How to not improve as a runner
These are 6 ways to not improve as a runner and what to do about it.
1. Compare Yourself To Someone Else. Always appreciate your own ability. There is no one like you and God created only one of you in a world of over 7 Billion people. You are special. Be inspired by others, but also keep in mind they cannot get you out the door or do your workouts for you.
2. Run Faster Than Your Own Good On Recovery Days. This cannot be stressed enough. Keep in mind ‘recovery' should be just that, some much needed downtime from the hard sessions. You simply cannot keep pushing and expect your body to thank you for all your hard work. The best runners in the world run slower than your grandma on their easy days. Food for thought. I HIGHLY recommend reading Run to Win: The Training Secrets of the Kenyan Runners I have seen first hand what the Kenyans do. They are good for a reason and they do not continually push.
3. Expect Results Too Quickly. The hardest thing to do as an athlete is to slow down. We all want results quickly but what I have found from my own racing is when you let go of results, placings, times you want to run and just trust in your daily preparation the results will fall in your lap. You are doing the work. What good will occupying your mind with clutter help your training output? Often times, this is out biggest enemy. Take pride in knowing you are doing what is necessary to succeed and be patient, you will get results quicker by slowing down and focusing on the things you can control. Shy away from those you cannot.
4. Overthink Easier said than done, but you can overcome this. You have all the capability, otherwise I wouldn't think you would be taking the time out of your day to read this. People who are wanting to get in shape, lose weight or who have been training for years all have one thing in common, their driven. The greatest lesson I learned while training with the US Army's World Class Athlete Program is the best athletes don't always take their training too seriously. CPT John Mickowski was one of them (a 49.45 10-miler and 3.38 1500m guy) and taught me a lot. He didn't keep a training log, didn't count miles. What he did do was worked extremely hard and left his workout on the track. He wasn't over analyzing every detail of every aspect of his training. Relax, if you have a bad workout…forget it. Move on to your next effort, the majority of the time that next effort will blow your mind. Why? You let go and let your body rest!
Yes, it is important to be organized and I certainly will not advocate not having a journal or log. I did it for years from high school really all the way up to 2010, but in 2011 I let go. I was sick of overextending myself worrying about if I measured up or wondering if I worthy enough to be in the elite unit I was a part of. There comes a time when you have to just do the hard work and trust in your ability. Too much analyzing and over thinking is a quick way to staleness and loss of enthusiasm and what I want for you is to execute your next race successfully, far above your expectations. You will do this much more successfully by focusing on the workout, then forgetting it. A great workout doesn't equal a great race. What you do the hours and days after that awesome track session or road interval is what is going to bring your hard work to fruition come race morning. Don't over think things. It isn't worth it. Trust me.
Use your mental energy for the race and don't let it discredit you from being the person and athlete you are. I would recommend meditation and Dr. Joseph Murphy's The Power of Your Subconscious Mind as two alternative ways of beating the ‘over analyzing' aspect of training. Search for books about mental training on ebay or amazon. Murphy's book is one of many I have bought over there. My collegiate coach while attending Malone University, Jack Hazen, many times had us lay on the floor and just relax for 20 minutes visualizing ourselves achieving our race goals before and after hard workouts. It was a training tool he learned from Dr. Joe Vigil, one of the world's best distance running coaches as well as a world-renowned exercise physiologist.
Jack Hazen, Lisa Larsen Rainsberger (my professional coach from 2007-2010 and last american female to win the Boston Marathon) and Dr. Joe Vigil have taught me the most about the importance mental visualization and motivation.
It is vital you train mentally. We know how to train physically, but some of the above mentioned methods will assist you in being a better athlete and provide an easier way of getting in better shape. Worry and over analyzing about future races, how you are going to run and if you can hit that goal time, isn't worth your energy. Practice visualizing several times a day your body performing exactly how you want it to and think about the positives, forget about anything negative. Coach Vigil's book Road to the Top: A Systematic Approach to Training Distance Runners is one of the best books on the market for proper training, physically and mentally, you can get. I bought it years ago and continue to reference it.
5. Neglect Practicing The Pace You Want To Hold In The Race. A race has no rest breaks and jogging everyday will not prepare you to hit a time goal you are looking for. Running easy is great for fitness reasons and if your goal is unrelated to a specific race time, than please continue to run easy and build your fitness. This is the deal, if you have a goal time in mind, what you have to ask yourself is ‘what do I have to do to hold that pace without slowing down‘? The kenyans and other runners out there who seem as if they are on autopilot when they are racing have trained in such a way that minimizes the ‘slow down'.
This form of training is what we call in the running community, ‘lactate threshold'. It is the point at which lactic acid begins to build up in your bloodstream. What you want to do is train at that intensity and gradually extend the length of time you spend there. Your body will adapt and supercompensate meaning it will absorb the training and bounce back even stronger.
You will notice the fitter you get that that workout you did a couple weeks ago isn't so hard anymore. It takes 21 days for a physiological adaptation to occur within the body. The more time you spend practicing not only your race pace but focusing on the extension of time you spend there, the better you are going to race.
The best runners are clearing lactic acid quicker than it is building up in their bloodstream, thus, they slow down less and maintain pace longer.
This is the goal!
6.Over-Train and Race. I learned this one the hard way. I spent from October 2009 to December 2011 chasing the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials standard of 2.19.00 with no breaks whatsoever. I scared it with the 2.26 I ran last year but by that time I was really redlining as I spent over two years with very little breaks. Back-to-back marathons stemming from a short timeline I had to earn the time or else I would be released from the Army World Class Athlete Program, and than continuing to chase it after I moved on to my current assignment.
You have to give yourself a break. I would never recommend training any longer than 16 weeks for a marathon. Are there runners out there running back-to-back marathons or ultra's, absolutely, but if you want to improve your time don't over extend your training phase. You want to perform at your maximum.
Allow yourself some down time and don't be in a rush. There will always be another race and if you have an objective like qualifying for the Boston Marathon or earn an Olympic Trials qualifying standard in a track and field or road racing event, give it your best shot. Do not live with regrets that you didn't try.
Whatever your running goals are I hope some of this will strike a cord and steer you into new ways of thinking and adjust some of the thought patterns which could be triggering the reason why you are not running up to your standard. Keep fighting and bounce back.
If you have dealt with issues in your racing or fitness. Get up, brush your shoulders off. Your best races are in the near future!