ANOTHER
MOTHER RUNNER

AMR Aid Station: What to Do When Runs Go Bad

by Cathy Engstrom

I’m going to share a cooking story with you, but hang with me. I promise to circle back to what to do when runs go bad.

Last week I thought it would be fun to try a new recipe. (I use the word “fun” loosely, because on a scale of 1 to 10, I rate the chore of cooking as a .05.) I have had great success with the recipes from Half Baked Harvest, and most of our meals from that website make me look like I know what I’m doing and my family is happy with the end product.

when runs go bad
Cathy's dish did NOT look like this.

I attempted to prepare Skillet Creamy Cajun Chicken Lazone with Herby Corn, which is just a fancy way of saying chicken and corn in a cream sauce. I lined up the ingredients, followed the recipe step-by-step, and made sure I didn’t overcook the chicken to leather status.

Sadly, despite my best intentions and effort, I was left with a gloopy mess that was, to put it kindly, unappetizing.

We wound up having sandwiches for dinner.

What does this have to do with running? On my typical running days, I lace up my favorite baby blue New Balance 860s, cue up a juicy podcast on my phone, dress for the weather, make sure no one needs me for the next hour, and I’m ready to run.

But occasionally, despite my enthusiasm, preparation, and “let’s do this” attitude, what should be a good run starts to feel like a disaster. My mojo disappears. My legs feel like I’m wading through molasses. I slow to a walk and wonder if I should turn around. Even worse, I’m tempted to just lay down on the hard, cold sidewalk and feel extra sorry for myself. I know I’m not alone in this scenario. Sometimes a good run just goes wrong.

I can cobble together dinner by serving mediocre sandwiches, but how do you salvage a run that’s slowly imploding on you?

I asked other BAMRs what they do when their runs begin to turn in the wrong direction. Their responses left me delighted and energized. I noticed four basic themes: distraction, self-talk, adjust, and reach out.  

when runs go bad

OPTION #1: DISTRACTION FOR THE WIN
Melissa T. says, “I think about what kind of funny caption I can use for an Instagram post. It distracts and entertains me to come up with ways to describe my crappy run.”

Erin W. suggests smiling. “That usually helps. If not, I do ladders because then it keeps my mind busy for a good period of time.”

Alana R. channels her inner Kimmy Schmidt, who famously said, “I can do anything for 10 seconds.”

There’s really nothing complicated or fancy about distraction. It can be as basic as Katie O’s strategy: “I count to 100.” Boom! Anyone can do that.

OPTION #2: TALK TO YOURSELF
“On really, really hard runs,” says Kelyn C., “I have to switch to mean drill sergeant. I think, ‘All right, bitch, you’ve got this! Keep going! You’re stronger than this!’”

Lisa W. uses self-talk to remind herself about her priorities. “I tell myself this is my time. This is the 45 minutes I’ve given myself. This is the only time I can do this today, and I am already here.” It’s hard to argue with that.

Cleary J. adds, “My mantra for years and years has been ‘better, faster, stronger.’ I know that every step I take brings one or all of those to fruition. I focus on and repeat those words.”

Cathy in her favorite blue New Balance running shoes on the left.

OPTION #3: MODIFY YOUR WORKOUT MID-RUN
Lindsey F. turns a bad run into fun. “I play games with myself. Run to that tree then do 10 butt kicks. Run to the stoplight and do karaoke crossovers. Get to the corner before the light changes or you have to do 10 squats.”

Anne M. agrees. “Be flexible and adjust goals! My recent tempo run was horrible from the first mile repeat. I stopped, slowed my heart, and adjusted expectations. It got me through the rest of the repeats!”

OPTION #4: REACH OUT FOR POSITIVE FEEDBACK.

Mary L. says, “If it’s going badly because of my headspace, I stop, walk, and call someone I trust to talk it out. Then I can keep going after it’s out of me.”

Cynthia V. practices the same tactic. “I phone a friend. Literally. I call my BRFs near and far for pep talks or to just help pass the time.”

I will continue to botch dinner recipes, and I will continue to struggle through challenging workouts. But these tips give me plenty of ways to save a run when I’m tempted to wave the white flag of surrender.

It’s a good reminder that when I set out to do hard things, having a few tricks up my sleeve when runs go bad can help me navigate my way through the difficult parts.

And I always have a back up loaf of bread for sandwiches.

You tell us: What do YOU do when runs go bad?

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