Dealing With Rough Runs

I mentioned the other day that I love long runs, but that definitely doesn’t mean that they are all stellar, or even fun.  Everyone has rough long runs, regardless of their experience or pace.  But we can all learn from those rough ones and become better runners because of them.
Sometimes I head out the door and feel great.  I am ready for the run and have a sense that everything is going to go really well.  But at some point my body starts to shut down or my mind starts to play tricks on me.  These are frustrating moments because you start out with the best of intentions and a great attitude.  But some days are just not meant to be.
Other times the weather just plain doesn’t want to cooperate.  I once went on what was supposed to be a simple six mile run with my husband on a terribly humid day.  It felt warm out but I didn’t quite realize just how humid it was.  Only a mile or so into the run I started to feel horrible and my body was refusing to cooperate.  I got so frustrated that I ended up in tears.  What was wrong with me?  Why was I suddenly unable to manage a six mile run?
These are all disappointing and frustrating for different reasons but they definitely happen.  Running by nature is difficult and no two runs are ever the same.  The odds that conditions on race day will be perfect are very rare.  In order to become stronger runners we need to have days that make us question if we can finish, push our bodies past where we think we can manage, or leave us nearly in tears.
Last year I coached a group of marathoners.  For some reason on the day of our 16 mile run every single athlete struggled.  Many had to stop for extra breaks, most slowed way past their normal pace, and some had to walk the last mile back to our starting spot.  This particular run left everyone with a feeling of despair.  Many questioned how they could possibly finish 26.2 miles when they struggled so badly with just 16.  But the following week everyone returned and wouldn’t you know that they all finished a strong 18 mile run?
When these situations occur it is important that we don’t get down on ourselves.  We need to know that rough runs are inevitable.  In fact, I firmly believe every athlete needs to have a bad practice in order to find success.  We need to have that run where we hit a wall.  By pushing through and finishing during a practice we mentally prepare ourselves for tough scenarios on game day.
Wouldn’t you rather experience this first during a practice instead of during competition?  If you had your first ever rough run during a race you might question whether you could finish.  But by having these disappointing situations during your preparations you are allowing yourself to learn how to push past the tough times.  That is what training is all about!  Therefore, if you hit a difficult part of a race you will know from experience that you are capable of moving forward and past this situation.  You will remember that these difficult times can pass.
So what do you do?  First you need to know that it is inevitable that at some point you are going to have a terrible run.  When it happens you need to be patient and creative.  Don’t be afraid to talk to yourself!  Speak positively and calmly to yourself.  Find a mantra and repeat it over and over (“I can do this.  I have done this.  I will do this.”).
Go back to mental games.  Count those landmarks.  Count songs.  I tend to factor three songs per mile.  So I multiply the miles by three songs and remind myself I only have X amount of songs left to enjoy.  I also count the miles by minutes.  Although I run faster than 10 minute miles I will factor each mile as ten minutes.  So I might think, “Two more miles. I have twenty minutes left in me.”
Turn up those tunes and zone out.  Pick some great songs.  In fact have some great songs on back up that you skip at the start of your run.  My husband has some favorite songs that really pump him up.  He purposely avoids them during the first part of a run just in case he needs them to help push him through to the finish.
Many times we struggle mentally on long runs because we have not fueled properly.  If you start to find yourself slowing down or feeling mentally down on yourself take a moment to assess your fuel situation.  Have you been hydrating?  Did you take in anything during your run?  Try adding something and see if you find your overall attitude improves.
Just remember that these types of runs are essential to becoming a stronger runner.  Pushing through the barrier of a rough run will move you forward into new and stronger territory.  Don’t let it get you down and remember that everyone experiences this during every training cycle.  Use these as learning experiences and focus on what helps you to move forward.  Did fuel improve the situation?  Is music or a mantra what it takes to keep going?  Once you know what works best you will be better equipped for next time, because unfortunately there will be a next time!
Ever had a cringe worthy long run?  What are your tricks for getting to the finish?

13 thoughts on “Dealing With Rough Runs

  1. This is exactly my experience. Training for my only marathon, I had a 20 mile run that I had to walk the last two miles and barely made it home and the next week I had a 20 mile run that I finished very strong. Another example is that I have been running 40 – 50 miles a week and yesterday I almost couldn’t finish my 4 mile run. I think sleep (rest) and carbs and weather play into it a lot for me. Yesterday was 20 degrees warmer then most of the winter and humid. So, like you said, you never know. Great post!!!

    • Thanks so much for sharing. It is funny how running works like that. And it can be incredibly frustrating. But it is important to remember that it happens and it can also pass as fast as it comes along.

  2. As trite as it sounds–it is the rough runs which make the good runs that much better. And those last few miles (well, as long as you aren’t in pain) those are the ones where things get better, if only because it is almost over!

  3. this was such an appropriate thing for me to read right about now, as i haven’t done a long run outdoors in a while (hello, we’ve shared our winter woes) and am hoping to run at least 10 miles outside on Saturday morning in prep for my upcoming half. i try to remind myself that there was a time when i would run at least 13 miles every Saturday and love it, and mentally get “in the game” before hitting the streets. such a good reminder that having rough runs is all part and parcel of being a runner, and it’s like anything in life that’s worth fighting for — we take the good with the bad and learn from it all, because we know it’s something we love and want in our lives. definitely with you on turning up the tunes and trying to get in the zone. i always try to remind myself (when things get rough) that i’m CHOOSING this, that i’m blessed to be able to run, that i’m strong and fortunate and that i live a life where i can spend a few hours running in the beautiful outdoors. that usually helps me change my perspective. i know i could fuel better, tho — have to work on that!

    • Absolutely love this. Remember that once you do 13 it is in you. Your body will remember and your mind will carry you. You are a strong woman and runner and totally capable of this and so much more. Enjoy your weekend run!

  4. Love this post! I agree with you – long runs are my favorite, but they can be downright brutal sometimes. I think it’s just important to remember that everyone has bad long runs and the lessons you learn with coping can be applied to your race strategies.

  5. This was a great post! I especially remember this one time last year when I went out for a long run and I just had to stop after 2 miles. I was feeling so bad that I just walked back home feeling terrible with myself. When I got home I realized that the temperature that day was in the high 90s! So I started paying a lot more attention to the weather by always logging the temperature next to my pace and mileage after every run, and I realized that the hotter it is the more chances I’ll have a rough run.

  6. Ha! This describes my marathon training experience. My first 20 miler was awful – I hit the wall hard and was starting to question whether I was going to be able to finish a marathon. Luckily, my second 20 miler was SO much better and the race itself was totally fine. That rough run will always stay with me – and is my measure for worst run ever but I made it through and got me some mental toughness!

  7. I had a cringe worthy 25k race a few months before my first marathon. I was crushed. Thankfully it was an off race day and my marathon went much better! My trick to get to the finish line was nothing more than pure grit.

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