There is plenty of advice here, and on other websites, about how to improve your running. But what do you do on those days when nothing seems to work?
You know what I mean. Your intervals are slow. Your strides are uneven. Your mood stinks and you’re completely gassed about halfway through your 12-miler. You’re out there on the road, already flipping through your mental file for the proper adjectives to use to describe this travesty later in your log or on your blog.
I’m a big believer in getting something positive – anything – out of every training run. So when I find myself at the end of my tether and recognize I’m in the middle of a session I’m going to want to immediately forget afterwards, I make the decision to shift into low gear and enter plodding mode.
Of course, sometimes your body utilizes its automatic transmission and shifts into plodding mode all by itself. What I’m suggesting is to decide not to fight it.
You’re having a lousy run, maybe for reasons entirely out of your control. Don’t you think this could happen on race day? So don’t freak out about it. Train for it.
Slow down to what feels like a crawl. Take tiny steps. Shuffle, if necessary. Take the pressure off yourself. “Today’s training goal is out the window. Let’s see if I can just keep moving.”
Pretend you’re out with a slower friend and you’re simply keeping him or her company. Look at the scenery. Have some extra fluid or Gu. Breathe deeply.
The effect is partly psychological but has physiological benefits as well. If you stop being angry with yourself, if you slow down significantly and tend to your body’s needs, your heart rate will level off and you’ll automatically feel better. Some days that’s enough. But I find it works so well that I often end up exiting plodding mode and going back to a steady running pace to finish up strong.
In a race, it’s an emergency procedure, but if you have practiced it you’ll feel more confident in the outcome. It’s not the sort of thing that will produce a PR, but on a bad day it may help you to a respectable time instead of a DNF.
It’s important to note that you should not continue to plod if you’re injured. Be sensible. If your run is going south because of the stabbing pain in your ankle, an additional slow four miles is not the best treatment.
Some people might call these junk miles. Junk is in the eye of the beholder. Excellent runners think all my miles are junk. But one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and the best way to overcome your fear of disaster during your target race is to prepare for it.