Haven't hit a new PR in a while? We have some theories why.
You follow your training plan religiously. You're diligent about strength training, cross-training, and foam rolling. But after putting in months (or years) of hard work, you still aren't running any faster. Despite your best efforts, you haven't been able to break the half marathon PR you set two years ago or run a 5K in under 30 minutes. So, what gives?
Before you give in to self-doubt and think you're not capable of running faster race times, make sure you aren't sabotaging your hard work by doing any of these five things:
1. Running too fast
When your training plan calls for an easy run, are you actually running at an easy pace? Most runners are guilty of not slowing down enough on their easy days. Running slow serves two purposes: It improves your aerobic capacity (how well your body delivers oxygen to your muscles) and it helps you recover from speed runs, says Mary Johnson, a coach with McKirdy Trained and USTAF. How slow should you be going? An easy pace should be 1:30 to 2:00 per mile slower than your 10K race pace or below 60 percent of your maximum heart rate, explains Johnson. "Even this rule is flexible," she says. "You need to listen to your body and truly make easy runs an effort where you are running comfortably."
2. Running too many miles
Running too much without taking ample time to recover between hard workouts or without refueling immediately after a workout has consequences, says David Ayer, founder of RunRelated. "Running is different than other sports because more training doesn't necessarily equal success," he says. "If you put too much stress on your body, you'll underperform and potentially end up injured." How do you know if your weekly mileage is too high? Look for signs such as pain that lingers, constant fatigue, irritability, inability to focus, insomnia, and an elevated resting heart rate, says Johnson.
3. Strength training wrong
There is a right and a wrong way for runners to strength train. The timing of your workouts is essential, says Johnson. "Strength train after you complete your speed work or the day after a hard training run," she says. "If you're training to be faster, you need to prioritize running so that you get more out of your speed session versus doing the run when your muscles are already fatigued from strength training." Another common strength training mistake Johnson sees runners make is doing the same body-weight exercises such as clamshells and monster walks day after day. These exercises will only help runners a limited amount. "Runners need to start lifting actual weights to adapt their tissues and musculature to the demands of running. "
4. Going through the motions while cross-training
Running is not an easy sport. Long runs and speed workouts are difficult so it's not surprising you want to sit on a stationary bike for an hour while watching The Bachelor and call that cross-training. If you want to run faster, you'll have to do better than that. Johnson suggests taking your cross-training workouts off boring cardio machines and incorporating a combination of exercises such as drills with an agility ladder, side shuffling, and lateral bear crawling for 45 to 60 minutes. "Incorporating a variety of activities teaches a runner's body to become more efficient and familiar with other planes of motion," says Johnson.
5. Not being honest with yourself
"Many athletes want success and they want it yesterday," says Ayer. Patience and persistence will pay off. If you're struggling to see progress, take a hard look at your training log and be honest with yourself, suggests Johnson. Are you taking recovery and nutrition seriously? How much sleep are you getting? What are your stress levels? Nine times out of 10, when someone isn't getting faster, Johnson says, "it's because there's an important piece of the puzzle missing." Training smart is more than going for a run a few times each week.