When you start running, it is easier to get better and faster. You run more, you get fitter and you find that your times get quicker so you run some more, you run quicker, you get fitter and your times drop.
But then what happens? We are all busy people and most of us aren’t elite athletes with the full access to the top coaches, physios and strength and conditioning coaches that elite athletes have. Not to mention the time to train twice a day every day and jet off to altitude training for months on end!
I was reading an interesting thread on Facebook where some of the members of my running club were discussing how much fun it is to run without chasing PBs and how the pressure to constantly chase PBs has led to people falling out of love with running.
I witness this at many events I go to and with many of the athletes I coach. There is always this feeling or expectation that each event should lead to a PB. This way leads to madness and huge disappointment. I see people not getting their PBs and beating themselves up about it as they feel they have been training hard and racing a lot. In isolation, they look at the event and feel disappointed because they didn’t get their PB. Yet when you discuss their training with them, it’s often the case that they have done a lot of miles leading up to the event, and a lot of these miles at far too fast a pace, so they are feeling tired and running these events on tired legs. Often they have had other commitments that have meant they haven’t slept well or have neglected their nutrition.
Getting fitter and quicker unfortunately follows the law of diminishing returns. At some point, you will plateau with your training and what worked before will stop working. Running every race as fast as you can every week or two weeks means that you are running the race on tired legs. If you are training in between, this is also on tired legs and so you are not getting the proper training effect from these sessions. Even if you are doing some sort of structured training, if you are just going out and running at the same pace, this will only help you improve for so long.
One answer would be to run more! If you have only been out running twice a week you could run three or four times a week and be consistent with it. Consistency will go a long way to improving your running as will running more. However, the more miles you add to your schedule the more chance there is of picking up an injury and then this robs you of any consistency (I know, I know it’s never going to happen! Only 70% of runners at any one time are injured). If you are limited for time then getting out and running more is a challenge.
My preference is to “periodise” my events meaning that I pick 2 or 3 events that are my ‘A’ races over a year. Usually I will have an event in the diary for spring, normally a marathon. Then I pick a multi-sport event for the summer and another marathon in the Autumn. These are my target races for getting PBs. I then build my training around that and plan in 12 or 16-week blocks (Macrocycles) up to the marathons. If I plan a 16-week Macrocycle then this first 4 weeks is often just a reset period and is very easy. These training blocks are then broken down further into a base phase, speed phase, strength phase and then an event specific phase (Mesocycles) and the period of each Mesocycle will depend on the type of event and any specific areas of weakness. Then each week (Microcycle)is broken into specific training sessions that will help achieve that goal i.e. intervals, easy runs, long runs, rest days etc.
You can’t maintain your peak fitness for a whole year and so the trick is to time your peak fitness for the ‘A’ events and sacrifice some of the other events and give yourself a chance to recover and rest. I cross train more for the multi-sport meaning I mix up my training and give my body a rest from the strains of running. After the specific event, when I am not following a structured training plan leading up to another training block, then I am just running for fun or building up my strength and doing more gym work. Or I take the time to enjoy being around my family and spending time with them and not worrying about the fact I need to get out for a long run or interval session. At these times I go back to running because it’s fun to do when I can.
I may continue to run in events outside of these ‘A’ races but more to gauge how I am doing in my training, and to be honest for the social side of things as its fun! I don’t set PB targets for these races but I may set a pace target to run at and the new challenge is to hit those targets and not be deflected by the race around me. If I have structured my training correctly these races do often produce quicker times but it’s not the purpose of the race and so I don’t beat myself up over it if I don’t PB.
You should be kind to yourself both mentally and physically! Running lots of miles with no plan or structure will not help improve your performance and may lead to injury and disappointment. Running for PBs every week may also lead to injury and disappointment. This leads to falling out of love with running and losing the enjoyment of it which is probably the reason for getting into running in the first place. If it was to keep fit then this is also going to have an impact on this as you won’t be training for a while if you get injured.
You don’t have to run more, just run smarter and not every run has to be fast, in fact the majority of your running should be done at an easy pace chatting to friends and laughing! Make sure every run has a purpose and you know what that is. In order for a run to have a purpose you need to know what the overall goal is for your running. Is it to have fun? Is it to get quicker? Do you have a goal race in mind? Without knowing where you want to get to, you have no idea of the route you need to take. Yes, it’s nice to take random road trips and not know where you are going to end up, but not all these trips end happily some of them end up in the middle of nowhere calling the AA man and wishing you had stayed at home!