When I first started running, a ‘bad run’ used to spell the end of the world. I was a crap runner, I had lost my speed, I couldn’t run anymore… I was clearly going to fail at my next race and then sulk. (All of this was wrong)

8 years on and more than 10,000 miles later and I am now a much more experienced runner with an almost positive view of a bad run. Here’s why you should embrace those ‘not so great’ runs:

  • It teaches you how to run through the pain (and we don’t mean injury)
  • It toughens you up
  • It shows you how strong you can be 
  • It makes you appreciate the better runs 

Of course that’s the brief overview but let’s look at exactly what we mean by each of the above.

Entering a Race

When you enter a race – a half marathon marathon for example, you are going to be trying to do the best you can do. You’re no longer in training mode, now you’re in race mode. There is gonna be a time when it gets tough and you are going to have that internal flight or fight mode. Tough runs help to prepare your body and mind for these exact situations.

Marathon – The Race Begins at 20 Miles

Let’s take the marathon for example. I’m currently training for marathon number seven. I am only doing another road marathon because after years of trying I actually got a London ballot place. Now, I’ve trained for marathons before and I’ve trained with people who have run lots of marathons. Let’s be honest – if you’ve run a marathon, you know that the race begins at 20 miles. This is the point where it gets unknown. You may have run up to 22 miles in training but on the day, you have no idea how you are going to feel once you get beyond that.

Learning to run through the tough parts

During your training cycle, you could have any number of great training runs where you’ve run a decent pace for sections of it, felt strong at the end and felt like you can carry on and this is brilliant but what about when you feel like your legs don’t belong to you or you get a stitch or you just feel like you have nothing left? This is when that tough training run can teach you what it feels like to run through that pain and how it might feel in the latter stages of a marathon when you have to call on every bad experience you have ever had to get you to the end. 

A bad run toughens you up

I got a stitch yesterday at mile 14 – a proper horrible stitch that made me want to stop and walk. It was an 18 mile training run – I could have stopped. There was a time when I would have done. A couple of minutes of walking and I would have felt ok to carry on. I can’t do that in my marathon though – there is no time for walking. It was time to dig in, ignore the pain and carry on. So I did. I had a friend with me and she was talking to me – I have no idea what she was saying – I had gone to that pain cave that Courtney Dauwalter so beautifully describes. I was digging in and embracing my pain and making it my focus – I was not only dealing with it, I was properly challenging it.

Within a mile, the stitch had gone and I had sped up again. Job done. Now, maybe two-three marathon training cycles ago before I had spent four years training for and running ultras, I would not have been able to do it. I knew I was tougher and all of my bad training runs and bad races had taught me that.

It shows you how strong you can be 

If you can get through a bad training run and take time to reflect on it, you can actually sit back and realise how strong you are. My friend said to me “goodness you are tough”. These comments help you when things do get tough. You know you can do it, you’ve done it before, it’s not always going to be easy and it won’t always be hard.

It makes you appreciate the better runs

Even as recent as 6 weeks ago I had a tough speed session. I could not get anything out of the engine. It was like I was running on empty. I wasn’t fatigued, I was sleeping and eating well – I guess it was just a hormonal fluctuation but that day I panicked a little. Needn’t have bothered – smashed out a park run at the same pace at the end of a 17 mile long run a couple of weeks later. You see – the bad experiences, make you appreciate the good ones. 

Know when to quit

Now, we’re not stupid and we know there are times when it’s tough for a reason. Recognise when something is not right and know when to quit. I’ve been properly poorly before and pulled up on a marathon at mile 17 and cried because it felt so bad. I then discovered a week later I had anaemia. My heart rate was all over the place and I spent two days in bed. I did finish that marathon though! Probably shouldn’t have. 

Don’t sabotage your own run

If your bad run is because of something you did then you will learn something else and that is what happens when you go off too fast or execute the strategy incorrectly. For those that like to go charging off at the sound of the start gun, only to blow up a few miles later, this is what we mean by a poorly executed race strategy. Equally, if you try and run your training runs too fast, you are going to struggle. Make sure that your bad experiences of running are not self imposed. Another example of this is doing a hard session the day before your long run or not having enough rest between sessions or races.

In summary, there is no such thing as a bad training run or race (only poorly executed ones where you go out far too fast and blow up). In fact the bad ones will probably be the best ones you do as they are when you will learn the lessons. I’ve learnt more from runs and races that haven’t gone to plan than I ever have from those that went like a dream. OK they don’t feel good at the time but, like they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.