What to do When a Workout Goes Badly

What do do when a workout goes badly

We’ve all been there when a workout goes badly. Not every workout or race goes as planned, which is okay. Every runner and athlete has those days, and they stink. When a workout goes badly, it’s important to evaluate and move on.

What do do when a workout goes badly

Recently I’ve been craving a race.  I haven’t raced since early December, but I haven’t raced well since the Runners World Half Festival in October.  I’m still the same runner and person that ran well there, but I crave to run fast and compete again.  Why haven’t I?  Around here, that hasn’t been much, or when there has been, dangerous conditions

Runners world half festival me

I like workouts, but the satisfying feeling of crossing a finish line and meeting your goals always feels better.

Last week, I had a lackluster workout.  I wouldn’t call it bad because I didn’t hurt myself, but I wouldn’t call it successful either. As a race, I took it out too fast and couldn’t make intervals.  Maybe I was a little overzealous in the fitness I was in, but I was also exhausted. Mentally and physically, I was not there.

One of the hardest moments of the sport is moving on when a workout goes badly. 

When a workout goes badly, you have many options mid-workout. Should you slow down the pace? Shorten the intervals, or even just cut the workout together?  Last week during my 400s, I thought about all of these things.  Was I just mentally weak and physically able to hit the intervals?

Ultimately, I decided to slow down the pace to 90 seconds per 400 (or 6:00 min pace). My effort level was still high, which is how my body felt for the day.

By slowing the pace, I allowed myself to run at the effort I could give for the day at the exhaustion level I was: both mentally and physically.

When to Stop the Workout Completely:

Some days everything feels off from your mind to your body. These are the days you should rest versus finding out what happens a workout goes badly.

How can you determine it’s not a great day to do a workout?

For me, two big factors are if I’m sick or completely mentally exhausted.  Over my entire running journey, there have been several workout days I’ve moved around or races I’ve DNS because I felt awful physically or mentally.

The world moved on, and it wasn’t a big deal.  Instead of finding out what happens when a workout goes badly, I never showed up. Sure, logging a no-show wasn’t pleasant at the time, but it wasn’t the end of the world…

I was able to regroup and run healthy on another day.

The mental component of running is the hardest.  It’s hard to realize: today is not your day.  Relaxing, resting, or adjusting your pace can be the best thing you do for yourself.  It can help you move forward when a workout goes badly instead of moving backward by further exhausting yourself.

You need to have the courage and mental toughness to realize that a day off and missing one workout will not ruin your entire training segment.

Finally, Look Back at Possible Causes of a Workout Going Badly?

  • Were you exhausted from training?
  • Were you exhausted from outside factors of life?
  • The weather?
  • Mentally somewhere else?


We all have those workouts that go badly, and that is ok. Progress is not linear, and adjusting your mind and body is the key to success. If you need to slow down the pace, dial back intensity, or just nix the workout altogether, all are options. Running is always there if you let it.

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Questions for you:
What do you do when a workout goes badly? 
How do you move forward?


  1. I love working out but had to stop road running as I keep getting shin splints and can’t find footwear to make it any easier. I do weight and cycle machine but boy do I struggle some days.

    1. I wonder if your shin splints are a shoe-related issue? Often times they are, especially if the shoe lacks cushion in the heel!

  2. Intellectually, this all makes sense. But in reality, when you are Type A, it’s harder to actually cut back a workout or the pace. A good reminder and message!

  3. I have definitely had bad workouts and lately I’ve had a few more than normal due to being sick with a horrible cold. I tell myself to just do what I can and move on. Even though it sucks, in the long run I know it’s not going to make THAT much of a difference. Weather has been a huge factor too, so until it gets nicer to run outside, I am just maintaining a moderate amount of running inside and doing other cross training. Winter stinks! 🙁

  4. I’ve had bad workouts. More than I would like to admit. I generally try to keep enough flexibility in my schedule to move key workouts to different days if its just not going to happen on the scheduled day. Mind you, I’m also a pretty hobby athlete now.

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