Bargain Runs

Bargain runs aren’t something you seek out on Black Friday. You could have a bargain run any day.

Ever have a workout that you:

  1. Loathe doing but know you need it, or
  2. Fear doing because you may not complete it, or
  3. Are stretching yourself beyond your current conditioning, or
  4. Just do not feel like doing the workout.

Bargaining is a mental technique to try that might just get you through it and keep you on target for your goals. I find that it works especially good on out-and-back courses because if you commit to just one more segment then you have really doubled the outcome since you have to return.

How it works:

Establish your ideal workout outcome goal. I recommend doing so in tiers. I might set them like this:

  • Gold Medal – 6 mile run
  • Silver Medal – 5 mile run
  • Bronze Medal – 4 mile run
  • Honorable Mention – got out there and didn’t skip the workout entirely

The idea is to maximize make mental bargains with yourself breaking down your workout into what is most tolerable so that even on a bad day (regardless of reason – physical, mental, environmental) you get the most out of the workout.

  1. Put your workout outcome goal out of your mind. Sometimes it is just too much to focus on and too distant.
  2. Focus only on the current segment of the workout you think you can handle – right now. (i.e. next mile, next lap, next stop light, next intersection)
  3. Make a deal with yourself to finish this next segment that you can handle and then you will figure out what you will do next. It takes the form of: “If I can get “X” done, then I can turn back if I want or, I can see what I can handle next.” But no commitment is made to complete your entire workout.
  4. Your bargains can be in the form of rewards for yourself (“If I get through “X” I can take a break, slow down, turn back, have dessert, …”)
  5. Once you complete that segment, you strike your next deal in the same fashion. (Or head home.)
  6. The objective is to get you – one way or another – just to the next part of your workout, one step at a time.

How I Use It:

Getting back in shape after time off (forced or otherwise) is seldom fun. I notice that it takes at least a mile to even upgrade how I feel to crappy. Knowing this, I suspend thinking too much about how many miles I would really like to get in. At this point at least I want to move, burn some calories and loosen up – if nothing else than for tomorrow’s effort. Only then do I think about what I can handle for the day.

Recently, after about three weeks of running I planned on doing a “long” run. I figured that I could handle 4-5 miles. Secretly, I really wanted to go 6 miles (Gold Medal). I had run 4 miles already but had to stop several times and was not what I called fun.

I did not feel especially strong or fresh and knowing that first mile really does not feel good, I made a bargain to just get the first mile done and if I had to, I’d stop stretch and then assess what I could handle for the day – maybe even just head home. At the end of that mile two things happened. First, I was already a mile from home so at least I automatically was going to be able to slug out a 2-mile run (Honorable Mention goal but at least my journey to getting back in shape was still moving forward – albeit slowly). And second, approaching the mile mark I actually felt looser and my breathing was fairly comfortable. Onward I went.

I shifted my focus to my next goal. If I could just relax and go out one more mile I could stop and regroup at that time and I would be guaranteed a 4 mile run (Bronze Medal goal; or two miles plus a very long walk home to dwell on things).

By mile two I was surprisingly fresher than in past days. But I didn’t want to jump too far ahead. I knew that my conditioning was fragile and at any moment I could crash and burn. So I felt like another half-mile was reasonable and it would make for a 5-miler (Nice Silver Medal goal). Deal – I’ll only commit to another half-mile.

As I approached the traffic light at that 2.5-mile mark on my run I was fatiguing but it was manageable and I looked up in the distance to see the 3-mile mark traffic light. Ok, if I make it to three then I could just go four and walk home but I’d have a decent run and a nice cool down. Deal.

Turning at the midway mark I then felt buoyed by my success. I figured I could do this. At four miles I was fatiguing and decided to change my route so that I would pass closer to home. If my body wouldn’t carry me to 6 at least I would have a solid 5 under my belt. But motivation to get my Gold Medal workout kicked in. Nearing the turn-off to my house, about 4.5 miles in, I realized I didn’t feel all that bad and if I just ran this loop around my neighborhood I could get my 6th mile in. Once in the neighborhood I could even just back off on my pace and jog easily to get it in. Deal.

I averted doing the 5-miler (which would have been my longest run anyway) and completed the six. It also demonstrated that it was as much mental as it was physical in pushing forward in my comeback.

Bargaining doesn’t always get you the gold, but it will certainly get you farther along your journey, one step at a time.


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