Getting stuck in a running slump happens to every athlete at least once in their career. It doesn’t matter if your slump is physical or mental. Climbing your way out of a rough patch in training or racing can feel like beating your head against a wall.
I have spent many years helping runners break out of their racing funks. Plus, I have experience with digging my way out of my own periods of stagnation. So, I’ve come up with three fail-proof solutions to help you break out of your running slump.
Strategy 1: Take some rest days and focus on recovery
Yup, I said the evil word. Rest.
Even writing it was hard for a Type A personality, like me, to do. However, the most common reason runners struggle to get themselves out of their slump is the lack of proper recovery. Usually, it’s lack of proper recovery that started them on a downward spiral in the first place.
Naturally, when runners start to have a bad bout of training or suffer through a series of races, they begin to train harder, believing that it is a lack of fitness holding them back. Unfortunately, this solution is like putting yourself in a hole and then digging faster and faster in an attempt to get out.
Instead try some of these strategies. Take a few extra rest days. Maybe even schedule a whole down week, and focus on recovery. A few rest days or a down week is like squeezing the sponge into a bucket. The bucket, in this case, represents the store of fitness you want to have available on race day to throw at your competition. After ringing out the sponge, you can get back to training fresh.
Yes, it seems backwards that taking a few extra days of rest or adding a few super easy training days could actually make you fitter. But it’s true.
Strategy 2: Vary your racing
Another frequent reason runners find themselves stuck in a slump is always training for the same race distance. I see it often with runners—especially those that run marathons. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Runner: “I’m in a running funk and haven’t PR’d in my last three races. I need some help.”
Me: “Tell me about your last three races, maybe we can spot a trend?”
Runner: “Well, I ran the NYC Marathon in November, then I ran Boston in April, and I just finished Chicago last week. Each marathon went a little worse than the one before.”
It may sound a little comical. However, it might be the same conversation you’ve had with one of your coaches.
Each race distance has its own specific demands for optimal performance. Training for the same distance over and over again, whether it’s the 5K or the marathon, means neglecting important physiological systems.
For example, running well in the marathon requires an intense focus on mileage, aerobic threshold and long runs. Certainly, these are very important systems to be developing. However, in the process of training for marathon after marathon, VO2max, speed workouts and high-end anaerobic threshold becomes neglected.
The longer a runner stays in this cycle of marathon after marathon, the further it diminishes their VO2 max, speed, and anaerobic threshold. Eventually the inability to improve the entire range of physiological systems prevents a runner from making long-term progress and taking their training to the next level.
Instead try to vary up your target race distances. Spend at least one training segment per year working on your “off” distance.
For marathoners, this might mean doing a 5K training segment in the winter or the summer. If you prefer the shorter distances, perhaps you can train for a fall half marathon or a winter marathon to help boost your mileage and aerobic development.
Strategy 3: Pressing the mental reset button
Sometimes, being in a slump with your running is as much mental as it is physical.
We work with a lot of runners who, for one reason or another—family, work, general bad luck or stress—feel like they are stuck in the mud just spinning their wheels. After a series of bad races or a bout of failed workouts, they lose confidence. Instead of heading into each workout with a positive mental approach, they begin to focus on the negative. Once the negative thoughts creep in, it’s a vicious cycle that begins to affect the physical preparation.
If this sounds like you, press the reset button on the last few weeks of bad training or unimpressive race results. As Forrest Gump’s mother said, “You’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.” Pressing the reset button clears your mind of all the difficult workouts or bad races. Then you can turn your thoughts to the future. Instead of focusing on the negative, start each training day anew and with a positive mindset.
Likewise, focus on taking each training session one day at a time. Don’t worry about your previous workouts and don’t fret over the training or racing to come. Concentrate on what you need to do in the moment and how you need to execute for that one workout or race.
Any runner that has been in a slump knows it can be a real grind to get yourself out. Use these tips and get ready to start fighting out of that slump!