You’re training regularly, putting your best self on the road or on the track, running regularly; but it seems like you’re not getting any faster… and it’s frustrating! Does it mean you’re reaching your peak shape and you are at your maximum athletic capacity?
We don’t think so!
Of course, even with professional training and the best of intentions, we will not become Usain Bolt or Eilish McColgan. However, most runners tend to hit a plateau that has nothing to do with hitting your maximum potential.
Find out below why and how you can tackle this in your practice… and hit the PB bell in the next 4 to 6 months.
We’ve all been there. We smash out an entire week of training, run 50 miles a week, go to the gym twice and even go to this spinning class a friend invited us to. But coming the following week, it gets harder to put your trainers on and comes up the excuse: “I trained hard last week, so it won’t be the end of the world if I skip this run”.
Although we’re not speaking about the motivational and psychological effect of consistency in training, there is a real benefit of keeping a regular schedule in your running. As an approximative estimate, you can lose endurance after about 10 days of no training and after 14 days, aerobic benefits start to deteriorate. Thus, your fitness levels will oscillate between positive improvements and detraining effects – considering we’re not talking about ‘normal’ rest days, recommended in training, but bigger chunks of time.
Instead, it is recommended to perhaps train a little bit less when you’re training but increase regularity – which will enable your body to get accustomed to a more active lifestyle and training.
Of course, it will require some patience not to pace your training, however it might also help with motivation; knowing that you don’t have to get through physical exhaustion broken out with complete rest but a more balanced routine.
You’re always doing the same run.
Now you are consistent and run 5km around your local park every day. It’s a great start, but although it might help at first; you will not shave a lot of time off your 5km or 10km PB.
This is due to the lack of stimulus: your legs and body get used to repeating the same exercise over again. It becomes natural - even too natural. Think about a similar situation: working in a factory on a single specific task. At first, you must focus a lot to perform every single occurrence correctly, up to the same standard.
However, given 6 months into repeating this same task repeatedly, every day, you’ll find yourself doing it naturally, without even thinking about it. You’re going to be productive and efficient, but you’ll have learnt to use the minimum energy (so not think about it anymore or take your time etc) to perform this task correctly.
In running, it is similar; and if you don’t request new energy and resources from your body to succeed a session, your body will adapt itself and stop building strength towards completing a bigger challenge.
What can we do about it? Think about introducing variety and structure to your training. On a weekly basis, try to fit in a speed or hill session, a longer run requiring you to switch between different paces: sprinting, 5km pace, 10km pace, half marathon pace, steady, easy….)
If you don’t know how these paces mean, have a look at this table.
You’re training too much!
It is easy to fall into this trap without even noticing. If you’re overtraining, your body doesn’t manage to recover properly in between sessions, ending up in consistent burnout. Eventually, you might even notice a decline in your performance, even if you work out every day at your 100%.
How to recognise whether I am overtraining? Great question! If you feel abnormally exhausted during easy workouts, excessive sweating, or sensation of overheating or that your fitness is decreasing after weeks of consistent training, it might be interesting to read more about overtraining.
You’re not sleeping enough.
Like it or not, sleep is an essential component of a good recovery and good performance. Even it feels like the ‘inactive’ part of your day, muscles release amino acids into the bloodstream, which help them grow stronger. Muscle repair is also accelerated during REM sleep (rapid-eye movement), thanks to the release of growth hormones.
Naturally, these capabilities are impaired if you sleep for a limited amount of time, or have a poor quality of sleep. Without good recovery and strengthening, it will then be difficult for your body to progress.
To turn this around, try to observe a consistent sleeping schedule, wake up at regular hours and make sure to get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every day. To make sure to wake up fresh and rested, it is also recommended to limit screen time and blue light devices before bed, avoid going straight to bed after dinner, consume alcohol and caffeine before sleeping but make time to properly unwind and relax.
You’re running on empty stores.
Even if you want to get leaner, running on empty stores can be detrimental to your performance. Very simply, food is fuel, and so are carbs! Carbohydrates are stored in the body as muscle and liver glycogen, both used as fuel during exercise. When training at low intensity, fat is mainly used as the source of energy alongside carbs. However, as intensity might increase for example with interval, tempo, fartlek training, carbohydrates become the primary source of fuel.
Without stores of glycogen or sufficient fuelling, runners gradually lose energy and eventually cannot maintain pace and effort longer.
How to start fuelling for performance? Everyone is different, so the best thing is to test which foods give you the best environment to train in. However, we can still apply some basic principles:
- Eat a balanced plate without skipping carbs – you can make it colourful, appealing with plenty of vegetables, a protein source and carbs.
- Snack before a training session – but be careful! A heavy plate might not sit well on your stomach. But a quick snack (Greek yoghurt, fruits, peanut butter and jam sandwich, cereal bar…) can help you get an additional source of energy to run strong later.
- Don’t forget about the post-run protein snack – Before logging your run in Strava or any similar platform, don’t forget to optimise recovery. Try to rehydrate first thing when you finish running.
You’re running with your head…
If you've been on a plateau for some time, it might start to get into your head or if you're experiencing stress at work, in your relationship or with anything else that is life, it might be difficult to, a) go on a run and, b) perform correctly up to your expectations.
If you're feeling stressed, it's more likely that your muscles will tense up, preventing you to maintain a good form on asphalt. Of course, it is easy to say: "don't get anxious, everything will be fine!" However, it is good to remember that it's important to be gentle with yourself and remember that you might not be in the best headspace to reach your PB on a specific stressful day.
Our advice? Try not to overthink your session or procrastinate before a session. Get out of the house and let the legs do the work. You can also find little stepping stones towards a bigger goal to motivate you. Can you focus on a better cadence for instance, more consistency on pace (even slower)? Or maybe be grateful first of showing up!
Your injuries keep flaring up!
Few runners have never been injured - lucky you if that's the case. For most athletes, injuries might have paved the way of your running journey. As you might not get professional advice every time, some of your injuries, caused by muscle imbalances or weaknesses, can continue to flare up overtime. Even if you've learnt to deal with them and run with pain on the back of your head, it doesn't have to be this way - plus, painless running has a sweet flavor!
If this sounds like you, it doesn't mean you cannot progress anymore. You just have to follow appropriate recovery advice. Our runners at Enertor have started using running insoles to stay protected against conditions like plantar fasciitis and shin splints. Shock-absorbing insoles also provide enough comfort and a bounce feel that will enable you to maintain a harder effort for longer.