I have a theory.

After years of trial and mostly error, I’ve come to the belief that bad runs are good for you. It’s not that good runs are bad, it’s just that you don’t get much training stimulus from them. A workout is supposed to stress your body and if you feel great after knocking out a run, then it probably didn’t contribute much to your fitness. But a run that completely crushed you? Yeah, now we’re talking.

You can probably guess where the idea for this post came from. . .

Last Saturday’s 20 mile long run was one of those runs. I was in Avalon, NJ for a wedding and was excited about knocking out some fast miles on flat pavement. My guess was that my pace should be in the low-9 minute range and that’s where my early miles were hitting. I hit mile 12 in an hour fifty (9:12 pace) and then the wheels just completely fell off. Miles 13/14 were at 10 minutes and the everything else was at or above 10:30 pace with mile 20 coming in at tortoise-like 11:21. Now I never run even splits on my long runs, but the second half pace is usually no worse than about 30 seconds slower than the first half.

I’ve done enough long runs to know how they’re supposed to go. There are always some variations around a mean – some are a little better, others a little worse. This was orders of magnitude worse than normal. Obviously not the outcome I was looking for as I attempt to set a 100 mile PR on a flat course next month.

Or was it? So back to my theory.

Back in the day, this would have been a very discouraging run for me. I always equated feelgood runs with good training. I used them as validation for all the work I put in. Bad runs meant either I was doing something wrong or my fitness was declining. The latter more so than the former. I slowly began moving away from this thought process when I would follow up a great final long run with a poor race. I would also have solid to great races after a real struggle of my last long run. After enough of these occurrences, it eventually dawned on me that a difficult run just means I’m getting in a really good workout.

The easiest ways of manufacturing a “really good workout” is with pacing or terrain. Neither of these were in play last weekend as I started off what felt like long run easy and it was flat. Weather wasn’t a factor and my hydration was on point considering how many porta-potties I had to visit over the twenty miles. I could have fueled better the day before, however that was probably only a minor contributor to how things played out. In hindsight, I probably ran too much of my run. My normal training runs have a decent amount of hiking on hills mixed in so I’m not used to continual running. Definitely not 15+ miles of it. While my legs never got that completely thrashed feeling, this had to be the primary culprit. There’s likely three or four other contributors (windy, third consecutive 50 mile week, etc.) that all stacked one on top of another. Regardless of the source, Saturday ended up being much more of a sufferfest than I had planned for. I’m supposed to be training though so this is exactly what I needed.

And I won’t allow anything contrary to that to influence my rationalization.