Mt. Rainier dwarfed by my enormous head
Mt. Rainier dwarfed by my enormous head.

I recently had a bad day at the track; my worst day running yet in the brief time that I’ve called myself a runner. It started badly and ended ugly and made me feel worse than if I hadn’t run at all.

It was a Saturday and despite being up and dressed and standing in my kitchen before 7:00 a.m., through a series of endless futzing, grocery inventorying, list making, plant watering, clothes folding, headline reading, and many other diversions that could have waited until later, I didn’t actually get outside until almost 9:30.

Then I prolonged the delay to buy a coffee rather than just start running, so by the time I got to the park it was closer to 10:00. At 7:00 it was a pleasant 72 degrees but now it was well into the high 80s and diabolically humid.

I put on some music, changed it three times, endlessly adjusted my ear buds (which were now swimming in my ears from the humidity), and took off at a normal slow pace. Even on my best days, it takes me a half mile or so to loosen up to a point where my joints don’t ache and the pavement doesn’t pound back, and then things get easier and I can go for a while and actually enjoy it.

But today, that first half mile seemed arduous and impossibly long and the moment my watch beeped at .5 of a mile I stopped running. I walked a few paces and tried again, and well before the next half mile I was walking once again. Everything hurt, everything ached, I hadn’t eaten, was probably under-hydrated, and couldn’t get myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had to continually make bargains with myself to run two more light poles and then I can stop and walk a bit, run to the next water fountain, or just to the top of the hill.

I was eventually able to whine and moan to 4½ miles before quitting for good, but I hated every minute of it and hated myself for letting it happen. I have a friend who has a bumper sticker on his truck that says “A Bad Day Fishing is Still Better Than a Good Day At Work.” I don’t think there is a running equivalent to that—I can’t think of a redeeming quality to a bad run, unless it’s that it was only bad and not worse. I did not have a revelation or an epiphany, I just felt awful and sore.

The next day I slept late (two after-dinner Negronis may have been a bad idea) and by the time I was up and dressed it was over 90 and soupy, so I didn’t even try. I didn’t want two bad days in a row. I also took Monday off.

New shoes cure many ills (Hot tip: find out when the new models come out and buy last year’s shoes in bulk at a discount.)
New shoes cure many ills. (Hot tip: find out when the new models come out and buy last year’s shoes in bulk at a discount.)

On Tuesday I ached less and broke out a new pair of running shoes. I ate something and drank enough water before I left the house. I got through the first half mile without complaining and kept going until it was time to head back and get ready for the work.

On Thursday I had an early morning flight to Seattle and when I found out my hotel room wasn’t ready, I put on my running clothes in the bathroom and ran for an hour along Elliot Bay in sight of Mt. Rainier and the Seattle skyline from the Frasier logo. On a different day, I probably would have just waited in the bar until my room was ready, but this was such a better choice.

Running past a 1,400 year old tree makes you feel young.
Running past a 1,400-year-old tree makes you feel young.

I did a similar run all three days I was in Seattle and later that week ran over the Golden Gate Bridge, though redwoods in Sonoma, and along the beach in Marin.

Looking back, I can of course point to some very basic things that I did to sabotage my run: my shoes were worn and overdue for replacement, I waited until it was dreadfully hot and humid, I didn’t eat anything or drink enough, I probably didn’t warm up properly, I picked music that didn’t inspire me, and I wasn’t mentally tough enough to just stop being a little bitch and push through it anyway.

So, the one possible lesson learned from a truly shitty run is that it makes you appreciate the good ones and, maybe, teaches you how to avoid more of the bad ones.

Brian Heller lives in New York City, on the big island of Brooklyn. He took up running after turning fifty and runs, mostly, in a slow counter-clockwise fashion in Prospect Park.