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When Running Sucks

If you’re new to running or have never seriously trained for a race of any type, there are two truths about the sport that you may not know. And since I don’t want anyone who reads my blog to think that running is just something I do all the time without thought or problem, I figured I’d share them with you today.

Running Truths People Don’t Always Tell You

1.) Runners don’t always listen to their bodies, especially where training for a race is concerned.

I know you hear all the time that you should “listen to your body” and not push it if it really doesn’t feel up to being pushed. It’s important to respect your body this way if you want to avoid burnout/injury, and if you’re setting yourself up to live a healthy lifestyle. But you know the honest truth? When it comes to training (especially for distance races), a lot of times that line of thinking goes right out the window. It’s important to note that I am not talking about pushing yourself through an injury here, though many runners (myself included) have stubbornly done so (never with good results).

2.) Sometimes running sucks.

Sorry, there’s no way around that one. When you first start running, it’s pretty common to look at those around you who have been running for years and think that it all comes so easily to them. So you start believing that you just need to keep running, and once you’ve been doing it for enough time, it’ll come effortless to you too. Well I hate to tell ya – but that’s never going to happen. Yes, running will get easier. You’ll have more and more runs that feel effortless, or will at least be fun. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to avoid all future sucky runs from now until the end of time. All runners have bad days. It comes with the territory. But a bad run (or two or 12) is not the end of the world. You just have to hope that if you push through, tomorrow will be better.

 

nike-running-sucks-tshirtThis is actually a Nike shirt. I kind of want it.

Now that I’ve started you off on such a positive note this Monday morning, I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this. And if you’re guessing I had a crappy run that I’m going to tell you about, you are correct! Except, I figured I’d take a slightly different approach. I’ve talked before about the mental side of running, and the other day Becky wrote a post about what she thinks about when she runs. So I figured I’d give you all a little glimpse into the HOTR-mind when it comes to pushing through tough runs.

The Mental Game of Running: Pushing through a Tough Run

Yesterday I woke up bright and early to get in my first official long run of marathon training. I wanted to go somewhere between 10 and 12 miles, and since I’ve done a couple of 10-milers recently, I figured it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to push for the longer side. I had my standard pre-run breakfast of toast with peanut butter/honey and a little coffee, filled up my handheld, and got out the door.

The problem – somewhere in between waking up and finishing that toast, I started to feel incredibly nauseous. And the only thing I wanted to do was to curl right back up in bed and sleep the feeling away. Unfortunately, every minute I waited meant the run would be that much hotter. So I finally just bit the bullet and got out there, hoping that after a few easy miles the feeling would go away.

I’m sure at this point you can guess that it didn’t – well, not for about 6 or 7 miles anyway. And as I ran, things just went from bad to worse. My head started hurting, my legs were heavy and my attitude was pretty pathetic. By 3 miles in, I was ready to call it quits. So why didn’t I? What was the point of continuing to torture myself? In order to truly understand my craziness why I kept going, here is the basic flow of my thoughts through those 11.5 miles.

rbk_running adThat guy is my tiredness and agony…only it wasn’t getting buried as I ran away from it.

1.) Use the “wait and see” approach.

When I first started out, everything felt off. My body just did not want to cooperate with my plan to run. But in my mind I thought, “You just need to warm up for a little bit. You’re just tired, and your body isn’t used to moving yet.” So I kept pushing. I told myself I needed to give it at least a couple of miles to feel warmed up, and hopefully then it would get better.

2.) Start rationalizing.

When runs feel especially awful, one of the first things I do is try to figure out why. It’s always a little easier to handle feeling crappy when you have an explanation for feeling that way. So yesterday I wracked my brain for reasons, trying to find something to blame my need to throw up on. Unfortunately I found none – I hadn’t stayed up late the night before, I hadn’t had any alcohol or anything bad to eat (just good old pasta and veggies), it wasn’t especially hot or humid out that morning, I had been drinking water, etc. The problem with not finding a reason? It just made me even more frustrated and ready to quit.

3.) Bargain with yourself.

As I mentioned above, by 3 miles in I was ready to call it a day. I had given myself time to warm-up, tried to figure out the cause of my issues, and nothing had changed. I was still feeling just as bad as I had when I started running. But instead of packing it in right there, I told myself to try just one more mile. One more mile and I could stop, stretch and then head back in the direction of home if I wanted to. And to make it even easier on myself, for this “last” mile, I could run as slow as I wanted. All I had to do is put one foot in front of the other and just keep shuffling along (“Everyday I’m shufflin’!”sorry, couldn’t resist).

4.) Use logic to reason with yourself.

At this point, you know I got to that 4th mile and didn’t call it quits. I can assure you it’s not because I suddenly developed some super-human strength or willpower. It’s because I logically talked myself out of it. At mile 3, my thinking was that I’d pack it in and get up early Monday morning to try again. Seems like the rational thing to do, right?? But then I realized – chances are, I’d feel even worse on Monday morning. My plans for the rest of Sunday afternoon involved sitting outside in the sun. Not exactly good preparation for a long run. The choice suddenly was between “keep pushing through and feel gross today” or “Go home. Sit out in the sun, and then try again bright and early tomorrow morning, with the risk that you’d feel even worse.” Since I couldn’t stomach the thought of feeling even worse than I was at that moment, I figured I was better off if I just kept going.

5.) Find inspiration somewhere else.

By now, my attitude was worse than it’s been in a long time. I kept trying to think positively about it….okay, so that’s a lie. My attitude was so bad that I was beyond even trying to think positively. I knew it was going to be a crappy run regardless, so why waste the energy lying to convince myself how great this was?? If I wanted to find the motivation to keep going, I had to look elsewhere. Fortunately, that day my path happened to cross over the running course for the Ironman 70.3 RI several times (hard to avoid in a small city). For those of you who don’t know, those athletes were running further than I was (13.1 miles) after already swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56. Pretty hardcore. And chances are, they were feeling just a little more tired than I was at that moment. Yet they kept going. And so I did too.

6.) Escape through song.

I’ve written before about how I think music is one of the best tools to get through a tough workout or a race. And sometime around mile 7, I was beyond trying to bargain with myself. I was beyond thinking at all, actually. Fortunately, it was right at that moment when one of my new favorite running songs (okay, favorite everything song!) came on: “Good Life” by One Republic. So I turned up the volume and blasted that baby over and over and over again. I sang (quietly) along with the song until I finally found myself believing it. It is a good life. And running is a gift, even on days when it doesn’t feel like it.

Oh, this is gotta be a good life

Finally, when all else fails…

7.) Tell yourself to shut up, suck it up, and just run.

I know that’s a little harsh. But seriously – sometimes it’s the only way to keep yourself going. There came a point yesterday when I finally took a step back and realized I was being a big wimp. I wasn’t actually sick, or injured, or hurting in any way. I was just feeling gross and tired and didn’t feel like running. The harsh reality is that when you’re training for a race, chances are you’re going to have quite a few days where you just don’t feel like it. But just like with any other commitment, you have to take the good with the bad. And committing means that you push through those bad times.

nikejustdoitad(source)

I know this post was a little more negative than normal, but I believe it’s just as important to talk about the bad runs as the good. Not every day of your life is going to be rainbows and butterflies – and your running won’t be that way either. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the tough runs. In fact, it’s those awful runs and awful races that show us who we really are as runners. If you want to grow and improve, sometimes all you have to do is embrace the suck, and just keep pushing through.

At the very least, the bad runs made the good ones that much better. And when everything falls into place on a run – when I feel effortless and fast and like I could run forever – well, those are the runs that I live for. Those are the runs that make all those other awful times worth it.

40 Responses to When Running Sucks

  1. Love this. And it wasn’t negative at all! It’s the honest truth unfortunately. Some runs are going to suck and you have to use all types of mind games to keep your feet moving. But like you said at the end, the bad runs are SO important. Without them, we’d never appreciate the good runs and get that “oh my god, I’m so incredible” feeling :)

    I’m so sorry your run sucked yesterday, but so glad you embraced your inner awesomeness and finished strong!

  2. These are such solid tips — and I don’t think the post is negative at all. It’s realistic! Some days running is a wonderful, beautiful, awesome thing. Other days it’s downright HARD.

    Also, “Good Life” is totally one of my go-to songs right now. It came on during a brutal hill during a recent race and it made me realize that I’m lucky I can run at all. Right there with you on that one.

  3. Sorry about the crummy run, Lauren! I’m so glad you were able to push through it, though. You rock. I love the Nike shirt, and I just bought the bondi band that says “I love running. I hate running. I love running. I hate running.” Hehe, I love it.

    I do all of those things to get through a run, too! And I totally have a remix of the “Everyday I’m Shufflin” song on my running playlist, lol.

    • That’s currently one of my favorite songs to run to. It’s so fitting!

      And I need to get that Bondi band. It’s so true…

  4. Love this post! It’s so true that some people think all runners love running all of the time. But there are so many hard, bad days that we have to get through, and I think those days make us love running all the more!

    Great tips, too, especially the music one. Good music always gets me through bad runs.

  5. This a great post. I love that you compared running to every day. “Not every day is going to be rainbows and butterflies and neither is every run.” So true, it’s all about putting one foot in front of the other.

  6. Good post. There are good runs and there are bad runs, and the more I came to accept that, the easier running became. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Lauren!!! I’m so happy you wrote this post… I really believe it’s so important to tell people that running isn’t always easy and fun. And since you’re such an amazing runner and inspiration for so many of us, I think its a good thing to hear it from you : )

    Quick story. I’ll never forget when I ran track in college I always struggled to keep up with the girls on the warmup. It was a 2 mile loop before the speed workout and these girls were blazing through it at like 6 min pace. One of the girls was my asst coach (look her up sascha scott) who was trying to compete professionally. I remember after one warmup, I finished and started crying and told her that I wasn’t sure how I could compete when I could barely keep up during the warmup. She then told me and I’ll never forget it- “Running is hard for everyone including me.” For so long I believed that it was easy for these girls but they were all competing, all the time…

    Anyway, sorry long story there but my point is running is amazing on somedays and impossible on others. But thats what makes it such an amazing challenge : ) So thanks for this post!

    • Thank you Lizzy!!

      I love that story/quote from your assistant coach! It’s so true, and such an important thing to remember.

  8. Great writing Lauren. I could feel every emotion you stated. If running was easy to do at the level you are at, more people would be running by your side. To be good at anything takes a lot of perseverance and you have run through enough of these ‘bad’ days to know that it can be done and good days are coming. I can really appreciate your comment that at least you are running and that was a positive. I now look at runners and think that no run is a bad run. Oh, and watch your mouth!

    • That’s a good point. I sometimes forget that just being able to run is a pretty amazing thing, even if I feel awful doing it.

  9. Great post! I have had my share of bad runs the past few months ever since the mid-90s became an everyday temperature,no matter what time of day it is. It is easy to get discouraged or quit!! Thanks for these tips :)

  10. I am so sorry you had a bad day. I believe in everything you just said and then some! ugh it totally sucks. I said to someone the other day “when it is good, it is good, when it is is bad it is bad” My thought – potentially you are just tired. but why do we have to rationalize, if we had a bad day, can’t it just be a bad day. I think though ultimately u do better whne u r not running where u are because you don’t like it. I am going to keep pushing for you to come visit and we will do a “bad” run in a necessary area together and make it a good run lol. As per the job, I am always looking for people let me know what you need, seriously! but grants don’t always happen! After having a pretty busy week in CA, take it easy on yourself. get through the day and then go spoil yourself, don’t be hard on yourself. It is what it is and what will be will be, dorky? maybe, words i try to live by though, try anyway

  11. This is a very real post, Lauren. I think it’s important to share that not everyone enjoys running every single day, and not everyone is perfectly happy with the run they have every time they go out. It’s definitely a part of the sport and something that takes some practice to deal with mentally (I know it did for me!)
    When I have terrible runs where I just feel lousy, I know that the automatic feelings are going to be frustration, disappointment, and self-doubt, so I let those in a little bit (they are normal emotional reactions, I think), but I never let myself stay there too long. I remind myself that every single runner has bad days, and that one workout cannot possibly define me. And I force myself to think about tomorrow and just move on.
    What you said about listening to your body vs. pushing through something is so true. It’s a balance that I think is different for everyone. When I feel terrible, I might not run at all, modify, slow down, or push through the whole thing just because I really want to. I try to maintain a balance between listening to my body and being tough on myself. Not always easy, sometimes contradictory, but I think over time those decisions get easier to make.
    I really enjoyed reading your thought process – thanks so much for sharing it, and I am sure you will have lots of great runs this week :)

    • I know we’ve talked about how tricky that balance between pushing yourself and listening to your body can be. I’ve definitely gotten better at not tacking on miles just for the sake of following “the plan” when I’m feeling run down, but sometimes if there really isn’t a good reason for why I’m feeling awful on a run, or if I feel like pushing through will ultimately be more helpful than harmful, I keep going. It’s just tough because that line can be blurry sometimes. But I think that as you sort of said, everyone has to figure out where it is as they go.

      • Heh, I know, we seem to have this conversation a lot :) I think I could talk about this all day!
        It’s definitely a blurry line, but I think you do better than you think about deciding when to stop and when to push, and it’s obviously paid off for you recently as you’ve had great results!

  12. There are many reasons why I love you and one of them is your ability to keep it real in life and on the blog. When I met you, I didn’t have a whole lot of running experience and you were always able to help me keep things in perspective. This is a great reminder to all runners that it’s not always a relaxing jaunt. And I love “Good Life!” It’s on repeat for me these days, too.

  13. This is a great post!! I think that it’s very helpful to acknowledge that running sucks sometimes because your readers and other runners will know that they are not alone in that feeling, that other people experience it too and that it is possible to push through it and have really great runs too. Thanks for sharing Lauren!

  14. Every single thing you said is very, very true. I love running, but you can’t love anything all the time – I mean, hell, some days I even get tired of ice cream. I think its the sucky runs that you get through that you remember at tough points in races…such as “Well, remember when you pulled out that 10 miler even when you didn’t feel great? use that same willpower now, self!”

    I have that shirt from Nike…and love it!

    • I agree!! I think about tough training runs (or even past races that were really hard) all the time when I’m racing. It definitely helps me push through.

      And I love that you have that shirt! I really want to get one for myself.

  15. I truly believe the bad runs make us appreciate the good runs that much more – so they are just as important!

  16. I love this post! I had an awful run last Friday in the heat and humidity (20 miles) and I wanted to quit at mile 10. I embraced the suck (LOVE that) and plugged along.

  17. Love, love this post! Totally agree that running is not all fluffy bunnies and rainbows all of the time. But, pushing through really tough runs always makes me feel like a badass afterwards, and gives me a lot of confidence that I can do more than I ever thought possible. But that said, the GREAT runs are the ones I never forget.

    “embrace the suck” is the best advice I’ve heard in a while :)

  18. Great points!!! I felt terrible during my run yesterday, but in the end was so happy I didn’t give up. Sometimes what gets me through it is knowing that I’m always going to feel good in the end because I did what I didn’t think I could finish at the time.

  19. I bargain with myself a lot. I’ll say, “you can stop at three miles if you want, but then you’re going to have to run two more on Friday and you’ve already run three so you might as well run five.” or something like that and it usually works.

  20. I love the honesty here. There are days I struggle with motivation & it’s awesome to know I’m not alone.

  21. Not every run can be a good run…it’s what separates us runners from everyone else! If every run was fabulous, more people would be runners. Sometimes I just don’t want to run, but I usually know that if I get a few miles under my legs, I’ll feel better. If that doesn’t work, then I’m a few miles away and I still have to run home! :)

    • haha, I use that strategy all the time! I curse myself while I’m doing it, but am always thankful that I at least got a short run in.

  22. Are you in my head? My long runs have been awesome (thank goodness, because that’s a lot of miles feeling sucky), but my shorter runs have SUCKED. It’s hard to get out of the funk — but I truly NEVER regret a run.

    • I’m sorry your shorter runs have sucked lately. I don’t know if it’s the summer heat, or a funk, or what but I’m right there with you! Hope things start looking up soon.

  23. I appreciate your honesty here. So often it seems like people only talk about how great running is and I think that makes things really intimidating for new runners who find themselves shocked to find out that running isn’t as easy as they anticipated. Great post, girl!

  24. I wanted to thank you for this post. I’m in the middle of marathon training right now, and sometimes it’s really hard to make it through a sucky run. Especially when it’s 5:00 am and you’re on vacation (because that’s the only time it’s cool enough to run in Montgomery in the summer). The other day I was having a tough run, and I thought about how nothing was really wrong with me, and thought about how I wouldn’t quit in my race. I also started singing in my head the song you included in this post–it definitely helped! It made me think about how good my life is, that I can start my day watching the sun rise as I run eight beautiful miles.

    • I’m sorry you’re struggling through some of your runs, but it is good to know you’re not alone. I think it can be really hard for the body to adjust to this heat…and marathon training can be tough on the body regardless. I love that you ultimately turned the run into something positive, and I really hope they start going better!

  25. Great post! I go through these exact stages during my runs. In fact, I did most of these things this morning on my LR. It always feels so good when you push through the tough ones and finish though!

  26. This tells the truth because we don’t always listen to our bodies until we have to…but your tips for when it’s just the mental game are exactly what is needed.

    And I need that shirt. It’s so awesome!

  27. [...] post on When Running SUCKS. LB is one of my favorite writers.  She is also the running blogger I look up to the most. [...]

  28. I really enjoyed this post…and totally agree that those sucky runs make the good runs all the more amazing. I took a pretty bad stumble the other day…paying more attention to my running watch than the road, tripped and scraped up my knee and elbow pretty badly. I was very discouraged but I got back up and kept on running. I made it to 6 miles that day despite the fall and despite feeling discouraged. I guess it happens to the best of us. But a little fall will never stop me from the joy that is running and training for marathons – just makes me stronger. Just bandage it up and keep it moving! :)

  29. Thank you for the truth telling! ;-)

    Sometimes running sucks!

    Use the “wait and see” approach helps me sometimes!

  30. Wow! I needed that. Ive Been running a year and needed to hear this from a seasoned runner. Thank you.

  31. I found (after 38 years of off and on running) that the best way to make running not suck is to quit running. It worked. It doesn’t suck anymore and I felt better immediately. I just wish it didn’t take me 38 years to figure that out.

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