Running Through Your Performance Highs and Lows

Ask Coach Jenny

 Q: How come some days I feel like I can run forever and then other days I feel like I can barely make a few miles? ~Andrea

 A: That’s a great question, Andrea. There are many reasons that contribute to the highs and lows, and one of the most significant is how you go about running day to day, especially if you’re training for an event.

It is easy to get caught up in running by a certain pace (ex. 9:30 per mile) now that we have all these wonderful speed-distance devices that tell you the pace as you run. Remember the days when we would have to drive the distance to see how far we ran? I do…

There is something that gets lost when we train by pace – we tune out what is going on in our bodies. When we do that, we risk over- or under-performing on any given day. Pace should be the outcome of your run, rather than the target and here’s why.

Let’s say you go for your planned run today for four miles and it is 90 degrees outside. Your plan calls for an easy-effort run but your mind is set on running at a 9:30 per mile pace, which is normally an easy effort. You end up running in a hard zone due to the heat. Your next run is a tempo workout where you run at a specific pace that is comfortably hard (8:30 per mile) but you’re fatigued due to the hot run, so that tempo pace now feels extremely hard (red zone). In time, your body fatigues and that can result in a host of challenging runs or contribute to “dead legs,” where your legs simply don’t have any strength.

Training by pace and pace alone defeats the purpose of the run. When you train by effort and how your body feels (heart rate and your breathing rate), you’re always training in the right zone on the given day. On that 90-degree day, you can still run easy by slowing your pace and running at an effort where you can still talk. This may even require run-walking intervals to keep your body cool. On the flipside, when it cools down and you have a strong day because you haven’t trained too hard – you will run stronger than that calculated pace. It all starts with tuning into your body, listening to your breath and flowing with what the day brings. When you run in the flow, your body adapts more efficiently and fatigues less.

Take this timeless challenge and let me know how it works out for you. Invest three weeks in running by your body and breath. Run hard on your hard days and easy on your easy days – but do so in the rhythm of your body rather than your watch or speed-distance monitor. It will change your life forever…

Other variables that can negatively affect your performance include:

 Sleep

The quality of sleep greatly affects your running performance. Have you ever pulled an all-nighter and then went for a run the next day? It’s hard and results in higher heart rates, lower energy levels and an overall tough run. Invest in quality sleep for at least 7-8 hours each night.

Your Cycle

This doesn’t quite apply to the men. However, as women, our menstrual cycle has a rhythm all of its own with highs and lows. The highs you may recognize as the days when you feel like Wonder Woman and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. This typically happens between days 7 and 15 around ovulation. The lows happen 7 days before menstruation and the first few days of your cycle. The great news is our bodies have a built in flow – where you can run harder around your strongest days, and ease back on the throttle and take an easy-effort week during the challenging days around the cycle. Doing so keeps in alignment with the natural flow of your body. By the way, there have been world records set during menstruation, so it doesn’t translate to poor performance.

Nutrition

You are what you eat. If you eat low quantities of fuel on a low-calorie diet or miss meals, it will instantly translate to tough runs. In the same light, eating highly processed, low-quality fuels can also have the same effect – icky runs. Keep a fuel log and begin to take inventory of what you eat. Making small changes to good, clean fuel sources will increase the likelihood of better runs more often. Stick with foods that have a short ingredient list of things you can actually pronounce – vegetables, fruits, protein sources and healthy fats.

Stress

This is a silent energy killer. It sneaks into your life and subtly zaps the energy right out from underneath you. Whether it is due to work, deadlines, family, loss or relationships, stress sucks the life out of your runs. Invest in yoga, meditation or even breathing deeply for one minute during the day. Being mindful of the stress and making efforts to decrease and manage it will greatly improve the quality of your life performance on and off the roads.

As with any old habits, remember that they die hard, so start improving your runs with small changes that you can stick with over time. It may take quite a bit of practice to break the desire to train by pace, but it will pay off exponentially in the long run – literally and figuratively.