How to Get Over a Bad Run When You’re Having Trouble Mentally Bouncing Back

We all have bad days during training. These pro tips help you turn them around.

a runner looking tired after a run on a gravel trail

Trevor Raab

When training for the Tokyo Marathon a couple years ago, I was running 28-kilometres when I could feel from my toes through my hips to my shoulders that something was off inside of me. I just knew in that moment that it was one of those bad runs that plague pretty much every runner at some point. But just in case I needed a quantifiable, trackable reminder, my Garmin watch also decided to choose that moment to helpfully deem my training “unproductive.”

As a run coach myself, I’d like to say I don’t put a whole lot of stock in what my watch says about my training, but seeing that word flash on the screen—especially after forcing myself through a gruelling run—was like running straight into a brick wall. I could barely bring myself to run the next day, wondering what the point even was, and that black cloud of self-doubt kept following me every time I forced myself to lace up my shoes over the next two weeks.

To help break me out of my slump, I turned to the people who know best how to get over a bad run and just keep going: The professionals who can’t afford to waste their time beating themselves up, and the coaches who help keep runners feeling positive. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Find something to keep you going

“When I’m having a hard run, I rely on three things: my teammates to get me through (I might just sit behind them for a rep or a kilometre and try to zone out); repeating a mantra like ‘you’re doing good’ or ‘stay relaxed,’ and the maths—counting down how much I have left (600 metres to go, 500 metres to go, 1/3 done, etc.) really helps for me.” Emma Coburn, world champion in the 3000-metres steeplechase and Olympic bronze medalist

2. Remember how far you’ve come

“When you’re feeling discouraged by a bad run, try scrolling back through your training log and reflecting on other great runs you’ve completed. A bad run can make us second guess the progress we’ve made or our ability to perform in our upcoming goal race, which isn’t rational. Then, for the next few days, run based on effort rather than looking at pace.

If your body needs a few easy days, do that! Here’s the thing: When you stick with a run even when you’re not feeling it, you are doing a lot of great mental strength training that will serve you well on race day.” Amanda Nurse, an elite runner and running coach based in Boston

3. Learn from your misery

“The thing about a bad run is that it’s already done and the only thing to do is focus on moving forward onto the next one. You can’t go back and change it. But look back on the run and see what you learned from that effort. It’s never a wasted run—even if you totally bonked and didn’t finish, you learned a valuable lesson on fueling and pacing!” —Matthew Meyer, a certified trainer and running coach based in Boulder, Colorado

4. Don’t forget how much it sucked

“This is probably super dark, but I like to keep a little mental note of these tough runs—because on race day, when things inevitably get dark and twisty, I like to remind myself of the tough runs throughout my training cycle and think, okay, I’ve been through way worse. I’ve got this.” Jes Woods, a Nike Run Club Coach in New York City

5. Practice resiliency

“Success comes from consistency, and to be able to bounce back after feeling defeated takes some practice. I try to see disappointment not as failing, but a sign that you care an awful lot about how you’re doing. It’s good to care about your time in your running shoes. As long as a defeat doesn’t define you, let yourself feel the disappointment then take the next step. And remember that one day does not decide your fitness, so continue to show up each day. It’s the accumulation of runs and not any specific workout that builds you.” Deena Kastor, Olympic bronze medalist and former American record holder in the marathon

6. Embrace what you’re grateful for

“‘Bad runs happen to all of us. So when I have a disappointing run or workout, I try to identify three things I can be grateful for and three things I can improve on for the next one. There’s always something to learn, even when a run doesn’t go as planned!” Stephanie Garcia, steeplechase runner

7. Reframe your thinking

“While there are hundreds of different reasons why a run can go south, there’s one thing you can control about the run: your reaction to it. If I can pinpoint an answer as to ‘what went wrong’—I was dehydrated, I was getting sick, I pushed the pace too fast too soon—then I know to make the appropriate changes going forward. But sometimes it’s just not your day. Those runs don’t get me down anymore, because I’ve chosen to reframe my thinking: Now I think of a really crappy training run as my good luck, as in I’ve gotten that ‘bad’ run out of the way so race day will go my way.” Dorothy Beal, a RRCA- and USATF level 1 run coach

8. Find your support network

“I like to meet up with a friend or a group of friends who I know I can have good conversations with. Sometimes we talk about the bad experience and sometimes we just talk about whatever. It helps me process and then also helps me move on and realise there is more to life and to my career than one bad day. If I stay in my hole feeling sorry for myself, it’s harder to pull myself out of the funk.” Colleen Quiqley, Olympic steeplechaser

Related Articles