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?