Let me say this up front: the title of this post is misleading because I am not planning to give tips on how to magically turn a bad run into a good run physically. If you’re fatigued from only getting four hours of sleep after a hard track workout, I don’t have a quick-fix for making you (or myself) miraculously feel well-rested. But, being a big believer in attitude and rationality, I am going to talk about how, recently, I’ve been trying to adjust my thoughts when I find myself having a bad run so that in some way (which I’ll explain) I don’t really have a bad run at all. So here it goes.
First, let me define a ‘bad run.’ A bad run is one during which I struggle but not intentionally. I’m all for hard tempo runs or fatigue-fighting intervals on the track, but these are workouts in which I am planning on feeling out of breath and tired. These are not bad runs, they are hard workouts. No, a bad run is an easy 5 miler that is punctuated by me walking up every hill because my heart is racing for no reason. A bad run is a workout in which I can’t hit my paces because my legs feel like lead, despite having completed the same workout successfully a week or two earlier.
So those are the runs I’m talking about. If you’re like me, a bad run can send you into a spiral of defeatist thoughts along these lines:
“I’m out of shape.”
“I’m not progressing.”
“I’m going to bomb in my upcoming race.”
Not great, right? These sorts of thoughts aren’t constructive, and they zap my motivation. I get down about running in general, which is terrible because running is something I know I love.
So I decided that I’m done with letting myself react this way.
From now on, if I find myself confronted with one of these bad runs, I’m going to view it as a gift. Why a gift? Because bad runs tell us as much about our bodies and the state of our training as great runs do, and it’s through bad runs that we find out what to do and not to do on, say, race days.
I had one of these so-called bad runs this past Saturday. I was planning on doing 8 miles, and figured that 8:30 pace would be a nice, steady speed to aim for. The first 2-3 miles were fine, and then it started getting hot. I started having to work a lot harder to maintain my pace, and I ended up walking a few times before finally calling it a day after 7 miles.
I was disappointed that my run hadn’t gone as planned, but I just wasn’t in the mood to get down on myself. I started thinking about the fact that just 6 days earlier, I ran a race that I’m really proud of, and I told myself I probably felt bad because my body was still recovering from that effort. I also started thinking about the fact that we’ve now entered into the time of year when I need to make a concerted effort to be hydrated and stay cool.
And I really think that most, if not all, bad runs can be attributed to something, which means that we gain information about ourselves by having them. There are a myriad of things that could throw a person off: diet missteps, dehydration, previous hard workouts, bad weather, shoes/clothing mishaps, lack of sleep – to name a few. By identifying which of these is contributing to a bad run, we can avoid making mistakes in the future and/or we can adjust our expectations when one of these factors comes into play. (For example, maybe we have no control over only getting four hours of sleep, but then we shouldn’t expect to be rockstars on our runs in the next day or two. Managing expectations can do miracles for whether you end up disappointed or not.)
By trying to find reasons behind why my run last Saturday didn’t go well, I was better able to see that it wasn’t really a bad run at all; it was a reminder run of a race well done and it was a reminder to take better care of my body as its needs change with the temperatures. And determining these causes put my negative thoughts to rest. I didn’t have a bad run because I’m out of shape or lazy or completely void of talent; no, I had a bad run because my legs were still recovering and I didn’t drink enough water. It was science, really. Nothing personal.
So in the end, I viewed that run and plan to view tough runs in the future as opportunities to learn about the limits and needs of my body, which can only result in fewer bad runs overall. It takes a lot of concerted effort to not let a bad run get you down but, my point in writing this is that it’s really, really worth the effort to try and view bad runs in a positive light, to try and recognize that a bad run gives us valuable information about ourselves that can only make us stronger, smarter runners.