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How to Get Through the Bad Patches: In Life and on the Trail

This article first appeared in OutdoorsNW, an adventure, travel, and recreation magazine for outdoorsy types in the beautiful Northwest. See my other articles here.

Five minutes before the start of the McKenzie River Trail 50K a few years ago, I stood in a porta-potty line adjusting my hydration pack, retying my shoes, and checking my gel supply (again). Suddenly, I realized my GPS watch wouldn’t turn on.

I was in the middle of a mini-meltdown when I heard these calming words from a woman in line behind me.

“You don’t need a watch. You already know how to run.”

She was right. And run we did, without a watch, together, the entire way.

For the next 31 miles, my new friend, Jade, and I talked about raising kids, our favorite finish line food and, of course, running. My early morning “bad patch” was quickly forgotten.

For runners, a “bad patch” refers to a physically or mentally challenging point during a race and sometimes precipitates wanting to quit. We know these moments are bound to happen, so we have strategies at the ready to help us persevere.

These strategies are the same ones we can use to get through the bad patches in life. Here are the top five I keep handy for both.

1 – Take Care of the Problem Before it Takes Care of You

Trail runners strive to stay in the moment. It’s the key to identifying problems immediately. If we feel a burning sensation in our heel, we bandage it up before the blister gets worse. We eat and drink at set intervals before we get hungry.

But in everyday life, we often let things go. If a co-worker rubs us the wrong way, for example, we might let it fester until it becomes a bigger problem.

By practicing being in the moment, we can repair, nurture, and make adjustments in life just like we would care for ourselves at the first sign of trouble during a race.

2 – Tap into Strengths You Already Have

I pull out all the stops when it comes to using my mental and physical skills during a race. Patience, intuition, and planning are just some of the tools that get me to the finish line.

I can use these strengths to help my child navigate a shaky friendship or when she’s struggling with schoolwork. Running takes grit and so does algebra!

And there’s a bonus to translating this strategy from racing to life; your kids will learn from you how to make their goals happen from their own inner strength.

3 – Don’t Do It Alone

I love running, partly, because it feels like an accomplishment all my own. But the truth is, there is an entire team that spurs me on. My cheerleading husband, a massage therapist, and running friends have my back. Even my mom, who has watched the kids while I’m on a training run, is part of my team.

Just like you would lean on your pacer or race crew, getting good at asking for help with life’s challenges gets even the toughest of us through financial hardships, growing babies, or aging parents.

4 – Set Small Goals and Inch Toward the Finish

When my legs are heavy and the number of miles to the finish feels overwhelming, I remind myself that I can do anything for twenty minutes. So I run for twenty minutes…then another and another.

Segmenting time or miles into smaller pieces helps you pinpoint immediate solutions–like fueling, hydrating, or simply getting to the next aid station. Focusing on incremental tasks can help carry you through even life’s hardest trials

When my husband had cancer last year, the appointments, surgery and treatments felt like an ultra we weren’t prepared to run. But we broke the healing process into doable parts and got through them together one.

5 – Know it’s OK to Quit

Racing pushes us to the boundaries of our capabilities. But even when we’ve reached our limit, we often question it. Have I truly given all I’ve got? The toughest bad patch to get through comes to us when we have to decide to keep running or walk away.

Rarely do we feel it’s OK to quit. We don’t want to feel like a failure. The key to navigating this point in a race, or in life, is to remember that you’re the same strong, smart, and determined person you were when you started, regardless of your decision to push on or go home.

Jade used these strategies to pull me from my pre-race bad patch; she acted fast, she reminded me I already had the skill to race without needing a watch, and she let me know I wasn’t alone. I’m always humbled by what other runners teach me and I welcome new ideas to deal with those bad patches. Because with racing–and with life–I’m in it for the long haul.

What strategies have you used–in life or on the trail–to get you through a challenge? Tell us in the comments below because we need all the help we can get!

2 thoughts on “How to Get Through the Bad Patches: In Life and on the Trail

  1. I’m definitely an over-thinker and over-planner. I did find myself looking for certain milestones that were much smaller than the 31 miles needed. It became a countdown to the first loop of 13 or the next aid station. Mentally, it helped so much. Only once did it occur to me that I was halfway. I kicked that thought to the curb pretty quickly. Thank God for a cell signal to snapchat with family and friends as I needed a boost and reminder to smile.

  2. Hey Amy! Nice job with the mental magic! Getting to the next aid or just breaking down the pieces is so helpful. After the last aid station in my race (after which only 6 miles remained), I just kept telling myself, all you have to do is run a 10K. Seemed much more manageable that way. Still painful, but manageable! xo Laura

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