How Do You Get Over a Bad Run Day? (Tips from a Coach)

Bad running days happen to us all. It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to running or a long time veteran running coach like me.

I still distinctly remember a particularly bad running day that feel on race day.

The rain flying sideways was soft, but constant, never allowing me to let go, enjoy the miles and my big marathon goal. That lead to my legs chiming in with their own thoughts on how hard this run was feeling, which lead to my right shoulder feeling a little wonky and then was that a blister forming on my pinkie toe? Bad runs. Sigh.

Probably time to call it quits, I thought. Repeatedly.

Or not.

Sometimes what we need is to dig in and double down on the really bad runs.

Let’s talk why we have these kinds of runs and get some reminders that they do not mean you are bad at running! In fact, they might just be a reminder you need to make a change to run even stronger.

Benefits of Having Bad Runs

It sounds ridiculous, but I’ve actually come to really love those craptastic runs.

I’m not a masochist.

And fine maybe I’m taking my word of the year a little too far to say I LOVE bad runs, but really they don’t bum me out the way they used to when I first started running. Now I embrace them because I’ve learned that a bad run is a great teacher.

Unfortunately our bad runs often comes towards the end of a training cycle {particularly for the marathon} which immediately sends us in to a spiral of fear and doubt about the pending race.

Instead I offer this…they are a valuable part of training.

Assuming your run hasn’t devolved into a sharp cry of anguish with every step due to a true injury, it’s time to dig in your forefoot and push onward.(read this for signs of injury vs mental pain)

Let’s talk about why bad runs so fantastic and more importantly why SEEING them as fantastic can help you get past it quicker.

bad runs

#1 Reminder to Pay Attention to Your Body

Bad runs are sometimes our bodies way of telling us that we’ve been breaking the rules of too much, too fast or too long.

With great runs we pat ourselves on the back and go along our merry little way for the day, but a bad run often surprises us and causes us to take notice of what’s been going on.

Listen up, your body is telling you something.

#2 Training to Remember Bad Runs Don’t Last

If every run were bad, I wouldn’t have been at this since 2002.

Simply knowing that everything ebbs and flows…yup it’s another reminder of the old saying “this too shall pass”, which lets be honest is pretty much a great lesson for us to take in to every area of ​​our life. But especially during the race when you are going to have REALLY hard moments.

Running has absolutely helped me to deal with life better because you never know what any run will bring. You have to decide you’re going to roll with it and GROW from it.

The mental side of running is possibly my favorite topic.

Sure, sure I love gossiping about changing shoe models, which running form is really best and all things IT Band…but the mental stuff, well that’s what keeps us coming back.

It’s why they call us crazy and yet we know they’re the crazy ones for missing out on all the lessons of running.

#3 Controlling Your Fueling

One of the things that I often find my runners learn from bad running days are around nutrition. We suddenly discover they haven’t quite been doing all the things we need to perform our best.

  • Are you running fast? Which is spiking your cortisol
  • Did you stop hydrating which lead to your muscles feeling weak
  • Have you been underfueling trying to lose weight
  • Did you not not take in enough fuel during your long run

🥯Nutrition is one of the TOP areas that can make or break performance. Checkout this Runner Nutrition Plan I created with Registered Dietitian Serena Marie if you’re needing more help. Code: stopbadruns will get you $10 off.

#4 Realizing You’ve Been Overtraining

The next thing we often discover is that you’ve maybe been playing fast and loose with rest days or easy runs.

The signs of overtraining are easy to miss during marathon training because we assume that fatigue is just part of the game. And it is on some level, but you shouldn’t be dragging through every single run.

  • Examine your total training volume for any big jumps
  • Ensure you are taking cut back weeks and rest days
  • Remember that progress happens when you allow for recovery
  • Don’t ignore the signs and let it drag on

#5 Teaching You How to Dig Deep

In those awful moments you really learn what you are made of and most of the time it will surprise the heck out of you.

I certainly never imagined that I would find ways to convince myself to complete an 18 mile run on a treadmill with no tv, but I did because my goal mattered.

Parts of it sucked horribly, but afterwards I had a whole new sense of pride and again another tool for reminding myself in life that I can probably handle more than I believe.

If you never have a ‘bad’ day, you’re probably doing something wrong; If you never have a ‘good’ day, you’re definitely doing something wrong.” -Mark Remy

And you’ve heard it before but bad runs, they do show you just how deep you can dig, so that on race day when your legs are burning and your lungs are screaming but you can see that finish line, you find yourself still pushing .

#6 Learning to be a Master of the Mind Game

During a bad run, you have two options: quit or distraction.

Sometimes we quit and that’s fine too, but on the days where you decide to keep going you’ll begin the fine art of playing mind games.

These games aren’t just about zoning out, they are a chance for you to refocus your mind away from that random new chafing sensation in your heel…and voila a few miles later you can’t even remember which foot it was on.

The random aches, pains, can’t breathe, stomach knots are bound to happen on race day. Having worked through them in training, you’ll know if you can just keep moving “this too shall pass”.

Checkout the mind games of 6 marathon runners that might help you.Long runs don't require tons of gels -find out what to do instead

#7 Truly Embracing Taper Before Race Day

It’s insanely common for the last big run of a marathon training cycle to suck the big one.

It takes every ounce of energy you have to cover the 20 miles, collapsing in a sweaty heap on the couch later you’re convinced 26.2 is beyond your reach (especially at goal pace).

Good news, this is in many ways exactly where you’re supposed to be heading in to taper!!! Doesn’t just knowing that already make you feel better?!

Often runners dread taper because we love to run and we hate time off or fear that reducing mileage is going to hurt us on race day. If you taper the right way that’s simply not true. But more importantly if you have peaked correctly you will be feeling every muscle and ready to EMBRACE a two week taper.

Remember on race day you won’t be putting in 20 miles on legs that have been doing tons of miles and speed work, they will have the benefit of that recovery time to leave you refreshed.

Why your bad runs might be the sign of a great race to come #runchat Click To Tweet

#8 Shutting Down the Negative Talk While Running

You’re out for a run and then you hear it – that voice.

You turn up your music, but it’s still there.

The voice that tells you that you can’t run one more step, that you’ll never shave time off your mile, that there is no way you’ll be able to run 13.1 miles, that you’ll never be faster than you were last year or than the person that just passed you.

That voice.

It sounds familiar because it is familiar. It’s your voice – more specifically your ego or fear-based voice. It’s the voice that judges, attacks, limits, and compares. It’s the voice that has the power to literally stop you in your tracks.Shut Down Negative Self Talk

It’s time to learn how to shut it down:

1. Acknowledge it. Trying to stuff it down just makes it scream louder.

2. Talk it out. You’ve got nothing but miles, so start thinking where the heck is this coming from? I’ve done long runs before, so am I allowing what others have said to me in the past to creep in and cause doubt. That sneaky little subconscious never lets us forget, but if we an find it and shine a light on the fear it suddenly isn’t so scary.

Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.
— Madeline L’Engle

3. Flip it around. Don’t feed the fear. Turn it on it’s head.
Fear: I’m not in good enough shape to be a runner. I’ll hurt myself and not even finish.

Flip it: I am stronger with every step. I am a runner.

#9 Learning to Let Go of Results

This last one might be the most important.

There will be races that don’t go as planned.

Your magic Lululemon shorts suddenly become a static magnet and your thighs are screaming with raw chafing by mile 10, which inevitably slows you down. Your always perfect pre-race meal is sloshing around and simultaneously sitting lick a brick, leaving you unable to push on to your PR dreams.

After months of training, it’s heartbreaking to have a race go off the rails.

But it happens and the faster you can find ways to mentally make peace with it, the sooner you’ll have the confidence to try again. It’s not just about your body recovering, you have to mentally KNOW you can, which isn’t easy when your confidence has been shaken.

So how do you let it go:

  • Recognize it was one run and put it in context of your overall training
  • Review why it potentially wrong and use it to improve
  • Remember why you started running and it probably wasn’t about a PR
  • Know that your training wasn’t wasted! You gained fitness to be used.
  • One run doesn’t define you, neither does a string of bad runs

Bad running days happen. Now it’s up to you to make the most of that time.

What do you do when a bad run strikes?

Do you push through? Stop? Ruminate on it for days?

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