Should You Run a Redemption Race?

Runners line up at the start of a race.

Every runner experiences, or will experience, a not-so-ideal race. It’s a kick in the gut when after many months of training and sacrifices, race day comes and doesn’t reflect all of the hard work you put in. It doesn’t matter that others tell you that finishing is an accomplishment—you still came up short, you still missed your shot, you still failed. Or, at least that’s what it feels like.

Whether it’s missing a PR or walking more than you intended, it’s tempting to run a redemption race to compensate. But the question is: should you?

What is a redemption race?

A redemption race could mean one of two things. For one, it could mean running the same course or race to accomplish your original goal and wash that bad taste from your mouth. On the other hand, it could be defined as simply running a race of the same distance relatively soon after your undesired race result.

If you do have your mind set on running a redemption race, consider a few things. First, pinpoint what went wrong. Was it something outside of your control, or a mistake you can correct next time?

Maybe hot, humid weather caused you to miss your goal time. Consider researching the average weather in the location and date of the race. If it’s normal for the weather to be warm and muggy that time of year, contemplate choosing a different race to target for your next goal. But if the weather was a fluke, like the unseasonably warm temperatures at the 2022 TCS NYC Marathon, it would make sense to run the same course or race as the weather would likely be better the following year.

Runners stand at the start line of a race.

For factors under your control, like a nutrition mishap or training errors, evaluate what went wrong. Ask yourself if it was something you can change, like starting out too fast, or something to avoid in the next race, like too many bottlenecks on the course. Consider working with a nutritionist or joining a training group so you can better prepare for your next race. A hard realization could also be that your goal may not have been realistic. For instance, if you never ran any long runs at your desired marathon pace goal, it will be less realistic to hold that specific pace on race day. While it’s great to be ambitious, it’s essential to determine a reachable goal or else you will set yourself up for failure. Use the S.M.A.R.T. method or work with a coach to help you find an achievable target.

When should you run a redemption race?

Let’s say you made up your mind and want to take another shot at a goal race. One of the most important questions is: when?

You may be tempted to hop back into race mode a month, or even a week, later. With the training under your belt, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, for one, you could get an injury that’s difficult to bounce back from. It’s more important to rest, reflect and recover than to race again right away.

Think about it: Rushing into a race too soon won’t give you enough recovery time to even accomplish your goal in the first place. Plus, your performance could potentially be worse with the second race due to overtraining, fatigue or injury.

Of course, the shorter the distance, the less recovery time is necessary before your next race. To gauge recovery time, provided there are no injuries, a good rule of thumb is to use the number of miles you raced to dictate the number of days to return to the mileage you were running pre-race.

For instance, a 5K (3.1 miles) all-out effort should require approximately three days of recovery while a marathon (26.2 miles) would require a little over three weeks. Six days of recovery is needed after a 10K (6.2 miles) while roughly two weeks should suffice for a half marathon (13.1 miles). That’s not to say you shouldn’t be active—doing low impact cross training exercises, like swimming and yoga, are a great way to come back stronger for your next race. After recovery, you can begin to implement running and harder tune-up workouts.

As far as a specific date to run a redemption race, it’s essential not to skimp out on recovery, no matter how eager you are to get back into it. For example, most training plans for a marathon tend to be 12-16 weeks. So, if you ran a marathon in early September, you may be able to start training as soon as late October or early November (again, if there are no injuries) for a spring race.

Another question to ask yourself is why you want to run a redemption race. If it’s because you missed your goal time by a few seconds, you can most definitely run the same course or race soon (provided you give yourself enough time to recover), as long as you can tweak your training or nutrition to reach your goal in time.

On the other hand, if you hit the wall early in the race, you likely need to work through what went wrong, learn from your mistake and spend some time adjusting your training for the next race.

A man finishes his race and looks at his watch.

Sometimes a redemption race isn’t best.

This may not be the answer you want to hear, but if you're injured, don’t have the necessary time to allocate to training, or are simply too mentally drained, a redemption race in the short term should not be on your agenda.

That’s not to say you can’t revisit this race down the line, it just means that a race is not in the cards right now. However, in the meantime, you can work on taking a break, recovering and slowly returning to training. And if you did experience an injury, to give your body enough time to heal before jumping back into full training. Also be sure to recognize what went wrong (was it a training and preparation issue or was it race day execution error?), take away a lesson for next time and research ways to improve.

Another tactic before your next race would be to have more than one goal. For instance, your A goal could be a specific time while your B goal could be another time goal, but perhaps slower than your A goal. This way, you have another goal to fall back on if outstanding circumstances cause you to miss your initial goal.

Think of your A goal as the ideal result for near-perfect training and race execution, while your B goal will account for a minor mishap, like an unexpected bathroom break, that may slow you down a tad. You can also focus on goals that are not time specific, such as walking less or finishing strong and happy. Whatever happens, know that it’s acceptable to be sad you didn’t hit your goal, but don’t beat yourself up about it forever. Not all races will be your best, which is why it’s such a huge accomplishment to have a good race: It must be earned. That’s the beauty of running.

So, should you or shouldn’t you?

Should you run a redemption race? The answer is, like so many things in training, it depends.

If your body is still a little beat up, you’re fatigued, you’re dealing with a full fledged injury or too time constricted for training, the answer is a resounding no. If you missed your goal by a few minutes but believe you can learn from what went wrong, go for it. Remember, you’re the one who cares the most about your race results, so be sure you are running for yourself and no one else.

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