5 Strategies for Breaking Through a Racing Plateau

5 Strategies for Breaking Through a Racing Plateau {Running Out of Wine}

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

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?

 

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31 Responses

  1. I have been hovering around the same race time for half marathons for a while now but I do think I am finally at the point given the right conditions (lol) that I can break my current pr. I don’t really know what changed other than it took a while of continuous running to get better and better and more comfortable running at quicker speeds. Lots of mental conditioning in there too! So much of it is mental.

  2. Great post, Lisa! It’s great to hear that you’ve figured out how to break out of the plateau! I think for me, the two most important ingredients in making running improvement are variety and consistency. It seems most of the experts and pros would agree – when you incorporate a variety of different workouts – including the balance of easy and recovery running – your body adapts to different kinds of stress and you can find new heights in your fitness. I feel like so many runners just continue to do the same ol’ thing over and over and then wonder why their PRs aren’t improving. Consistency in training is also so important – I took an off season this summer/fall and my running was very sporadic, so it should have come as no surprise that my race times consistently fell short of my expectations. Basically, I’ve found, if I want the results, I need to put in the work. That means recovering when necessary, pushing out of my comfort zone when necessary, and training consistently. Oh, and hill work. Lots of hill work 🙂

    Thanks for the post!

  3. These are great tips! I found that working with a sports chiro and getting Graston done on my calf (which hurt like you wouldn’t believe) really really helped me bounce back. I also agree with paying attention to nutrition, and that’s something I’m focusing more on my current training cycle. I still have treats every now and then, but they don’t make up the majority of my calorie consumption. This is also my first training cycle where I’m running 5 days a week versus 4, and so far it’s been working!

    1. I’ve heard Graston hurts but is so effective! That’s great that you found a sport chiro to help you – they make such a difference! Adding an extra day and eating higher quality (but still enough) food is also great for improving – good luck on your training! What are you training for?

    1. Thank you, Tara! It was such a great trip – London is such a fascinating city and so easy to visit (English makes a huge difference!) that you should go there some day!

  4. Great post, Lisa! I need to experiment more with my fuel during long runs. I still haven’t found quite the right balance for me (although salt tabs were a life saver during my last marathon).

    1. Marathon and half marathon fueling is so tricky! It really does take so much experimentation, and then it seems to change as we progress our training and improve nutrition!

  5. Great tips! This is so me in half marathons. I’ve been trying to break my goal time for almost 2 years now, and I swear most of it is mental! I just ordered that book on Amazon and I’m hoping it will help me finally PR this year!

    1. I hope you do get that PR! Running really is so mental – I’ve heard that Matt Fitzgerald’s “How Bad Do You Want It” is a great book for mental training as well.

  6. Finding the right balance of training load and staying injury free are tough but so important! I’m not sure if I’ll be attempting to break PRs anytime soon, but when I was doing that I definitely found it tough to run enough miles without hurting myself.

    1. Finding the right mileage balance is so tricky as well! How much speed work, stress from other parts of life, nutrition, and it seems even the weather/time of year can impact that and it’s different every time. There’s definitely something commendable about listening to your body, enjoying running, and not injurying it just for a time on a clock.

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