Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to turn a bad run into a good one.

I'm going to babble a bit about tonight's run, and fitness in general.

My hips and right leg have been cranky for much of the last couple of years, then over the last little while it's been better and I've been running more. I really don't know if swimming more is cause or effect.

Lately it seems I've been pushing too hard on the weekends, and spending the rest of the week recovering. There was one bike ride I pushed way too hard and paid for that for 2 weeks. All the patio slab moving a couple of weeks ago didn't help either.

The last few days have been pretty active for me. Swim Friday, bike Saturday, run Sunday, plus yard work both days, swim Monday, and now run Tuesday. I'd been thinking about running, or maybe not running. Then right at the end of the day I was discussing running with a colleague. She's just started running home from work a couple days a week. It's about 6.5 K depending on the exact route, and she seems to run about the same pace as me. Then she asked when my next run was. I said tonight, maybe, and she gave me that look. Hmmmm.

There's something about a buddy run, even if you aren't running with them, knowing there's a shared promise of a run. I know my running has been much, much more enjoyable since I started running more often with Michelle.

Tonight I started off feeling kind of tired and tight in my thighs. I really wasn't sure about it, but I remembered my usual 'give it 2 K', and chugged along. My legs felt heavy and tired. My cadence felt slow, and my footing wasn't really all that steady. But look at this graph! (Even though I think there are issues with it.)

You can see my pace is unsteady for the first 2 k, then almost suddenly it evens out. I didn't have some magical moment where it all came together, but I did settle into a groove, albeit a bit heavier and clumpier than I'd have liked.

This was completely a conscious run. I had to think about it the whole time, keeping my arms going, thinking about my posture, thinking about my foot strike, thinking, thinking, thinking all the time. It wasn't until the 3 K mark or so that I realized I was having a pretty good run. My legs were relaxing a bit, and my breathing was easy. Contrary to the graph which looks flat, and contrary to the log file which says I climbed and descended 1100 m , it's a bit up hill first K or so, downhill the next two, and gradually back uphill the last two.

I'm not sure if the screwed up altitude affected the pace numbers or not. I was working pretty hard for the first K, breathing very relaxed and easy for the next 3 K, and working again for the last one. Overall I'm pretty pleased. It turned out to be 5 K, 34:45. A minute faster than a few days ago.

What's important here is that I stuck with it. Most people never start their run. Being a couch potato watching TV is more important to them. Then there are a bunch of sometimes runners. It doesn't take much to derail them because they haven't really built the habit. Then there are runners that start, and bail out too soon.

I've now lost count of the number of times I've had workouts start pretty dreadful. This one with tight quads and hams. Lots of other runs with niggles or sore muscles. One particular 100 K bike ride started with a left calf that did not want to be involved, yet it turned into a really good ride. Some swims have come together for me after a rocky start.

I'm certainly not as consistent at working out as I'd like to be. Too often it feels like I'm still recovering from a previous workout when the next starts. Even from a few years ago I can feel that it takes longer for me to recover. Darn that ticking clock! Part of the trick is to stop before you need to stop. Running 2K four times a week and thinking you could have done more, is a world better than an 8K run once a week that wipes you out.

The learning here is your attitude. Even a so called bad run is better than sitting on the couch, unless you push yourself into an injury. I'm not saying push through the run at all costs. Not at all. Develop an awareness of how you feel when you run, what's normal. Pay attention to your heart rate, your breathing, your footfall, any niggles you might get. Back off before you injure yourself.

But other than that, give your body time to come around, give your mind time to come around to the workout. Some people like to, or need to do an elaborate warmup. If that's what it takes, go for it. I'm more a limber up a bit, walk easy then more briskly, start running easy, and settle into a pace.

But your mental preparation is important too. I like to talk to myself about what the run will be. Mostly they are nice and easy. I think about my route and what I might see. I think about how far I'll go, and from necessity I've had to think about ways to bail out of a run and still not have far to get home. Some days I can relax and think of other things while my body runs. I've written entire novel chapters that way. Other days, I have to think about the running, and stay on top of it.

This is great training for when you get tired in a race. There are lots of tricks that keep you going for that last 10% of the race where the going gets tough, and you learn them from tough workouts. Workouts where you are head down into the wind. Where you haven't quite dressed for the weather or it changed more than you thought it would. Where it's raining or snowing, or your neighbours haven't shoveled their sidewalks. Where your bike is making a funny noise you've never heard before. Where you've just short of bonking goofed on nutrition. When the hill seems much steeper than normal, or the water has been replaced with this strange clear molasses. When you're short on sleep, when you're stressed by work, when a "friendly" group ride drops you like a snot rocket, or anything else that plays with your mind.

These things will make you stronger if you hang in there. Keep a journal. Not just the cold numbers, but how you felt. I can guarantee one day you are going to come home unhappy with a workout for some reason. Then you'll look back through your journal, and you'll discover a time when this workout was a personal best, and now you can do better even when feeling crappy. Or maybe you'll find a pattern, that you need an hour after dinner, not 30 minutes when it's a certain dish. Whatever it is, learn from it, and apply it to the future.

Most of all, have fun with it! Run trails, run different routes, run with your electronics turned off, run with a buddy or run alone. You will feel better after the workout. Really.


  1. I miss running. Oh so much.

  2. The more I run, the longer it takes me to get into that groove it seems. When my volume is high and my legs tired, I will run a longer warmup for quality runs, sometimes even a 6-8k warmup, then I hit the groove and can really push it.

    PS, you rode by me on Saturday morning, I was out for a nice easy short 5k run, on Woodbine blvd :)

    1. I wondered if that was you! I was mostly focused on keeping up with Katie and getting settled on the bike. These days, a 6 to 8 K run would be pretty good for me!

  3. I find that on a good day I need 10 minutes to warm up...somedays it takes 20-30 minutes. I really like all of your tips. Running with friends is definitely nice if you can make it work!


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