A Different View

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A Different View

Written by Richard Ferguson, Ph.D. on 15 January 2015.

 Do you ever feel like running is a struggle?  Each race or workout you run seems to be physically and mentally hard and it just seems like your fitness and performance doesn’t get any better.  It’s not that you’re really getting slower, it’s just that you don’t seem to be getting any faster.  Often times the whole situation doesn’t make a lot of sense. You truly believe you are capable of performing better. You have genuine self-confidence in yourself.   But it’s as if you’re running in one of those weird dreams where you run really hard, but don’t seem to go anywhere.

                  This feeling of being stuck really isn’t unusual for runners, or any other athletes for that matter. All runners have to deal with the emotions of not seeing constant, steady improvement at some point in their running careers. Many coaches simply feel these performance plateaus are a normal part of training. Progression will never be perfectly linear. Sometimes you improve quickly, while at other times you may stagnate.  The goal should be to make the periods of performance stagnation as short as possible and get you back to a positive trend in your training and performance.

                  Performance stagnation is often the result of spending too long of a period in a particular training phase, not having a physiologically appropriate training program or even too much time in the same training environment, i.e. same course, same pace etc. Stagnation may be the result of pure unadulterated boredom. The stagnation in performance can sometimes be more to do with mental factors than physical problems. 


Racing schedules can also lead to running performance problems.  Too few races can lead you to lose site of your goal and you may begin to feel your hard work has no real purpose or meaning. On the other hand, too many races may not allow for adequate physical and mental recovery, both of which can lead to overtraining and running burnout.

                  The main point for most runners to ponder is how to view these periods of stagnation and get back on the running fast track. First and foremost, be sure you have a sound training program. A good training program is well planned with different phases, which stress different intensities and mileage at different times of the year. Too often runners get locked into a training plan that does not have any specific goal in mind. This may result in a pattern of running which varies little in intensity and duration each day. As a result your body adapts and little training effect occurs past a specific point, leading to a performance plateau. There must be progressive overload placed on the body in order for training adaptations to occur. As your fitness improves your training much change or there will be no further gains.

                  Plan your races for variation as well.  If you do like to race frequently, try to vary the distances. Don’t race the same distance every weekend. Mix it up and view certain races as training and preparation for a major race you may be looking toward down the road. Run a road mile, cross-country race or even try a duathlon. This variation in stress on the body will improve your physiological parameters, while at the same time help to prevent mental fatigue and boredom.

                  Psychologically, there are a number of things that can be done to increase the likelihood of  breaking out of a pattern of running stagnation. A key word to remember is CHANGE! First and foremost, do something different. Run some totally different workouts, do more fartlek, run some hills. Just do a different type running which is different from your normal routine. Try running at a different time of day. Run in a different geographic location. Run a totally new route. Personally, I know I get mentally stuck running the same routes and it really does help mentally when I try a new one. So get away from the old three-mile loop! Go and run around a field, go to a different town, go out to a farm; just run anywhere different. If you normally run on the road, try to run some on grass or trails. Hate the track? Well go to the track for some workouts simply for a change of pace. You may even consider (heaven forbid for some) taking a day off and even participating in another physical activity! Run with other people.  Put the fun back in your running! Change your view on running, both literally and psychologically.

                  Try not get overly “stressed out” about feeling stuck in your running habits. Above all, don’t panic. Sometimes simple patience is the key to getting out of a period of stagnant running performance.  If you truly believe in your training program then give it a little time. All of us are different and physiologically respond to training differently. Too often runners will try to break out of a down period by drastically increasing their mileage or training intensity. While this may help in some cases, there is always the risk of physically and mentally wearing yourself out, which will result in further performance decrements. Overtraining and burnout can result when drastic increases are made in mileage and/or intensity. If overtraining and burnout do occur, you will have a lot more running problems on your hands that just being at a performance stagnation point.  Chronic fatigue and motivation problems may totally ruin your season if overtraining occurs. Try to ere on the side of caution when changing your actual training plan.

                  Remember; if you feel like you are mired in running quicksand, be patient and try to make some changes that will refresh you mentally. Often a change in mental outlook is all that it takes to achieve a performance breakthrough. If you’re fresh mentally you will be more motivated to run hard and your confidence will be high. Recognize when you’re beginning to get stagnant and frustrated and do something about it before it gets too prolonged. Remember to train hard, but train smart and have fun! You may be closer to a running breakthrough than you could ever imagine. Take a different view on things; maybe your running glass is really half full, not half empty!

Read more of Dr. Ferguson articles on - http://runohio.com

The Components of Peak Performance - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/871--the-components-of-peak-performance

Running and Sleep -  http://runohio.com/index.php/features/845-running-and-sleep    

Don’t Panic! -  http://runohio.com/index.php/features/824-dont-panic#:

The Mental Maximization of Training - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/773-the-mental-maximization-of-training

With the Help of a Friend -  http://runohio.com/index.php/features/723-with-the-help-of-a-friend

Beating the Winter Blues- http://runohio.com/index.php/features/718-beating-the-winter-blues

Go For It - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/702-go-for-it

Beating Burnout - http://runohio.com/index.php/features/658-beating-burnout

A New Outlook - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/611-a-new-outlook

Expect the Unexpected - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/560-expect-the-unexpected

Pain or Discomfort? - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/529-pain-or-discomfort

Keep Your Eye on the Prize - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/512-keep-your-eye-on-the-prize

 Running Free - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/507-running-free

Running and Role Models - http://www.runohio.com/index.php/features/196-running-and-role-models


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