I had a sh*tty long run – and I'm grateful for it.

How to deal with a bad run. MasteringRunning.com

Prelude to the bad run

Although I enjoyed some great workouts last week, my right gastroc had been acting up. The pain was getting to the point where it ached all day long, so coach and I decided I should skip a mid-week run and instead do 1 hour of cross-training cardio at the gym. I am not a fan of machines at the gym, unless it's a spinning class (music, company and darkness makes it go faster). So toughing out that hour on the elliptical/bike machines was hard and took lots of discipline on my part. But the cross-training paid off quickly.

The next day, my gastroc felt much better. Amazing what a little backing off can achieve! That morning, I had one of those mythical runs where the universe conspires with you. During the entire 8.5 miles, I felt like a Kenyan gazelle; I ran effortlessly – 20 seconds faster than my normal aerobic pace – and left a trail of rainbow glitter behind on the path (Ok, well, that's what it felt like). And the day after, I completed a tough broken hill workout on the treadmill. 2-mile warm up; 4 x :30 hills at 5K pace, 6% incline, with a short jog between; 3:00 tempo at 7:19 pace followed by a 5:00 recovery ay 9:00; then 3 x:45 hills at 5K pace, 6% incline, same tempo/recovery interval; finally a 1:00 hill at 6% grade, full out, followed by the same tempo/recovery interval and another easy mile cool-down. When I finished, I felt fantastic, stoked and confident. Best of all, my gastroc didn't hurt at all. I did my hour of strength work and left the gym with my head held high. 

A miserable 13 miler

On Saturday, I got to the running path by 6AM in an effort to beat the heat and humidity. But there's no outsmarting or outrunning Mama Nature. It was 77 degrees when I started and 82% humidity. Worse yet, the dew point was 71. The dew point is the true measure of how much you are going to struggle when you run. Anything over 55 degrees will affect your running performance. As you can see from the chart below, a dew point of 71 is in the "Expect to suffer greatly" range. I wish I had seen this chart before I went out.

Chart source: Running Times (RIP) and Through a Running Lens

Chart source: Running Times (RIP) and Through a Running Lens

I don't usually run with a hydration belt or gel but I did wear a belt and take a gel on Saturday. Your body requires more carbs in the heat, and of course, you need to replace electrolytes that you lose through sweating. Over the course of my run, I downed 32 ounces of sports drink made with Nuun Hydration Tablets (Strawberry Lemonade is the best flavor), plus another 16 ounces of water I got from a fountain on the path. I also tried the Accel Gel that I got in a previous Stride Box. When it's this hot, regardless of how fit you are, you need to be extra careful about hydrating or risk suffering from heat stroke. You also need to cut down your pace significantly. I decided to go as slowly as I needed to, which ended up being 8:50 pace, including a long monster hill and a shorter but equally step hill which I threw in to prepare for the St. George Marathon.  

Contrasted against the glitter and unicorns run I enjoyed midweek, Saturday's run was one of the worst I can remember – where every mile felt like 10. I kept looking at my Garmin to see how far I had gone (very bad idea!), and it was usually at quarter-mile intervals. No bueno. Although my gastroc felt fine, the bottom of my right foot has been acting up lately on long runs. So I decided to no longer wear my Brooks Launch 3s for long runs. Saturday, I tried my Nike Air Zoom Elites – a lighter shoe that I usually wear for speed work and races. My feet generally felt happier, but I did start to get some significant pain at around mile 10. It just felt like one thing after another. None of my tips for getting through a difficult long run worked – or more aptly, I was just too bonked from the heat to even remember them all or even to care. At one point, I thought about just walking the extra miles back to my car. But I hung in there and I'm so glad I did.

Am I posting about my shitty run just to whine?

No. I'm posting about this so you can see that it is normal to have an occasional bad run, and even a tremendously bad run.

I attribute most of my suffering to the weather. But the important thing is that I stuck it out and fueled and hydrated sensibly given the conditions. it feels great to finish any run, especially one that that was physically challenging, but when you also face a mental challenge during the miles, completing that run becomes that much more of a confidence booster.

So while I called this particular run "shitty," the fact is, it was a gift. First, I was healthy and disciplined enough to run and finish. I got in some hill work. Exposing my body to the rough conditions will help it become better heat-acclimated. I learned to push myself mentally when I felt like throwing in the towel. And I know a little more about what to expect regarding heat, humidity and the dew point (or "ew" point, as my coach calls it).

This all harkens back to what I wrote about consistency. One run, good or bad, is not going to build you as a runner. The sum of many runs, both good and bad, however, will help you improve. Strong runners are built run by run, over years, not in a matter of months. There is no shortcut. Learning to run in extreme conditions is all part of completing your running apprenticeship.

This too shall pass

Since Saturday, I've had a rest day followed by 2 run days. My last two runs have been incredible – and I finished them feeling refreshed and confident, despite the heat and humidity. So running is just like everything else in life. It has its ups and its downs. Luckily, the downs don't last very long. Just log them in your running journal and move on – literally and figuratively.