I want you to know that I feel your pain. You have been working your butt off for years only to find that your race performance has peaked. You are either stuck on a plateau or you may have even started to slow your pace.
Fair? No! Of course it’s not fair. You continue grinding out the workouts that have worked magic over the years. Now, however, you find that the magic has faded.
Whether you were competitive at the top or simply focused on your own performance, you long to rekindle the days of personal records. If the old workouts have ceased to help you make those improvements, there are a few strategies you can use that have a good chance to re-ignite the fires of competitive spirit. Here are the ideas:
- Take a month or two break from training or racing of any kind.
- Take a new perspective.
- Try new training approaches.
Take a Break
A long complete break from training may be the only thing that has a chance for you to make a comeback. If you have been constantly training for years without any major breaks (over two weeks), your body has stopped responding. Your body has stopped making adaptations in response to workouts. Your adrenal glands are shot. You will know if this is the case by this simple test.
How many days each week does the following conversation occur?
- Your mind says, “Go train!”
- Your body screams, “Pizza and Netflix with a nap for a cooldown.”
It does not matter how many times you go train. It only matters how many days this mental battle occurs. If it happens two or three times each week, you may just be tired from hard training. You might take an extra day off in that case. If it happens 4 or more times for multiples weeks, you are probably overtrained. Take at least one month off. If you do go for a run once or twice a week, do not wear a watch or use an app. Just enjoy a quiet, gentle jog of 3 miles or so.
After at least 30 days of no training, resume your training. Remember that you will have to rebuild your endurance base and speed. Start like a beginner and gradually ramp it up over the next 2 months. You will be slower, but you will feel fresh and excited. You can surpass your pre-break performance after 3 to 6 months. In the long run, you will be happier and healthier.
Take a New Perspective
Aging sucks. If you have been competing for over seven years and you are above the age of 35, chances are that you have peaked. For those that have followed expert advice for all of that time and made fairly constant progress, you are unlikely to get any faster. You can expect to see your VO2max score drop 0.5 each year if you keep your training at the same level. This means a gradual slowing of your running times.
If that is the case, then happiness requires a change in perspective.
Expecting to beat the times and performances of your youth is not reasonable. In the new outlook, you should be looking for 5-year PRs and age-group achievement. Every time you enter a new 5-year age group (such as 45-49) you have a chance to set new Age-Group personal records and compete with your fellow age-groupers. Train hard. Enjoy the run as always. Be competitive with the right mindset and the experience can be very satisfying.
Try New Training Approaches
A trustworthy old saying is: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” That is not where you find yourself. Your performance has lacked luster for a while. You have done your tried and true training for a long time with a lot of success, but it no longer yields improvements. The new saying is this: “It’s broken, so fix it.”
How do we do this? The traditional training ideas have ceased to be effective for you. Some of these include the following principles:
- Traditional Strength (hill training, weight machines, …)
- Specific Training (different workouts with specific paces for specific adaptations, intervals, tempo,…)
- Periodization (endurance base, speed work, strength running, gradual increase of distance)
- 80-20 Training (20% at 5K race pace or faster)
These ideas worked for you. They were very important for a long time. We will not abandon these. We will build on them. We will mix them up. We will incorporate traditional training form other sports to enhance our running training. There are three principles that serve as the foundation for the Next Level training that is found in the chapters that follow.
- Specific Strength
We will explain each in details in the following three chapters.
NOTE: This is an excerpt from my upcoming book,The Gift of Running: Next Level Edition, and serves as an introduction to the second half of the book.