ™‚ <3

    June 15, 2016 at 6:42 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It is a difficult balance, but one that I hope I can hit!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:22 pm
  • Reply Kimberly Hatting

    As cliche as it sounds, I try to assure them (or myself) that it happens to everyone. So often, we only see and hear about the great races, the spanked PR’s and the big celebrations at the finish line. A lot of people prefer to keep quiet and not admit to the defeat that comes with a bad race….I think they are doing themselves (and other runners) a disservice by not addressing it. It’s also part of the healing process for me…

    June 15, 2016 at 6:45 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      We all have to grieve!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:21 pm
  • Reply Kimberly G

    I heard about that race and my heart broke for all the marathon runners that were almost finished. Same thing for RnR Savannah last year ๐Ÿ™ It’s a hard situation for sure, but the runners should be so proud of themselves for getting through all of the grueling training it takes to run a marathon!

    June 15, 2016 at 6:47 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Oh that is right! I forgot about that! ANd I agree–take pride in what you DID accomplish!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:20 pm
  • Reply Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    Such great tips! I would have been sooooo disappointed if my marathon got cancelled half way through. You put SOOOO much into it. As always, great advice.

    June 15, 2016 at 7:02 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I seriously can’t imagine, Julie!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:20 pm
  • Reply Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner

    I think we have all had disappointing races. It’s tough when you train for something, put lots of sweat and hard work into it and it doesn’t go how you anticipated.It kind of goes along with the sport though. I try to put it into perspective but it’s not always easy

    June 15, 2016 at 7:09 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I agree. I also think that you have to be the one to accept the perspective–you can’t have it forced on you!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:19 pm
  • Reply Emily @ My Healthyish Life

    I was so sad for the runners when I heard about that mid-race cancellation. I can’t imagine how I would have felt! I think not asking about a “comeback” race is huge! It seems like a natural question but I’m sure people could bite their tongues more often. While not a disappointment exactly, NYC in 2014 was a rough race for me and I finished A LOT slower than I imagined due to the weather. Those damn factors that are out of our control…

    June 15, 2016 at 7:17 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      That is the thing about the marathon–everything has to come together, and for a very long time. It is a precarious situation.

      June 16, 2016 at 4:19 pm
  • Reply Zenaida Arroyo

    I’ve had plenty of disappointing races but I have a pity party for a little bit and then move on. Running does not define me (just a hobby and something I enjoy doing) so I refuse to let a bad run/race ruin it.

    I miss seeing your pretty face on Saturday morning.

    June 15, 2016 at 7:18 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I totally agree with you on running being a passion and hobby, and not a definition of who you are! I MISS YOU TOO!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:18 pm
  • Reply Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    A mid race cancellation would be the most frustrating race day scenario I could imagine. Great tips! Often the immediate reaction is to problem solve, but that’s not going to do the runner any favors.

    June 15, 2016 at 7:42 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I seriously can’t imagine something worse (with regards to this type of insult to injury).

      June 16, 2016 at 4:17 pm
  • Reply Rae

    I had a pretty epic pity party. Thankfully, most people did and said all the right things, especially Ben. But I definitely got a few “So what are you gonna DO?” questions that made me mad and sad. I still haven’t really decided what I want to do, and with this stupid tailbone injury I’m not even sure I’ll be ready to start training when I should if I want to attempt a fall marathon. Oy.

    June 15, 2016 at 8:21 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Tell that tailbone to behave itself. Maybe it is a small blessing, but it is still just injury to insult.

      June 16, 2016 at 4:17 pm
  • Reply Jen @ Pretty Little Grub

    That would be such a bummer to have a race cancelled in the middle. That’s definitely a completely different kind of disappointment then just not doing well in a race.

    June 15, 2016 at 8:25 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I agree. Totally different animal!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:16 pm
  • Reply Suzy

    I sure as hell hope that I won’t need to read this on Saturday afternoon! OH PLEASE GOD. Let me have a killer race.

    June 15, 2016 at 9:00 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You know I have all the fingers crossed!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:16 pm
  • Reply Michelle

    Such great tips–we’ve all been in that position I think. It’s so emotional, but #3 definitely helps ๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿป

    June 15, 2016 at 9:03 am
  • Reply lindsey @livinglovingrunner

    This is a great list! Space is a big one…also the alcohol (or water) is a bonus to start the emotional (and physical) healing ๐Ÿ™‚

    June 15, 2016 at 9:17 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      And froyo, if necessary!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:15 pm
  • Reply

    I love this list. I totally agree about not asking about a retaliation race–I get so irritated when people do that to me. And yes, bring me all your wine!

    June 15, 2016 at 9:34 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      How about the bubbles?

      June 16, 2016 at 4:15 pm
  • Reply Nicole @ Fitful Focus

    I would be so devastated if I were in the middle of my big goal race and it got cancelled, especially if it were my first ever marathon. A friend of mine ran Vermont, but thankfully, he crossed the finish line right before they called it.

    June 15, 2016 at 9:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Good for him. I honestly don’t know how I would handle it all!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:14 pm
  • Reply Linda @ Veganosity

    Such a bummer for your client and all of the people who were close to finishing. When I think about the people who were struggling because of the heat and not close to finishing, I’m going to bet they were happy. Can you only imagine what it must have been like for the director to make that call? I hope someone handed him/her a drink too.

    June 15, 2016 at 11:18 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I think drinks were needed for allll

      June 16, 2016 at 4:14 pm
  • Reply Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs

    It must be incredibly frustrating to have a race cancelled like that. All the months of training down the tubes, not to mention doing most of the race without anything to show for it. I’ve had to drop out twice from a race because of my asthma, and it is hard to overcome that feeling of failure, even when it’s from something completely out of your control. Great advice. Other than that it’s just time. And eventually training for and completing another race.

    June 15, 2016 at 11:41 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I agree with you there, and you definitely have the experience to back it up.

      June 16, 2016 at 4:13 pm
  • Reply Anna @Piper's Run

    As always, great tips! I would have been crushed in her situation. We are facing some WARM temps this Sunday for my Half Marathon so I’m trying to eat well and hydrate all this week to avoid any problems race day.

    June 15, 2016 at 11:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      My fingers are crossed that it all goes ok!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:12 pm
  • Reply Sarah @ Bucket List Tummy

    I can’t imagine a race being cancelled mid way through – what a bummer and disappointment! I think my advice would be to take time off if I was in a funk or set a new goal to train for something off – just try to get my mind off of it!

    June 15, 2016 at 12:35 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I definitely agree with you there!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:12 pm
  • Reply Melissa @ Mango About Town

    These are great tips! Dealing with your own, or a friends disappointment is not an easy thing. I often find my self not knowing how to respond.

    June 15, 2016 at 12:40 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Don’t we all? Hopefully this will help1

      June 16, 2016 at 4:12 pm
  • Reply Rachel

    What a disappointing end to months and months of hard work! Hugs to your client. I hope she finds some peace.

    June 15, 2016 at 1:05 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      She will–she is a tough cookie–but it is going to take some time.

      June 16, 2016 at 4:11 pm
  • Reply Amy

    I did hear about that. Crazy stuff. Crazy stuff. It was so crazy I had to type it twice. I also heard that some folks who were going for Virgina as their 50th state in the 50 state club got really skeee-rude. Your tips are great I like them a lot. I do think the longer the training cycle for the race the more devastating a bad race can be.

    June 15, 2016 at 1:20 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I totally agree. That long, long build up to nothing can be so devastating.

      June 16, 2016 at 4:11 pm
  • Reply Pam

    Great advice coach. I had a hard time after my injury during the WDW Marathon in January. The recovery included Physical Therapy and I just wanted to be well so I could start running again and prepare for my April race. It’s surprising to me how many runners take on a retaliation race quick quickly after a marathon gone wrong.

    June 15, 2016 at 1:25 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I know what you mean–I fielded a lot of those types of questions from my trainees last fall.

      June 16, 2016 at 4:10 pm
  • Reply Lauren

    Great advice, especially like the bringing them a beer!

    June 15, 2016 at 2:36 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Seriously, it helps a lot!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:09 pm
  • Reply lacey@fairytalesandfitness

    It’s always tough to find the right words when comforting a friend that has been just disappointed in a race. You wanna just say there will be plenty more races to kick butt in, but you know that’s not what they want to hear at that time.

    June 15, 2016 at 2:47 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I know! That is why the beer is helpful, lol

      June 16, 2016 at 4:09 pm
  • Reply Abbey

    awesome tips. I totally get it- feeling like you fail sucks, but think how amazing you are for even trying!

    June 15, 2016 at 3:13 pm
  • Reply Kristy from Southern In Law

    I may not run races but I have plenty of friends who do so this post is SO helpful! Like with anything in life, you’re always going to have good and bad races – but this is so helpful in finding the right thing to say (or not say!)

    June 15, 2016 at 5:40 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Whether you race or not, we all understand having goals!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:08 pm
  • Reply Jessica @ Nutritioulicious

    I like the third tip!

    June 15, 2016 at 6:07 pm
  • Reply Christina

    I’m lucky not to have experienced this, but I can imagine how disappointed I’d be!!!

    June 15, 2016 at 7:03 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I hope none of us have to experience it!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:07 pm
  • Reply Coco

    Great advice – especially the reminder that recovery is still needed.

    June 15, 2016 at 8:36 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You have to take care of yourself, regardless!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:06 pm
  • Reply Sierra bishop

    Awesome advice

    June 15, 2016 at 9:35 pm
  • Reply

    A race being cancelled mid-race? OMG. I can’t begin to imagine how I might feel if that was to happen to me. I mean I know I only do one race a year, but it’s kind of like the treadmill, breaking down halfway through my usual Saturday 10k and the weather being so bad outside I wouldn’t run outside. Now THAT would ruin my day entirely!

    June 16, 2016 at 2:16 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Yeah, I think that would definitely ruin my day as well!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:04 pm
  • Reply Ilka

    It really can be so painful when you miss your goal time. It’s good to have the right support and it’s so important to keep in mind that there will always be another race and therefore another chance.

    June 16, 2016 at 6:42 am
  • Reply Kimberly at

    Blogging about a bad race really helps make me feel better. I like to be honest with my readers and treat it like a diary post.

    June 16, 2016 at 7:51 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I think getting those feelings out there helps so much! I totally agree!

      June 16, 2016 at 4:01 pm
  • Reply Angela

    This is a great post! I have definitely had disappoininting races, love your tips, Pinned ๐Ÿ™‚

    June 16, 2016 at 8:33 am
  • Reply Gianna @ run, lift, repeat

    I think the situation with the marathon being cancelled while in progress is one most of us will not have to experience (god willing).
    Having walked off the course of my sub-4 attempt a couple years ago due to cramping very early on, I was hysterically crying but knew it was the right choice. Friends talked me off the ledge and encouraged me to stop and a day later I was 100% at peace with that choice. I knew by stopping I was making a smart decision to run a life time of marathons if I want vs potential injury. Having to field all of the “how did it go” messages or walking into work after…not so fun.

    June 16, 2016 at 12:50 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Ugh, that is the worst part. Like, you want to put a sign out there or something.

      June 16, 2016 at 4:00 pm
  • Reply Kerri Mcgrail

    I think that not running the race you had planned is always a bit disappointing, but i think perspective really plays a huge role! I think asking about the race is great, and let them express their thoughts and feelings on it. Also just being there to hangout or do something else post race is great! I also think it is SO important for runners to handle their disappointing races with grace and not take their frustrations out on those around them- that always irks me!

    June 16, 2016 at 2:48 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You know I agree with that–no one like a spoilsport!

      June 16, 2016 at 3:59 pm
  • Reply Friday Favorites

    […] Handling a Difficult Race via SuzLyfe.ย Happens to all of us. How do you bounce back? […]

    June 17, 2016 at 3:01 am
  • Reply Running Links [06/19/2016] – Eat Run Pavement

    […] Discussing and Handling a Disappointing Raceย via Suzlyfe […]

    June 19, 2016 at 4:02 am
  • Reply Marcia

    Watching the VCM runners go through exactly what I did at Chi07 brought back all the anguish for me. I agree going through the WHOLE recovery process is SO crucial, because running in conditions like that takes such a toll. Yet on some level, I felt like I didn’t really “run” a marathon. Ugh.

    June 21, 2016 at 10:21 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I know, I know. I feel so badly for all in these situations. But you DID do so much! But it never feels like enough.

      June 25, 2016 at 6:39 am
  • Reply Janelle @ Run With No Regrets

    I feel so bad for your client, I heard about the mishap at that race and I know I would have been so disappointed. This is some really great advice.

    June 21, 2016 at 11:58 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I hope it helps someone. I really do!

      June 25, 2016 at 6:39 am
  • Reply Pete B

    Nothing tops bringing them alcohol! ๐Ÿ™‚

    June 21, 2016 at 12:01 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Make sure you know their favorite drink, right?

      June 25, 2016 at 6:38 am
  • Reply Patty

    Sometimes you just have to be there.

    With booze. Be there with booze. And that will help.

    June 21, 2016 at 4:30 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hahahahahaa cheers to that!

      June 25, 2016 at 6:38 am

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