How Do You Bounce Back When a Race Goes Horribly Wrong?

We like to keep it positive around here (sickeningly so, some might argue). But there’s a dark reality of distance running that, if it hasn’t smacked you in the face yet, might be just around the corner.

I’m talking about when you have a race so bad that in the lowest moment, you tell yourself (and completely believe) some variation of the following theme:

As soon as I get through this, I’m going to quit running. For real, this time.

I’ve personally retired from running a good three or four times in my head. And I’ve heard the same from many others, including my podcast co-host Doug, who emailed me after a 50K last month with his own version of the “I quit” story:

… I fell apart. 3 miles of some of the lowest running moments I’ve ever had. Thought very seriously about dropping, quitting the streak, and taking the rest of the year off from running.

Even when it’s only the outcome of a race that’s so disappointing (as distinct from the physical pain) the urge to hang up the racing flats shows up as a way to forget about the failure.

When I was training to qualify for Boston, my mindset with each race I entered was, “This is the one.” But five times in a row, it wasn’t — even when I ran a PR each time, it wasn’t good enough to get to Beantown. That hurt, and the pain once prompted me to take six months off from any running at all.

And yet, we always find our way back.

Doug is running a 50-miler this weekend, just three weeks after his disaster. And I qualified for Boston on attempt Number 6, after Number 5 left me injured and more disheartened than ever.

So what it is that brings us back every time we say (and mean) that we’re done? What is it about running for us, football for Brett Favre, and hip-hop for Jay-Z? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Perhaps it all makes perfect sense: Maybe, just maybe, if running weren’t sometimes so painful as to make us want to quit, we wouldn’t do it at all.

That’s our topic for this episode of NMA Radio; I hope you enjoy it.

Click the button below to listen now:


If you like our podcast, please do us the huge favor of leaving a review on iTunes, because that’s how we’ll know to keep making more episodes!

Here’s what we talk about in this episode:

  • The 30-Day Juicing Challenge (2:00)
  • Pros and cons of cleanses (13:00)
  • When a race goes terribly wrong: Doug’s story (17:35)
  • How stay motivated after a bad race: Matt’s Lessons from Boston (30:30)
  • Should you take a break from training? (40:00)
  • Wrap up and Announcements (49:00)

Links from the show:



Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

Everything that Might Be Missing from Your Plant-Based Diet (and Nothing Else!)

complementI believe that plant-based is the healthiest way you can eat -- both for how you feel and perform in the short term, and for long-term health. But there are a few nutrients that are hard to get from plants, and I didn't want to take a whole multivitamin with so much extra that I'm already getting from my food. That's why I created Complement Plus, the perfect nutrient formula for plant-based athletes.

Complement Plus brings together, in one place, the essential nutrients that are missing from a reasonably diverse, whole food plant-based diet:
  • B12
  • D3
  • DHA/EPA Omega-3s
  • K2
  • Minerals like zinc, iodine, and selenium
It's everything that might be missing from your plant-based diet, with nothing extra. Click here to learn more.


  1. YIPPEEE – A podcast… I didnt even know it existed. Glad to found it & enjoyed listening!

  2. The guy in Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead goes on a 6 month juice fast (monitored by several doctors), not 30 days.

  3. Love your podcasts, good topics! I ran a horrible marathon in January, far off my goal. So I let myself mope for a day and then moved on and have 6 weeks to go until my next one. I think having these “bad” races just motivates us for the next race/goal. In terms of detoxing/cleansing, I lead 7 day whole cleanses which is a really great start to clean eating and perfect for those who have never done somthing like this before. Next one begins April 29th!

  4. I felt like quitting after getting injured during a half marathon in March. I felt so defeated and lacked any kind of hope after seeing the orthopedic surgeon and going to physical therapy. 5 weeks later and I am slowly getting back to running. It’s been very short runs this week, only 1-2 miles at a time, but I’m running again! I just signed up for a 6K trail run in May.

  5. I’m glad you guys did a podcast on this topic. I’ll make sure to listen when I get home from work today!

    After my last marathon in 2011, I swore I’d never do one again. I bonked hard around mile 21, and while I physically felt like crap for much of the day or so after the race, it was the mental hurdle that took much longer to overcome. I honestly thought I’d stick to half marathons from that point on.

    It took a bit of time, but I gradually clawed my way back up to longer distances and got that inner drive to do another marathon again. At the end of the day, I didn’t want that last race to be the end of me being a marathoner. I basically had two choices – either chalk things up to me just not being a marathon runner, or get back into it and accomplish a goal I had set for myself.

    I didn’t want to rationalize my poor race performance away, which is why I’m running the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall!

  6. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Hey Matt,
    good timing on the post. My issue is more during training. I’m training for the Vermont City marathon and a couple days ago tweaked my left calf less than 1/4 mile from finishing an easy 3 mile run. Frustrating but I try to remember that it’s temporary, even though I’ve doen the same injury multiple timesover the years, despite being an ardent Chirunning practitioner. As far as bad race days, to help the frustration subside I try to remember the Buddhist wisdom of letting go of expectations. Always respect the run.
    As an aside, I live on in MA and have friends who ran the Boston marathon and friends who were watching from the finish line area. My thoughts and prayers go out to those folks. Can’t have a much worse day running than what happended yesterday. Still in shock. I hope your readers who ran yesterday are safe and unharmed.

  7. That last sentence should read, “…throw away your interval watch…”

Leave a Comment