Mind Tricks for Tough Runs – While They’re Happening

A super special runner asked me to write about moving past mental running barriers which I did. In writing that I thought it might also to look at tips and tricks for getting through a bad run as it’s happening too. I’m not talking ‘all recovery runs suck’ here but a whole other level of suck! Bad runs so happen but am I the only one that finds them mostly unpredictable. Sometimes I think it will be a bad one because it’s early, I’m tired or sore but it turns out to be a great one. Other days everything seemed dialed in but then your run sucks and for no discernable reason. We all have bad runs from time to time, I had one today but it was pretty much a given. I had eaten about half my body weight in Lebanese food including Baklava so the terrible stitch I had and feeling heavy we pretty much a given. Sure you can give up and go home which I really should do more but you might be pretty far away so you might as well run home too. If you’re a new runner or returning after a break there’s a pretty good chance more runs will be bad. That’s totally normal, I usually say don’t start making decisions about whether or not you want to keep running until you hit about 20 runs or 100 km. By then you’ll probably logged a few great ones. So here are my top tricks and tricks for getting through a tough run.

What makes a bad run

There are two aspects that can make a good run go bad and that is mental stuff and physical stuff. Keep in mind though lots of tough runs might mean you’re overdoing it with the exercise. When you’re having a bad run for physical reasons, usually what happens to me, the whole damn thing just feels hard. Your legs might be aching, your lungs struggling and your place is poor. It can feel like that very first run or like molasses flowing uphill on a cold day. You might not be able to kick a stitch or something weird hurts a lot for no good reason. You might even feel nauseous and end up taking all sorts of walk breaks. I think most of my bad runs are for physical reasons like these:

  • Eating too soon before a run
  • Lots of missing sleep hours
  • Hangover 
  • Overtraining
  • Improper clothes choice
  • The weather
  • Reasons that remain mysterious

Usually, for me at least, if a run is going poorly for mental reasons the run it’s self fixes it. If it happens to you, you’re filled with emotions that you don’t like, possibly hating running, and it just gets stronger and stronger. It might be self pity, helplessness or anger but essentially it’s an emotion you don’t like and running is making it worse. For me usually, if I’m having a day like that running on it usually sorts it out sooner for me than it would be on its own. Funny story, I usually tell honey about how long I’ll be gone on my run just so someone knows. One day two summers ago our neighbor did something stupid that full-on enraged me, can’t remember what it is now so it must have been important. But I was like “I’m going for a run because punching people in the face is frowned upon.” But then I had to call him back and tell him I wasn’t going to be home when I said because I was still angry. By the time I did get home I was mostly over it. So for me, bad runs usually fall into the physical category. Actually, that’s a lie sometimes when I’ve been training for some new distance that seemed impossible only a few weeks ago it can really play with my head on the confidence level. So for whatever reason it’s happening how do you deal with a bad run while it’s happening?

Mind games

This one is probably my go to when I have to push through a tough run that’s on a training plan. What I do specifically is convert each km to a percentage and tell myself things like “Now you only have to do what you just did 2 more times” At 30%-ish and “only half that left” at 65%. If you want to use that exactly go for it, it’s yours. But whatever little trick you use like counting km which go faster or miles, there’s less of them on tough runs to switch it up. Basically, you can use anything that works and keeps your mind busy then you have less mental space to focus on how sucky your run is going.

Think really deeply about something

It could be a big problem in your life you’ve been putting off dealing with. Hey, you’re already miserable you might as well solve a hard problem you’re having in your work or marriage too. You could plan the plot of your first novel, no one says you have to write it or think of a new direction to take your blog in. I could be the kid’s summer camp schedule or how to nail that next promotion at work. The key is that it be a complex idea that is ripe for overthinking. One great aspect of thinking about difficult things while your running is that there is a pretty hard endpoint at the end of the run. Another is the mental clarity and energy you have while you’re running.

No one says what you’re thinking about has to be that important though. If you’re fresh out of issues in your life, well good for you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use this technique. You could think about the subject of pantyhose, for example. Why were they invented? Do we really need them? Why do we call them pantyhose? They don’t even keep you warm! Isn’t there a better solution at this point? Who are the pantyhose barons of the world? Is there a pantyhose heir or heiress of the world? See so many questions. Basically whatever big, possibly important subject you pick it keeps your mind off of every single painful hard step and makes the time hopefully pass faster.

Revel in your misery

Certain runs really can’t be saved. I’ve had a few very long, very rainy and very windy races where you might as well just revel in your misery. Think about how tough you are, how most people would have given up by now and just how much it really does suck. Maybe your hair, shoes and even your armpits are wet. Then as you’re listing and paying attention to all the specific terrible things you’re experiencing, try to find some humor in it. Maybe it’s so cold your face has actually gone numb you might as well explore that lack of movement and try to laugh. Perhaps your everything is now wet and making funny noises, try to enjoy that it doesn’t happen on every run. Even if it’s just feeling terrible and you’re so slow it is possible to find some humor in just how terrible a runner you are that day at least.

Start planning the return home reward

This spring I fell into a bit of a post long run set of habits. A bubble bath with a lush bath bomb, fake pink champagne, and my favorite sundress or PJ’s no matter the time I got home. When I was saying just the tax left (15% sales tax here) at the end of those long runs I was already fixating on my treats when I got home. If a hard run springs up and surprises you start thinking of ways to bribe yourself right away. Maybe it’s a hot shower, face mask, take away pizza, thawing an easy frozen meal for the family or cracking a bottle of wine. Whatever it is find something that you can ‘give’ yourself to get through it. 

Let go of your goals just for today 

Maybe you’re just really motivated but this one gets me the most when I’m working a training plan. I feel the pressure to stay on plan when really getting the distance done really is the most important part. Of course, don’t bail on your speed goals the very moment it becomes difficult. However, if you’ve really been trying all the other stuff for bad runs to distract yourself and you’re still dying just let go of everything else and just cover the distance even if it means walking.

Give up

Even in training, no one run is so important that you can’t skip it even the 20 milers in marathon training. There’s always another day and another run to make up for it. If nothing is working, life and running are good and truly unbearable just give up for now. If it’s a physical pain stopping you ignoring it might sideline you for a lot longer than a day. Walk home or call for a pickup from a loved one. There’s a certain point of bad run that just isn’t worth saving anymore.

Call it before something like this happens: PS no bloggers were hurt in the making of this post!

Remember the next one has to be better

Bad runs happen to all of us once and a while that’s why we ask each other “how was your run?” Think back though some of your best runs come right on the heels of a really bad one. Keep reminding yourself that the next one pretty much has to rock at least in comparison. This is pretty much how I’ve gotten through every recovery run ever.

Bad runs happen to every runner from time to time, there’s just no way around them. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you with the next bad one. Since I’m a runner and I too have bad runs from time to time leave your best bad run tip and help a sister out!

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