SOS: Even Elites Bomb Workouts

Emma dead after workoutTough days are a fact of life. And in training, tough workouts are too; you push hard, then recover, then push harder, trying to get just a little closer to the sun every time without getting burned. But some days you try and fail, your body refusing to cooperate.

Sometimes you just don’t have it in you.

And believe me, it’s not just you! It’s all of us. You might think that elite runners are athletic machines, capable of swallowing up any workout thrown at them, but you’d be wrong. I’m an elite runner… and the other day I absolutely BOMBED my workout.

The first two-mile interval was going along swimmingly and my legs didn’t quite have that burning sensation *yet*.  But somewhere on the first 600 meters of the second interval I started to go from:

200  200-1






There was no in between. It all came crashing down, and within 400 meters I realized that I was tanking. At first I was shocked. How could this be? I nailed my speed ladder workout only three days before and felt great doing it! But suddenly I went from running 81 seconds per 400 to 92. This couldn’t be happening, right? No, this wasn’t happening. If I deny it, I thought, it’s not really coming true, right?  I just wouldn’t click “split” on my watch so I could just focus on pushing through. There we go. I can do this.

400 meters later…


“GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER,” I told my legs.  I ran a 12:01 on that last interval, when it should have been well under 11:00. I looked up to the sky to the running gods and made a bargain: If I can hit my prescribed pace on this last two mile interval, I promise to always do my strides and hip rehab exercises with enthusiasm.

But as I rounded into the 300 meter mark, I knew I was off pace. I started calculating in my head how fast I would have to run the remainder of the interval and when I realized it wasn’t in the cards I started feeling sorry for myself, and doubt seeped into my mind. Why is this happening to me a week out from my goal race? Am I not fit enough to reach my goal?  Did I eat too many potatoes last night? Do I suck at running? Is my husband feeling bad for me as he watches me bonk? Will he make brunch to make me feel better?  (The answer to that was yes.)

After a 2:54 800, I started to accept it. This workout wasn’t going well, but that didn’t have to mean mean all was lost. I was still working out, getting some great tempo work in, and this negativity BS I had going on in my head wasn’t helping me run faster. Drew ran by me and told me to stay tough, and just grind it out. Okay fine, I’m here anyway. After a last mile and a half way off my goal pace, I was finished.

I wish I could say I was incredibly mature and let it roll right off my back and was secure in my fitness and myself, but then I would be lying.  I let out a stream of creative curse words, kicked off my spikes and whined to Drew that the workout was really hard, as if that weren’t incredibly obvious by my labored breathing and sub-par splits. After chugging half a bottle of Gatorade and changing my socks I started to cool down physically and mentally.

I had gone through the first six stages of grief and finally arrived at the seventh: acceptance. So I had a really bad workout, but so what? All my other workouts have been going well, I’ve been feeling decent on my easy runs, and been lifting on a semi-regular schedule. I can’t be great at everything, including every workout. I know deep down I’m fit and I’m confident in my training, but when a workout doesn’t go as planned any runner is bound to get rattled.

At home, filling out my training log, I was able to look over my past few weeks. *Lesson Alert* This worked incredibly to ease my mind. One bad workout in months of training is like worrying about the one sock you lost in the dryer about a year ago, or going crazy thinking about it when you see its match in the drawer. Yes, it’s pretty annoying and yes it’ll drive you nuts for about an hour, but you’ll eventually forget about it after a few loads of laundry. Unless you have a pile of unmatched socks sitting on the top of your dryer and it’s a constant reminder… but I digress.

Wait, no, I don’t digress!

The pile of unmatched socks sitting on your dryer is a perfect metaphor for constantly thinking about your horrible workout every time you go do laundry a track workout. Don’t keep it out where you can see it, bury that shit in your sock drawer running log!

I threw myself a pity party for half a day, and after consulting with my cohabiting in-house grief counselor spouse and eating some dark chocolate and drinking an IPA, I started to feel better. It’s unfair to judge all my training on the basis of one workout, so why do that to myself? I am confident, fit, I trust in my training! And let’s face it; I got the bad dress rehearsal out of the way so now I can ace the big premiere this weekend: my first track race in four years.

Prescribed workout: 2×3 miles @ 2:45-2:40/800 with 800 jog in between intervals

Actual: Ufffda.

1 0.5 mi 2:43 5:21 /mi 5:21 /mi
2 0.5 mi 2:42 5:21 /mi 5:22 /mi
3 0.5 mi 2:45 5:28 /mi 5:26 /mi
4 0.5 mi 2:47 5:28 /mi 5:32 /mi
5 0.5 mi 4:01 8:13 /mi 8:10 /mi
6 0.5 mi 2:47 5:29 /mi 5:29 /mi
7 1.0 mi 6:07 6:08 /mi 6:08 /mi
8 0.5 mi 3:07 6:11 /mi 6:10 /mi
9 0.5 mi 4:09 8:13 /mi 8:13 /mi
10 0.5 mi 2:54 5:44 /mi 5:44 /mi
11 0.5 mi 2:54 5:46 /mi 5:47 /mi
12 0.5 mi 2:56 5:48 /mi 5:50 /mi
13 0.5 mi 2:53 5:45 /mi 5:45 /mi


How do you bounce back from bad workouts?

I'm running as fast as I can so I can continue to put off law school. I was 39th at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in February, and now am focused on running some road personal bests. Further in the future, I’m looking forward to running a quick fall marathon. I mainly write about the physical and mental aspects of racing at an elite level, trying to navigate the post collegiate running world, and setting aside other life goals for one; running fast.

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  1. While this won’t make you feel any better, your bad day is someone’s KICK ASS day! Nice work. I usually bounce back by saying to myself that I at least finished as strong as I possibly could and that struggling through a bad workout is good mental toughness.

  2. It’s good to know that everyone has a bad day! I loved, most of all, seeing how you regrouped from it. I’m really good on getting down on myself, but not always so good at bouncing back! Great lesson there for me. How have your workouts been since?

    1. Same here. Sometimes it takes me weeks to stop pondering a bad workout (I.e. Until the next time I randomly have a really good workout). Good luck at your race, paprika!!

  3. Woof, I’ve been there. It definitely starts to snowball: once I realize I’m running too slow, I start doubting myself, thinking I’m a terrible runner, and that just slows me down more. I haven’t yet figured out how to combat that doubt spiral mid-workout, but I do just try to keep going; as you say, you’re there anyway and getting some work done, even it’s not as fast as you wanted. Definitely best to just forget about it as soon as possible and move on… especially if there’s pancakes 🙂