This week’s trail running tips are in response to a high school track and cross country runner who reached out to me with an important question: “What should I do when I feel like my racing has hit a plateau?” What I take this to mean is getting to a point where there is no improvement in my training or racing, resulting in a state of potential burnout. Here are three suggestions for overcoming that plateau.
Ask “am I overtrained?”
When I feel like I’m hitting that plateau, I’ll first consider if I’m physically or mentally overtrained. Physically, it’s hard for the body to make improvements if you never give it time to recover. I used to run twice every Monday, but this prevented my body from recovering after Sunday’s long run. I noticed that I would start the week tired, which didn’t leave me in a good position for harder workouts on Tuesday and Friday. This experience taught me that I needed to take Monday easy, so my body could recover from the long run. Since making this change, I find myself better able to push harder during my workouts, and I’m faster on my Sunday long runs.
Mentally, one can also feel overtrained. It’s easy for me to obsess about certain workouts and hitting certain paces, but this kind of thinking can make running less enjoyable The most important aspect of my training is to have fun. I have a great time running my favorite peaks and exploring wilderness trails, which motivates me to train day after day. Consistency in smiles equals consistency in miles! 😉 Run your favorite trails, explore, and run with friends to always have a good time and stay motivated.
Change it up
I’ve made improvements in my running by adopting new training strategies. For example, when I arrived at the University of Portland for the first time as a red-shirt freshman, I significantly changed my training and I saw the greatest improvements in my running. My high school senior year, I was running a decent 5K, and by November of my first semester at Portland, I had competed as a junior at the World Mountain Running Championships in Wales and placed 3rd in my first-ever marathon at the 2015 USATF Trail Marathon Championships in Moab, Utah.
Looking back, my improvements were a result of my new training schedule with the University of Portland cross country team under head coach Rob Conner. The workouts (daily runs and drills), as well as the team of dedicated Portland cross country athletes pushed me and helped me discover new techniques to run stronger on the hills and excel at longer distances. I suggest talking with experienced runners or coaches to introduce variety into your existing training regimen, which may include strength drills, stretching, high-intensity workouts, intervals, fartleks, and long runs. Each of these elements will help your body adapt in new ways. You might unexpectedly find yourself running a fast trail marathon in Moab when the year before you only trained for the 5K!
Rest and Recovery
Niggling injuries that you try to ignore, or little tweaks such as IT band soreness, or tight calves, can be a major cause of plateauing when you don’t rest up and heal. My current trail running coach David Roche always reminds me that little injuries, when ignored, can become major injuries. It’s important to recognize when we have injuries that limit our ability to run quality efforts and take the necessary action to heal them immediately so our bodies can recover stronger than before. At the 2017 Broken Arrow 52K Skyrace, I had my best ultra-marathon performance, but I was also just coming off a hip injury. Before the race, I had only been running for about 4 weeks. I gave my body the time it needed to heal my hip and I came into the Broken Arrow feeling fresh with hips stronger than ever. Let your body heal when it needs to and trust you will come back stronger!
I hope these tips can help all runners overcome plateauing. Feel free to reach out and send me an email at TaytePollmann@trailrunner.com with more questions about this topic or any other. I’d be happy to focus my future Tuesday Trail Tips on any running-related questions you as readers might have.