If you have been running for awhile chances are you have encountered a period where you get stuck and plateau in your training.
Nothing is more frustrating than believing you are putting in the work and not seeing results that you know you are capable of.
In most cases, it is not your work ethic that is holding you back but rather not doing the right things.
Here are 6 actionable ways you can immediately start to improve your running by simply evaluating your running as it stands today and carefully considering these suggestions and implementing any that might make sense to your situation.
1. Run More Miles
Depending on the data you consult, regular runners are putting in 30-35 miles per week on average.
While this is a respectable amount and certainly can get you across the finish line of a marathon is it enough to reach your goals?
“Miles make champions.” – Arthur Lydiard
While you may never be a champion at the elite level you can become a champion of your own through a new PR or crossing the finish line of a new race distance. L
onger term goals that once seemed out of reach such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon can become reality.
The secret? More running.
The more we run, the better we race.
Many research studies have been done that correlate average and peak running mileage as key predictors of performance in marathons for runners of all ability levels – even at elite levels.
Dr. Jason Karp has found a strong correlation between training volume and performance in male and female qualifiers for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials marathons.
While we know running more volume is a positive for runners and has been a constant as other things have changed with training theory over the decades since Arthur Lydiard first popularized the approach.
If you determine that you might be lacking in weekly mileage consider increasing slowly and listen to your body while doing so, particularly if you know you have a limit that you tend to bump up against and begin to breakdown. Allow yourself to get comfortable with higher mileage and remember to step back every third or fourth week so your body has an opportunity to recover and avoid overtraining.
Never increase both the volume of mileage and speedwork concurrently as this is a one way ticket to the sidelines.
2. Incorporate Strength Training
If you aren’t engaging in any strength training activities it is a good idea to consider doing so.
Running is a very repetitive movement and can over develop the primary running muscles if you only run and fail to strengthen the muscles that support your primary running muscles.
In addition to becoming an overall stronger runner, you will reduce your injury risk.
Strength training can also help you overcome total weekly mileage limits you typically come up against and enable you run more volume.
But before you start adding any old exercises to your training routine or hit the gym – it’s important to understand that your strength work needs to be running specific and race specific.
There are lots of ways you can get strong but if they don’t translate directly to your running you won’t get the full benefit and in worst case scenario negatively impact your running.
The timing of when and what movements you perform matter.
Strength train too hard on your easier days and you’ll effectively turn them into hard days and risk overtraining.
If you perform the wrong types of movements in preparation for your specific race distance and you won’t be training for the demands of the race.
How you approach strength work differs from a shorter 5K race that demands more plyometric movements compared to a marathon which calls upon more resilience to sustain prolonged periods of running.
3. Periodize Your Training
There are literally endless training plans for races of all distances from the 5K to ultra-marathons.
Too many runners use basic schedules of mileage rather than a comprehensive training plan that will allow them to reach their potential.
There is a difference.
In many cases, there is a lack of awareness of what makes a solid training plan.
How many miles to run and when is only the basic building block of a training plan and not a training plan itself.
Your training should progress in a logical manner in terms of both distance and quality workouts.
This progression should tie directly into specific periods of base building (if necessary), speed building, sharpening and tapering.
The type of quality workouts you conduct change as the weeks progress and should not be the same workout and intensity week after week.
While running more mileage is important and will help you improve, simply running more mileage alone is not targeted enough to maximize your potential.
4. Perform Quality Workouts
With the mention of quality workouts comes the reality that there are many runners that do not incorporate quality workouts at all.
Quality workouts are not just traditional speedwork such as track workouts that are the staple of many running programs but include workouts such as tempo runs, cutdown runs, combo workouts, hill sprints, fartlek workouts and VO2 workouts to name a few.
Many runners tend to perform all of their training at one pace – medium.
This will help you get good at that particular pace but will not serve to prepare you to deliver your best effort on race day.
Besides becoming monotonous continual improvement will not occur if you don’t vary your training stimulus with specific workouts designed to get your body comfortable at holding your race pace for extended periods of time, running on tired legs, simulating glycogen depletion at distance events.
Depending on your race distance there should be specific workouts geared at the particular distance and a proper mix of aerobic vs. anaerobic training efforts to develop the proper systems and muscle fibers.
5. Have Accountability
Without having accountability mechanisms in place even the most disciplined runner can get off track or waver in their training.
Having a purpose and accountability for your running will lead to increased performance.
If you don’t have a race on the calendar put one on your calendar.
Having a hard deadline that only gets closer by the day will provide the motivation to get out the door, hit your paces and get the mileage in.
Have you ever signed up for a race and then not put in the training and hope for the best on race day?
When signing up for a race, consider signing up with a friend or a small group of those at or slightly above your ability level to help build some accountability in avoiding embarrassment or excuses on race day.
Much of our training is conducted alone.
Whether by choice or by necessity due to schedule running alone exclusively may not be the best strategy for peak performance.
Running with others even occasionally can help you nail key workouts by having the support and accountability of others and can provide the motivation you need to not slow down or cut a key effort short.
Another great option is to “go public” and tell your friends and family about your goals. Once you declare a goal you will be asked from time to time how your preparation is going keeping it top of mind and requiring an answer.
6. Run with Right Form
Have you considered your running form? For some reason technique is not something many runners focus on, especially when first starting out.
Everyone knows that practice is the way to improve but in running practice is usually equated with getting out the door and running more rather than starting with the basics of proper form.
In other sports where technique is critical such as swimming, basketball or golf you focus on learning the motions and consistently working on your technique over time. If you play golf and have a bad golf swing you don’t get a better golf swing if you just keep whacking away at the ball.
You simply reinforce bad habits which then become harder to break.
The same holds true with running. There is a proper technique to run efficiently. If you run without proper running form you increase the risk of injury, use more energy with every stride and negatively impact your potential race times.
By learning, implementing and practicing Right Form Running you will run faster with fewer injuries and less effort increasing your enjoyment of the sport.
Success will bring more success.
Hopefully one of these tips resonates with you and provides you with something actionable to immediately bring to your running and ultimately get to where you want to be!