8 Training Tweaks that Break Stagnation
Those of us who have been running for a few years often see their race times stagnate. It seems that we have reached our inherent potential or have come to a point where our body doesn’t tolerate any further increases in either mileage or intensity. But all you really need is a change. In this article, I evaluate 8 options on how to alter your training to get on the road for continued progress again.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.”
CHANGES IN TRAINING STRUCTURE
#1: Increase your mileage. This is a no brainer. At some point, further progress isn’t possible at the same mileage. You could either include an additional easy run or lengthen your existing easy runs, including your long run. Be careful not to increase your intensity at the same time. A 10% increase in mileage per week in generally safe but listen to your body in the process.
#2: Polarize your training. Most runners make the cardinal mistake of running too many miles at a moderate pace. It’s understandable because tempo runs feel comfortably challenging, leaving us with a sense of achievement. But the reality is, progress comes from truly hard runs surrounded by easy mileage. If you run your easy days too fast, you will not be recovered for when it matters.
#3: Change your race distance. This is one of my preferred methods to break stagnation. If your usual race distance is the 10K, then you could train either for a half-marathon or a 5K for a 12-week training cycle, depending on whether you’re potentially lacking endurance or speed, respectively. By the same token, race other distances frequently to iron out imbalances.
#4: Alternate hard/easy weeks. There is no rule that says your mileage has to be constant week by week. I’d argue alternating 25mile weeks with 35mile weeks leads to a greater training response than consistent 30mile weeks, even though the total mileage is equal. Basically, you are overreaching in 1 week to set the stimulus for new adaptations, and in the following week you recover.
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CHANGES IN WORKOUTS
#5: Include hills runs. The benefits of hill running are staggering. In essence, it is the most specific strength training for your running muscles you can do. Even if you don’t live in an environment that naturally includes hills, you can usually find an inclined path where you can perform hill repeats. I myself often resort to a parking house for hill sprints.
#6: Sequence your speedwork. Those of you who read my articles frequently know that I am a big advocate of speedwork. Although you shouldn’t overemphasize it at the cost of other training modes, you would benefit tremendously by working the full spectrum of speed training occasionally, from 200s @800m race pace to 1600s at 10K race pace.
#7: Rotate your threshold runs. This training mode – although crucially important – is often overemphasized. On the other hand, too many athletes do the same tempo workout over and over again and therefore fail to ignite further adaptations. Try a fast tempo at 10K – 15K pace for 20min, a tempo at 15K – HM pace for 30min, and a slow tempo for 40min at HM – marathon pace.
#8: Amplify your long runs. The primary purpose of long slow distance runs is to empty the glycogen stores of your slow-twitch muscle fibers. But there are 2 notable benefits of increasing the speed towards the finish. For one, you will engage your intermediate fast-twitch fibers aerobically, and secondly, you put prolonged pressure on the heart because of the heart rate drift.
In summary: There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect training program’. A training schedule that got you on the podium last season will not work equally well the next time around. Your body needs new stimuli in order to elicit a training response. This can be done by changing your workout structure or by introducing novel workouts. You can also manipulate your existing workouts, of course.
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Sandro Sket, CSCS