Hi, everyone! While I’m obsessing over everything at the British Museum today (I’ve always been such a museum geek!), Lisa from Running Out of Wine will be guest posting and sharing her tips on breaking through a racing plateau. Lisa is one of the first bloggers I connected with when I began blogging, and I’ve enjoyed following her journey in running impressive PRs! Over the years, she’s cut 12 minutes off her half marathon time and 26 minutes off her marathon time and is now sharing how she did it. Thank you, Lisa!
Hello! My name is Lisa and I blog over at Running Out of Wine. I typically write about all things running and other random parts of my life, including my love for wine! I am excited to be here today helping out while Laura is on her amazing London adventure!
Today I am here to talk about strategies for breaking through a plateau in race times. Let me start by saying that I am pretty much the queen of racing plateaus. I tend to set a PR and then run within anywhere from a second to a few minutes of the same time, at least once or twice, when racing that distance again. I even tied my half marathon PR 4 years later on the same course – what are the chances of that?
Laura’s note: Lisa’s in good company with this: even the elite runner Amy Hastings ran the exact same time as her marathon PR at the 2014 Chicago Marathon!
My first race ever was the Baltimore Half Marathon in 2007 and I ran a 1:53:09. Not bad for a first race, right? Well, the problem I faced was it became difficult to make a whole lot of progress from there. I tied my PR on the same course in 2011. It wasn’t until 2012 that I broke my PR (by 8 minutes).
I ran my first marathon in 2011, with a time of 4:07. Again, very respectable for it being my first time covering 26.2 miles. Once again, it was difficult to make much progress from there. Over the next 3 years I ran 3 other marathons, all within the 4:01-4:07 range.
Since that time I have continued to train and race, but unfortunately have been plagued with injuries along the way. There are a few things I have learned which have helped me to stay healthy and break through those frustrating running plateaus. My half marathon PR is now a 1:41 and my marathon PR is a 3:41.
So what changed over the past few years that led to these improvements? Well, I am glad you asked! Here are a few things that have helped me to break through my running plateaus.
5 Strategies for Breaking through a Racing Plateau
1. Stay Injury-free
This one is obvious, but it can be really challenging. If you are injured, you are probably not training and racing, and therefore you are unable to make consistent progress. I can’t say I have any secrets for this, but for me it was a matter of including a certain level of strength training while also seeing a chiropractor regularly to get ART (Active Release Technique) and adjustments, along with my own foam rolling at home.
2. Find the Right Balance
Some runners can handle 6-7 days a week and high mileage, while others do better with 3 runs per week. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. I have realized that it’s important to pay attention to where my “sweet spot” is at any given time. We want to push ourselves enough, but not to the point of overtraining or injury. Typically, it’s safer to go with less miles and skip a few runs if you’re not sure how much you can handle.
3. Experiment with Fueling and Nutrition
I made some changes in how I eat over the past few years, and I suspect it has helped my running. I try to focus as much as possible on eating whole, unprocessed foods, but of course I still enjoy treats and wine as well. I used to eat more packaged foods and less fruits and vegetables, so I wasn’t getting all the nutrients I needed and probably wasn’t even getting enough calories to fuel my runs.
4. Learn from an Expert
In the summer of 2015, I decided to start working with a running coach. I felt like after 5 marathons it was time to get some outside help. You know the saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? Well, even though I am a certified running coach, there is something to be said for having an outside perspective to your training. During the time I worked a coach, I PR’ed in the half marathon by almost 2 minutes and the full marathon by almost 5 minutes.
5. Work on Mental Strength
I think that this aspect of racing is often neglected. We can have a perfect training cycle and then just give up on ourselves on race day. I have done this more things than I would like to admit. In fact, my husband has even had to give me a serious pep talk during a race, because I started rattling off excuse why I couldn’t set a PR. Before my last marathon, I read The Runner’s Brain by Jeff Brown, which gave me some mental race strategies. This will always be a work in progress for me, but now that I know the mental piece is so important, it will remain a big focus of my race.
It’s completely normal to hit a plateau in racing, but there is usually a way to break through it and see improvements. Try to consider different training styles or aspects of training that you may have neglected in the past. Good luck and I hope that there are many PRs in your running future!
Have you experienced a racing plateau?
If you were able to break through your plateau, what worked for you?
If you are struggling with a plateau in your racing, what do you think you could do differently in your training or racing strategy?