Racing progress takes time (lots of it)

Isn’t it crazy how we can take big chunks of time off our races in the beginning? It’s common to see jumps of 30 minutes off a half marathon or five minutes off a 5k as we settle into consistent running.  Results come quickly and are exciting and addicting.

And then we hit a plateau, and suddenly we see little to no progress.  It’s possible to continue to chip away at the time goals for new personal bests, but it takes time and lots of work.

I’m guilty of looking ahead, wanting to beat a certain time and see how much more I have in me.  I forget to stop and look back.  While I don’t have the most dramatic differences, it’s fun to remember how far I’ve come:

Half marathon (2001) 2:04:35 —> 1:33:33 (2017)

It took me a few years to break the 1:40 mark, and then another 4 years to break the 1:35 mark! There were babies breaking those years up, but it is definitely a process.

Marathon 3:44 (2011) —> 3:23 (2016)

I didn’t run the marathon until I had been a runner for ten years, so I had a solid base of fitness to draw from.

Ten Mile 1:31 (2009) —> 1:20 (2010) —> 1:10 (2016)

Big jump in just one year, from 2009-2010, and then six years chipping it down to 1:10.

10k  50:38 (2009) —> 42: 48 (2013)

5k  21:47 (2011) –>  20:01 (2013)

I don’t run many 5ks and 10ks, but when I trained specifically for them in 2013, I saw results. And then I haven’t been able to break that 20 minute mark since!

So here I am, coming on my 17th year of running!! And I hit personal bests in the ten mile, half marathon and full marathon over the last year.  It’s pretty amazing that you can continue to improve even into the late 30’s, isn’t it?

If you feel like your progress has slowed and you’ve hit that plateau, here are a few tweaks to try:

1) Look at your current training plan and make changes

What can you change? Generally, most runners improve with more overall volume (aerobic base or your ‘engine’), more race pace miles (specificity of training to your goals) or easier recovery days to better absorb the impact of your training.

2) Set small goals and train accordingly

Once you begin to plateau, it is no longer helpful to try to shave chunks like 10 or 20 minutes off.  You need to focus on 2-3 minutes off the marathon or 15 seconds off the 5k and build in your training runs to reflect those goals.

When you train for a 7:00 pace half marathon and run your tempo runs at 7:00 when your lactate threshold pace is actually 7:20, you start to train the wrong system – instead of improving LT, you begin to dip into the VO2 max training.  Likewise, if you train at marathon pace but you’re running LT, you are training the wrong energy system.  Train where you are currently at, and the progress will happen.

3) Do the little things

The foam rolling, runner specific strength training, a bit of yoga or flexibility training, naps and good fuel… all of those add up and can impact your training!

Personally, I know I would likely see improvements if I increased my volume but I have to walk a careful line to avoid injury so I may not see as much improvement as I would if I were running 60-70 mile weeks.

But it’s also about finding balance and doing what makes you happy.  I know I need a balance with my family life and I NEED my sleep so there is only so much I can do and I’m okay with that.

The key is to chip away slowly, trust the process, be patient and keep dreaming!

How far have you come in your training?

What small changes do you think would make a difference for you?

I’m linking up with  SuzRachelLora, and Debbie for Running Coaches Corner, and NicoleAnnmarieMichelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday.

21 thoughts on “Racing progress takes time (lots of it)

  1. What a great post! It’s definitely fun to look back and see how far we have come – both in race times and knowledge of training – and be proud of what a “lifetime” of running has given us. You have achieved SO much and I’m looking forward to seeing you do even more!!
    Great advice here, as always…

  2. This is so great! I agree that it’s easy to get caught up in wanting to PR in every distance, every single time. I really haven’t made any big gains in the past couple of years because of injuries but in the grand scheme of things I have definitely chipped away at my times since I’ve become a runner.
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  3. That’s an interesting question — and the reason I hired Rachel as my coach. 🙂

    I started slow, I’m still slow, but I did see immediate improvement, and then had quite a few years with none (I’ve only been running about 8 years, btw).

    Then last year, before I started running with Rachel, I did have a big breakthrough and have continued to improve for much of the year. Not sure how long that will continue in my 50s, but I’m a hopeful sort of person. 🙂

    I point out to friends all the time, though, that even if it’s a few seconds, it’s a PR — and that after you’ve been running a while, that’s more likely the sort of PR you’ll see.

  4. Thanks so much for these tips! I’ve been in a running plateau for a while, primarily since I have started doing longer distances. Next year I’m not planning on running a marathon so I hope I can get a little speed back.

  5. One of the biggest things I do when I feel like I’m stalling out is exactly this—look back at how far I’ve come and all the things I have learned and experienced. Sometimes I then see I neglected certain things that worked in the past, and other times it encourages me to try something totally new to jumpstart my running. I love looking back at old training cycles and races to pick them apart and see what I can put together for a new one- it’s the neverending puzzle….keep taking pieces and putting them back if they don’t fit where I currently am.

    Your progression is so fun to read, you’ve come a long way!
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  6. Thanks for sharing! This post was really interesting and helpful to me. I’ve always wondered how runners who are a lot faster than I am got to the place they’re at, and how long it took them to get there 🙂 I’ve only been running for three years now (one of which I spent pregnant), so this was especially helpful in making my expectations of where my pace should be much more realistic. You’ve made some incredible progress over 17 years, and I agree – it’s amazing that we can continue to develop and progress even into our late 30s 🙂
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