Updated: Mar 15, 2021
While you’re on your journey to better run form, it’s important to remember that no run is exactly the same. It’s easy to go out and think “I want today to be better than yesterday” or “I want this to be the best run ever” or some version of that. And while improving can be motivating, keep in mind that there are many factors that impact your run. Because of this your gains or losses from one day to the next may not actually have to do with your progress, but more to do with changing conditions. So don’t beat yourself up about it.
Some of the factors are controllable to a degree and some are out of your control. The more factors that vary between runs, the higher the probability that your outcomes will vary between those runs. When these are uncontrollable, there is not much you can do, so don’t make day to day gains or losses too significant. It’ll stress you out and hinder your progress.
Here is a quick list of some factors that I know impact my workouts:
Terrain - Where you run locally. Are there hills, false flats, crowds of people or turns? These things make each route different and less comparable. When you travel to a race, there are factors like altitude that will impact your run. These are controllable to a degree, but if you’re set on doing the Edmonton marathon, you can’t control Edmonton’s altitude and the change will impact your body. Even if you hold the terrain/route constant from run to run, there are other factors that you can’t control.
Weather - This can be a big impact on your run. Is it cold, hot, humid, windy, rainy or snowy? These conditions change from day to day and they’re simply not in your control. The best thing you can do is get out and experience them so that if they happen on race day you’re more mentally prepared to deal with them
Weight - We all fluctuate from month to month or year to year, whether that's from lack of exercise, cross training or putting on muscle mass. Having an additional 10lbs makes a difference. Image running tomorrow with a rucksack weighing 10 or 20 lbs. I’m not saying you can’t do it, but it’s going to impact your run. Even carrying 5lbs of water weight will impact you. Don’t beat yourself up over a slow run, it could just be water weight or some additional muscle. Your body will adapt with consistent running.
Strength - How strong are your secondary and primary muscles? The primary muscles push you forward and the secondary gives you stability to help keep that forward motion from going side to side. As you run more and these muscles get stronger, your runs will change. This is the same if you stop training or do targeted muscle training.
Fatigue during the Run - This may seem obvious, but as you exert effort, your body becomes fatigued. That goes for both primary and secondary muscles. This means you’ll slow down and your form will regress. That's life and applies to any sport. So notice it on the run and know that it's natural and inevitable. I like to play a game where I notice the kilometer in my run where different parts of my body fatigue and observe it playfully. “Oh nice, today my core is giving out at 8 km rather than 7 km” or “Hmmm, I wonder what is going on, my core is giving out at 6 km instead of 7 km, I must be tired”.
Cross Training - When you crosstrain, your body develops in different ways, that might be giving you additional cardio training or building your primary or secondary muscles. These can vary from week to week.
Nutrition - Part of recovery is making sure that your body has the right nutrition to get back to normal quickly. Did you give it what it needs? Or has your diet been poor? If your body doesn’t have the building blocks it needs to get rebuild after a workout, you won’t be at optimal recovery. Life gets in the way and some days or weeks we have to have other priorities than nutrition or exercise. Thats life, it’s ok. Be kind to yourself when that happens.
Stress Levels - Stress can have a large impact on your body, whether it is from workout expectations, your professional life, relationships or other issues. More daily or long term stress will impact your runs proportionately. Life happens, we all get stressed out. Don’t beat yourself up for having a poor run when you're dealing with other issues. That's like giving yourself double beating, you already had a bad workout, that's more than enough.
Fatigue - How well your body has recovered or rebuilt from workout to workout will impact your run. Did you get enough sleep last night? Are you stressed? Did you have a hard workout, run or cross training yesterday? Have you increased your weekly or monthly mileage or exercise significantly? Again, if you’re training hard, this has to happen, so don’t beat yourself up when your body is tired just understand what is going on.
Every run is different. But on average, if you’re training, your body is going to improve. So rather than making it significant when a certain run isn’t faster than the last, know that in the long term consistency will help you improve.
There are many factors that can impact any one run. Relax and don’t make day-to-day gains or losses too significant. Consistency is the key to long term improvement
Now that you're aware of factors that impact your run, the next step is listening to your body and an important tool or way of getting feedback is your breathing.