Bad workouts and poor races: we all have them and we always will. The more experienced I get the less I worry about the occasional flat session. Instead, I see them as a chance to learn. Here are my main reasons for bad workouts and, more importantly, what to do about them.
Workouts in our weaker areas are where we are more likely to struggle. For example, I’m more of a longer distance runner so when I do short speed sessions I often fall short of the speeds that others can achieve. However, when I do longer tempo runs I can achieve a faster speed for longer.
This has frustrated me as the people I am comparing myself to (I know you shouldn’t, but you do) have very similar race times. I now accept the workouts that are my weakness are more likely to be my ‘bad’ ones. (‘Bad’ is a relative term. In this case, I mean that I struggle to hit the paces which I would expect based, on my fitness level.) I now realise that although I may not be able to run 400 metres as fast as a club-mate, I can beat them over 10 miles.
This subtle understanding of your body’s strength and weaknesses can take the pressure off workouts and make you more accepting of those times when training feels tougher.
I’m surprised at how upset runners get when a workout goes poorly when there’s clearly a valid reason for it. An example of this could be that your child is ill and you have been up all night with them and you feel really tired. Your workout is likely to be compromised due to the lack of sleep and possibly worrying about your child. Anyone on the outside can see this, but the person themselves then view the workout as a poor one and start to let it affect their confidence. People tend to mentally separate life stress from training stress (and sometimes working out can make you feel a lot better), but by stressing over bad workouts you are adding more unwarranted stress to ‘understandable’ stress.
The same goes for the weather. If it’s hot, humid or windy, your workouts will be compromised. How often do you still expect a great session even though it’s hot? This is just setting yourself up for failure. Instead, adjust your expectations and try as hard as the conditions will allow you. A great personal example I have of this is my own interval training. I run my shorter intervals up and down on a straight part of road. If it is windy I have to run into the wind on alternate reps. This means that by putting in the same effort, one set is always going to be slower. So I just focus on the effort I am running at and worry less about the time.
Recovery, or lack of, often plays a role in bad workouts. When a session doesn’t go well, look at the previous few days. Did you have enough recovery and rest? Again, this is where being a slave to a training plan can hurt us. Your training plan should be flexible, where you’re constantly moving things around to make sure the hard/easy cycle is obeyed. As recovery is just as important as the workouts it is sometimes worthwhile taking that extra day to recovery or train at an easy intensity to ensure you are ready to run your harder sessions. If not, you have to understand that you will not perform as well as if you are better rested.
Once again, from personal experience, I know that at the end of a 50-mile week I will not run as fast as if I have run less miles in the previous few days. This is why tapering for major races is important and knowing that running on tired legs is not going to have the same results.
Finally, it’s also important to acknowledge that the body has days that we just don’t quite understand. Some days you just feel ‘off’.
It is hard to accept a bad workout or race when there are valid reasons, but it is extra-hard when there appears to be no reason at all.
Remember, one great run doesn’t make you a world champion and one bad run doesn’t make you a bad runner.
Get over it and move on!
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