Five Tips: Mentally Recovering from a BAD Training Run {Marathon Training}

Ughhhh…the dreaded ‘Bad’ Run.

Odds are, if you’ve trained for  a marathon you know the shear grimace that comes with the thought of these words.

If you go out and run several times a week for several weeks that turn into months, not every run is going to be perfect, pretty and tied-up with a little PR goal. No, there will be bad runs! And they will hurt – a lot more mentally than they do physically.

I personally experienced my worst run EVER this past weekend. I had been prepping for this run for months – 21 miles! I was ready. I was trained. I was in the best shape of my life. I was SO excited about tapering!!! Then a week before my run, my oldest daughter woke-up at 1:30 in the morning, ran into my bedroom and puked all over my floor.

NOOOOOOOO!!!!!! I remember thinking as I held her hair back at the toilet (while simultaneously holding my breath and spraying an entire can of Lysol.) I CANNOT get sick! I CANNOT get sick!

And with each subsequent day came a new sick child. They threw-up in my car, in my bed, even once on each other. I washed my sheets, mopped my floor, scrubbed my carpet, wiped every surface down with Clorox… But the odds were not in my favor.

I even went so far as to call my doctor to ask what I could do… As encouragingly as she could, she told me, ‘Nothing’. ‘Try to stay positive,’ she added. ‘A lot of it is mental.’ Isn’t that ironic… The same is true of the marathon.

But try as I may, I woke-up Friday morning with that pit in my stomach. I drug my feet through the day, trying to drink as much Gatorade and water as I could stand. But I told myself, ‘If I can get out of bed Sunday morning, I am running 21 miles!’

I woke up Sunday morning and I actually felt pretty good. Praise the Lord! I’m going to make it!

My running partner and I headed-out on our route, and I knew in about the first quarter mile that this was NOT going to be pretty! My legs felt like JELLO… like JELLO the weight of cement! It was as if I’d NEVER run a day in my life. Get the negative thoughts out of your mind, I told myself. You’re just not warmed up yet. The first mile is always a little tricky. You’re running uphill…

We finally made it to the top of the hill about a mile in, and just when I thought things were looking up – the biggest wave of nausea came over me! “I have to walk for a minute,” I abruptly said feeling like I might pass out. I didn’t want to alarm her, but I began to think I’d be lucky to make it 2.1 miles – let alone 21.

I am STRONGER than this! I tried to convince myself. It doesn’t have to be pretty, or fast…it just has to happen!

I kept this mantra for another impressive 13 miles. I drank roughly 60 ounces of water (not having to stop to pee once.) I’d run about a quarter mile, we’d stop to walk, and I’d try again – continuing to tell myself JUST GET TO 21!!!!

But around mile 14 – after we’d been out way longer than we should have been – I finally realized my brain had lost. My body had won. We called my running partner’s husband to come and rescue us. By the time he found us, we’d finished 16 of our 21 miles.

I tucked my tail, drove home, soaked in an ice bath and collapsed into bed. It’s now 48 hours later, and while the physical ailments of my defeat have faded…I’m in a mental tailspin!

I’m two weeks from my marathon, and it has been three weeks since my last long run (which was only 19 miles.) This means when I run the marathon, it will have been five weeks since I ran that distance. That is a VERY discouraging pill to swallow!!! But I’m two weeks from my marathon, which means it is too late to try to redeem myself. That is another VERY tough pill to swallow.

So… How do we recover – mentally – from the BAD runs?

  1.      Learn From It – What could you have done differently to change the outcome? Maybe it was what you wore. (I know I won’t be wearing those compression tights on race day unless it’s below 45 degrees!!!!) Maybe it was what you ate – or didn’t eat. Maybe you didn’t get enough water. Try to analyze EVERYTHING about the days leading up to your failed run and find the elements you can change.
  2.      Recover From It – Don’t go out and try to ‘make-up’ your missed miles later that day or the next. There is a physical aspect that has played a part in this bad run, and you need to give your body a few days to heal. When you do run again, take it slow – despite every ounce of yourself telling you to do otherwise.
  3.      Get OVER It –Take comfort in the brother and sisterhood of runners you are on the road training with each week. Know that EACH and every one of them has had a bad run (whether they’re training for Boston or their First Marathon.) Your bad run does not mean you’re not ready to run a marathon. It doesn’t mean you are a failure. It just means you had a bad day.
  4.      Trust It – This is where I am REALLY struggling right now!!! The most important element is to trust your training program. If you have a bad 20-mile run four or five weeks before your marathon, know that your training schedule has a back-up plan in place where you can try again. BUT…if your bad run falls where mine did – at the end of training season – you too have to trust your training program and begin to taper anyway…even though you terribly want to try to get in another 20-miler before your race. One of our coaches said wise words I am trying to remind myself of right now…”There is NOTHING you can do two weeks out from your marathon to get your body more prepared for the race. You will only harm/injure yourself.” Trust those who have run before you. They know what they are talking about! (SIDE NOTE: I know a lot of people who use a three-week taper. This is really a personal preference and you have to try it different ways before you know which will work best for you and your body.)
  5.      Appreciate It – “What?” As crazy as it sounds, be thankful you’ve had a bad training run! Hopefully, it means that you’ve gotten it out of the way and you’ll have smooth sailing on race day! As they say in the Hunger Games…”May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor.”