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How does your race time affect your race experience?

So I got to thinking after having worked a few expos and hearing the feedback of some runners, I have a question to ask those runners out there. Do you think that having a bad race experience is due to you not hitting a ‘goal’ whether it be a certain time, or some type of goal you may have set for yourself can negativly affect your race experience, no matter how the actual ‘race experience’ is?

That’s a word that we talk about a lot at work. The race experience. What will the runner remember. I’m starting to think though a bad race can negatively affect the race experience, no matter what the race does to make it excellent.

Take my own experience for example. Many people LOVE Rock and Roll races, like live and die by them. My very first marathon was the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon last May. I had a horrible time there due to my stomach problems and missing my ‘goal’ time by a lot. Ever since then, I’ve been a vocal hater of the Rock and Rolls. I’m not a fan of listening to bands for about 30 seconds as I run by and I’ve come to realize I’m not a a ‘big race’ girl. So to each their own. The porta-potty lines were shorter, the waves were managed better, the course was meh, but it wasn’t a horrible race, but I personally HATED it. Thus meaning I now group all Rock and Rolls together and talk about how much hatred I have for them. Fair? No, but I do it.

Then we have the other side of the spectrum, Long Beach was and still is my prized race, which was where I went below my goal time and had the race I dreamed of and wanted to be my first marathon experience. So I didn’t mind the crazy lines at the porta-potty and the fact that it was a cluster mess at the start. Since it was a hometown race, I didn’t have to do the whole traveling situation and since I started in the back in the pack, I wasn’t in with the huge packs at the front. Before the race I was so relaxed I didn’t even freak out about my d-tag missing and the horrendous gear check area and I didn’t even pick up my gear check bag after the race or even travel into the ‘post-race’ area/festival. Yet, none of those things bother me as my heart is full with joy about my time and the experience of the race. How I smiled from start to finish. That was my best ‘race experience’ but I’ve realized it was totally based on ME and my experience.

So I’ve talked to many people about different races and I think, according to my not so official research, this has something to do with how people feel about a race due to their own performance. A guy came up to our booth and literally ripped us a new one a few weeks back. Not everyone loves Long Beach like I do. He harped on the bathrooms, the waves, the crowds, the course, the hills, the parking. I swear there wasn’t one thing he left out, and to you mister, don’t worry, we discuss these things, in depth daily. We KNOW about the things that went wrong. :) I asked him about his time and he said since it was so crowded and hilly he missed his PR, which he was going for. He told me about another race that he’d run that was much better.

Working in the running industry is pretty crazy at times, there are some things to think about that never crossed my mind before. Bike Fencing, Porta-potties, signage, sponsor areas, everything that goes into putting on a race is insane! So what do you think? A race where YOU didn’t do what you wanted becomes a thorn in your mind, whether or not it was a “good race”?

Thoughts to ponder. :)


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  • Reply Marcus

    Great question, and I do think that – intentionally or unintentionally – race results do play somewhat into race experience.

    That being said, that’s not always true. Last year, I had a half marathon where the race started 20 minutes late, the course was wrong, and they lost my AG award (and then told me I didn’t win, even though my name appeared as a winner in the results). I PR’d, but guess what? I doubt I’ll go back this year.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:13 am
  • Reply DrKeith

    A good race with a PR = YAY I HEART this race.

    A good race with close to PR time = The race was alright

    A good race with awful time – CENSORED CENSORED this CENSORED race! (from here you would start complaining about lack of restrooms, course issues, that squirrel that hoped on the race during mile 3, that person who said “you’re almost there!” at mile 22 and that totally caused you to lose focus with her so-called words of encouragement, etc here)

    May 13, 2010 at 8:17 am
  • Reply Teri

    I have very little big race experience, but loved the R&R in Vegas. I think the layout, and scenery of the course is very important – along with enough portapots and a good bagdrop experience.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:44 am
  • Reply Heather (

    this is a very interesting post! I am from new Orleans, but live in MS now. But I ran the mardi gras rock n roll half in feb and it was so nice. FLAT fast course, great bands, short port o potty lines, great wave start, it was just all fabulous and very well run. So for me, I love RnR races b/c of my great experience lol! I did reach my goal time too, so that was good, but, all in all it was jsut very well done. I have done unorganized races before and nothing ticks me off more! But you are right, how we run the race def. has a lot to do with it! you should give RnR another try somewhere else :o)

    May 13, 2010 at 8:45 am
  • Reply Tabitha

    Happy to hear all the good raves about the RnR. I’m thinking about doing the RnR in Vegas this year–the 1/2. I have no goals set in mind. At this point as a newbie runner, I’m all about the experience. And fun :-)

    May 13, 2010 at 8:52 am
  • Reply beth

    This is definitely true for me, at least a little ways out from the race. If things weren’t going as planned, it’s easy to spend the weeks after thinking about how miserable you were and you can include the tons of people or lack of bathrooms or whatever you want. Usually I stop feeling that way when I’m getting ready for the next big race; I start thinking about all the things that could be awful (bad weather, being late, whatever) and I realize whatever I was thinking about in the last race was not that big of a deal.

    I’ve never not PR’d because the course was so crowded or there wasn’t enough water…it just boils down to not being as prepared as I thought.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:53 am
  • Reply Nicole

    I agree with you!! Well said my running buddy!! I miss and love you! When are you going to come visit me?!?!? :-)

    May 13, 2010 at 9:09 am
  • Reply run4may

    Question- I hear that you should not run the first marathon for any specific time but just to finish it. Seems like you ran your first full with a goal time in mind. I would love to do this during my first full but am wondering if I should do what is being recommended or shoot to meeting a goal time. Any advice?

    May 13, 2010 at 9:10 am
  • Reply Jennifer

    Race performance definitely plays a part in the race experience. I ran in a beautiful half marathon along the ocean last March and came out hating it because I came in well over my goal time. I had a bad day and totally blamed it on the race.

    May 13, 2010 at 9:32 am
  • Reply Sam

    I’ve run enough of them that I can absolutely differentiate between my performance and the quality of the race. I hate RNR races too, but they cater more to the one-and-done folks or people looking for a big event and not just a race. So those people would never know the difference anyways.

    For the most part, I think LB and OC are pretty good races.

    May 13, 2010 at 10:30 am
  • Reply Beth

    I sadly admit that performance does play a large role in my race experience, but more so in shorter distances – 5k’s, 10ks, trail runs, ect.
    To an extent, marathons are what you make them. The more you train, the more enjoyable your experience. If you know what you like/don’t like…choose your marathons with that in mind. We’ve done some very different marathons, for example Long Beach vs Napa. While we enjoyed both experiences and pr’d at both, we wouldn’t do Napa again. It was beautiful, they treat the runners amazingly well, but we can’t fit more hill training into our schedule, and to enjoy that marathon, we would need to spend more time on hills. Not the organizers fault at all, just the way it is. While Long Beach was way crowded at the start, the bathroom lines were…..out of control, and the run along the beach on the narrow path made passing impossible, it was so fun! There was a great upbeat vibe the whole time. We loved every second of it and will be back.
    I’ve yet to run any race that I felt let down by the event itself, if I feel let down it’s usually my performance that was the main issue.

    May 13, 2010 at 10:39 am
  • Reply x-country2

    How I did plays a role, but there’s simple logistics I expect to be in play. I applaud organized events and hate when that’s not the case. Good luck improving Long Beach. I read there’s definite room for improvement.

    May 13, 2010 at 11:44 am
  • Reply Ally

    I agree that how YOU do really dictates how you feel about the race. For example, I did terrible, terrible at OKC. Just had a bad day. For a few days, I was just bitching about how much I hated the race. But then, the other people I ran with had such a great time, and the race itself was great–great support, great aid stations, it was all really good. I was just all bitter at myself. Now that I know that, I really love the OKC race.

    To the flif side, Catalina marathon is my favorite thing ever. Sure, not a PR course, but so much fun–I came in under my goal time and love, love, loved it.

    We get torn apart for our races too! I always apologize for bad experiences and tell them that we try our best and that we are always improving, etc, etc. It’s a process!

    May 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm
  • Reply Stuart

    Interesting question, my first marathon was RDR San Diego also, and I have fond memories of it, my worst race was probably Leona Dive where I puked my way round 20 mile or so, but it wasn’t that bad even my experience at 100 at the Hood where I wrecked my leg wasn’t a bad experience, just bad luck!

    PR or no PR it’s all a learning experience, you take the good and leave the bad, nobody standing on the starting line of a race expects it to be fun but is it memorable and if so why and is that why “good”, maybe that’s the question to ask?

    May 13, 2010 at 12:35 pm
  • Reply J

    I think the outcome of the race really does affect your experience. Running is such a mental battle that any little problem can cause you to hate a race. i know that a hilly race really makes me hate to run it so I usually avoid those. i guess it just depends. I honestly haven’t run too many races a second time…

    May 13, 2010 at 1:09 pm
  • Reply Emily

    Outcome definitely affects experience; I also think that having any experience with event planning or volunteering makes you somewhat more understanding when things aren’t so smooth. I also personally feel a direct connection between how much I pay for an event and how smoothly I expect it to run – a really expensive race that isn’t well organized or supported annoys me, while a cheap race with longer lines and less support doesn’t faze me as much.

    I personally love the Bolder Boulder 10k, which is unbelievably well orchestrated and supported, even though every year I’ve run slower than my expectations and my typical 10k times. However, I keep going back because the goodies are good, the stadium finish is awesome, the course is nice, and the wave start is the best of any race.

    May 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm
  • Reply Bill

    First and foremost, it’s performance. That said, I was fine with my LBC 1/2 time, but not with having to dodge thousands of people on a narrow boardwalk. I’m dreading that boardwalk when I do the full Mary in October that you pimped but aren’t even going to be at!

    May 13, 2010 at 2:17 pm
  • Reply Emily

    Hey Girl! I just started up my running blog, but I have been reading yours for a while and love it! Just stopping by to say hello and tell you you are awesome :)

    May 13, 2010 at 3:44 pm
  • Reply aron

    i still love eugene and want to do it again even though it was my saddest day (lol being dramatic). i think i also want revenge on the course ;) SD just sucked.

    May 13, 2010 at 5:30 pm
  • Reply Cory

    Maybe I am just an optimist, but I have enjoyed every race I have done, never once getting close to reaching my goal and always suffering throughout. I can’t wait until I actually beat my goal. Maybe Long Beach this year, if I can conquer those dreaded hills.

    May 13, 2010 at 11:06 pm
  • Reply Glenn Jones

    My performance has little to do with my “race experience”. For example, I enjoyed Long Beach becuase I did well, but my experience wasn’t that positive because of the crowds on the course. On the other hand, I just about died at LA, but the community turnout made it a very positive experience.

    May 13, 2010 at 11:10 pm
  • Reply Jay

    While I do think that for some it does affect their out look on the race. I dont normally feel that way.

    You bring up RnR races… My first RnR race was Las Vegas last year, I PR’d without really trying. But I can tell you that RnR has a long way to go in organizing their races… Their races are just a complete cluster… Running out of water half way thru the pack at the first few water stops is just unsatisfactory in my book…

    I believe it all boils down to the event organizer. Disney puts one hell of a race on, Run With Donna amazing (not to mention the vast number of port-a-potties), and I too believe that Long Beach is a pretty super race.

    May 14, 2010 at 12:09 am
  • Reply the dawn

    Now I’m nervous! I am running the San Diego this year and while it isn’t my first marathon, it is my first HUGE marathon experience. I hope that I have a good experience (good time or not…)…

    May 14, 2010 at 5:54 am
  • Reply Jacklyn

    I’ve never thought about that before. I think you’re right though. A bad time will make me hate the race. But does the race organization factor into that? A race I did, they didn’t have enough porta potties, and the corrals were all messed up and it totally threw off my game and I had a terrible race. It’s all a vicious circle ;)

    May 14, 2010 at 6:28 am
  • Reply Kelly

    I’ve only done the Rock n Roll in San Antonio and now hate it. I think it’s because my time sucked and it was effing humid. And the course was kinda lame. Austin it’s kinda a love hate. I had my best time so love it. But lack of port o potties= hate it. New York was amazing because you could tell they had their shit together, lots of bathrooms, well organized, and different scenery.

    Not sure what that all means, but that’s my take on it.

    May 14, 2010 at 7:05 am
  • Reply inspiredtorun13

    Wow. Great post on an interesting topic.

    As I pondered your question, I realized two things. If the weather for a race is terrible (which is really beyond the control of race organizers) I’m not going to love the race. It’s going to be a “meh” race in my mind, even if everything else was wonderful.

    Also, I always have a better experience when I run a race with (a) friend(s). Whether that is by my side or meeting at the finish line, it’s really not that fun to run long races alone.

    I ran the OBX half solo and swore I’d never do that race again. The bridge hill miles 9-11 sucked. The crowd support was less than other races I’ve done, and my parents were at the finish line, so I did the entire race without seeing a familiar face.

    I’ve said it would have been better if I had done a solo race with more going on….but would it really? Probably only a little bit. I’d say my race experience is more based on factors that a planning committee cannot control.

    May 14, 2010 at 7:51 am
  • Reply joerunfordom

    Danica – as always, brilliant post. I think you really hit the nail on the head as many marathoners toe the line with only one goal in mind and if that goal is not achieved it efffects their feelings about the entire event.

    I try to carry 3 goals to race day – so that if I meet at least my “minimum” goal – whatever that is for that race, I still get a great feeling of accomplishment for having trained so hard and given my best on race day.

    To battle for 3+ hours, covering 26.2 miles and leave “disappointed” is a shame. Everyone should feel as if the race was a celebration of their training and dedication – I try to really live that on race day.

    This year at Boston I missed requalifying by 1:47. I was disappointed at my time – but cherished the experience. I made friends, took mental snapshots and really tried to “take it all in”.

    13 days later I ran Pittsburgh for my friend with cancer and finished 20 minutes slower than Boston.

    But that day was about giving effort, honoring a friend and trying to make a difference. It was my slowest marathon in 5 years – but my finest race ever.

    So yes, portapotties, the start area, time notifications for family members, the course, the volunteers, post race food and drink are all important to the experience – but it is the runners themselves and their “expectations” that really impact the race experience.

    One thing I think the races should focus on is the family reunion aspect post-race. Getting you into the arms of your family and friends as soon as possible and as easy as possible is what it is all about for me after coming through the chute.

    Nothing better than that!

    Thanks Danica for all you do! Great stuff today.

    May 14, 2010 at 7:56 am
  • Reply Dr. Paul

    To me I get so focused on my race the course, the porter potties, crowds don’t really affect me. But I have a similar experience with Chicago and the Boston Marathon. In Chicago I had a 7 min PR and ran 2:52. I was still running 6:45 pace to finish the race and everything was clicking so much I noticed the crowds, the city everything. Then in Boston I went out to hard and paid for it dearly. The last 8 miles were miserable, I was cramping and in pain. I finished with a 3:01 which I am not really unhappy about, but I feel I didn’t get to enjoy the crowds and the whole atmosphere as much because all I wanted to do is get done. Boston was awesome, but I hold Chicago as my favorite marathon so far and I really think it was because how I felt during the race. Good blog.

    May 14, 2010 at 8:27 am
  • Reply Truerunner

    Ran Boston a few weeks back. I would say that not hitting an predetermined goal is a big factor in my overall experience.

    Shortly before Boston (4 weeks prior)I developed a type 1 muscle tear in my upper left quad. Spent hours and hours with my physical therapist– After weeks of not being able to properly run, I was still “iffy”. Finally–days before having to leave–caught a nasty head cold from my wife. Needless to say, all of this lead-up to race day did hamper my confidence as well as overall mood.

    There were good aspects of Boston, but it seemed that it all was overshadowed by that miserable 3:21 on the finish clock at the end of the race as, with my nose running far faster than my feet, I limped in on my sore left quad. (I was shooting for my usual sub 3hr time). Don’t get me wrong, I was really grateful to finish despite everything (and thank God for the crowds, cheers, and love from the Wellesley girls). I’m glad to see Dr. Paul’s post and know that mine wasn’t the only bitter-sweet Boston experience. I really tried (for the sake of family and friends with us in Boston) to not let missing my target time dampen my attitude, but, I’m sad to say it did. This was my first Boston–I plan to go back plenty of times, but as for this April, I will remember it as the year that Murphy’s Law won.

    May 14, 2010 at 8:54 am
  • Reply ilovesteaks

    I love all of my marathons even if I’m having a really bad day. Just like family members or your best friends, there’s just no way a race can be 100% perfect, but you love them anyways. I run Rock n’ Roll races because most of the time they are well organized. Also the girls at their expo booth are usually hot! :)

    My 2 favorite marathons are NYC and Honolulu, both big city marathons. It makes me happy to see so many people out exercising.

    May 14, 2010 at 9:06 am
  • Reply Ryan

    This is a good topic. I ran my first marathon (and my first running event as a matter of fact) during the LA Marathon on 3/21/2010. I did not meet my PR because I injured my right leg on Mile18 and also had to stop and stretch several times. I had to do a port-o-potty stop as well (15 minutes wasted), so I exceeded my PR time by one hour. Although the course was fun, the weather was nice, the event organizers and volunteers did such a great job, and overall a fun race, I was not happy with my results, so I consider this race as NOT A GOOD RACE. Sadly, it was my first so I should enjoy and revel in my success in completing it, but I always go back to the fact that my race time is not what I had expected, so I consider it a bad race. Sob-sob.

    Thanks for posting this topic and letting is ponder on the issue.

    May 14, 2010 at 9:34 am
  • Reply Sassy Molassy

    My race time often reflects my race experience bc usually if I had a crappy time it’s because my bod was not working optimally. That being said, at the Vermont City Marathon a few years ago, I loved the course and had an awesome time enjoying the scenery even though my knee was wrenching and giving me all hell the final four miles of the marathon. My San Diego Marathon experience however, was just plain bad. I didn’t like the course, the weather, the whole shabang. And I was hyperventalating so I had to walk a ton. I guess it just depends.

    May 14, 2010 at 10:57 am
  • Reply Ginny

    I have enjoyed all of the marathons that I have run or walked, but yes, I will say St. George is my PR and it’s my favorite. I prefer smaller marathons so that increases my enjoyment automatically. Scenery helps too. So for me St. George had it all – small, beautiful, and I had a GREAT day and a fast time, fast for me.

    May 14, 2010 at 6:48 pm
  • Reply nd

    what a great question – I think that is the major factor in your experience :)

    May 14, 2010 at 6:52 pm
  • Reply Jen

    Interesting. I come at it a little differently. I had a horrible race a few years ago at the Vancouver International half marathon, but it was probably one of my favourite races because it took me through places I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, and they served this amazing chicken noodle soup at the end :) The course was beautiful and the race was well organized, and I have nothing but good memories of it (with the exception of my own performance), yet it was probably the worst time I had ever posted.
    Same with this annual 10k that I run with some friends – the course kicks my ass EVERY TIME (it’s horrifyingly hilly, and I live in the prairies) but I LOVE IT because it’s a weekend away with my girlfriends and the course is stunning and the post race party is fun.

    May 14, 2010 at 7:57 pm
  • Reply Alisa

    Since I’m not usually one that sets huge expectations on time goals I can’t say whether that sours my opinion or not.

    I can say one thing I do like in course and that does affect my liking or disliking is the race route. I don’t enjoy running my strip malls or industrial areas (for long amounts of time, a few miles is okay). The course route is one reason I did not like the Arizona marathon. For as pretty as Phoenix and the surrounding area is, you’d think they could have picked something better than strip mall city.

    I think course route matters a lot when you’re running the long races, for 5k’s not so much.

    I also think race organization is key. I don’t like expos that are a cluster or race mornings that aren’t well organized. I don’t mind start line chaos but if you can’t even find the start line or there isn’t clear expectations about parking, etc, then I get annoyed.

    PS I’m totally sorry you got chewed out. Plus, did the guy look at the race elevation profile, that’s NOT hilly. He’s crazy!

    May 16, 2010 at 8:22 pm
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