No training cycle will ever be perfect, whether you are a beginner or a professional athlete. There will always be days where motivation is low, your body is not cooperating, or you simply cannot seem to hit your proper paces for speed work, no matter how hard you try. These bad days often come late in the training cycle and wreak emotional havoc on an athlete, leading to fears of diminished fitness and doubt. However, bad days rarely mean disaster, especially when approached properly. Five tips for overcoming a rough patch are described below.
As athletes, we often forget that training is secondary to the bigger picture of health, wellbeing, improved fitness, or an upcoming race and instead focus on day – to – day performance. In reality, training should simply be viewed as stress adaption, where we are teaching our bodies to grow stronger in response to hard workouts. When we remove emotional attachment from the process we are left with data, neither good nor bad. Even though you may not have been able to run as fast or as far as you would have liked, you cannot discount the fact that you still put forth effort (in some instances, even more than normal) in order to complete the run, bike ride, swim, etc. At the end of the day you have to remind yourself that while success is not linear, work is certainly cumulative.
Reframe Negative Thinking
It is completely natural to think negative thoughts after a bad workout, but the trick to truly overcoming a setback is to turn negative thinking into something positive. For instance, it may be tempting to think to yourself, “that workout was bad and is a sign that I’m not in shape.” However, instead of immediately resorting to negative thoughts look for the silver lining. For instance, you could reframe the original thought to instead think to yourself, “bad days are bound to happen occasionally, and today was a great opportunity to practice my mental toughness skills!”
Stay in the Present
As athletes, we tend to look at both the past and the future instead of dwelling in the present. For instance, we may want to compare a recently completed workout to one we have completed in the past or use the present to predict the future. While this can be beneficial to an extent, there are a number of variables that will change year to year or even week to week, such as weather, stress levels, sleep, diet, and life in general. It can be dangerous for a runner’s mental state to dwell on bad days. As soon as the workout is over, gather whatever information you may need from it and then move on.
Look at the Big Picture
Before you become too upset about an off-day, look at the big picture of the events surrounding your workout. If the weather is extreme, such as hot, humid, windy, or especially cold, it is unrealistic to assume the same effort you would have expended on a perfect day will yield similar results. Also, consider personal factors surrounding your day. Have you gotten less/lower quality sleep recently? Have you been training harder than usual or training from a lower starting point after injury or illness? Have you been under a lot of stress? If any of these factors apply, give yourself a break and acknowledge that effort – not results – are most important when it comes to practice.
Learn from the Experience
Finally, use the bad day as a learning experience. What could you have done better; what did you do well? Did you hydrate properly before your run, or refuel efficiently the day before? Are there factors you can change so that you are not faced with the same situation again? If bad days continue to occur, reevaluate your routine or consult with a coach in order to keep bad days from habitually occurring.