It is easy to find yourself in a performance rut where you just can’t push past a certain point in speed, distance or cadence. Progression in running and training can be just as frustrating as it is rewarding.
When we started researching runners plateau, it sent us down a rabbit hole. We found out that whether you are a professional athlete or a weekend warrior, that it doesn’t matter what your skill and ability level is, we can all plateau. We soon learned that to understand why we plateau we need to know why we enjoy things in this first place.
When we first start something new, we make quick progress. We find that everything is rewarding because we can see big, highly visually changes in an area that we hadn’t previously thought we could partake in let alone excel at.
We love making progress so much that we actually enjoy it more than getting the thing we wanted in the first place (think of that empty/lost feeling after completing a goal or race you had trained hard for). These progressive, short term, training wins release dopamine (our brains natural feel good drug). We can guarantee that every session is not going to be a Personal Best, thus no dopamine and no feel good drug. This can leave us feeling disappointed or disheartened in our training. We need to be aware that this is ok and will happen…. regularly.
The contributing factors to our daily performance may include rest and recovery, training load and quality, fatigue, nutrition, sickness and injury, ageing, stress and cortisol levels, environmental factors …. to hit that winning formula every day is unrealistic. So how do we remain positive? Think of each session as a brick in a wall (not the Donald Trump kind). The bricks work together to build your overall goal. Even without a PB it’s another brick and a step closer to your end goals. In most cases not hitting a PB is more productive to your long term goal achievement. As if this wan’t the case, wouldn’t every training session in a program be at 100% effort? We are going to have days where we just #getitdone, but these are just as important as the days where we are at peak performance.
Which Albert Einstein sums up nicely “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Is this us and our current training programs?
We may have progressed fast using our current training model, or we are concerned about losing our current performance gains we made over that period of time by introducing change. It is simple- If you aren’t progressing anymore then some form of change is needed.
We are also dealing with exponential performance gains. Where the fitter and faster we become the more work and effort it takes to receive smaller gains. Our PB’s go from minutes to seconds differences and they require a whole lot more work to get there.
Strategies for working through and avoiding runners/training plateau can include:
- Set goals (Long term and a series of short term). Keep your goals realistic, and regularly reassess them. Find something that is ambitious and challenging but achievable and realistic. Sweeten the deal. Set rewards for achieving these goals.
- Speak to a run coach about a professionally structured plan to meet your goals. Stick to your plan (not under-training, not over training)
- Allocate time to train with others of similar ability. “Smack talk” your friends. Competition is healthy and a great tool for pushing outside our comfort zone. A bit of fun, banter and healthy rivalry with a trusted training partner of similar fitness will do us wonders.
- Go to run clubs, structured group run meets. These are usually proven sessions that improve running ability and you don’t have to overthink it. Just do as your told and put in the effort.
- Talk to coaches. If you are going to a coached session, explain to the coach where you are at with your plateau and performance. The coach can keep an eye on you during the session and gauge your areas for improvement, adjust the session, partner you up or help to give you the extra push you need.
- You are just going through the motions. Your current training may not be challenging enough. Reassess and change to add elements that push you outside your comfort zone. Or speak to a professional for a plan that is tailored to your ability.
- Train naked. Leave the tech at home, or don’t switch on your sports tracking apps. For safety reasons you may benefit from leaving on your tracker if your are running trails.
- Run social media free. Try some runs without the social media posts. Judge a run by how it felt and not by how many likes it gets on instabook. It may help get back to your roots, and remember what it is like to just run for yourself again.
- Change your training. It’s stale. Change routes, distances, time, tempo, intervals, geography.
- Have a week off and come back reinvigorated.
- Refocus. Examine what it is you enjoy about training and allocate more time to achieving that enjoyment.
- #thenokkoneffect: Help others in that field. Use you experience and knowledge in that field to help others. Reignite your passion through helping others achieve their goals.
- Retail therapy. Buy some new training gear. It may be that extra motivation you need to get out there and put it to use.
- If you can’t get past it, there’s no more enjoyment then why do it? Consider quitting or a hiatus and work towards another interest. Find your enjoyment somewhere else. It may not have been the sport but a certain level/challenge in that sport that provided you with the most enjoyment. You may have never been a strong swimmer. Set some goals like you did with your running, look at triathlon and make a plan. The variety and challenge from a new sport may also reignite your love of running. Incorporating cross-training into a running program is a great way to add some variety to your training.
“From a physiological perspective, training is just a series of stresses on the body which lead to adaptation of more difficult tasks. You might lift weights that are heavy so your muscles grow stronger and over time those weights are no longer heavy. If you continue lifting those same weights despite getting stronger your improvements will diminish. You need to change the weight, change the muscle group, and change the exercise. It’s the same with any other form of physical exercise- when you train your body becomes adapted to that stress. If you don’t change up the stress you will not continue to improve. This is one of the reasons Crossfit has seen such great results. The exercises are constantly varied so your body never gets used to that stress and continues to grow. Cross-training in different disciplines or skill sets will make a massive difference to overall performance and reduce the chance of a plateau.”
If you have any more feedback on runners plateau we would love for you to leave your thoughts/experiences as comments.