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How to Overcome a Bad Run

by Karl Gruber
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Having run for as many years as I have, I have to say that I still really, really love the sport! While I have ups and downs like most every runner, my passion for it is still high, and my day is just not the same without getting my daily run in. Without my daily run, I am just not as even-keeled throughout the day. I tend to be a bit more nervous, less peaceful and more fidgety. 

As I have discussed many times before, running can be a great boost for both your physical and mental health. There’s nothing like going out for a six-mile run to let loose some steam and enjoy a nice sense of accomplishment. 

That being said, any runner knows that sometimes your daily run is simply bad. Your mind wants to do it, but your body is unwilling and uncooperative; then some days it’s the reverse, but you do it anyway. I have had bad training runs and races where, even though I was in good shape, all I could do afterwards was take a two or three-hour nap, and limp around for a day or two.

When you have a bad run or race, it can affect you physically and mentally. Many a time after a crummy run, I have actually felt more physically beat up than after a normal run. This is due to the fact that your running form and pace may be off, and can result in aches, pains and soreness that you may not normally feel post run. You can also struggle harder during a poor run, thus putting more effort and work into it. 

Many factors can contribute to a bad run — poor sleep, not enough recuperation time between runs (especially after a hard training run/race), poor hydration and nutrition, mental and/or physical stress, and lack of motivation. Having a bad race can truly be damaging, not only to your physical well-being but also to your self-confidence.

For most of us runners who like to get in a daily run, we tend to get stuck in a daily routine that can sometimes turn into a grind. We adopt the “get ‘er done” attitude no matter what. Even though we have a passion for it, us Type A runners make it worse by refusing to acknowledge that it might be smart to take a day or two off from running. 

Look at England’s running legend Ron Hill, for example. He had a running streak in which he ran every single day for 52 years and 39 days — starting on December 21, 1964 and ending in January 2017. During this streak, Hill won the 1970 Boston Marathon and also competed in two Olympic Games. He even ran a mile on the day he had bunion surgery! However, I can guarantee you that Ron Hill, like any other runner, had many, many bad runs during his amazing streak

So how does one overcome a bad run or race? I feel the answers should be obvious, but many of us often overlook the obvious and think it must be more complex than it really is. 

The most obvious cause of a bad run are factors that contribute your physical health, like the number of hours and quality of your sleep. While some are good to go with just four or five hours of sleep, others need eight to nine hours to function well during their day. So look closely at that factor for yourself. Did you have a long, hard interval training run yesterday, but only got five hours of sleep after working a full shift at work? Take the next day off from running, or try some cross-training by swimming, biking or going to a yoga class instead. 

Your body is an amazing piece of physical machinery that can and will accomplish far more than you could ever believe it is capable of. Despite its capacity to perform at high levels of effort for very long periods of time — and absorb incredible amounts of punishment — you must give it time to recover! Allow it to fully rest and recuperate and it will more than likely come back stronger and better than ever. 

I once ran the Kona Marathon just 90 days after having double hernia surgery, and while I did alright, it took my body an entire year to fully recover. Once I allowed it to heal properly, I ended up running even better than I did prior to my surgery!

In addition to sleep and recovery time, you should also check your hydration and nutrition. Many a bad run or race (especially races) are a result of one or the other or both! If you need to do a 10-mile run in the morning and you didn’t chow down the necessary calories (1000 calories) the day before, you can expect a bad run. Drank a bit too many adult beverages the night before your morning run? You’re sure to be dehydrated the next morning, which will result in poor running performance. 

Most people have so many responsibilities and daily needs that proper hydration and nutrition, or energy for your run, often takes a back seat. But it shouldn’t if you’re in training! Don’t allow the stress of daily life factor into your running so those bad run days are few and far between. Remember, if legendary streak-runners like Ron Hill can have a bad run and overcome it to keep the joy of running alive, then you can, too. 

Keep tabs on the simple and common sense factors that are the most likely to contribute to a bad run. Respect your body’s phenomenal ability to run far and run well, and hopefully those bad runs will not hold you back from enjoying running for a lifetime. 

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