An occasional bad run is part of running. The idea of quitting a run is often tempting.
It can be hard to tell if you want to quit because you are seeking comfort (and you should keep going) or if pushing through your bad run will do you more harm than good, both physically and mentally.
On the one hand, bailing on a run can be a slippery slope – once you’ve done it a few times, quitting can get a little easier. On the other hand, there is little to be gained by bullying yourself into finishing something you won’t benefit from.
I’d guess that in most cases, your best bet is to keep going. But ‘best bet’ doesn’t mean always.
When It’s Likely Best To Keep Running
Before you bail on a run, take a moment and consider:
Have You Given It A Fair Shot?
An often quoted line is: Never trust the first mile.
This is very true.
I can’t tell you the number of times that, just after starting, I was sure I was in for the worst run ever. In nearly every case, it got at least a little better.
Give yourself time to settle in.
I have a trick I use to get out the door on days I don’t feel like running, which can be slightly modified for days when you want to quit midrun.
In the original version: I have a pre-determined turn around spot about a half-mile from my house. If I start running and get to that spot and I’m still not feeling the run, I give myself permission to turn around and go home guilt free. In the twenty or so years I’ve been running, I’ve actually turned around less than a half-dozen times.
The wanting to quit modification is to set a turn around (or a quitting) spot a half-mile to a mile from where you first consider quitting. If you get to that spot and still aren’t feeling it, bail.
This way, you’ll push past the original moment of wanting to quit. Which is all it often is – a passing moment.
Is This A Pattern?
If you are bailing (or considering bailing), on most of your runs, you may be overtraining.
You may be on the road to physical or mental burnout or injury. Wanting to quit may be an early symptom.
Review your goals and your training program, as well as other factors in your life like diet, stress, or sleeping (you are keeping a journal to track all this stuff, right?).
Your plan may be tougher than it should be (or needs to be), or changes to your non-running life may be in order.
Make sure you, your mindset, your life, your physical abilities, and your training plan are all in alignment.
It Isn’t All Or Nothing
Don’t think of your run as all or nothing – that your only two options are to stop and go home or to keep doing exactly what you set out to do.
If you aren’t feeling what you are doing, consider calling an audible – change-up your run on the fly.
For example, if you were doing (and really not feeling) a highly structured speed workout, a ‘regular’ run with a few fartleks (unstructured bursts of speed) could provide some of the same benefits but not be as mentally taxing.
Or change your pace. Or your goal distance.
If you can’t stomach the idea of a 16-mile long run when things aren’t going great, do 13 miles instead.
Your run isn’t written in stone, change it up based on the circumstances.
Build In Exceptions For Known Issues
If you know you have triggers that wear you down mentally, build-in exceptions and plan B workouts for when those triggers occur.
For example, I have a very bad history with unknown substitute yoga teachers, so I created a personal yoga class exception.
I can bail (guilt-free) on a yoga class if it’s going to be taught by sub and I’ll do a yoga video at home instead. That way I get the benefit of my Plan B workout, but with the potential bad substitute teacher vibes.
Consider the Purpose Of Your Run
What was the purpose of this run? Is there some other way you can achieve those goals without continuing on this particular run?
For example: If you are doing a long run with endurance as the goal, running at a slower pace (or based on effort instead of pace) could accomplish the same goal.
If the purpose of the run is aerobic capacity, biking (or spin class), or other cross training options could provide similar benefits.
When It May Be Better To Quit
Are there external factors impacting your run?
Weather, stress, injury or illness, can all drastically impact how you feel on a run.
If you are training for a race, it’s a good idea to run in all conditions so you are ready for whatever race day may bring, but some days just aren’t worth it.
If there are specific, identifiable, conditions that are bringing you down (and you can’t modify them by, for example, hitting the treadmill to avoid inclement weather), pushing through those conditions may be more trouble than it’s worth
Pains or Problems
If there is a specific pain or problem that is impacting your run, it’s often better to stop running (sorry, but being tired or bored does not count as a ’specific pain or problem’).
This is especially true if the pain is something biomechanical or that is making you change your running gait.
If you can’t run normally, chances are, very little good will come from continuing to push through.