Training log: What to do when you have a bad day

A wonderful scene from a long run past. If only it was that still and pleasant last weekend.

A wonderful scene from a long run past. If only it was that still and pleasant last weekend.

Here in the heart of fall race season, things have been going pretty good. Once I got back from my last trip to Colorado, I planned out a training schedule and ramped up the miles leading to the Route 66 half marathon on November. In the weeks since, each long run has been an improvement over the last, and it seems I’m ahead of where I was at this time last year. I went into this weekend thinking a PR was within reach.

So on Saturday, I headed out for a 10-miler, as per the schedule. It was over 80 degrees with a stiff south wind, which meant that  I’d spend the first half of the workout going straight into it.

No prob, I thought. I’ll have a tailwind on the way back and all will be well.

Not so fast. Those first five miles went fine, but as I turned around to finish up, a solid training run turned into a miserable slog. I returned home wrecked and a bit discouraged.

The weekend also had a good number of friends racing various ultramarathons, complete with medals, buckles and trophies from 50K, 50 mile, 100K and even 100-mile finishes. One woman I know completed her fourth hundo in four weeks while another did back-to-back marathons over the weekend, completing both at 3:35 or faster.

And there I was reeling a little from just 10.

I’m sure many of you have had some crappy runs, and felt bad after comparing yourself to others. I was feeling that a bit. But here’s the thing. Everyone has an off day. But instead of questioning yourself, you should be asking the right questions. Or perhaps looking at it differently. Some thoughts:

Sometimes you have an off day. Bad sleep, a slip in your diet, a hard week of training, life stress, or a combination of any/all of these things can sap your strength. Fix what you can fix, but understand that physical performance is affected by a lot of variables, and sometimes you just aren’t at your best.

Comparisons are only useful in competitive settings. If you are the type of runner or athlete who competes for podium finishes and trophies, yeah, comparisons are part of the deal. But if you’re like 99.9 percent of the runners out there and you’re testing yourself against yourself, it’s not very useful. I know I’m not a sub-20 minute 5K runner, or the type of person who will run 100-mile ultras. I’m not that kind of a runner. Why would I compare myself to those who are? If these people inspire you to push yourself, that’s healthy. But if you’re comparing yourself to them and measuring your worth by how far you lag behind them, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Celebrate others’ successes, but keep your eyes on the prize — your goals, and yours only.

Analyze what went right and wrong, but not too much. Weather conditions can be a big factor on how well you train. A warm, windy day doesn’t make for great conditions for high performance over longer distances. Same deal for times when it’s really humid, or too cold. For example, a friend of mine ran the OKC Memorial Marathon a few years back, hoping to improve on his typical four-hour finish times. But during the last half of the race, the winds kicked up considerably (15-20 mph steady, with 30 mph gusts) and temperatures soared into the mid-80s. He ended up finishing in six hours. He’s not a six-hour marathoner by any means. But the sun and the winds made sure he was on that day. So you can see where analyzing the conditions, or your prep, or whatever, can give insight on what went right and wrong. But don’t go too deep into the weeds, as that might force you into changing what you do too much, and then sabotage you going forward. Paralysis by analysis is real. Take a look, adjust where you can, but stay the course.

Speaking of that, remember to trust the process. If you’re on a training schedule, or under the direction of a good coach, the best thing you can do is shrug off a bad day, look ahead to what’s next, and do it. Day after day after day. I remember reading a piece on the T-Nation website (it’s geared toward strength training) that said that every awesome performance is built on the foundation of dozens, or hundreds, of very average days. The lesson: Consistency matters. Don’t get so down that you end up slacking off, as that is usually the first step toward quitting. Keep grinding, keep going, trust the process, and when the big day arrives, do your best. Your best will be built upon all those good — and bad — training days.

Keep at it, folks. Don’t let a bad day get ya down.

Bob Doucette


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