The end of the year is a great time for reflection on your goals and accomplishments in the year gone by, and for planning for the coming year. During this time, look back on your training and racing log and determine what areas of your running could be improved. Most runners can implement a variety of ways to boost their fitness, injury resilience, and strength to become a better runner.
If you fell short of some of your 2019 goals, it’s helpful to figure out the likely cause and how you can make 2020 more productive. I’ve identified three common problems that many runners have in their training; see if you fit the following descriptions and if so, you’ll have an action plan for overcoming those weaknesses and making next year your best yet.
Problem #1: Flatlining Race Performances
Many runners hit performance plateaus and struggle to break through to a new level of running. It’s a common issue, one that becomes more pronounced with experience. In other words, the faster you get, the more difficult it becomes to keep getting better: the improvement curve levels off.
If you haven’t made much progress getting faster over the last year and you seem to be running the same finish times over and over again, there are a variety of strategies to help you progress beyond this plateau.
Perhaps the most effective way to get faster is to run higher mileage. There’s a reason why professional runners often run 100+ miles per week—that big base of endurance builds strength, efficiency, and an aerobic engine that propels them to such fast race times.
Be gradual about increasing weekly mileage, but make a commitment to run 10–20% more per week during your peak training than you did during your last training cycle. That extra mileage, compounded over time, is a great investment in your continued success as an endurance runner.
Many runners also need to run fast more regularly. After all, you’ll never race fast if you don’t practice running fast during training. Start with strides or accelerations after easy runs and progress to fartlek workouts or tempo runs.
A base of endurance supports the speed work later in a training cycle. And when endurance and speed are combined, runners are often surprised at their improvement.
Problem #2: Chronic Injuries
Running has a fairly high injury risk because of the impact forces and our enthusiasm for the sport. We often run too far, too fast, before we’re ready. If you’re experiencing multiple injuries per year, it’s time to reevaluate your training and include more prevention efforts into your program.
First, ensure your training is properly structured. This means:
- Workouts are appropriate for your fitness level, goals, and they progress intelligently
- Mileage increases are strategic and safe
- Long runs build gradually and depend on your ability
- Easy and recovery runs are run at a truly easy effort
- Effort is spread evenly throughout the week, rather than clustered in just a few days
After structuring your training well, the next avenue for reducing injury risk is to get stronger.
If you’re new to strength training, start with bodyweight exercises like squats, planks, bridges, and push-ups. Once you’re comfortable with bodyweight exercises, your strength work can progress to banded exercise, medicine ball workouts, and finally to weightlifting in the gym.
Strong runners who train appropriately have far fewer injury risks!
Problem #3: Fading Late in Races
If you find yourself running strong in most races until near the end, where you slow and can’t pick up the pace, this is a great opportunity for boosting your late-race speed. But more (or faster) speed work is rarely the answer. The problem isn’t running faster, the problem is maintaining the speed you already have.
You can solve this problem in two different ways.
First, you can be more consistent with higher mileage and long runs. They’ll give you extra endurance and “staying power” that will help you finish strong in your next race. Endurance solves many of running’s issues. As my college coach would half-jokingly answer to most running questions, “higher mileage!”
But if you have the endurance, you might need more strength to carry you through the uncomfortable, latter stages of a race. Becoming a more powerful runner with runner-specific weightlifting workouts gives you the strength to kick hard and access more fast-twitch muscle fibers when you’re fatigued at the end of a race.
Strength training also has several side benefits that will positively affect your running. It:
- Increases your running economy
- Helps prevent injuries
- Improves mobility and your ability to move well
This holiday season use the New Year to evaluate your running shortcomings, plan for new ways to overcome them, and expect a competitive 2020 race season!
Jason Fitzgerald is the host of the Strength Running Podcast and the founder of Strength Running, an award-winning blog with hundreds of thousands of monthly readers. A 2:39 marathoner, he’s coached thousands of runners to faster finishing times and fewer injuries with his results-oriented coaching philosophy. Follow him on Instagram or YouTube.