Bad Warm-up – Now What?

Time and time again I encounter days that either I or many of the runners I coach just feel like crap during warm-ups. Perhaps it’s during those first easy portions (notice I avoided saying miles) of getting going. Other times you know that feeling as you put your shoes on and step out the door.

You know the day. You’re out of sorts, perhaps a bit achy, legs feel like lead, every movement is an effort, breathing is erratic, funky niggling pains stabbing this or that muscle group. The worse overall condition you are in, the more often you may in fact encounter such days. Novice runners tend to encounter them often. And on the other side of the spectrum over-trained runners encounter them more often.

Sometimes we know the reason for feeling like crap: that hard track workout, that last long run, that race last week, that lack of sleep recently, that marathon hangover, the extended travel and time zone adaptation, the lack of refueling (eating) after that hard run, or down on fluid intake are just a few examples.

Here’s another observation of those lousy warm-up days. Some of the best possible runs and races follow. I’ve made it a habit to ask my athletes after good races and bad races various questions. Tuning into warm-ups I have found there is little relation between feeling good in a warm-up or feeling bad in a warm-up and race performance. In other words, feeling great in warm-ups does not correlate well to racing/running well. Likewise, feeling yucky in warm-ups is not well correlated to performing poorly.

The trick then is to complete warm-ups as designed without personal judgment. Just do it. If it is race day, focus on your race pacing, competition or strategy. If it is a workout focus on the goal of the workout for the day. Do not let your mind focus on the subjective interpretation of the sensations you are experiencing. You control your focus.

Make a deal with yourself when you encounter tough warm-ups. Just get through that first mile; just get the warm-up drills done; just do those strides on the grass. Take a quick break to stretch then continue on. On bad days I make a deal with myself to just run down to the corner (1 mile) before I make a decision on the workout. So, I set myself up for success by getting out and getting moving.

Here is the other point. Runs and races are simply not always going to be good. If you wait for the prefect day and perfect feelings to go run or race – you’ll be waiting forever to do anything. You have to start practicing having your best bad day possible. You prepare yourself both mentally and physically for races in which you will need to persevere. Get the workout done anyway. Do the race anyway… to the best of your ability on that given day in those given circumstances.

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