We’ve all had them – those runs where you just feel like every step is through concrete. You can’t hit your pace goals — you can barely run for goodness sakes. You might find yourself panting unusually fast, your heart rate spiking or your legs burning.
Those bad runs can have a power over you. If you let them, they’ll shatter your confidence. You’ll take this one instance and believe that you’ll never run the race you want – or just get into the kind of shape you want. Don’t make this a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A bad run is part of the game. It makes the good ones…well…good. You can also make a bad run into a valuable learning tool. When faced with a bad run, consider these steps:
1) Don’t prolong a bad run. If you are planning on going for 10 miles, but at mile 3 still feel like poo – cut it short. This may be a very important message from your body to back off and take a break. Today, I had 10 in my plans, but at 2.5 still could not get any rev in my engine. I felt thirsty and hot and slow. I turned around and gave myself permission to make this a 5-mile day and hit the 10 miler in the next couple days when I feel fresher and more successful. Today was my best window to fit it in, but I’ll figure out how to adjust so I can feel it’s doing my training a service.
2) Analyze. How have you been sleeping? Were you properly fueled? hydrated? Are you getting over an illness (or coming down with something)? Did you have a stressful day/week? You don’t have to go overboard and monitor your every movement, but keeping a training log in which you jot down general observations about sleep, food intake, hydration and stress levels can go a long way in telling you why you’re dragging. You can also use it as a tool to make changes to your lifestyle so these bad runs occur fewer and farther between.
3) Re-evaluate your goals. Did you fall flat in the first few miles because you went out way too fast? Are you basing your paces on your true ability or your desired ability? A lot of us want to be faster, so we think just telling ourselves to run faster will make it happen. A general rule is to increase your speed 2 to 3 seconds per mile each week on long runs and “easy” runs. More drastic speed increases can lead to body breakdown and…bad runs.
4) Check Your Training Schedule. Are you feeling run down? Is this the 7th day in a row of running with no break? Symptoms of overtraining can include heavy legs and an insidious lethargy that seeps into every workout. Check that training log you’re keeping (you’re keeping it, right?) and see if you’ve cut yourself some slack lately. On the flip side, note if you’ve been cutting yourself too much slack and suddenly expect miracles to happen. A helpful way to track your workout load and overtraining problems is to color code your workouts on a spreadsheet. (Yes, I do this) For example, on excel, I’ll list the workouts for a 12 to 16-week training cycle and then when complete, fill the box in with a color: green for rest days; red for days training was horribly painful; orange for days the training felt challenging – but doable; and yellow for days I feel strong and on top of my game. If a chart starts to fill with a lot of orange and red, it’s time to reevaluate goals and strategies. Perhaps that means taking an extra rest day or readjusting diet or goals.
5) Let it Go. Seriously. So you had a bad run. It’s one run. You’ve got oodles more to go. If you tell yourself all runs are going to be equally bad, you’ll start to believe it. Shake it off and get back out on the trail when you can (of course, giving yourself extra rest if you deem it necessary.)
I can’t tell you exactly why I had such a poor run today. It’s probably a combination of 6 hours in the car yesterday, a shortened night of sleep Wednesday into Thursday and less-than-optimal meals yesterday (Luna bars and lentil chips are not a good dinner). I also taught a class this morning that felt like a struggle, so I probably left anything I did have for today on the gym floor. Regardless, I’ll focus on hydrating, eating well and optimizing sleep the next day or so and get back out for those 10 miles either Saturday or Sunday.