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There was one frustrating moment in my running journey where I’ve reached a plateau. I am not getting any faster, my endurance is not improving, and I feel like I’m on a downward path in terms of performance. So, I decided to do my research and fix a couple of things in my training.
In general, you’re not improving as a runner because of one of these 10 things:
- You lack weekly mileage
- You increased your weekly mileage by more than 10% per week
- You’re not training consistently
- All you do is long run or speed run
- Neglecting strength and flexibility
- You don’t rest at least twice a week
- Turning easy days into a tempo run
- Running more than 10% of your weekly mileage on the treadmill
- Stressing too much about running faster
- Not getting 45-65% of your calories from carbohydrates
Ahead, we will discuss each of those reasons in detail as well as discuss the solution to those problems.
Your Weekly Mileage Is Too Low
The first thing you want to look out for when you feel like you’re not improving is a lack of weekly mileage.
Although the exact amount varies from runner to runner and largely depends on the distance they participate in, it is important that you increase your mileage as you improve on the sport.
Staying on the same mileage for a very long time can prevent you from improving.
Increasing Your Weekly Mileage More Than 10% Per Week
Although increasing your weekly mileage is part of improving as a runner, you should be careful about how fast you increase them.
If your weekly mileage is 20 miles a week, don’t increase your weekly mileage to 30 miles the following week.
As a general rule, you should increase your weekly mileage progressively by no more than 10% each week. There should also be the occasional weeks that you don’t increase your mileage at all.
For example: Going back to that 20 miles a week, you could increase it safely to 22 miles the following week and 24.2 miles the week after. Then, you can apply the occasional week without adding any mileage and stay on 24.2 miles.
Experts call this progressive overload. It allows your body to adapt to new challenges gradually which will yield better results over time.
Be careful though. According to the book Running Well, the benefits to be accrued beyond 50 miles of training a week will tail off rapidly.
By the way, if you’re a beginner, I highly recommend that you get the book Running Well, it has tons of need-to-know information about running including injury prevention, running form, and nutrition. You can get it from Amazon.
Not Training Consistently
Have you ever been a ferociously motivated runner for two weeks and then instantly taking a week off on the third week?
That’s a problem!
When you want to improve on something, you have to make your body adapt to the changes. If you run 20 miles this week, 22 miles the following, and taking a full week off on the third week before going back to 15 miles on the fourth week, your body is not going to adapt.
If I’m your body and you’re doing that, I’ll probably say: “I’m not going to adapt to this because he probably only did it once because he had to so I’m gonna let that go and not adapt to that activity”.
Kidding aside, athletic improvement in any sport requires consistency. So much so that elite athletes and experts would rather run 5 miles a day than an ultramarathon every other weekend.
All You Do Is Long Run or Speed Run
This is a very common problem among new runners—sticking to one type of running for far too long.
And I don’t blame them. I and pretty much most runners have had a period where we gravitate towards one type of run—in most cases, long-distance easy runs.
Variation is a key element in your training and it’s very important that you vary your runs every now and then.
As a general rule, those who are training for a long-distance run such as a marathon will have more long but easy runs than fast but short runs. In contrast, those who are training for short distances such as 5k and 10k will have more fast and short runs than long runs.
Although no matter what your distance is, building your aerobic capacity by making long and easy runs as your foundation is very important.
Neglecting Strength And Flexibility
Another reason why you’re not improving might be because you focus too much on running alone and never spend time on strength and flexibility exercises.
Strength is a very important part of your training not only because it makes your legs stronger but also plays a role in posture and the running economy.
A study conducted by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that core strength training significantly improves a runner’s performance.
Another study by the Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that heavy weight training improved the running economy of well-trained runners by up to 8%.
As for flexibility, the importance of having a good range of motion is vital to any athletic performance.
So if you haven’t added strength and flexibility exercises in your program just yet, consider adding them now.
Spend at least 3 days a week for strength and flexibility. Be consistent about it and make it running-specific.
You Don’t Rest At Least Twice A Week
In this modern age, we are under constant pressure to do another mile, one more rep, or one more hour of training. We gravitate towards “more is better”. It’s easy to think that way, especially when we’re seeing the impressive training programs of the elite athletes on social media all the time.
But what most of us fail to understand is that rest is just as important as training when it comes to improving our performance.
Your body isn’t making the adaptations and improvements as you’re running. In fact, running and other forms of exercise is a process where you basically damage your body.
Where the adaptations and the improvements happen is in the rest.
If we allow our bodies to recover, it will make the necessary adaptations to improve and make us better runners.
Give your body at least two rest days a week to allow for recovery. If you can’t see yourself resting for two days a week without going crazy, make one of those days an “active rest day”.
You can walk, swim or bike on active rest days so long as you don’t put too much intensity into it. Give your body a break it deserves.
Turning Easy Days To a Tempo Run
Have you ever been in a situation where your program says “easy run” but you are feeling good and you just think running faster and turning it into a tempo run is a good idea?
I have, many times over. And in most cases, I end up sacrificing the next training days.
When you see an easy run or recovery run in your program, it literally means easy run. You should not add any intensity to it. The right way to do it is to just cruise through the workout.
I know, it’s tempting to step on the pedal when you’re feeling great, but you’re going to thank yourself if you just take your foot off the pedal and just do what the program says.
Easy runs serve a different but very important purpose in your program. Trust that’s it’s there to make you a better runner.
Running More Than 10% Of Your Mileage On The Treadmill
Don’t get me wrong. Treadmills are good. It offers a safer environment to run on at any time. The weather’s not gonna bother you and there’s less impact in your joints because of the “give” it has.
But if you want to smash your marathon personal record, then you should probably spend less on treadmills.
A study conducted by the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that there is an increase in cadence but a decrease in stride length when running on the treadmill.
That tells us that running on the treadmill has a direct effect on our running biomechanics that could affect our running performance.
According to the book, Running Well, running on the treadmill results in a lower leg lift and a stiffer stride.
My recommendation is that you spend no more than 10% of your total weekly mileage on the treadmill so it doesn’t affect your running biomechanics.
Stressing Out Over Getting Faster
Sometimes we’re just too focused on striking the right part of the foot or keeping the chest high or increasing your stride length to improve your running performance. The result? You tense up which is actually hurting your overall performance.
A study demonstrated how being tensed or worried about performing better actually made their performance worst. A group of runners was asked to run with 110% effort during a time trial. After a few days, the same runners were asked to run at 95% effort.
Guess at what percentage yields a faster time trial… 95%.
So let go of your anxiety and just enjoy running. Don’t stress out about being faster or improving, just run and have fun.
Not Getting 45-65% Of Your Calories From Carbs
Carbs are our body’s fuel of choice. It’s the fastest and most available source of energy that our body could use for our runs. However, carbs are being demonized by many “fitness gurus”.
True, too many carbohydrates can harm you. But lack of carbs will also harm you. Particularly your athletic performance.
The recommended amount of carbs to consume is 45-65% of your daily energy intake.
On average, active people should consume 3 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrates for every pound of body weight per day.
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