Today I was scheduled for a recovery day before my long run tomorrow. I loaned my vehicle to a family member so I had to run 6 miles out to the Vet to get Bart's thyroid pills and then 6 miles back. Even though it was longer than I wanted to run today, I was able to do it at a very relaxed pace and felt like it was still a good recovery day. On the way back home I started thinking about bad running days.
The "bad day" phenomonon seems to be shared by most runners. Some attribute it to training too hard and not recovering enough between hard efforts. Others say it is from under training. I have heard others blame diet, hydration, electrolytes, or hormones. One runner I know swears it is all mental.
I would love to know the physiology behind "bad days". What makes some days feel like hard miserable work even at a slow pace. For me, it feels like I have cement blocks strapped to my ankles on those days. I usually don't know it is going to be a "bad day" until I start running. But once I start running, it only takes a few steps to feel it. I've been told to always give it at least 2 miles before giving up on a planned workout when you feel like crap. So I play by the 2 mile rule and try to think positive telling myself "Maybe I'll feel better once I get warmed up." But truthfully, if I feel crappy in the first few steps it is usually going to be a crappy run throughout.
Apparently each runner has a different "bad day" cycle and some are able to predict them better than others. While warming up for the Hyannis Half Marathon one year, my friend Randy said, "I already had my 'bad day' this week, so I should be all set today." Upon questioning him it became apparent that he had exactly one "bad day" each week, he just never knew what day it was going to be. My friend, M. says she has exactly 3 "bad days" in a row each month and they fall at a percise point in her monthly cycle. Another friend tells me he has a "bad day" 2 days after his long run each week. In the past I have kept careful records of my training intensity based on heart rate and tried to correlate that with my "bad days". I was never able to find any pattern or any way of predicting when my occasional "bad day" would occur.
I am lucky that I don't have "bad days" very frequently. But every now and then one will fall on a race day. I can distictly remember three different races which I ran on "bad days". 1st was a 5K in South Portland. While doing a 2 mile warm up I had to sit down on the curb and rest halfway through. I wasn't sure I could make it back to the starting line before the gun went off. I knew I was in trouble. Another time was at the Maine Track Club 50 miler. I don't remember what year it was. I just remember that every step from mile 1 to mile 50 felt like I was running through thigh-high water. More recently at last Fall's Stonecat Trail Race I was dragging along just walking to the starting line. I had absolutely no energy. I had signed up for the 50 miler, but at the first aid station (maybe 4 miles into the race?) I told a friend that I would be trying for a marathon finish on that day and might not even make it that far. I felt like I was wearing someone else's legs that day. And that someone else was definitely NOT a runner.
Lately it occurs to me that I may have found a clue to the "bad day" puzzle. Now that I am training hard and training correctly, I can't remember my last "bad day". There are days when I am tired and sore from a previous workout, but never days when I just feel terrible for no apparent reason. This could be because I am taking honest recovery days between my hard workouts. Or it could be because I am more fit than I have been in a long time. It could be because I am being very conciencious about what I eat and drink every day. Then again, I am in a better state of mind about my running and my life than I was for the past several years. It might be a combination of all those things.
I don't pretend to be cured of "bad days." I'm sure I'll feel that lead footed feeling again at times. But for now I can say in all honesty, I'm not missing them a bit.