Running When You “Shouldn’t”

Some of the benefits of logging runs that maybe you “shouldn’t.”

By on March 11, 2020 | 17 comments

On Monday of last week, I awoke at 3 a.m., bundled up in my running clothes, turned on my headlamp, and was running on the streets of Silverton, Colorado where I live by 3:13. On less than four hours of sleep, the brutally early (for me) run was admittedly awful. It was just half an hour of cold, dark road running ahead of a day and a half of travel. Later that day, a good friend questioned whether it would have been better to just get some more sleep. Hmn….

In any technical sense, she was correct. This was a crappy run with little-to-no training effect cutting into an already paltry night of sleep. Ahead of me, I had four exhausting flights with none long enough to give me anything more than an extended nap, thereby guaranteeing I’d arrive on the island of Gran Canaria where I was headed to cover Transgrancanaria even more depleted and with a daunting work schedule over the coming five days. Yeah, missing the better part of an hour of precious sleep was ill-advised, except that it wasn’t.

Sometimes running when you “shouldn’t,” might just be the right thing for you. Here are a few reasons why.

Silverton night run

The snowy early morning run in question.


More than three years ago, I committed to running every day. I’d not intended to make anything of it other than to build short-term training momentum after a year dominated with a great deal of work and work travel that far overshadowed my own running. As 2018 rolled around, the fledging running streak yielded more benefits than I could have imagined, particularly when it came time for race-coverage work travel. Too often in the past, I’d skip running altogether on travel days, if I was exhausted in the days after travel, when I was overwhelmed with work volume on (as well as before and after) those trips, and on the day(s) I covered the actual races. That could mean on a typical 9-to-10-day international-race-coverage trip, I might miss nearly as many days of running as the trip.

Well, since committing to running every day,* that’s exactly what I’ve done. Assuredly, there are plenty of “meh” 20-to-30-minute runs of little individual training benefit** and even the occasional 10-minute “streak keeper” run. However, this past week shows the potential upside benefits. So, I had that lame Monday run, but I did it. After arriving on Gran Canaria last Tuesday, I plodded through a rough 5 miler that, again, I might have been “better off skipping.” Wednesday, I made it out again. The run again started pretty poorly, but I felt better as the run progressed and stuck out a 10-mile run that was actually pretty smooth and enjoyable by the end. Hmn… that’s sort of like a real training run. On Thursday, I hit my hotel’s breakfast when it opened at 7 a.m. before a strong 27-mile effort. That’s definitely training!

Step by step, each run was a bit longer and a bit better than the previous. A progression that I don’t think would have happened but for putting in the previous run. I certainly wouldn’t have gone out for a four-hour run had I not had a decent run ahead of it. If I’d followed my “should of” schedule, I’d guess my Monday to Thursday would have looked like 0, 0, 3, and 5 miles or maybe 0, 0, 5, and 7 miles. In the end, I ended up with a solid-enough training week three weeks out from running the White Mountains 100 Mile later this month. I’ll take it.

Gran Canaria long run

The sun climbing above the canyon wall during the successful long run.


Of course, there’s then the benefits of building a little mental muscle, both in getting out the door and in continuing when the going is uncomfortable. Although I was fully committed to getting out the door ahead of travel last Monday, it was still less than pleasant, as was the run itself. Both before and during, I could and did consciously acknowledge that discomfort and continue on despite it. I did the same while getting through Tuesday’s run after more than a day of travel. The same goes for the early miles on Wednesday. I love me some joyous runs and, indeed, a not-insignificant reason for my training is so that I have more such runs, but it’s handy to be able to train… and race when things aren’t pleasant, comfortable, or enjoyable. (Search for AJW and grit, for plenty more on the subject.)


In addition to physical gains and building mental skills, I personally feel like logging training runs at times, in circumstances, or in conditions that aren’t ideal–and consciously noting that you’ve done so–results in tangible commitment or buy-in. Whereas grit can remind you “I can do this again,” past commitment can remind yourself  that “I did THAT, so I’m sure as heck going to do THIS,” whether THIS is a future difficult training outing or, more importantly, a challenging moment in an important race or adventure for which you logged that previous less-than-fun outing.

Call for Comments

When have you found value in getting in runs when maybe you “shouldn’t” have? What value did you get out of them?

Ps. from Daily Life

On Sunday and knowing I was busy with race coverage and travel, iRunFar’s wonderful managing editor let me know that she had a substitute article lined up in my column’s stead for today. I was psyched to hear this and tentatively accepted the offer, as I was exhausted from Transgrancanaria race coverage and had plenty of work and travel between that moment and when I’d need to get her a draft of a possible article for my column this week. Well, for the very same reasons that I slogged through those runs last week–momentum, grit, and buy-in–I exhaustedly wrote this article amidst travel on Monday and edited it on a layover on Tuesday. And I’m glad I did. :-)

* What the last 20 years have taught me is that there is always some time to run in a day, whether it’s at 3:15 a.m. before work travel, a 12:15 a.m. study break while working full-time through law school, or even in an airport terminal during an international layover. On top of that, there’s almost always some time in a week to get in one or two more substantive runs, whether that’s one hour or four.

** Of course, 20 such 30-minute runs in a year do add up to 10 hours–or roughly a week of normal training–over the course of a year. This is easily the case for me in any given year.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.