I had a bad run around 6 weeks ago. It happens occasionally, more so in training than races for me. Usually there is an obvious reason but sometimes not.

It was my scheduled long run progression– 110mins in duration. I was building nicely in prep for the half marathon in May. The previous weeks long run was 100mins, 90mins the week before and so on (I prefer to increase my runs by time not distance). I had also recently come off a recovery week.

What happened? Nothing dramatic, I was very sluggish and well off my normal pace. My legs felt tired, my foot strike heavy and glutes fatigued. Other little things were also bothering me. I recently bought new headphones for my iPod, they were hopeless and kept falling out of my ears. Every 300m or so I had to catch them from falling and it really threw out my rhythm – that didn’t help.

I finished the 110min run and was 20 sec per km slower than the previous weeks. I was a tad dejected and couldn’t figure out what happened, all my recent running felt so good!

Two days before my bad run I was at a friend’s wedding. Dinner, drinks and dancing for a few hours. If you also include the amount of standing during the ceremony and canapes etc we were probably on our feet for 6-8 hours+ that day! (Not to mention the 5k tempo run I snuck in before the ceremony:)). I might have also had a round of golf the day before, walking a hilly golf course for 4 hours should also be treated like a session on its own. This all takes its toll on your body and should factored in to recovery time. I also did some glute strength progressions the day before my bad run – I was a little sore and should have done this on a different day. Everything should be considered.

I had a further think and it had been a busy month. The clinic was busy, my own training load was really ramping up, I was sick a couple of weeks earlier and still recovering. It was a busy time socially and I was short on sleep. This increases recovery time.

Everyone is different, challenges with work, sports, social lives, children, (lack of sleep as a result), stress all impacts our training and recovery. I started to realise why I had a bad run, I wasn’t overtraining – I was fatigued.

One point I would like to stress is how to increase your long runs. Do it by time, not distance.

If I had pushed myself to run to scheduled distance during my bad run I would have overloaded myself. The fact that I had to stop at the 110 min mark saved me. There is always the temptation to push yourself during training. I ended up running around 2km less than planned but I didn’t injure myself. A 120 min long run the following week was a success and I was also back on normal pace. All went well with the rest of training and taper which resulted in a PB in the Half Marathon!

Long runs should be about spending TIME on your feet with less focus on speed and distance – especially if you are new to running. Respect the long run. As your experience increases so will your pace. And with appropriate training plans including speed work and tempo runs your times will improve.

Don’t worry if you have a bad run, it happens to everyone.

Learn from it.

Phil de Mestre – Sports Podiatrist