What to do When Good Runs Go South

Two Fridays ago, hubby and I went north to Prescott, AZ.  Our plan was to camp and then run on the Prescott Circle Trail Saturday morning.  After my Whiskey Basin 57K on the same trail, I was eager to share it with Kenny.  Beating the heat, enjoying good company, and getting into the woods were our main goals for the trip.

Unfortunately, my day got off to a rocky start.  Fight with a friend, difficult staff problems, and last minute stressful packing all conspired to ruin our trip.  But Kenny was supportive and great about getting the car packed, leaving me to fume.  Then he listened to my woes as I unleashed all my frustration.  What a man!!  After letting off some steam, I was able to settle down and focus on the excitement of our adventure.

We got to Prescott later than we hoped and were left finding a dispersed camping site in the dark.  Never having camped in this location, we were at a bit of a loss as we bumped down the dirt road, keeping our eyes peeled for a sites.  Once we found one, we set up camp in no time.

We were packing light since we only needed to sleep and then rise for a run the next morning.  No fancy camping.  We pitched the tent, unrolled sleeping bags and ate our dinner by the light of our headlamps before settling down for the evening.  The evening was peaceful and relaxing, setting us up for a good run the next morning.  At 11:30 pm a car parked in a nearby site and start blasting the worst music ever.  Worried this was a bad omen for the next day, I desperately covered my ears.

But at last, quiet settled in and we drifted off.

Dawn broke and we rose, the Prescott Circle Trail calling our name.  We got off to a great start, beginning at the Thumb Butte Recreation Area.  The trail was beautiful.  Pine forest providing blessed shade, a cool breeze in the air.  I was setting out for a 5 hour round trip – 2.5 out and then back.  Hubby was planning to start with me and then continue on ahead for the same amount of time, but at a faster pace.  Yet as we started running together, it was so enjoyable that we ended up staying together for the whole time.

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Beginning of the Run…Happy and Excited

The first 2.5 hours were wonderful.  I felt great.  Ran within my heart rate for the most part, fast-packing as necessary to keep it down.  We hit our turnaround time at 10 miles and I was happy with the pace.  I felt strong, happy and overall really pleased.  We kept marveling at the beauty around us.  It brought back memories of Oregon and got us excited for our upcoming trip to run the McKenzie River Trail Run in Sept.

As we turned around we faced a 2 mile climb back up hill.  It wasn’t horribly steep, only about 750 feet over the 2 miles, but it was completely exposed as we were out of the pine cover.  The heat started to get to me.

Once we hit the top, with a little less than 8 miles to go, we started picking up the pace.  I ignored my heart rate and opened up.  As I cruised down the hill, I felt amazing….until I didn’t.

At a higher heart rate, the body has a harder time absorbing nutrients and fluids.  Dehydration set in, my stomach getting nauseous and a light throbbing behind my temples.   My run took a steep down for the south pole.  So what to do when a good run (or race for that matter) heads south?  How do you pull it back together?

Here are some strategies that work for me and helped me pull this run out of the gutter allowing me to end happy:

  • Change the Pace – Slowing down is a good strategy if you are nauseous, lightheaded, struggling to keep down food or absorb nutrients.  Allowing the heart rate to drop puts you into a zone where your biologic functions can kick back into gear.  Speeding up the pace is a good strategy when your legs feel heavy, your body is getting stiff, the pace seems hard to maintain.  If you pick up the pace for even a little bit, it shifts the work to different muscles, giving others a break.  If and inevitably when you slow back down, you likely will not need to slow as much to get into an easy pace.
  • Initiate a Conversation – If you are running with a partner or pacer, ask them to talk to you about something, anything.  The most mundane topic can be so amusing in moments of discomfort.  Want to talk about cars?  Sure – go for it!  Want to talk about that coworker you just can’t stand? Bring it on!  Topics that require thought and focus can be helpful, but often that extra focus may be more than your overwhelmed brain can handle at the moment.  Simple topics or even stupid jokes seem to work best.  By yourself?  Well, no one will mess with you if you are taking to yourself!
  • Focus on Form – Taking your mind off what you are doing can be helpful but on the flip side, ultra focus on form can also be helpful.  Rather than thinking about how tired you are, how much your stomach hurts, and so on, let those thoughts roll past and instead turn your attention to your form.  Are you lifting from the head? Legs opening behind you, body leaning forward from the ankles?  Focusing on form gives your brain a task.  More importantly when we get tired and aching, form starts to go making aches and pains worse and bringing fatigue faster.  Focus on form will keep you as efficient as possible.
  • Accept What You Cannot Change – When running long distance, you are going to find times that you are uncomfortable, in pain, mentally taxed.  This is normal and you have likely experienced it before and survived.  While this may seem counter intuitive, there are no good or bad thoughts.  They are all just thoughts.  When we start into a negative spiral, it becomes difficult to move past because we assign a judgment to it.  But when you let go of placing judgement on the thoughts you are having, you will find that it is easier to let go and accept that in that moment, you cannot change that you are running long, you cannot change that you are in pain.  Letting go mentally of the discomfort and pain often corresponds to a physical letting go of discomfort and pain.  You might be surprised to find that the knee that ached so badly 15 minutes ago no longer hurts at all.

Next time you find a run heading south, try some of these tricks to find what works for you.

Do you have any other tricks that you have find useful?  Please leave in the comments below for us all to try!!

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