Mark Armstrong: Why does a simple thing like running feel so confusing?

Mark Armstrong sunny training run

Mark Armstrong on a sunny training run - Credit: Alison Armstrong Photography

Running still confuses me. 

I don’t fully understand exactly why you can feel like you’re running on air one day, cruising along at sub seven-minute mile pace. Then a couple of days later your legs feel like lead and 20 minutes into an hour’s easy run you seriously consider calling your other half to come and get you (not exactly essential travel is it?) 

How can it feel so easy one day and then so hard the next? 

Of course, it can be so many different factors – what you ate, when you ate, how much you slept, how well you slept, what you’ve been doing the day before – there are so many things to keep tabs on when it comes to your running and that’s why perhaps it would be worth keeping a diary of these types of things alongside my training. 

But I had one absolute dog of a run this week – the sort when you wonder why on earth you put yourself through this sometimes? Why didn’t I just watch some more YouTube videos about running instead of actually do it... 

It was a new-ish route from where I live now so I didn’t quite have my bearings and at one point I looked at my watch expecting it to say I had run about three miles and I'd run just over a mile... 

To compound things, despite running at a very easy pace, my watch was saying my heart rate was sitting around 190. The sort of level I would expect if I was absolutely maxing out going into the home stretch of a 5K. 

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It got in my head, particularly as, let’s face it, we’re all looking for tell-tale signs we’ve got Covid. So much so, I actually stopped to take my own pulse the old-fashioned way and it was actually sitting around the 130-140 mark – right where it’s supposed to be for the pace I was running. 

I’ve since come to the conclusion that the heart rate monitor on my Garmin is rubbish and perhaps I should lose the tech when I don’t need it. Okay, I’ve also looked into buying a proper heart rate monitor... 

Fortunately a couple of days previously I had a great run – the ‘easy’ pace was quick by my standards and I came home buzzing from it, thinking that I’m still making good progress despite taking the pressure off my training recently due to the extra pressures of life in lockdown. 

I suppose it’s a case of running mirroring life, particularly in the current circumstances. One day my wife, Alison and I, hammer through Lara’s home school tasks set and the next we can’t even log on to access her work... (my two-year-old son Logan, who loves pressing buttons, had turned off the home hub...) 

I think the important thing is not to dwell on these single instances too much (and perhaps keep an eye on the whereabouts of your children better).  

If you keep having bad runs or bad days then that’s when you need to seriously look at why. When it comes to running then you may need to look at lightening your training a little to get your energy levels back to where you want them to be. Take the pressure off it and just run for enjoyment – the rest will naturally return thereafter. 

As for general life, look for the positive moments and try not to dwell on the negative ones...  

Savour the good runs/days and don’t linger on those bad runs/days. The chances are you will feel a lot better the next day and not nearly so confused...