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Race Reflection

I’ve witnessed runners completing hundreds of events collectively. Everyone reflects differently and although I don’t believe there is a one size fits all approach, not keeping at least some form of brief note after an ultra can be a mistake, I feel. Ask any ultra runner if they have ever made the same avoidable mistake twice!

In particular, after a massive goal to miss out on the reflection phase can lead to a lack of fulfilment along with a loss of direction in my experience as both coach and runner. For clarity I am writing here about your huge ultra goals, the ones you really have to work hard for and test you, for many that is their first 100 mile but your Everest may be a 50k and that is cool too.

I avoid issuing runners a template of questions to answer after an event, that to me seems too rigid and risks becoming a perfunctory task. Instead I simply ask, how’d it go? And let them tell me! From there I can steer better to make sure we arrive at some helpful outcomes or positive reflections, whilst acknowledging and planning to prevent the negatives occuring again. It’s actually a very fast and enjoyable process, most hit me right with such outcomes without any probing as they had to think it through to write to me! Personally, I may also share my thoughts with my crew to see if my race reflections seem anyway in line with my attitude and behaviour they witnessed. I’ll also ask them what I/we could have done better for next time.

Here are some suggested helpful ways to reflect after a big goal, succeed or fail:

The Result:

Face it head on, what was the result? Did you finish or DNF (Did Not Finish)? What was your time or why do you think you couldn’t finish? You may not know the answers exactly.

Potentially if of interest to you, where did you rank? Keep it factual. The following reflections will almost certainly influence how you feel about the result, but at this stage I like to ask, was the result fair? Was it what you felt you deserved?

Better Life Stuff:

Not the result you wanted? Forget the result for a second. Did your training / running enhance your life? Did it improve your wellbeing? Did you grow as a runner and a person? Did you meet some cool people and visit great places? Did you have an adventure? Did you improve your health or fitness? Tell me how you can fail if you answered yes to one or more of these.

The Practical (in no particular order):

Logistics - When and how did you travel to the event and return home. Was this ideal, or were you rushing to registration after a late train, wish you’d gone the day before?!

Accommodation - Did this work well. Close to the train station and the start venue? Close to amenities. Above a nightclub?!

Remember; many ultra runners return to events if they DNF so the above information can take a lot of planning out of a future trip! Or just help with the foundations of another event.

Kit - full kit list (include the clothes you were wearing) and a note if you would change anything. This is where you will benefit from previous notes, if you wrote out your kit list before the event - you already have it to hand to reflect upon. I suggest writing in brackets next to the items if anything needs to be mentioned or add an item if necessary.

Thought provokers; What kit was ideal? What can you change? What did you forget? Which trainers did you wear, any good? Wished you wore sunglasses? The new pair of shorts chafe?

Drop Bag - again if you previously wrote out your list prior to the event then you have your list to reflect upon! In brackets next to the items make notes such as (never used) or (worked well). Clearly weather affects drop bag use to a degree (clothes/maybe footwear) but it doesn’t change everything.

Notes on the use of your drop bag will help you to nail its contents down to what you really use and need.

Crew - any changes you would make to crew setup?

The Strategy - How well did you execute your plan (if you had one!) / what happened

Sleep - When did you sleep? On the bigger 150M - 300M races sleep will become necessary. For most 100 milers it won’t be needed. A note at which point you slept and for how long is very helpful for the next journey. How did you feel and would you refine this strategy?

Fueling - What did you eat overall? Did you keep food coming in throughout the duration of the event? Would you change things? Feel nauseous at any point or low energy?

Hydration (electrolytes) - How did you manage fluids and salt intake? Any refinements?

Navigation - Did you use GPX, maps a guidebook or just follow waymarkers? Did it work, did you get lost often, could you improve things?

The Race Conditions:

- Weather

- CP stock (the event itself)

- Alone or with others

- Trail well marked or not

- Terrain / Underfoot Conditions / Remoteness

Your Conditioning:

Did you feel in good shape and well prepared?

Did you feel you correctly trained?

Did you become injured during the event?

Did you have any other issues?

Did your feet hold up, any blisters / hot spots?

Did you hallucinate?

Did you cope with sleep deprivation well?

Did your mindset hold up?

The Result Reasoning:

Now you have your result and have laid out all what happened good and bad, can you understand what happened? Revisit the earlier questions on the result, was it fair or deserved?! There is no right answer, but good to know. You may reframe the question to ‘did I do my best’? That is all you had! Then you go off and improve your best!

It is rarely clean cut but it helps to at least try to pinpoint the reasons for your success/failure. This is where you can improve from. This may include going back further than the event itself to look at your training and preparations too of course.

Where to from here?:

Did you enjoy the format of the event and want to do similar or the same again?

What did you like/dislike about the event?

Would you return to this very event?!

Have your aspirations / event direction been jolted or encouraged (or both) from this experience?

Do you feel inspired?!

Do you need to change or book / plan in a few more events (short & long term)?!

How do I get better?

No better way to conclude the reflection phase than with this question. Jot it all down and then make an action plan to bring it all to fruition - then get to work!

For more on Race Reflection, check out our Trail Session video with Ronnie over on YouTube

Ronnie Staton

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