Why A Bad Run Can Be A Good Thing

Thank you, God, for keeping me humble...

This was the refrain going through my mind yesterday morning as I struggled to complete the last 20-mile run of my training. And struggled is the word. I knew I was in trouble around mile 14 when I started slowing on what was already a slow pace day. All I had to do was hold an 8:50 pace. At this point in my training, that should be a no-brainer. But glances at my Garmin showed me my pace was creeping up to an 8:52... 8:55. I'd speed up to lower it back down but it's fighting a losing battle at that point as the speeding up sucks any remaining energy from you. 

I was having a hard time mentally with the fact that the run wasn't going well. Lately I've been not only nailing my paces  for runs but often beating them. I wanted to end this last long run on a high note. Instead, it was a reality check.

Part of what I think challenged me is that I never stopped moving. Sounds obvious, but often on long runs a group of us will take anywhere from a 2 to 4 minute break at some of the water stops. We've got water and Gatorade there but it takes time to open the bottles, dig out the cups, and pour some for everyone. Yesterday I ran alone and I had a mixed bottle ready to go. So I ran into a water stop, took a few swigs, and was running again within 10 seconds. This opened my eyes to the fact that running 20 miles and pausing to catch your breath is one thing. Running 20 miles flat out is another. 

Also... I got bored. VERY bored. Like, resorting to singing Britney Spears songs in my head bored. Looking at my watch and calculating that, IF I stayed on pace I still had another 1 hour and 40 minutes out there... I think I just caved mentally. I held pace until mile 17.6 and then did a little bit of walking... something I haven't done in quite a while.

I finished at an 8:55 pace overall. Not terrible. In fact, it's the fastest 20 miles I've ever run. But it worries me that I couldn't find that mental strength to toughen up and get the job done at 8:50. 

Like I said, I went home and spent most of the morning bummed that the run had been such a struggle. But thinking about it, I realized the struggle was a blessing in disguise because it woke me up to a few things I need to keep in mind for the actual race: 

  • I do best mentally if I have anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute "banked." That way I don't panic about water stops and maintain a better focus.
  • Humidity does a number on me. My legs ached yesterday like they haven't in some time - say, since our last humidity wave? I might want to eat some pretzels or take a salt tablet on the course if it's humid that day.
  • Even though I was tired and wanted to quit, I kept running. 
  • I'm capable of completing a 20-mile run by myself! I never would have thought that possible at the beginning of the summer when I'd never done over 8 miles alone. 
  • Ignore the miles and just focus on pace. 
  • I'm carrying my I-Pod race day in case I need to beat back the boredom.

I think this "bad" run was a very good thing. I'd rather have a bad run in training and learn from it then have my first bad run be on race day when I don't know what to do. 

Three training weekends left and then it's GO time. There's still quite a bit of training to do. But I'm looking forward to learning more about what I need to know before marathon day.