A Bad Run Day

You know you are having a bad run day when any of the following occur while on a run:

1. You hear an ambulance siren and don’t realize until you are on the stretcher that it was coming for you.
2. It’s 110 degrees; you find yourself face down on the pavement and the molten tar and road rash feel like relief.
3. You are exhaling chunks of body materials instead of air.
4. You are incontinent and you don’t know it.

Your run may not be quite that bad but, everyone’s had them. That day that just doesn’t feel good. Your pace feels like you’re racing and you’re only warming up.

Reasons for “bad days” are complex. Physiological, psychological, environmental and other sources could be the reason. It also can be an interplay of several of them.

Some things we do know: Dehydrated and under-nourished athletes are more prone to bad days. Take care of these things! Also prone are the obsessive runners and over-trained runners who won’t take time off. Then again, sometimes it just “is”. Bad days happen.

Differentiate between bad days because you are out of shape with the fact that it really is a result of one of the previously mentioned sources. That is not always easy to do. Start by reviewing your workout log (yes, you should be keeping one). Building up miles or pace too fast, introducing too much too soon of any kind of training (or cross-training); doing the same or similar workouts day-in and day-out or change in elevation of runs; are all trends you can notice from your log that contribute to flatness and bad days. Then consider non-running influences such as lack of sleep, disrupted routines, poor diet, family stress, work stress, illness, weather, moving, long periods of sitting, etc.

So now what do you do about those days? If you’ve had a number of bad days in a row or when you “just know” you’re going to have a bad day try these strategies.

Sammy Leilei, an elite Kenyan runner’s solution is to pick up the pace. This is not as crazy as it sounds. When you run faster you recruit muscle fibers and groups differently. You may in fact feel fresher at faster paces instead of going slower!

Vary your pace or terrain. Getting a full range of motion, while using different muscle groups can be just the break you need.

Warm-up thoroughly then stop. That may set the stage for being ready the next day. Think long term, not short term.

Run someplace different. Go run on a trail, a wash, the beach or a golf course (which is the only thing a golf course should be used for). A change of venue can be both a mental and physical relief.

Run with someone. Misery loves company. Why not share it! This is a good mental break from working out alone.

Get off the track. Stop obsessing about splits, times and paces. Take a break by running aimlessly and with no expectations for pace or distance. Just run.

Get on the track. Try out some progressively faster short repeats. Start with short bursts of 50 meters. Move to 100s and alternate jogging or just walking in between. You get some quality running in. At least it has to be faster than slugging it out jogging and slogging through a slow road run. By breaking up your run into short intervals you may not only complete a workout but at do it at much faster speeds.

Get to the pool and do an aqua-running workout. This is a great alternative (especially during the heat of the summer) high-quality workout. Don’t confuse this with floating around lackadaisically.

Perform an integrated speed-strength workout or introduce some light plyometrics.

And finally: Stop. Don’t run. Take a break. Do not get caught up in “having to run”. Days without rest from running can be more harmful than good for you. Remember, the whole conditioning premise is break-down (through working out) then build-up (through recovery). If all you do is workout everyday you are only focusing on the breaking down aspect of training. A bad day may be sending you a message, so listen!

By the way, my streak of consecutive days is 315. I had many bad days to work through during that time. This is nothing compared with the world “consecutive days run” leader, Ron Hill a four-time world record holder and 2:09:28 marathoner from the 1970s. He is still going strong at 30-plus years… in a row! I’m sure he has had to work through a few bad days during that time as well.

If you have questions about diagnosing slumps or down days, aqua-running workouts, running specific plyometric drills, contact us.

But, all things considered, a bad day running is better than a good day at work, right?


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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16 Responses to A Bad Run Day

  1. Jesse says:

    Last week I ran 18 miles at 8:34 pace, then in lead up to this week’s long run ran 44 flat 10K (albeit on treadmill due to foul weather) my fastest ever. I had a 20 miler scheduled this pasy Sunday and felt I would be good at 8:35 pace…it poured rain when I was scheduled to run I drove around for 35 mins hoping it would stop. It didnt I decided to try and do the 20 on a treadmill at 7 MPH. At around mile 6 or 7 I began to really hurt breathing wise and at mile 10 though my legs felt fine my breathe was gone so I stopped. Was this just a bady day?

  2. Jesse,
    A bit hard to say without seeing all you are doing BUT two consecutive weekends with that long of a run is mroe than likely the issue. Long runs for marathon training should be 2-3 weeks apart with good solid modest long runs (10-14 miles) in between. This enhances recovery from those very long runs which are very tough on muscles… causing lots of muscle micro-tears. It takes up to 4 weeks to fully recover from a 20 mile run for instance. So, my initial response is that you hadn’t recovered from the 18 miler completely and then after a good 10k effort, your body was not ready to go at it again. Skip a week of long runs and go back at it.

  3. Daniel says:

    Hey Dean,

    I’m more of a recreational runner and I try to run everyday to keep fit, I try to run close to 6K each day. The road I run on has a fair amount of hills,twists and turns which I used to love about it but recently, I’ve been going for my half-hour runs and having to stop half way up the hill because I feel too weak or just not motivated enough. I used to get this great feeling after going for a run and now I feel the exact same after going for a run as I did before the run. Is there anything I can do to help this?

  4. Dean Hebert says:

    Dan… great question, catch my next full post on this tomorrow.

  5. Pingback: Bad Runs… What do you do? « The Running World According to Dean

  6. Pingback: Bad Runs… What do you do? « Everything Mental Toughness

  7. John says:


    No question here, just thanks for the post, reassuring to know others have these days!
    I run 6 or 7 miles aiming for around 7.30/mile. Had the most sublime run on Friday, really magical, everything just fell into place and the last 2k I was really motoring when I finished I felt like doing it all again! I was literally buzzing from it for 24 hours! A short hill run on the treadmill on Saturday as part of my gym work, rest Sunday and a run today… a ‘bad run’. Felt like i was wearing lead shoes! Had the good sense to stop at 9k. I wasn’t properly hydrated I think, plus there were more people about than usual on my route, a multitude of yappy dogs and people walking four abreast to dodge!

    I am just glad to get the ‘good runs’ too!

  8. nicole says:

    today i had the WORST run ever!

    on saturday i ran my farthest run ever – 6.2 miles. and it felt so great. sunday i ran 3.1 miles as a recovery run and yesterday i did one hour of cross training cardio and about 40 solid strength training minutes.

    today i had scheduled myself to run 5 miles and i barely made it to 2.5. i felt like a bear who got shot with a tranquilizer (haha) and even when i reduced down to a slow 11.41 minute/mile pace it still felt like i was going fast. also, my breathing felt all labored and out of control.

    i don’t know how to handle days like this because it makes me feel like i’m out of shape and as if somehow i took a million steps backwards in a matter of a day. it just really really gets to me. so i’m glad i found this article to reassure me that all runners have days like this and i’m doing fine! thanks

    • Dean Hebert says:

      One more element for you is that you just had your longest run ever (6.2) a few days ago. This will not go by without some “side effects”. To come back and do almost as far (5) is not a reasonable workout schedule. You are doing too much. You need more recovery days. Your 3.1 recovery run was probably too much. Think about it, that would be like someone who runs their 20 miler preparing for a marathon comes back the next day and rests doing a 10 miler! Only the most very advanced runners could handle this. Most likely you should take a day off after a record long run. REmember part of conditioning and getting better is being sure you have good recoveries.
      Keep up the good progress and be patient… there will be good and bad days along the way.

  9. Pingback: Bad workouts – what do you do? « Everything Mental Toughness

  10. Sarah Naman says:

    I’m a novice runner and I normally do 2.5 – 3.5 miles every other day. I’ve only been running for a month and a half. Well normally I can run 2.5 easily, sometimes I’ll carry on and do 3.5 miles. The last couple of runs though it has felt like I’m running through treacle! and I can barely manage 2 miles without feeling out of breath. Why is this? please help it’s really knocking my confidence.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Running through treacle? That’s bad.
      Ok, first, it’s great you are out there and getting in shape. Good stuff!
      You will learn some things along the way as an athlete. One is that you have ups and downs and you do not and will not progress evenly throughout your training. Sometimes you hit some walls or backslide. Your pattern of running in fact be the issue. Change up your running. Change the pace, the distance, the terrain. Go MUCh faster for shorter distances then walk a bit to recover. The #1 mistake beginning runners make is that they have to just jog easy a couple miles and every once in awhile add some miles and they’ll progress. This is a half-truth myth. True you will need to add miles BUT you must change up the efforts on your runs and vary rest times as well.
      So, not knowing anything else that might be going on (stress, hydration, nutrition, sleep, medications, illnesses – all of which could make you treacle-run) I think you need to change how you are doing what you are doing to get back on track. If you don’t have a club or coach in your area, drop me a line and we can work something out. In the mean time.. .no worries… take a couple days off… go out on a shorter faster run each week (run 400m fast then walk 100m for total of 2 miles for instance). Keep it going!

      • Sarah Naman says:

        Hi Dean,
        It’s been a while since I have been on here, but I just wanted to thank you. I took your advise and I am now running an average of 4.5 miles every other day and a 7 mile run at the weekend. My pace has improved and there is no more “running through treacle” feelings. I have found a lovey route that consists of roads and woodland. I do still have day’s where it is harder than others but I put that down to tiredness, more than anything. If I get to bed earlier, I find I run better the next morning. I look forward to my runs now, which also helps 😉 I have even got my husband out running too! Thank you again for your advise.

      • Dean Hebert says:

        This is great to hear. And now you have a new running partner? Wow… win-win situation. Well done… keep it up.

  11. Rachel says:

    Thank you Dean! I’m a novice training for my first half marathon (which is one week from today). I went out for my last long run (10 miles) before the half, made it to 2.5 and threw in the towel. I think I may be getting a summer cold, I’ve been under a lot of stress and I’ve been increasing for a mile a week as long as I can remember. Thanks for all the advice on your posts, it’s certainly helping me to feel better mentally.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      You are very welcome… I’m glad you’re finding help in your running “journey”. I can’t tell you the number of times I threw in the towel on runs. But you’ll be back. Most important for you right now is taking care of yourself. There is little you can do in a week that can make any difference in your conditioning. You’ve done it. So don’t stress about not getting that run in. Now get healthy and strong for race day. Good luck.

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