Bad Runs Happen

Sad T-Rex
Yep, I felt like a sad T-Rex on this run. (Photo credit: iJammin)

A few weeks ago, I ventured out one morning for an easy six-mile run that was supposed to include 5 x 25 second strides.  It was the day before a two-mile race; the weather was crisp, but bright and sunny like it always is in Boulder.  My legs felt heavy even before I headed out, but that’s not uncommon; I can usually shake it out within the first mile.  I started my loop and was surprised when my first mile was right around 8:00 (which is pretty quick for me in that first mile).   I got to about 1.5 miles, and my breathing started to feel heavier, so I slowed a little.  It didn’t get better:  my legs started to hurt, I started sweating more even though it was only 30 degrees, and my lungs burned. My Garmin showed a pace of 8:45, but it felt like 6:00. I nearly lost my breath when I had to stop and cross the street.  After a few more minutes and just reaching a little over two miles, I did something I wouldn’t have done a few years ago:

I shut off my watch, turned around and started to jog home.

Trust me, I was not smiling like I am here during this awful run! (Photo: Columbus Running Company)

As I started the slow jog home, I replayed those awful two miles in my head.  Should I have pushed through it and finished as planned?  Or, did I  make the right call?   My weekly mileage was planned at 50, and surely, I would be short; is that OK?  I asked myself that same question over and over again as I headed home, and when I finished my run, I concluded that I did make the right call.

There was a time when I would have done everything possible to tough it out; after all, the tough ones make you stronger.  But, I would analyze and re-analyze what a bad run meant for my overall fitness.  Clearly, something was wrong, so I’d try to make it right by squeezing in the difference somewhere later in the week.  I certainly couldn’t fall short of my weekly mileage, right?

Recently, I have discovered that my running mindset has “matured”, and it’s through experience, triathlon training and surrounding myself with positive training partners, that I’ve learned to let go.  When we train for weeks and months year after year, odds are, bad days will happen. It’s OK, we’re human, and it’s nearly impossible to feel 100% every single day.  Even the professionals have bad days.  It comes with the territory, and we just have to accept it.

When things aren’t going well (i.e. see previous paragraphs), I try not to dwell so much on how it will affect my future training; but rather, I spend a few moments thinking about why it happened. Should I be worried that this is a sign of a bigger issue, or was my body just not in good shape to run on that day? If I can figure it out, what is the lesson learned to prevent it from becoming the norm?

When things don’t go as planned, here are three areas I assess to try and figure out what went wrong:

1. The BIG Picture: Why am I doing this run, and will it help me achieve my long-term goals?  My next goal races aren’t until spring 2013; it’s only November, 2012.  Even though I had a short race the following day, it certainly was not my “A” race; it was for fun to get in some quicker paces. My total mileage on this yucky run was about 4.5 miles, meaning I cut it short only 1.5 miles or roughly 12-13 minutes.  Seriously, this really isn’t much, and I’m pretty sure those 12-13 minutes will be covered once I start marathon training this spring.  And since my legs weren’t feeling that great, I knew any attempt at strides was a stretch.   I’m not worried; soon I will be doing enough strides that I will want to cut them short!

2. Consistency:  Has this been happening frequently?  If so, then perhaps there are certain factors contributing to my bad runs?   Is my training is too aggressive right now, or other work/personal life demands are adding to my stress level and affecting my running? Nothing like that stuck out in my mind, and the most recent bad run I could think of was back in September when I had to cut a workout short because I didn’t feel well.  I wasn’t alarmed that my training was becoming inconsistent.

3.The Day(s) Before:  What do I do in the last 24-48 hours?  How did I feel? Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, previous days’ training and our monthly cycles can affect our performance on subsequent days. My last workout was three days before, and I didn’t run the day after. But, I started to think about the previous day….I went to circuit training class and then swam for about an hour.  I ate breakfast, but definitely not enough protein for recovery. My afternoon was jammed packed with errands, a meeting and a job interview. I had only a Cliff Bar for lunch. Bad, Vanilla, Bad!    Sure, I had a nice dinner with some drinks later that night, but I was already in the  caloric hole for the day. I was probably still energy deprived when I woke up, thus the heavy feeling in my legs and everything not working right.  I concluded that this was the culprit.

I never wish a bad run on anyone, but odds are, it’s going to happen sometimes.  When bad runs do happen, take a few minutes to assess whether it has an impact on your future goals or if there is a certain reason why it happened.  Usually, the answer is simple and something easy to fix, and best of all, is a learning experience!   If you find that bad runs are becoming more consistent during your training, it may be time to talk with your coach or training partners to determine whether your training is too aggressive for this point in time.

Salty readers:  How do you keep going after you’ve had a bad run?

Keep Moving Forward
Think about the big picture and keep moving forward!  (Photo credit: Steve Worsethandetroit)


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Native Ohioan now living in Boulder, Colorado. I love to run, tri, train, eat good chocolate, drink good rum, and laugh (a lot). I am a CPA by trade and work for Newton Running.

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  1. Thanks for this post, Vanilla! I had a particularly crappy run on Friday and felt better after I read this! Some days I get crampy/side stitches that just nag on and won’t go away! I am also learning that it’s okay to turn around and try tomorrow.

  2. It took me awhile to let go, but I just learned to really think about the big picture! It also helped me to run with people who also shared that attitude. Thanks for your great comments! Ironically, I didn’t feel too well last Tuesday during my workout, so I cut it short. Turned out, I ended up with a cold and sore throat, so the bad workout was probably a sign that my body was taking the energy to fight germs.