5 Obvious Racing Lessons That Will Immediately Pay Off

Learn more about a more recent 5K race gone right here

“Your success comes from how you handle failure. If you deal well and you persist, you have a high chance of being successful.”

Some endurance athletes say “failure is not an option”. If you’ve ever attempted to do a race or event that was slightly ambitious, I would argue that failure is an option. In my head, I’ve redefined failure to mean all of the ways to not do something. Or in other words “lessons learned”.

Every mistake, misstep and failing moment is a stride towards triumph. In this article, I’ll show you 5 impressive race lessons that will help you in your next running or endurance event.

The Lead-Up To The Races


This is very cliche but I need to state this, Covid 19 has affected a lot of endurance folks. I’m fortunate to say that botching a few races is something I’m okay with. I completed my first 5K race build early lsat year in March 2020. The course and my Garmin foot pod may not have been accurate distance-wise, but I felt good, and according to my watch, I ran my fastest time. Success.

The Australian running season (May-Oct), like everywhere in the world was in flux. No one knew what races would be cancelled (spoiler – they all were). I then decided to do something I’ve never done: Train and focus on a 5k without peaking for 11 weeks.

It’s an odd one because I wasn’t just maintaining my fitness. I also wasn’t going 100% in my workouts. I was modulating the training effort of around 85-90%. I never felt smashed, but I also wasn’t fresh. This training allowed me to increase my aerobic fitness and weekly average distance up to 100km.

It wasn’t as dull as I thought and I saw some exciting gains at my aerobic MAF speed. Another Success!

Following this period, I completed 13 weeks of 5k training. I saw incredible gains in different pacing zones from threshold, Vo2max, and even my top-end speed. 

Half Marathon

This year my race schedule was varied and scattered. I didn’t stress how I would fit in my half marathon. Instead, I decided to jump on the back of my 5k time trial fitness. With only four weeks of training, I felt confident I could complete my goal of running 1% faster this year than last year. If I accomplished this, then that’s a theoretical double Success!

A Tale of Two Races To End The Year

The Oct 2020 5k time trial was a failure. I learned a lot about what not to do (see below) and what to do. While the training was a vital win, the race wasn’t. Unfortunately, you can’t train your way to a perfect race. You have to race a good race. 

Between 3.5km and 4.5km — Form was done and I got real locomotive here.

The half marathon was also a significant failure. I failed because I didn’t even do it. And this is okay. 

About five days before my event, I had a string of unfortunate events occur in my personal life. These events left me with no choice but to not race. Ironically, it was the lessons learned from the October 2020 5k TT that helped me make the decision not to race a half-marathon. 

But again, I didn’t fail; I just learned. So let’s get onto what I learned after the break.

Me @ES Marks – Centennial Park, NSW, Australia — I actually felt like passing out right here

The Five Lessons Learned

I’ve broken down the lesson learned into two groups; 

  1. What I learned not to do (bad)
  2. And what to do (good)

I think looking at things through both contexts is essential. It allows me to see the negative and positive sides of things. Both sides are the same because it’s my reaction to them and what I do next, that is most important.

Things I learned not to do

  • Not race/time trial with a head cold
  • Not run a race/time trial in the heat 

Things that went well

  • No injuries
  • No burnouts
  • Breakthrough workouts

Bad Lessons

Do Not Race With A Head Cold

Yes, I knew before this time trial to not race with a head cold. But it was a cold from my son, so I thought I was okay and would be over it in a day or two. I was wrong. FAILURE

A few hours before the event, I realised that my body was not going to be operating at 100%. Easy running is fine when experiencing cold-like symptoms above the neck, but pushing myself to the red zone meant sub-par performance.

Do Not Race In Heat 

I love running in warmer weather that most people find miserable. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I have finally considered the extensive studies linking higher temperatures to poor performance: Science-1, Daren-0.

heart rate comparison oct 2020 race
heart rate comparison oct 2020 race

Take a look at my heart rate for The Oct 2020 Time Trial. You can see it pinned around 193 bpms starting at the 12min mark and staying consistent until the end. 

A heart rate this high is extraordinarily unusual for me. I rarely max out my heart rate due to a lot of factors. And in my not-so-fit 5k early-season time trial back in July, I was almost 5-7 bpms away from a max heart rate. 

July 2020 5K Time Trial — See Low HR at the end

Ironically, I ran the same time in July 2020 with a lower heart rate than I did in Oct 2020, where I was more fit. Abnormal HR is further proof that heat and other external stresses were the issues on that day.

Good Lessons

No Injuries in this period

Like most endurance athletes, I have had a string of random injuries over the past nine years of living this health and fitness lifestyle. Most were due to a lack of strength training and unaddressed muscular-skeletal imbalances. I was able to address them this year adequately due to a combination of proper specialists, experience, consistency with strength training, and high weekly distance. 

Because I was able to remain injury-free, I then could keep training and going faster. Because I could keep training, I could stay injury-free. The virtuous cycle continues. It only took me eight years to figure that out!

No burnouts : Physical or mental

Most training periods I hit a point of burnout. I’m sure that was due to a multitude of things. Most notable would be; 

  1. Too long of a training period 
  2. Getting stale at the same pacing for too long of a training period

I can report that I didn’t physically or mentally burnout. At the end of each training period, I wanted more, which is a great thing! Taking a rest before I get over something is me ending shit on my terms. This means I come back excited, rather than drained.

I also figured out the right amount of daily calories I need to consume to maintain a high weekly distance and intensity. For me, it’s about 3000 – 3300 calories with high protein (1g of protein per kg of weight: 70-75g/day) and cycling a medium to high carb intake depending on the demand for the day/week.

I also found out that I can start cutting out a snack on the easy days leading up to my race. This calorie cycling is done while maintaining proper glycogen stores to perform well on the hard days.

Breakthrough workouts

This was something I forgot for a few weeks after my 5k while I beat myself up for not seeing the signs of a bad race. Then out of the blue, I remembered that I had two colossal breakthrough milestone workouts during my 13-week 5k build.

Breakthrough milestone 1 – I ran my fastest 1-mile time (on an adequately marked course) at 4 minutes 57 seconds. A feat like this for me is enormous, considering the fastest I ran before that was seven years ago (2013). This means that my top end is also increasing as I get older. This is nice to know because I come from a fast-running background and I’m genetically gifted in the power and aerobic areas.

Breakthrough milestone 2 – I ran four almost 1-mile intervals at 3k race pace (about 3:15-3:20/km or about 5:10-5:20/mile). This is huge and means I’m able to run at almost close to speed, take a 2.5-minute rest and come back and do it again. I had so much adrenaline flowing through me after this workout. And, TBH… I still felt like I could run faster. That’s always a great thing!

Onwards & Upwards

I know I’m beating a dead horse with this (or dead Tofu… because yeah, some of us are plant-based and love horses). But, the ability to step back and learn from a bunch of failures is a beautiful thing. When zoomed out, you can see more of what things mean when they go wrong in a race. The learnings are applicable for future training and races. 

I’m a firm believer in doing something and having a 50/50 chance of failure and success. It’s not ambitious enough if you succeed more than 50% of the time. It’s too ambitious if you fail more than 50% of the time. 

Moving through the 2021 calendar and potential race year, I’m feeling very confident. I know I can maintain a strong foundation of speed and endurance because of what happened this year. Hopefully, through all of that, I’ll keep performing better as I age.

If you want to turn your failures into learning lessons I can help you.

We are all getting older so rather than being like most humans on the earth and declining – Why not be better, stronger, smarter, faster and wiser than the 10 years ago version of yourself?

All so that you can perform better in health fitness, wellness, endurance sports and LIFE.

I will help you live your best life through habits and intentional decision-making. Email me – coach@dlakecreates.com to find out more and book a free consultation call today.

Learn more about a more recent 5K race gone right here