By spending the time reflecting on your race, you can reveal training mistakes, recognize patterns, observe mindset; and with that information make a plan to continue to improve on the strategies that worked for you, and change what isn't working.
If you run a race well and are happy with your performance, an analysis can help pinpoint the behaviors that led to your positive outcome so that you can build on those habits for future races.
If you performed worse than expected, a reflection could help identify training mistakes, mindest issues, potential problems, or race day strategies that led to that outcome. It’s not always obvious.
Often when we have a lousy race, we only focus on what went wrong, and we don't do enough of thinking about what went right, and most importantly, how we can learn and grow from a bad experience.
Runners who don't reflect on their race performance risk repeating the same mistakes over and over without improvement. If you can be honest with yourself about your shortcomings in training, planning, mindset, or habits, you create the opportunity to improve.
If you think that you can reflect on your race in your head, I can guarantee you won't be thinking in-depth or detailed enough.
Complete it as soon as possible! You'd be surprised at how much you can forget if you let days and weeks slide by. Try to get it down on paper within a couple of days of your race, when your memories and emotions are fresh.
I recommend writing about your race experience, then spend some time reflecting on the below questions. You don't have to publish it or share it with anyone (except your coach)!
You can type it out on your computer or with an old fashioned pen and paper, but get it out of your head so that you read it over for future training cycles and races.
What were your splits? What do your mile splits show you about your pacing strategy? How was the course? (Hilly, flat, multi-surface, crowds, race support, etc.) Were there any factors that were out of your control that impacted your results? Were you able to handle uncontrollable or unexpected obstacles? Were you able to stabilize emotions? What was your fueling and hydration plan during the race? Did it go as expected? Any room for improvement? Did you finish the race as expected, worse than expected, or better than expected? In other words, did your performance accurately reflect your performance? If better than expected, highlight all the positives that worked in your favor. What do you believe is the reason you performed better than expected? How can you leverage those positives in future races? If worse than expected, what worked against you? What do you believe is the reason you performed worse than expected? What can you do differently (if anything) to avoid this outcome in your next race? What makes you most proud about this race? What was your mindset like during this race? Did your thoughts and feelings help or harm your overall performance? Is there room to improve your mental training? How was your sleep in the days leading up to race day? Is there room for improvement in future training cycles? How was your stress levels leading up to race day? Is it necessary to implant strategies to lower overall stress? What did you eat in the week leading up to the race? Do you think this helped or harmed your overall performance? What would you do differently in your training or on race day to improve performance in the future? Where is your most significant opportunity for improvement? What is one factor you could you have done better that would bring the best results in future races.
After you think through and write out all these post-race questions, it's most important to reflect on what you learned. You can determine what to do more of from good races, and you can learn what not to do from lousy races.
I recommend taking the results of your reflection and use that information to set goals, habits, and training plans for your next race.
Every race is a learning experience. Whether you finished with a PR (personal record) or a DNF (did not finish), there is always an opportunity to learn and grow. We improve our problem-solving skills and become more resilient by facing a problem, then learning from them. Every time you face a challenge in a race (or a training run), you're creating an opportunity to improve. It's up to you to identify the weak link in your training, planning, mindset, or habits, and make a plan to overcome these obstacles for a better outcome.
I'd love to hear about how reflecting has positively impacted your race performance. If you've never tried it, give it a try after your next race and start to make racing improvements!