10 ways to salvage a bad long run

10 ways to salvage a bad long run // masteringrunning.com

Let's cut right to the chase: I had a shitty long run this weekend. It was only a 14-miler, but not not many of those miles felt great.

Yes, I ran a hard tempo workout the day before. Yes, the weather was in the 70s – in February in Philadelphia, when it is usually in the 40s so my body was not heat-acclimated. Yes, my long run included the slow-burn, 2.5-mile Ridge Avenue climb, since my running partner, Sloan, is prepping for Boston (I am a fan of running monster hills, Boston or no Boston).

Still, it was not a great run. And I was happier than usual to be done with it, get my shower, and drink my protein smoothie. 

Not every run can be a good run.

Some runs are harder than others.

Some runs are harder than others.

Some days you have it, and some days you don't. This is a fact of life, especially if you are training hard, are hitting peak mileage or speed, have significant lifestress, or are coming down from an injury or illness. And some bad runs come courtesy of zero rhyme or reason. When a long run goes bad, it somehow feels worse than if a medium-mileage, mid-week run goes south. 

It's easier to navigate a difficult long run when you're running with someone. Your running partner might encourage you. Or you may talk yourself into running harder or longer because you don't want to let the other runners down. But when you're running solo, you need a few rabbits to pull from your hat. Here are some tricks that can help you get through a long run – or any run that you are just not feeling:

  1. Accept reality. Remind yourself  "Not every run can be a good one." Think of this sub-par run as your sacrifice to the running gods. Offer it up. Suck it up. Finish strong and proud.
  2. Slow down. Yes, we strive to run faster. But sometimes, you have to slow down and listen to your body in the short term in order to speed up for the long term. I am a huge believer in 80/20 running - 80% of your mileage is slow and 20% fast – especially as a masters runner. Just because you slow down during a run does not mean you will always do it. Or that you will do it during a race. So much can affect your fatigue level – job stress, work stress, family or relationship stress, weather, sleep, nutrition. Don't beat yourself up. That serves no useful purpose and just makes a bad run feel even worse. Just slow down and try to figure out why you're feeling so "meh."
  3. Speed up. This sounds counterintuitive but it can actually work. Try it. Gently surge instead of slowing down, just like you might surge past an opponent in a race. See how it feels. I find it can sometimes wake me from my "whining trance."
  4. Shake out your arms, legs, feet, shoulders. Tension settles into various body parts during long runs. Shake out the limbs and try to pay attention to where you hold that tension. I start with my wiggling toes and then work my way up the body. I'll even nod "no" and "yes" with my head, regardless of any weird looks I may get from people passing by me.
  5. Listen to music or a podcast. Or run without music or a podcast. Maybe you're like me and you almost always do your long runs without music or a podcast. Or maybe you are always plugged in. Either way, shake things up. If you don't usually listen, treat yourself and tune into a playlist, book chapter, podcast (I love Runners Connect), or whatever floats your boat. Conversely, if you have grown too dependent on external voices, try running without headphones. Stay in the moment and tune into your breath and surroundings.
  6. Invoke your power mantra. I've talked about why running mantras are so important. Now is your time to use them. Repeat your mantra until you believe it, out loud, if necessary. Visualize yourself toughing it out and finishing strong.
  7. Invoke your imagination. This one may sound off the wall, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and sadly, being playful is a skill that usually disappears with childhood. Cast yourself as a character and come to the rescue in the story you are "writing" as you run. Picture yourself as a warrior, for example, whose sole purpose is to save puppies and kittens from eminent doom. If you don't finish this long run, they will die. Okay, so it's dramatic, but the truth is, if someone held a gun to your head, you'd damn-well finish the long run with time to spare. Why not make it fun and put your imagination to work? No one but you ever has to know.
  8. Meditate while running. Yes, meditation is also called "sitting." But why not meditate outside the box and try it while running? Focus on your breath, on the moment, on your surroundings. Breathe in with calm, out with tension. In with strength, out with weakness. In with endurance, out with fatigue. 
  9. Stop for a few minutes. Stretch out what ails you. Catch your breath. Take a drink or have a gel. It happens and sometimes, stopping is necessary. It's better than quitting. You can also walk for a bit if you don't want to come to a dead stop.
  10. Change your attitude with gratitude. You may not be running as fast or as zippily as you want to. But you are running. You are healthy enough to run. You got out of bed on this fine day, instead of sleeping in. See if being thankful helps.

How do you get through long runs when you are just not feeling the love?