Bad runs, like bad things, happen to good people. More specifically, they happen to good runners; and, they happen to all of us. Bad runs can be insidious; they can infect your mind and your training, especially if you’re unable to shake them off.
After a particularly bad run, I learned that you must—to borrow a lyric from Dorothy Fields—pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.
Last Saturday, I had an especially bad run. It was the first 85-degree day, with clear skies and about 50 percent humidity. When I set out for a 10K, I knew it would be tough. The hotter it is, the slower we’re able to run—as much as 5 percent slower for every 10 degrees above 55, according to coach extraordinaire Jeff Galloway. Experts like the folks over at Endurance Science even have empirical data to prove it.
So I expected to take it easy and run a bit slower. But I didn’t expect it to be demoralizing.
After a mile and a half on burning, exposed pavement, I moved to a dirt track that’s dotted with shade. It helped, but not much. My run quickly devolved into a sweat-fest with gratuitous walk and water breaks. And by gratuitous, I mean gratuitous. I managed to finish the 10K, but the pace was so slow, the walk breaks so frequent, my legs so tired, my lungs so out of breath that I just felt completely lost. Like I had sweat right out of my body all the hard work I’d done up to that point.
I got home, and after a shower and some food, I regrouped. I reminded myself that running in the heat is particularly pernicious. It can take the body two weeks to acclimate to running in steamy conditions, according to New York Road Runners. And I reminded myself how far I’ve come since I started running. In other words, I took the opportunity to take stock.
I ran my very first race three years ago in April 2007. It was a 4-miler. Finishing in 46:19 at an 11:34 pace, I wasn’t exactly setting the course on fire. I was brand new to running, having battled a rare bone tumor in my right leg since the age of 14. Given a new lease on life after game-changing surgery, I started running—something I hadn’t been able to do for over a decade. I remember how excited I was that day—excited that I could run, let alone four whole miles.
Three years later, I ran that same 4-mile race in 35 minutes at an 8:45 pace. And that hot 10K that I thought was so bad? Even with gratuitous walk breaks, my training pace was still a heck of a lot faster than my 4-mile race pace three years ago. Looking at it that way, I realized: what am I so worried about? All the hard work I’ve done is still serving me well. I can’t let one hot day get me down.
But that’s not all. I also thought about why I run. I run, quite simply, because I love it. I don’t run because I’m getting faster; that’s just a bonus. Even if I was getting slower—which will inevitably happen some day—even if that awful run was the turning point, I’d still head out for another run tomorrow. Because I love to run. Period. And that thought made me feel better.
I took Sunday off, and come Monday was back running at my usual pace for a quick 4-miler. My 10-miler on Tuesday, in nearly as hot conditions, was way faster than that grueling 10K. That awful run—like most awful runs—was just a one-off.
Sometimes the weather isn’t on our side, sometimes we’re tired, sometimes we haven’t eaten well, and sometimes there’s no reason at all—bad runs just happen. But by taking stock—of our histories as runners, why we run, or some other measure—we can get some much-needed perspective when those bad runs do happen. Because they will happen. But we don’t have to let them get us down. Another great run is just around the corner.
Karla Bruning is a running nerd and veteran writer. She has finished three marathons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla at RunKarlaRun.com, The Washington Times Communities, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.