Sports Psychology

I Had a Bad Run – Now What?

I Had a Bad Run – Now What?

Everyone who runs has experienced it. Things just don’t feel right. Your rhythm is off and you can’t find your pace. You struggle with breathing – chest restricted, shortness of breath, shallow breathing. Your muscles don’t cooperate. You feel stiff…sore…nothing flows. Your stride is off. You don’t have any zip. You may even feel aches pains and such that you have never felt before. It’s just a bad day running.

Sometimes there is a reason that you can point to such as a long hard week of training. Or you are getting over an illness. Or you are stressed with life events or lacking sleep or the air quality is poor. Other times, they come out of nowhere and for no reason at all. Or worse yet, sometimes they are a string of days. (How about a week or a month of feeling out of sorts and experiencing bad run after bad run?)

The fact is that a bad day most often is just that, a bad day (ok, or two or three…). There are as many reasons for bad days as there are bad days. Sometimes you will know or figure out why. Other times you won’t. The important message to get through is that a bad run, the inability to complete a prescribed or scheduled workout pace-distance-effort, does NOT mean you are suddenly out of shape.

Now contrary to what I stated earlier, I actually do believe that there are reasons for everything. I believe that there are reasons for every bad day. Our problem is that we are not in tune with ourselves. We don’t track the right variables (weather, sleep, training, HR, medications, life events, travel, etc.) We are even poorer at integrating all variables! Which combinations yielded the perfect storm – that bad day? Until we tune in to all these variables we cannot get a handle on any cause and effect. It is our task to figure it out. Even if we could, most of us will not take the time and effort to track all the possible variables that cause bad days. The fact is that in most cases bad days are just that – a bad day or two. Only if there is a string of them or a long pattern is there a real strong reason to figure out why.

So we agree that bad run days are a bummer. Other than analyze the heck out of it what should we do about a bad run day?

We all embrace those good runs and feeling free when we run. Those good days energize us and we look forward to our next runs. But in the case of the “bad run” runners often take a mental U-turn. Often times our thinking degenerates into doubting our conditioning (a temporary situation) or worse yet doubting our capabilities (a permanent condition). We doubt all we’ve done. We discount any successes we’ve had in the past. We may even start to dread facing our next workout fearing yet another “bad day”. Now it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – your mindset going into the run sets you up for over-interpretation of every sensation. It’s like being sucked down a toilet – a vortex of negative thinking.

Allowing bad days to just pass and not allowing your mind to go down the cesspool of negative, over-interpretation thinking is key. In the larger scope of things, “this too shall pass”. It does not mean you are out of shape or lost conditioning. You do not lose conditioning because you had a slower or shorter run than scheduled. It is a bump in the road.

You can give yourself a bonus on a bad day though. It is a perfect opportunity to practice your mental toughness. What will you do when you hit a bad patch in a race? Where will your mind go when you have those “bad day” symptoms on race day? Bad days are the perfect opportunity to find out what you focus on, how you think and what you say to yourself to get through it. It is in these moments you learn how to be mentally tough on race day…NOT on race day.

Your homework: On your next bad run day – log your thoughts, self-talk, and focal points; along with as many other variables as you can. Note what kept you going and what made you want to just give up and walk home. If you can learn from this… you have just reframed a bad run into a “learning run”. And you are doing what I ask of everyone of my runners – giving me your best bad day possible.


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This post was written by:

- who has written 19 posts on Trail Running Club.


Owner of Mindset for Performance - a peak performance consulting service for athletes and business people alike. But here's what I actually do! As a certified mental games coaching professional I apply techniques and teach strategies from sports psychology - the psychology of peak performance - to everyone I can. I have worked with athletes from: tennis, golf, running, triathlons, duathlons, cycling, baseball, basketball, soccer, MMA fighting, and professional tiddlywinkers (ok I'm kidding about the last one.

I have a passion for sharing knowledge and see myself more as an educator. I love working with youth and really love seeing the difference the skills I teach make a difference in sports, school and home.

My work totally rocks!

Oh some other boring stuff about me:
• M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration (THE U of A) with post graduate work in sports psychology
• BS in Rehabilitation for the Deaf (Yes I know sign language)
• AA in nursing (early career)
• MGCP - Certified Mental Games Coaching Professional
• Certified running coach USATF Level I
• Certified track and field official USATF National Level


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