November 29, 2007

Location, Location, Location

[Written by Mary, who also blogs over at Sheesh]

No, this is not a post about house hunting. I'll spare you that.

I'm trying to determine how much of a difference location makes when you're running.

For the last few weeks, I've been slowly immersing myself into the running schedule of the Beginning Runner's Handbook. I started out extra slowly, repeating the first couple of weeks, because I wasn't sure how the knees would feel about this idea. But it hasn't been so bad. The first run was awful, but the others have been ... well, I'm not saying I LIKED it, but it was okay. Until a few days ago, which just plain sucked.

So this seems like the place to ask this question Do you ever have days when the running just plain stinks? Should I chalk this one up to part-of-the-experience? Or should I look to see if I was doing something wrong?

One thing that changed this time was the location. I was running on Thanksgiving day, and the (good sized) park where I normally run was packed (i.e. there were about 6 or 7 people playing with their children, dogs, and frisbees). So I went to run in the forest, where it was dark and the terrain was uneven, but I figured I wouldn't have people looking at me huffing/puffing/glowing red. Even there, I met people: a young couple being chased by a small black cat. (Probably a story there, but I ran past them with a polite nod.) So I went across the busy street to an area of empty-lots-and-deserted-office-blocks. It was sunny there, but the wind brought the temperature below freezing. And I was miserable. Could hardly force myself to run ... jog... move... faster than a snail on tranquilizers. It was horrible.

Does where you run make a big difference? Or wind chill? Shouldn't you still be getting an endorphin rush regardless? I'm trying to figure out if I did something wrong (didn't warm up enough? too much beer-and-bacon before the run?)


  1. Yes, it makes a different to me - I get bored easily so I have to change up my routes. Fortunately there are plenty of trails and parks around here - I live in Northern Virginia.
    A small black cat? Did he have some white on him? hmmmm....have to check to see if my little guy made it outside on Thanksgiving!
    We also have Turkey Trots on Thanksgiving morning - ranging from 5K to 5 miles, so that would be an option for next year. :-)

  2. I think location CAN make a huge difference. But also, even in the prettiest places with weather on my side, some days just seem really hard.

    And missicat, I know it's silly, but every time I hear about "turkey trots," it makes me think of people having post-thanksgiving meal digestive problems!

  3. I think where you exercise (I'm not a runner) makes a great difference. The energy of a particular place has a significant impact on our moods whether we believe it or not.
    The cat-couple chase is most intriguing.

  4. That's totally normal. The thing about exercise is that often it is great and you feel good when you do it and miss it when you don't, and then.. some days it just is not there. If I may be vulgar, the same thing happens in relationships sometimes- things are great, and one night it's just... bad. But you don't break up with the person, just as you shouldn't break up with running. You just know that it was a fluke.

    If the fluke repeats,though, it's a good idea to change things up and add a little spice to your workout. For me, with running, the best way is to change location and/or music.

    But location changes can make running harder too. If you run on rougher terrain than usual, you are working harder, and (and this is key for me) having to think harder about what you are doing, which makes you REALIZE how awful it is to just keep lumbering along. Then if you are running someplace ugly, it can either be good because you go into the happy land in your head and start thinking about something else, or bad because you don't, and there's nothing interesting to look at, and why are you doing this again? As for the windchill factor, I went out yesterday in some seriously cold weather, and while it encouraged me to keep moving, it also makes it harder to breathe, and harder to keep your mind on how good you feel because you don't feel good, you feel frozen.

    Basically, a bad run is like bad sex. If it happens now and then, that's part of being in a long-term relationship, and you just gotta deal. If it happens a lot, it's time to look at what's going on and see if you can change something that will make it work better for you.

  5. Crabby - thanks for the laugh. Will have to remember that next year...:-). Maybe design a T Shirt? hmmmmm....
    I would also watch the terrain - I did a trail race once and did not do well at all.

  6. This is great! I knew this was the place to go for good advice. And Crabby, please thank your art department. You always have the best graphics!

    I've noticed that when I run in the evening or very early morning, when it's dark, I'm happier than running in the daytime. At least, looking over my blog record I noticed that all three of my 'miserable' runs were during the day. Does that make any kind of sense?

  7. Wow, I haven't got much to add to the great comments here except that any sport, especially endurance sports, have a psychological angle that's wholly separate from the physical side.

    There are a lot of ways to work on your psych game, but ultimately you have to find the solution that works best for you.

    There will be good days and bad days, and over time one becomes good at knowing what type of route/distance/workout will best suit the day's mood.

    But even so, there are days when it just doesn't feel good, either mentally or physically. On those days I simply remind myself how good I'll feel about myself for persevering and what a slug I'll feel like if I quit. I remind myself that even Paula Radcliffe has off days. And when my run is over, yeah, I'm glad I did it!

  8. Sometimes I LOVE running and feel like a million dollars (maybe even a billion!) but most of the time, I'm not gonna lie, it's a challenge. Hang in there!!

  9. I'm also a total novice, so I lack years of experience to draw on, but to me it all seems totally inscrutable. Sometimes I know the weather is bothering me, (humidity is not my friend), sometimes I know I've got a negative attitude that starts me off on the wrong foot (so to speak) but other times I have no idea why things seem SO HARD and ENDLESS on one day and so effortless (ok, RELATIVELY speaking) and joyous on another. But, I think bad runs from time to time ARE totally normal. I've even read that from VERY experienced runners. Thanks for your blog, its one of my faves!

  10. The Bag Lady doesn't run and couldn't, in her current condition, unless, perhaps, she was being chased by a grizzly or something (nah, she'd be lunch!). So she really has nothing to add to this, except to smile and say how jealous she is of all you athletic types...
    And was that a very large cat chasing those people? Hmmm. Verrry interesting.

  11. i find that there are a lot of factors that contribute to how good or bad a run is. location is definitely one of them - some routes just feel worse than others, for whatever reason.

    when i first got into running a couple of years ago, i think it took me a while before i could say that i was enjoying and even looking forward to my runs. in the beginning, i was often having difficulty breathing, or my legs hurt, and all i could concentrate on was holding out a little bit longer until it would all be over. as my endurance built up though, those feelings diminished, and my runs became more relaxing. while i sometimes find long runs to be boring (listening to motivating music helps here) i know that after a run i always feel great. physically i feel energized and clean, and mentally i am proud that i've completed another run.

    the dreary winter weather could also be contributing to unhappy runs. i often find it difficult to motivate myself to get outside when it is cold and cloudy or i can hear the wind whipping outside. its important to invest in some running clothes that are breathable and moisture-wicking while still warm. a sweatshirt and sweatpants won't cut it. while i get terribly bored abandoning the outdoors for a treadmill in the winter and thus try to avoid that, some people just really dislike running in the cold. maybe the treadmill is something you should consider for the winter months?

  12. Do you ever have days when the running just plain stinks?

    Every day running just plain stinks.

    OK. Maybe I'm being a little too dramatic. I do have days though when no matter how hard I push myself I find I am running at a much slower pace than usual.

  13. Running. Is. Hard.
    And the first mile ALWAYS sucks.
    But then it gets better.
    Unless it doesn't.
    But for the calorie burn and the emotional freedom I feel after a run, there's nothing like it!

  14. I've run almost every day for years! I've run on five continents, in every season, at temperature's from 0 degrees to almost 100, and at elevations from sea level to over six thousand feet. Do I like 70 degrees with sunshine and no wind? Hell yes!! However, it didn't always work out that way

    I enjoyed the post, and many of the comments. I especially liked when Leslie said "But then it gets better.
    Unless it doesn't.

    She's a runner. :-)

    Dr. J

  15. Sure, location can make a difference - I usually run on a lakefront bike path, but I have days where I'm just not feeling that so I run somewhere else. That said, however, if you run regularly, some runs are just going to suck. You'll have days where you feel off and tired and crappy and like you'd rather do anything except run, and it just happens. You just get through it and know that the next one will be better. (Although, in your case? That sounds totally miserable. Props to you for sticking it out.)

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  17. I wish I could run but at this point it seems close to impossible (I've got asthma) I always try it but doesn't work out at all.

    I have been thinking this year though, how much it sucks to live in Michigan because from here until whenever the weather warms up in the spring, there's no much that I'm going to go do outside! I can't go for walks. I hate the cold and the snow. (and so does my asthma). SDo with that said, i think location does matter. Certain environments are better than others for running or exercise be they big things like the weather or smaller things like people watching. I know that i actually most love to walk near my best friend's house because it's in the city and there's a lot to walk to. I live in the 'burbs, not much to walk to and therefore not much motivation for me.

    (It's me who deleted the above comment because it linked to my blog which is my secret... ha ha)

  18. Yeah a running post, I have thoughts to share!!! Running is a strange and fickle friend, somedays for no reason at all it makes you feel blissful and wonderful and others it just sucks the life right out of you. The good part...those stinky runs actually make for more great runs in the future because it means you're taking on the mental aspect of pushing through and that's really half of running...the other half is getting your arse out the door.

    Location matters to me, more hills, more wind, it all plays with the mind and the legs. Keep it up though and it gets to be more enjoyable!

  19. I totally agree with many of your other comments. I usually power walk around my neighborhood because it's convenient. But, I've been thinking I would like a change of pace and might go to the beach. It's a little breezy, but the scenery is great.

    Oh, I love living on the West Coast.................:)

  20. I broke myself, probably permanently, because I was ignorant of the importance of location in running. I was using it as a punishment for being fat and not as a fun hobby and I pushed myself too hard running up and down mountains on pavement. I miss running so much and wish I wasn't such a moron even more!

  21. Mary loves running! Mary loves running!

    I never stick to the same route. I love trying a different one each time with varying distances. Joining a run club helps with that too. I find I get bored and will talk myself out of doing a full route at times when I'm lazy.

    LOVED caro's bad run/bad sex analogy. So true. It's all apart of training, getting better, learning and moving forward. You have to have bad days to learn from.

  22. I used to be a horrible smoker, but a runner at the same time (!) I worked so hard to quit the smoking, and now my lungs sting like crazy when I run. They never did that before. WHAT GIVES? It isn't fair. Do something good, feel bad?

    Running is so hard, yet I still can't seem to quit it. Great post!

  23. Cara, I wish I knew about the smoking ... maybe your lungs sting because of freezing cold air? Sorry, that was my best guess.

    All these comments have been extremely helpful! Now, if someone asks me what running is like, I'll tell them it's just like sex. They might well give me a strange look, but I heard it here so it must be true :)

    I'm always surprised that someone has read my blog and is still talking to me. The fear is that you'll bore people asleep and the next thing you know they'll all be... um, excuse me, but who's snoring out there? I can /hear/ that, you know!

  24. Oh I had an ABSOLUTELY HORRID run yesterday.

    If one thing is really sucking, it makes all the other stuff a lot worse. So if I go too soon after I eat and then realize I forgot to charge my iPod, everything starts to really annoy me. (how cold it is, other people, the cement, etc.) But I can usually handle the weather, aches/pains, or bad locale if all of them are only mildly irritating. THe weird thing is I was really anxious to go running again, just to replace that horrible run with the memory of a better one.

    And Crabby, ("turkey trot?" lol, you need to tell me these things would've made it that Thanksgiving race slightly more know, running to the toilets, etc )


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