Friday, August 12, 2011

Bad Runs

If you're like me, you enjoy writing about good runs. It is chance brag a little bit, yes, but also a chance to personally relive the moment and to make sense of one's accomplishment.

On the other hand, when a run goes bad, I just want to forget it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that's not always possible; the memory of it keeps nagging at me, annoying me, reminding me that maybe I am not quite as good as I thought I was.

Case in point: last Friday, I drove out to the canal, excited for a long run. The weather was lovely, I had the day off from work, and I was pumped. I was sure I was going to run further than I ever had before, and that I would maintain a good pace while doing so.

Six miles in, though, things started going wrong. Ultimately, I ended up cutting my run short by 20%, and my overall pace was one of my slowest on record. All of this was especially disturbing because the day before I had just signed up for a 50k. So, how to deal with it?

First, I kept reminding myself that any run is better than no run. 18 miles is nothing to be ashamed of - even if it is slow, even if it is not as far as I wanted.

Next, I started trying to figure out what went wrong. Once I started thinking about it, it was easy to figure out. First, I had been invited over to a friend for drinks before. I shouldn't have joined. Several beers the night before a long run is not a recipe for success -- because of the beer, but also because I only ended up getting 5-1/2 hours of sleep. On top of that, I didn't eat nearly enough breakfast - just a small bowl of oatmeal. And despite all of that, because the weather was fine, I took off too fast out the gate.

So, those were all factors within my control. Things to learn from. The bad run was because I made bad decisions, not because my body randomly quit on me.

Having figured all of that out, I knew I had to make some good decisions and set myself up for a good run, so I could get back on the right track. So, early this morning, with the temperatures hovering at a cool 68 degrees, I loaded up my iPod with some power songs, then took the car and drove to a course along the river, where I could blast out three miles without worrying about traffic crossings or other runners. I'm proud to say that I blew away my previous personal best, running the three mile course at an 8:02 pace. Sure, that's not going to win me any awards, but last year at this time, the best I could pull was 8:48. I'm pretty pleased with myself, and I don't mind bragging a bit about it.


  1. Good post. I too tend to try and forget bad runs as quickly as possible. Now that i'm taking my training more seriously, I ponder the reasons for them more often, but it's quite natural for a body to try and ignore something that's caused it pain. I've got a few problem areas i'll be pondering blog-fashion recently; perhaps together we can help each other out as we work towards a marathon.

  2. i've been thinking about this a lot lately, having had some bad runs myself.

    i think the primary factor that affects my bad runs is going out too fast. the first two miles dictate the pace for the entire run, no matter how far i go. if i go out too fast, i end up crashing towards the end of the run, struggling through the last couple miles and slowing to a crawl. maintaining a slower pace for longer runs is something i struggle with and am working hard to remedy (mostly using an HRM, as you both know).

    heat and hydration are the next biggest factor. it seems that i can run for about an hour and a half without needing water, if i'm properly hydrated to begin with. the heat doesn't necessarily affect my energy levels all that much, but if i am not hydrated enough, i sweat so much that i get dehydrated well before the run is complete. i try to take on 48-64 ounces of water leading up to a run, and that seems to take care of the 1:30. any more than that is uncomfortable.

    food does come into play, but i don't think i've run far enough yet for it to really play a factor. when it does, i will probably just use gels.

    sleep also seems to affect me. even more so than beer or whatever else i might consume the night before (carbo loading). if i'm extra tired, i tend to feel fine up to a particular distance short of a "long run" and then hit a wall (not THE wall, but just a wall) for the last part of the run. i also seem to get more sore if i am tired.

    in fact, the most telling characteristic of a bad run for me is the recovery. the other day for example, i went out and pushed it... it FELT awful, but it wasn't a bad run, and i recovered after a day of rest. a couple runs before that, i was over tired and under hydrated, running in the heat. i felt awful on the run and was sore for 2 days afterward, lacking energy and feeling in a generally sour mood.

    that leads me to a question (maybe worthy of a post): what is your recovery regimen, but short terms (right after a run) and for the day(s) after (i.e. how much rest, what kind of activities do you avoid, seek out, etc...).