Have you ever had a run that just felt terrible? Legs like bricks, lungs on fire? Yeah, me too. It sucks.
Of course, in my opinion, there’s really no such thing as a bad run. Sure, some runs feel better than others, but just the fact that you got out there and made the effort is a total win in my book.
Your first crappy run is usually a shock, especially if you’ve been having a great streak of awesome runs. You might even start to think that you’ll never enjoy running again. Fortunately, that’s not the case.
Know That It’s Completely Normal
Everyone has a bad run from time to time. Ev-ry-one. It doesn’t mean that you should quit or that you’re not meant to be a runner. Go home, stretch, rest, and get right back at it. Your next run could be phenomenal!
Recognize That It Will Get Better
Running is hard. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. We all start at the beginning – there’s no shortcut to speed, distance, or endurance. The only path is consistency, hard work, and repeatedly getting back on the horse after you fall off. The good news? Sticking with it will deliver results. Eventually, it will get easier and you’ll see improvement. So hang in there, and remember that even a run that doesn’t feel great is still great progress.
Evaluate, But Don’t Obsess
It’s fine to do a post-mortem on a bad run – that’s how we learn and adjust. Spend some time reviewing a previous couple of days as well as the weather and terrain during your run:
Nutrition – What you ate before your run, either immediately before or in the days leading up to it – can impact your performance. Too much sugar, too many processed foods, a few extra alcoholic drinks or even too little food, might be to blame.
Hydration – Have you been drinking enough water? It’s important to stay hydrated in the days prior to a run, especially a long one. Chugging water right before you head out the door won’t help (and might give you a side stitch). You need to drink water regularly every day – at least 6 glasses (more if you work out a lot).
Cross-training – It’s important to do other physical activities besides running. However, if (for example) you had a killer spin class the day before an important training run, you might see a decline in your performance. It’s completely normal and just means that your muscles are still recovering. Take your other workouts into account when you plan your runs to get the most out of each one.
Sleep – One night of bad sleep probably won’t lead to a bad run, but several in a row might. Our muscles do most of their recovery when we’re sleeping, so, if you’re not getting enough Zs, your performance could suffer. Sometimes a good night’s sleep is more important than your workout.
Over-training – If you seem to be getting slower over time, even though you’re running more often, you might be training too much. Aches and pains that never go away, getting injured, or sleeping poorly are all symptoms of over-training. Our bodies need rest to repair, and if you don’t take the time to allow that process to happen, you’ll feel it.
Weather – Hot, humid weather can add 1-2 minutes per mile to your normal pace because your body is working overtime to breathe and cool down. Expect it and don’t worry about it.
Terrain – If you’re used to running on a treadmill and decide to head outside for a change, you might notice that your run feels more difficult. That’s because the treadmill belt actually assists you a tiny bit by pulling your feet backward. On a sidewalk, track, street, or trail, your feet are completely under their own power which takes more strength. Trail running is the most labor-intensive of outdoor runs, so you can expect your pace to be slowest when you’re running in the woods.
Hormones– Women, depending on where you are in your monthly cycle, you’ll likely experience natural fluctuations in performance. Keeping your nutrition, sleep, and hydration on track will help you avoid performance-related problems.
The list above can usually help you identify the problem. However, sometimes, you’ll just never know, and that’s OK. Don’t let it sidetrack your progress. Spending hours in the land of “What If” won’t make anything better, and it might even keep you from running.
Keeping a running journal can be a great investigative tool. Recording the date, route, time, distance, how you felt, and weather on a regular basis can really help you identify trends (both good and bad). The sleep and food journal can also add helpful information. There are plenty of pre-made journals available or you could keep one electronically. Also, if you run with a GPS watch or use a running app, downloading your data is a great way to track your progress. It takes a little time and effort (although less than you’d think), but it’s completely worth it.
Sulk For 15 Minutes, Then Move On
Sometimes you don’t care what went wrong, you’re just ticked off that it did. In that case, feel free to sulk. Stomp around the house, yell, wave your hands, slam doors (just not at 6 am while your spouse is still asleep). I’m giving you 15 minutes to throw a complete hissy fit – then it’s time to get over it, put on your big kid pants, and move on. It’s a bad run, not the end of the world. You’ll survive.