Right now, my tendency is to run a handful of different runs over the course of the week, mostly based around a ~11 mile trail run that seems to be about half technical trails/elevation changes, and 1/2 rail-trails, which are well groomed, relatively fast, and moderately scenic, but overall very flat, think of old trains, and the kind of terrain they would prefer.. you get the jist of it. Running the same routes on a regular basis has its advantages, namely the knowledge of roughly how long it’s going to take, how bad the after-run bonk is likely to be, which shoes will be best, etc etc. The downside to these repeated runs is of course, knowing your splits, which can make recover runs, and other such slower endeavors troublesome, and since I do have an inner competitor, I find myself trying to PR on these courses, or getting bummed out/excited when I look at my watch and realize where I am.
What does this have to do with bad runs? In my experience, I find myself challenging these regular splits, constantly monitoring myself against previous times, which sometimes gets me out of listening to what my body is telling me. For example, today I left my car, and immediately began running rather quickly ~7min/mile which I knew was unsustainable for the duration of the run, but it felt good, and I beat my best splits to the turn from the rail trail to the mountain. This was listening to my body, I felt strong, and ran strong, but beginning up the mountain my legs began to weaken, likely a result of substantial mileage following my longest run to date (31 miles last week) which has left me feeling a bit sluggish in the legs. Normally I would have backed off here, but instead, I continued pacing up the hills, a pulled through the low.
So far, so good, and pushing through the periods of softer legs has its upsides, mostly harnessing gumption, and building strength both physically and mentally. I made it through the two loops of mountain running and back to the rail-trail a few minutes ahead of schedule, even taking a few minutes to enjoy the view from the top. This is where everything started to fall apart. It’s been my plan to run on a rather low fuel supply, usually soon after I wake up, I’ll consume a GU or something similar (clifshot, powerbar gel) and begin my run, with no additional nourishment. This usually works out well, teaching my body to burn fat, and lessening the effects of sugar-depleted bonking. Today, I took the time for a cup of coffee first, then began my run.
With the three (easy) miles to go back to my car, all of my minor discomforts became exacerbated. The typical aches in my legs were tolerable, and a slight tinge in my left achilles tendon felt tight, but not painful, certainly not stop-the-run painful. I was minutes ahead of schedule, and posited to best my time for this particular run by a substantial amount when, heartburn strikes. This, to me, is the biggest offender, and takes the award for most likely to halt my run. Leg pain, no problem, foot pain, fine, tiredness, meh, whatever, heartburn…. let’s talk.
Now it’s likely that this is a result of the coffee/empty stomach/low calorie combination, and then running hard for 90 minutes, in fact, I can think of few other calculations that would explain it. This, however, turned what was a great run, into something miserable, with no choice but to keep moving (~3 miles to the car).
What do I learn? First and foremost, I’ll avoid coffee immediately prior to runs, especially if I’m on an empty stomach. Beyond that, hitting my splits every day on my regular courses is something I’m going to try to de-emphasize, while beating a PR is always nice, it’s best to listen to the body, and run your run, especially as a trail runner, where the point of the run is the run, and the environment it takes place in.
So the bad run, or in this case, a failure run is always for me, a learning experience, and helps me to fine tune my approach to mileage, and pacing. It’s always a discouraging blow, especially when things go from swimmingly to miserable, but I get to do it again tomorrow, and the the next day…