The Worst Run Ever (How To Deal With An “Off” Day)

Sunday was a bad day.

I’m in the progress of training for a new super-secret project, so I’ve been ramping up my running mileage recently (to satisfy my addiction to pain).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with my coach to increase my mileage. For the last few weeks, I’ve more or less been running a marathon every week.

On Sunday I was supposed to step that mileage up to run 28 miles.

I ran 11.5 miles. Well, truthfully, I only ran about eight of those. I walked/jogged the last 3.5 in a fit of rage.

Oh, and the whole thing was slow – incredibly slow. Not slow as in “wow-that’s-sort-of-a-slow-jog-slow.” Slow as in “I-could-probably-walk-backwards-faster-split-times-than-this-slow.”

I didn’t even finish half the prescribed distance and I had to walk the last three miles, muttering to myself the entire time about what was wrong with me.

It was easily the worst run of my life.

It was so bad that I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or punch something. When I finished I just walked in circles hashing it out with myself in the park like a crazy person.

There was no explanation.

I should be able to run 11.5 miles in my sleep but I didn’t even get close.

I emailed my coach, managed to keep the profanities to a minimum, tried to calm down, and adjusted my schedule.

All I could do was let it go, go home to take a cold shower, take a few days off, and rest a bit.

I took a couple of days off and tried to not think about running (doing that only made me mad). But whenever I saw the five miles penciled in on my schedule for Wednesday, I dreaded them.

I put my run off later and later, doing every stupid thing I could think of to put it off. Eventually it was 10:30pm and somewhere between getting mad at my shoes (“Stupid shoes making me run slow”) and coming up with terrible excuses (“It’s 60 degrees out – that’s practically freezing for San Diego – I can’t run in this weather!”), I realized I should probably stop getting mad at inanimate objects and just do the work.

I had one last staring contest with my shoes before I eventually laced them up, put them on, and got out the door.

It doesn’t matter how many bad days you have, as long as you don’t let them stop you.

stand up 8

Fall down seven times. Stand up eight.

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  1. says

    Hey man, I used to run distance in high school and had many of these days. Here’s the thing, I didn’t really have a choice in thinking about it too much because I had to go to practice the next day and do it over.

    There are many different factors that could have lead to you having an off day, try not to dwell on them and just keep moving forward.

    Wasn’t until my Senior year that I figured out when I would go to a meet the day after doing karate, I would run a lot slower. Correct course and move forward.

  2. Nick says

    Short good post, I’ve fallen into excuses myself on occasions and the best way past them is to just do the work. Keep up the posts, you’ve been an inspiration to me.

    What caused you to fall short of your goal though? Injury or just lacking the drive in some sense?

    • says

      That’s the worst part – I just didn’t have it.

      On a normal run – I’d suck it up – but on 28, I figured I’d do more damage on my body than good by pushing through. A gut call.

  3. Doug says

    I see your problem, you were lacing your shoes up before you put them on! Would have been much easier and less mustering at your shoes if you did it the other way around! Keep it real Joel, hope that gave ya a chuckle!

  4. davidd says

    Okay, this offers an opportunity to mention an issue I have with various fitness posts, including yours sometimes; that is, fitness and “human potential” writers almost always write about making small improvements every day. Run just a little bit farther, do one more rep, add an additional half pound. In the real world, on some days you “just don’t have it,” as you say.

    So then what? If you can’t do “a little bit more, a little bit better” does that mean you SUCK? Are you a LOSER because you CAN’T go that extra half mile, you can’t lift that extra half pound, you can’t do one more pullup or pushup than you did yesterday? That’s my pessimistic interpretation every time I read a cheery, challenging, “do just a little bit better every day” post. Sorry, man, but doing a little bit better EVERY day is pretty darned close to impossible, or at least it’s unrealistic… and on a personal level, my frustration at not being able to run either farther or faster every time I go out is starting to discourage me from getting out there at all.

    I’m getting better at eating one more M&M every time I sit down with a bag of candy and a bowl of ice cream, though.

    I’m unclear on your weekly running mileage. Are you running a total of about 26 to 28 miles per week, or are you saying you’re running a single LONG run of 26 to 28 miles each week, in addition to your shorter distance days? I take it you’re training for some kind of killer ultra. That’s why I need to be running more and eating fewer M&Ms; I actually signed up for a 50k trail run. The “it’s not until August, I have plenty of time” mentality is going to catch up with me and kick my #$$ if I don’t get going; I struggled through 12 k (not miles) yesterday, and I skipped my planned run for today altogether because I was tired after work, it was raining outside, and I knew I’d be slow and that I wouldn’t go as far as I would have liked. That’s the pitfall, at least for me, of the “do a little bit better every time” mentality; it sets up unrealistic expectations that ultimately lead to discouragement.

    I’m totally in agreement with you on your coping strategy, however: laugh (bitterly), cry, punch something, and walk (stomp) around in circles like a crazy person… while muttering profanities. We would make great training partners… except I’m guessing your “walk-backwards-faster-than-this” times would still smoke my pathetic pace.

    I appreciate the “old school” Joel-screws-up post, BTW! 😉

  5. says

    There are days that I definitely do not feel like taking a workout or going for a run. Sometimes I just dont, I never beat myself up about it, I go with my gut and what my body tells me that sometimes thats just to do nothinga and occasionaly thats fine.

  6. says

    This isn’t all that uncommon in long-distance training. You did the right thing, listened to your body and shut it down before you ended up inflicting serious damage that would sideline you for a longer period time. When I coach an athlete through this sort of problem I remind them that it is a sign of becoming more tuned into your body, therefore a good indicator of progress.

  7. Johnny Sawyer says

    I feel your pain! And I like how honest you are about how you really felt about not making your mileage quota. You DO need to cut yourself some slack though or you just gonna have more days like that. Great post and good luck.

  8. says

    I completely agree with your post. I just recently wrote about how important it is to get back up when life knocks you down. If you cowboy up and try again, nothing can stop you. As a disabled person, I have to do this often.

  9. says

    I can empathize with this. There are times when I go for a run and I barely break into a jog. For some reason I can’t go longer than a few minutes without stopping – but there is nothing wrong with me.

    Other times I can go for a few miles without stopping. It seems as though it has nothing to do with how I feel physically or mentally – I think our body just says no from time to time and you have to accept it and move on.

    It has its reasons. Who are we to argue..

  10. JK says

    During hell week the SEAL potentials bodies scream no, usually before the first 24 hours are up…they argue with the message their bodies are giving them to quit and they continue on. Some make it through hell week and some do not but for those that don’t make it it’s not because they couldn’t it’s because they listened when their bodies said “no” while the others heard the message but exercised self discipline and expanded their capacities for what they thought was previously possible.
    Do you think that those that heard the body scream no and gave in to it have regrets for doing so? Sure they do, sometimes traumatically so! You only progress in anything whenever you press the limits and sometimes the limits hurt and hurt a lot. When you are laying on your deathbed in the final moments of your life do you think you will be regretfull that you didn’t take it “easy enough” on yourself or will you more regret not pushing yourself, not venturing often enough out of your comfort zone because you instead “listened” to your body or mind when it said no more? I think for most of us the answer is obvious. It’s too bad that the mindset of the generations that made this nation great are being pushed aside for the new mindset of “if it doesn’t feel good don’t do it” and the worst of all, the one we’re all sick of hearing “follow your passion”
    You don’t have to feel good all the time about everything… you don’t have to be passionate about something to do it and do it well and most of all you don’t need to do yourself the incredible disservice of “taking it easy” on yourself because you feel slight (or major) discomfort when life gets real.
    It really gets to me when people champion the “take it easy on yourself” or the “if it doesn’t feel good don’t do it” approach to life then complain that they just can’t seem to accomplish much or that they have no discipline… everybody has the ability to self discipline… not everybody chooses to use that ability though. It’s really all about choice.
    Who would you rather have defending your way of life and protecting your neighborhoods while you sleep, the people that quit at the slightest hint of discomfort or quit because they are no longer passionate about being a police officer or soldier or the people that resolved to uphold the duties they undertook despite lack of passion or motivation or feeling good every second of the day? What if EVERYONE just stopped what they were doing when their passion or motivation declined?
    When did we become a nation of such pu$$ies??? What an incredible dishonor we do to those that have passed before us.

  11. JK says

    BTW Joel, I love your message and what you are doing and I hope you don’t ever stop! The world needs more people like you.

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