Success and failure are both great teachers. However, we must take the time to reflect on each to find the lessons to either repeat or avoid in the future. I encourage you after each meaningful race to take the time to find the successful factors to reinforce and the improvements needed to rectify the disappointment. The following are some of the things to consider.
Pre Race Rest Were you rested enough or flat from too much rest? Managing the balance between acute and chronic stress is an art that allows you to simultaneously be building for future races, but ready to go for the next one.
Pre Race Routine Back up 24-36 hours to examine how sleep, diet, travel, and other logistics affected how you felt between the gun and the finish line. More immediately, was your warmup adequate to have you ready for the initial demands of race effort?
Race Plan Race fitness takes a long time to build but can either be cashed in or wasted in a hurry depending on your race plan and execution. Did you properly plan your pacing and strategy? If your plan was on target, were you mentally tough and physically fit enough to carry it out? Did you adequately adjust for course, competition and conditions? The answers to these questions will help you adjust your training as well as your next race plan.
Grading Scale Last year after a particularly warm Boston Marathon, I texted one of my runners to congratulate him on a great race. He texted back about how horrible he performed and questioned the meaning of life and running altogether. I told him to wait until he saw the results before he beat himself up too much. After further review and grading himself on the curve the conditions required, he realized he did have a good day, after all. It can be difficult, but try to have more than one measure of success. Time is only one of them. Uncontrollable variables can doom your time standards, but that does not mean you cannot have a great race. The time will just have to wait for more cooperation. On other days you might find you matched your time hopes but then find out people ran out of their minds on a magical day and you failed to cash in on your share of the magic. Be open to taking what such a day has to offer by removing the time limits and focusing on the appropriate race effort.
Sure, it's a stretch, but to paraphrase Socrates, an unexamined race in not worth running. Use the lessons of each race to make the next one better.