I recently got an email from a runner I coach with the following question:
“I had a disastrous speed workout last week and ended up quitting halfway through it when I wasn’t hitting my time goals. Did I do the right thing? Or should I have kept going?”
We’ve all had bad runs when we feel like just throwing in the towel. And there are definitely times when stopping a run because it’s not going the way you expected is the right thing to do. But there are other instances when you should just suck it up and push through your workout.
If you find that a run isn’t going well, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Are you feeling pain? Muscle fatigue is one thing, but if you’re experiencing acute pain in one spot that’s getting worse as you continue or it’s affecting your running gait, then call it a day. Ending one workout early won’t affect your training too much, but running through pain like that and ignoring injury warning signs could sideline you for a week or more. You could end up making your injury worse or overcompensating and causing a completely new injury.
Is the weather to blame? If you’re running in unfavorable weather conditions (assuming it’s safe to run), don’t beat yourself up if you’re not hitting your times. No one runs their best in extreme heat or frigid conditions. Accept the fact that you’re going to slow down and realize that you’re still getting in a good workout. If the conditions are really terrible, stop the run and hit the treadmill, if that’s an option.
Is it a mental thing? If your mind is occupied with a personal or work problem, it might be hard to concentrate on your workout. Try to stick with it. Chances are that you’ll feel better later on in the run as you get more distracted and the endorphins start kicking in. If you’re having a tough time mentally, try some of these mental tricks for pushing through a run.
Did you forget to eat or drink? Did you skip breakfast or forget to hydrate? Do you have a hangover from happy hour last night? If lack of energy or dehydration is a possible cause, you may want to take it easy and do the workout when you’re better prepared. If you consistently are having workouts where you feel tired and lethargic, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your health care professional to see if you have a nutritional deficiency or other issue.
Are you only slightly off? Don’t worry if you’re not nailing your times right down to the second. For example, if you’re doing mile repeats at marathon pace and you’re only 5 seconds off your usual pace, you can continue with the workout. The time of day, what you ate, or how much sleep you got could all explain a slight decrease in performance. You’ll still get the benefits of the workout even if you’re not doing it exactly the way you had hoped.
Are you way off your marks? If you’re significantly off your times (more like 20 seconds a mile in the above example) and your every step is feeling like a huge effort, you may be getting sick, or fatigued due to overtraining or stress overload in other areas of your life. That’s one of those times when you need to rest rather than push through a workout.