There, I said it.
A short while ago, I was having a conversation with a friend. A non-running friend. He was telling me about his new (non-running) workout routine. After some time, the conversation turned to my ultramarathon training and how he could never do what I do. A big reason is how much he finds running hurts – mentally and physically. He told me about how much his lungs hurt. How his brain agonizes over how much he just wants it to be over. That his legs feel heavy like lead. That it’s just not fun.
I had a truth bomb for him.
Sometimes I experience all of those feelings too.
He was absolutely floored when I told him this. He was certain that I, a “real runner” and an ultramarathoner, couldn’t possibly experience any of those things.
While I am absolutely in love with the sport (I mean, why else would I run 8-hour training runs?), running is certainly NOT always enjoyable nor is it always easy.
I am currently training for my first 100 km trail race. As you might imagine, I spend lots of my free time training. And with lots of time running solo, I have many moments to doubt myself and to fully embrace imposter syndrome. My brain participates in a full fledged debate that challenges why I am doing what I’m doing and often tries to get me to throw in the towel and just go home.
I often struggle to catch my breathe. Sometimes I am in a foul mood. Yes, my body frequently aches and gets tired. And there most certainly are runs that I wished I would have just stayed home.
I believe there’s a common misconception that more experienced runners than ourselves don’t suffer in the pain cave and always have it together. We don’t.
Harness the Power of Bad Runs
Despite how challenging certain runs may be or how a serious lack of motivation makes it hard getting out that front door, how we approach these runs can make a significant positive difference to our training. On these days, take a candid stock of what’s going on.
Are you running on empty with little sleep? Are you fighting an injury or illness? Are you facing tight deadlines with school or work? Is it dark or cold outside? Is the weather crappy?
When we push through a hard run that did not live up to our expectations, we build the mental fortitude required to push through similar situations on future runs or races. We truly build our personal character and athletic capabilities when we #EmbraceTheSuck.
In the very least, remember that difficult training sessions make the good runs that much better!
Something that I try when I am suffering from a lack of motivation or feeling defeated is to accomplish at least 20 minutes of activity. I find that pushing through for this long is just enough time for the endorphins to kick in and for the run to feel more manageable. If after 20 minutes I still want nothing more than to quit, then I head home and give my body and mind the rest it clearly needs.
So, whether you are just starting your running adventures, training for your first 5 km, looking for that Boston qualifier, or training for a 100 km ultra, let’s remember to be kind to ourselves. All of us—every single one of us—has had a bad run (or three).
It is how we use these experiences and our willingness to accept them that ultimately shapes our mental capacity to deal with them again in the future. It is precisely within these moments that we mature as athletes.