Goal races: knowing when to try again?

If you miss out on your target time at a goal race, after the disappointment has faded, the next impulse is to find another race to give it another shot. But when and how you should go about trying again is a difficult thing to judge.

I had an email from a runner in America who I’d written a training plan for. The east coast had had some pretty horrendous weather and they’d not had the race they’d hoped for as a result. They said they felt really strong during the race, but the conditions were against them. And they wanted to know when would be a good time to try again for that PB.

My own race last weekend didn’t go to plan for very different reasons, so every situation has a different answer. Here’s a bit of guidance…

Why did you miss your target?

If you really believe you were on to make your goal, but illness or race conditions got in your way, this sucks and I understand that you might want to get out there as soon as possible to give it another shot. But if you completed the full race distance then you’ll need to allow some recovery.

If injury got in the way of you executing a perfect race, you’ll obviously need to allow time for this to get sorted. The longer you’re out of running the further you’re going to get from your peak, so it might take a planned build-up before you’re in race shape again. And your physio might have other plans for your return to running in terms of how much you can do when, so follow their advice too.

There’s also the other factor to consider – maybe you just weren’t fit enough. Which is sometimes hard to admit. I’ve been there. I’ve lined up with an over-ambitious race goal before and stubbornly raced after it only to fall flat on my face (Nottingham marathon, I hold my hands up, it wasn’t the weather). In which case you’ll probably need a full training cycle, but the good news is that you might improve more than you were aiming for next time round.


Race distance

It takes longer to recover from longer races. So while you might be good to try for another 5k PB the following week, a half marathon or marathon will need a longer break between races. It’s also pretty easy to pick up 5k or 10k races most weekends, while longer races usually need you to sign up a way in advance. So while you might be ready to race again, there might not be many opportunities. Which brings me onto…

Race availability

After not finishing Ironman UK a few years back, I knew I wanted to strike while I was at peak fitness. Another race a couple weeks later had just closed its entries, so I emailed to ask if they might be able to accept one more but they couldn’t. That’s why I ended up doing my Iron Person – I couldn’t get into a race and I didn’t want to go through the build up again.

As we’re headed into winter now, conditions for racing get less perfect from here on. If you’re feeling flush, you can obviously travel further afield and head south for some better weather and a longer race season.

Swapping distances

While training for different distances is quite specific, run fitness is transferable. So if, for example, you’d been training for an autumn marathon and you missed your goal time, provided you’re fit and well, after you’ve recovered you could give yourself a boost by doing a 10k race.

Likewise, if you’ve run a good half marathon but not quite good enough to get the time you want, you might be able to capitalise on your fitness by topping your mileage up a bit and looking for a marathon to have a go at.

My advice to the runner that emailed me was to focus on a couple of 10k races over the winter and then pick another spring half marathon next year. It’s not necessarily the advice they’d have wanted, but I think it will get the best results long term.

If you need a little extra help reaching your goal, check out my training guides