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How to recover from a bad run

Nobody sets out to have a bad run. It usually starts as a normal day. You put on your kit, tie your laces, cue up your playlist and head out for your run. But from almost the moment your feet meet pavement (or treadmill), you realise this run is anything but normal.

Maybe you just can’t get your breathing steady; or your legs feel weirdly heavy; or your pace is fundamentally off. Perhaps it’s all of those and more. The fact is, you’re having a bad run.

Sound familiar? We’re not talking about a run that’s sub-optimal for obvious reasons: you’re recently back from injury, for example, or trying to power through a hangover. This is a run that’s bad for no reason you can pinpoint – and the not knowing is the most frustrating part.

Anyone who runs regularly for a decent length of time is likely to experience this. The most important thing is not the fact you’ve had a bad run – it’s how you recover from it. Because the last thing you want is to lose your motivation.

We explain some of the key ways you can get yourself back on track, rediscover your confidence and make sure this is a one-off. There’s no such thing as a bad runner – only a bad run.

1. Recover as normal

Even if you’ve cut your workout short in frustration, go through your full post-run recovery routine. The situation will definitely not be improved if you end up injured. In fact, if anything, supercharge your recovery. Do a sauna session, book a sports massage, hit up a plunge pool, use a massage gun. This is the time for kindness, not punishment.

2. Start planning your next run

The longer you put it off, the harder it’ll be to get back into running. Schedule your next run – give yourself a day or two for that all-important recovery – and put a bit of extra planning into it. Add new songs to your running playlist, change your route, go out at a different time of day. These tweaks will make it feel different from the previous run, helping you to shake off the association.

3. Do some investigation

After a day or so, put all blame aside, and consider whether there are any contributing factors that didn’t occur to you at the time. It’s surprising how much some of these things can affect performance:

  • Stress: Studies have shown that psychological stress can negatively affect sports performance.
  • Tiredness: Long- and short-term fatigue can diminish physical capacity.
  • Hydration: Even mild dehydration can make it harder to run, so make sure you keep hydrated before and after each workout.
  • Overtraining: You may have been feeling like you’re on a roll, but is it possible you’ve been pushing yourself too hard, and this is your body’s way of asking for a break?
  • Nutrition: Are you eating enough to fuel your workouts?
  • Recovery: The fact that this was the first thing we mentioned shows how important post-run recovery is. Could your routine do with an overhaul?
  • Pre-run warm-up: Similarly, you may not be spending enough time on your pre-game. According to one study, the ideal warm-up is a mix of static and dynamic stretching.
  • Weather: Sudden changes in temperature can affect your performance – was it hotter or colder than normal for the time of year? Was your kit making you feel too hot or cold?

The point of this, as we’ve said, isn’t to find a reason to blame yourself. It’s about looking at ways to fine-tune your routine so you get the most from each run.

4. Talk it out

Know any fellow runners, whether IRL or online-only? Ask them about their bad runs and tell them about yours. Sometimes talking about your experience – and realising how normal it is – is enough to put it behind you. That’s the power of community.

5. Think about a fitness tracker

If you’re not already monitoring your running performance, this might be the time to add a tracker to your everyday kit. Keeping track of your distances and heart rate means that if an out-of-the-blue bad run strikes again, you’ll have cold, hard data to show that you’ve actually been making progress.

6. Silence your inner critic with positivity

We all have that annoying little voice that pops up every now and again. Chances are it’s having a field day after a bad run. “Oh, you thought you could run, did you?” it croons. “You thought you were a runner? How ridiculous. You’re bad at running, and your next run will be even worse.”

One way to silence the negative self-talk is practising positive affirmations – statements you say to yourself to boost your self-esteem. “I am getting faster and stronger,” you might say. “I am powerful.” Ok, you might feel a little silly, but no one is saying you need to march into the office and bellow, “I am a strong and confident runner!” to your colleagues every morning. Practise affirmations every day on your own and you may be surprised at the psychological benefits.

7. Try a different exercise

No, we’re not saying you may as well give up running for a life of yoga. But one way to refresh your mindset is to do something totally different. Try a workout or exercise class you’ve never done before. Experience what it’s like to be a complete beginner. And remember that this beginner state isn’t where you’ll be starting from on your next run – you’ll still have all that experience and achievement you’ve already built up.

You might also find that trying a new activity inspires an overhaul of your fitness routine. Add a strengthening practice, such as the aforementioned yoga, or building strength through weightlifting, can really help improve your running power and endurance.

8. Reframe your bad run

Returning to positive thinking, you might find it helpful to rethink your attitude towards your bad run. Maybe it is, ultimately, a good thing? An opportunity to learn more about yourself, a chance to build mental resilience, an experience that inspires you to refresh your routine – and even to fall in love with running all over again when you get out there and smash it next time.

For more inspiration, explore our 17 foolproof(ish) ways to make exercise more enjoyable.

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