You’ve been out running and you feel like you just aren’t making progress. You may feel sluggish, irritable and just plain crabby. Believe me, I get it. I’ve been there. I have good days and bad. Sometimes we just get in a rut. The only way to get out of the rut is to just keep moving. There are a ton of ways to tweak your running for improvement, most of them fit pretty neatly into five little boxes. To make the largest gains in your overall performance you should try to address all five in some capacity.
1. Run More
Run more? Yes, the best way to get out of a rut is to run out of it. All runners need some time off every now and again. You may have seasons where you train more heavily than others, the key is not to let your base mileage drop too low. Don’t stop running cold turkey. There’s no exact number that’s right for every person, but here’s an example to illustrate what I’m talking about.
A few years ago I was approached by a friend who wanted to train for a race together. I had trained for and run a few full marathons and had several completed half marathons under my belt, so I thought, “no problem.” I shared with him my training programs and other anecdotal stories from my time out on the road. This was both good and bad. I had overcome the mental hurdles of marathon running years earlier, the problem was that my body had not kept pace. My mouth was writing checks, my body could not cash. I had not kept up a base weekly mileage of any sort for a few years at that point and my running was sporadic at best. I found this out quickly as we went out on a training run together at lunch. I was winded, my legs were all wobbly and I had to stop and walk many times just to keep going. I had set myself up for failure.
Taking a vacation from running, or even mini vacations where you start a program and stop can lead to injury. If there is any secret to successful injury-free running, it’s that running more mileage, consistently, will help you improve.
2. Your training is inconsistent
Inconsistency kills even the best of intentions and can be your worst enemy when it comes to improvement. Conversely, consistency, can your best ally. Running is cumulative activity. It builds over days, weeks, months and even years of training. It is consistency that allows you to have a running career of which you can be proud.
Inconsistency can rear its ugly head in many areas, from the number of weekly runs to speed training. In most cases it’s simply due to the unavoidable vicissitudes of life. For many runners it’s simply a result of losing focus or lack of motivation.
Some good ways to stay consistent are by focusing on those little things that motivate you to get out the door on a regular basis. Personal motivation can be anything from a race training to fundraising for an important cause to something as simple as just enjoying the boost that comes from starting your day with a brisk run.
3. Expand your Horizons
Runners are a frequently injured group. What’s crazy is that if you’re only running — and not cycling your workouts with core exercises or strength work — then you’re just not doing enough. You need to look beyond running and expand your training horizons.
Running is a very jarring, repetitive motion that can be hard on your body if you don’t take the time to strengthen the muscles that support you. As you improve and get faster as a runner, there’s a tendency for your aerobic fitness level to outpace your structural fitness, meaning you’ll get faster before your body is strong enough to handle the speed. This can lead to injury.
Many of us live a sedentary lifestyle outside of our workouts. Consequently, our bodies are ill prepared to handle the stress of running. I don’t know about you but I don’t have the time or energy to add more hours in the gym strength training when I already have a packed schedule.
The good thing is that a small amount of regular strength training goes a long way in improving your structural fitness allowing your bones, muscles and connective tissue to give you the support you need to stay healthy while running.
This may sound contradictory to the previous point, the key is knowing when to apply each principle. Here are some key areas of running where you want variation:
Types of runs: If you want to keep improving, you don’t want to run the same pace and distance every day, alternate slow, medium and fast runs.
Running surface: Most of us spend a lot of time on the running on the road, but that constant jarring and pounding can take its toll on your body. By changing the surface you run on each week and including some trails and softer surfaces your feet will thank you.
Shoes: Best case scenario is to rotate a few different types of shoes every week. This can be cost prohibitive and difficult at first. You may want to try a lighter shoe for speed work and a more stable shoe for longer or training runs.
It important to not let any of these reasons keep you from running your best. If you’re looking to improve, these tips can be a great place to start.
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