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How To Bounce Back From A Long Run “Fail”

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It seemed like such a great idea at the time: take my running clothes to the meeting and run home afterward. That’s the kind of thing “real runners” do! I’ll get to run point-to-point, try a new route, enjoy my Ethiopian take-out leftovers at the end. I love it when a plan comes together.

Except it was one of those days. I hadn’t slept well the previous few nights. The cool overcast morning gave way to the mid-day African sun before I started. The first 2km felt great, but it was physically uphill and mentally downhill from there. After 10km I was walking. 3km later I was calling home for a ride.

At the time, it felt like a failure. I didn’t finish what I started, and I’ll have to adjust my training schedule going forward based on how badly I missed my expectations for that day. However, I can choose to view it as a stepping stone in my training journey, as long as I learn from it. So here are five lessons I learned from a terrible run.

1. My Body Is Trying To Tell Me Something

Sometimes I read about the mental game of distance running and it sounds like our bodies are wimpy traitors that are constantly nagging us to get back in bed. Personally, I would rather view my body and mind as allied nations — same goals, different outlooks. Either one can be the hero or the coward, depending on the day.

The important thing is to listen to what our bodies are telling us. I was wearing a heart rate monitor, so I could see that even at what felt like an easy pace, my body was working harder than it should for a long workout.

running overtraining
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My mind could decide what to do with that information — carry on, slow down, or stop — based on the probable consequences of each option. Being in denial, i.e. “this is my usual easy pace so it must be fine” would only have gotten me in trouble.

2. The Damage Is Done, The Recovery Starts Now

This bad run didn’t come out of nowhere. It was the result of a few weeks of stress, overwork, and training too hard for the amount of recovery my life will allow right now.

My experience that day showed me that I had lost fitness, not from lack of consistency, but from pushing through with my training plan instead of adjusting to reality. As long as I face where I am today and make the right adjustments to my volume and intensity, I can rebuild.

3. It’s the Heat/Rain/Wind/Hills/Mud/Old Shoes

In other words, it’s not my fault! Okay, that’s a stretch. I was the one running, after all. But don’t underestimate the impact of these external factors.

Our bodies are amazingly adaptable, which means we can get very efficient at coping with the heat, or cold, or whatever conditions we encounter often. The flip side is that a sudden change can throw us off our game. The heat, humidity, and hills all caught me out.

The solution? Slow down, and see lesson 4.

4. Fuel, Hydration, And Weather Protection (AKA Time For Shopping!)

running electrolytes
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All of those factors in lesson 3 can be lessened by the right gear. I should have run earlier or later in the day, but better sun-protection gear would have helped. More importantly, I needed to bring water and electrolytes with me given the heat and the time in the sun. Time for a hydration vest! 

5. I’m In It For The Long Haul, Not The Long Run

Sorry, couldn’t resist. One bad “long run” will not make or break my marathon training, let alone my longer-term goals, let alone the lifetime of running ahead of me.

In fact, the potential benefit of one good run is tiny compared to the potential damage I could do if I push beyond my limits. This wasn’t my dream race — it was an ordinary Sunday, and I’m glad I decided to back off, learn from it, and “live to train another day”.