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How to make the best of a bad run

runToday was the nicest day of spring so far in New England, and I just had my worst run of the year. The first 4 miles were promising, and then it started to fall apart. I ran/walked another mile, and then simply gave in to walk the final 2 miles home. It was a beautiful day and I at least enjoyed the weather, but it’s always tough to not have the workout you planned.

When you train 6 days a week, you have to accept that not every workout is going to be great. The key is to assess what went wrong and learn so it doesn’t happen again. Here’s a quick assessment of my own mistakes, and some key elements that you can apply to every run.

Tactical Decisions

A motorcycle safety instructor once told me that an accident is never caused by a single event. It is always a sequence of events that accumulate into an inevitable scenario. When you make a bad decision, it can multiply every decision thereafter.

You need to consider each of your workouts as a sequence of events. Tactical decisions are when you make adjustments to your plan to take in to consideration other elements that impact the outcome.

For example, today I went out at an optimistic pace considering two key elements that I’ll elaborate on below; nutrition and acclimation. The truth is I was over-confident based on how my training was going. Slowing down even marginally may have made the difference in the outcome.

Nutrition

Any time I have a poor run, I can usually trace the main source back to nutrition. Today was that day of the week when the cupboards were sparse, and the grocery run wasn’t planned until later in the day. Without a strong breakfast foundation, it’s hard to imagine you can perform at your best. Food is fuel, and you need to eat smart.

Eating the right food is essential, but the timing is important as well. I usually work for a few hours in the morning, and then workout before lunch. However, that 10am workout frequently gets pushed back an hour or two. It was unrealistic to think that I could start a 7 mile run at noon without having had an adequate breakfast. I was starting a road trip with an empty tank of gas. At that point, I should have made the tactical decision to eat lunch and run later in the afternoon. Instead, I tried to cram in some insufficient carbs rather than adjust my schedule.

Acclimate

It was 75 degrees and sunny today. For most people that is perfect running weather. When you live in New England and are just coming out of the snowiest winter in history that is a heat wave. Your body needs to acclimate to temperature changes. Even subtle ones. It doesn’t just remember what it was like to run last summer. I should have run earlier when it was 5-10 degrees cooler, and aimed for a shorter distance.

Mental Toughness

There will be times in training and races when things don’t go according to plan. This was my opportunity to train my brain. It’s not always a good idea to push through when you are not feeling well, but the brain is a muscle too, and needs to be stretched in order to grow.

The key element was I was not in any pain. A quick assessment would distinguish the difference between an injury and simply not feeling well. You never want to push through an injury, but there are times when you need to learn to push through discomfort.

Once you make that decision to stop and walk, it is very difficult to override your brain to get your legs moving again. I tell my athletes to slow down your pace, but not enough to transition to a walk. Once you break that barrier you’re done. The exception is strategically allowing yourself to walk through aid stations (I create virtual aid stations on my runs when necessary). Practicing this in training is important to creating the discipline to hydrate quickly, and immediately get back up to speed.

Not every training workout will going according to plan. These are your opportunities to make the same tactical decisions you may need to make in a race. Situational and mental awareness is key to assess when it is necessary to make adjustments to your plan. Training is more than physical fitness. Mental awareness, nutrition, and acclimation are all key pieces to being prepared.

By: Tom Henell, NETF Marketing Director & USAT Level 1 Coach

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