ideal running conditions

If I’ve learned anything during this short foray into running, it’s that my body and mind depend on a certain set of conditions to be met before and during my run. Those precise conditions are something I’m still trying to nail down.

I had a wonderful 3.15 mile run on a nearby trail this weekend. It felt effortless and smooth. I took a few very short walking breaks but only because there are a few very steep hills on the trail and I didn’t want to expend all my energy climbing them: the breaks weren’t a necessity due to fatigue or breathlessness, a fact I’m proud of. I’ve been anxious to get back on that trail, and I did so today after work. This run felt laborious, difficult, and I was absolutely exhausted. I only completed 2.46 miles and I took a few extra walking breaks that I didn’t take on Sunday (but I did complete a mental and physical challenge: climb one of the steeper hills).

Last week I ate a lot of processed junk and drank a lot of beer, so this week I’ve been paying special attention to my diet: clean eating, lots of fruits and veggies, no beer. I thought this would help my run today, but it didn’t. I started to retrace my every motion from Sunday. What made that run different?

On Sunday, the weather conditions were perfect. It was about 80 sunny degrees during my mid-morning run. About an hour previous, I’d downed two cups of coffee so I was probably still feeling a caffeine buzz. Let’s not forget that it was the weekend so I’d slept a delightfully long weekend sleep. Perhaps most importantly, I hadn’t spent 2 hours in the car and 8 hours working prior to the run.

Fast-forward to today: it was cloudy, humid, and buggy. I had spent 2 hours in the car and 8 hours working before my run. And, though I’ve been trying to eat cleanly, I did eat a clif bar around 1:30 (which was the last time I ate before my run) and my body could have been experiencing a sugar crash by the time I went for my run at 5.

I’m a very calculated person and I refuse to accept that one day, I can run 3 miles effortlessly and three days later, I struggle just to get through the first mile. I’d like to get a discussion going, hopefully from both the running novice and the running extraordinaire: what are your ideal running conditions in relation to diet, drink, time of day, weather conditions, mood, etc.? How do you get through the difficult runs, if you have them? Am I the only one that experiences such inconsistency?

On Sunday, I thought I could easily blast through a 5k and potentially shoot for an eventual (in a year or two) half-marathon. Today, I don’t even know if I could get through a 5k in under 50 minutes. Are these simply the growing pains of the young runner?

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6 thoughts on “ideal running conditions

  1. skinnycat64 says:

    I am a pretty new runner, since April. I try to put in 15 miles a week- both walking and running. I am getting to the point where I can run for close to 2.5 miles without a walk break. That’s a good night for me. Some nights, I can’t even muster up more than a fast walk. I used to feel guilty on those nights, but I have now learned to go with my gut. If I don’t “have it” on a given run, I just walk, but try to get a 4-5 miles in. I have decided that it’s good practice for increasing my running distance eventually.

    • That’s an excellent attitude to have! I struggle with the mental aspect. If my body gives out or I feel weaker or more fatigued than my previous run, I immediately start beating myself up. You seem to have a great attitude and I love that you choose to walk rather than give up and do nothing on the harder days! You’re an inspiration. 🙂

  2. jules1310 says:

    I’ve been running for a while now- always in the afternoon- and I’ve found that if I try to run in the mornings my experience is quite different. I think it’s probably in part due to the habit I’ve formed, so running in the morning would be difficult psychologically because I’ve always run in the afternoon. Because I run along the beach, the running conditions depend on everything from high tides to strong winds- soft sand is by far the worst, as it’s nearly impossible to get a good rhythm up when your struggling to release your foot!

    • That’s a really excellent point you make about habits. For four months my only runs took place on the treadmill, and now that I’m trying to steer myself toward trail running, it’s much more difficult. I agree about the psychological difference, too–I’ve been trying to drag myself out of bed on a workday to attempt a morning run but I’d have to start my run at 5:00 am in order to make it to work on time. Every morning when my alarm goes off at 4:55, I shut it off and say “forget it.” I need more than 5 minutes to mentally prepare. 😉

  3. birds fly says:

    These days I ride my bike more than I run, but for a long time I always ran in the evening after work. It was the perfect way to end a day of sitting in front of a computer. I’ve never been interested in exercising first thing in the morning. Other than that, time of day doesn’t generally affect the quality of my running. I try to be well-hydrated before I run and avoid running too soon after eating a meal. If I haven’t eaten a meal in several hours, I usually eat something small right before I go out, like half a banana or half a Clif bar just so I won’t bonk in the middle of the run, but not so much that I cramp up. Some days are just harder than others– I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly why. I think it’s just important to make the most of the good days, and try to accept the days when you can’t run as effortlessly or as far. As long as you stick with it, it’ll even out over time.

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