Harrisson’s excellent article on the sub 3 hour marathon target, brings us to the very clear point that something has to change when there is no progress.
However, it needs to be asked, how many times should you hit your head against the wall? Or to put it another way, what is the difference between a training routine described as “dedication”, versus one which is just “stubbornness”? Are you persevering and being dedicated in your training or have your workouts just become a habit and too stuck in your ways to change?Most people who are in the “non-improvement” cycle don’t realise it and what it is doing to themselves. Thankfully, for running, swimming and cycling, it can be measured easily – timed by the clock.
Any level of runner who has graduated from the phase of “just wanting to finish the race”, will have their sights set on a targeted goal time.
The issue arises when you are consistently struggling to surpass the set goal time. Not being able to achieve your goal can truly be heart breaking and not to mention psychologically very damaging if repeated too many times.
The inability to obtain your goals can make you give up in the sport. Or for some, they just get stuck in the endless cycle of keeping running the same goal times.
You are not in school any more
It may sound obvious but no one will tell you what to do. Unless you are fortunate to have a dedicated coach, you must self assess. When you are progressing, you should continue on. Then one day it may stop it’s effectiveness. It is at this moment where we must think of your goals. Is continuing the training going to improve you and edge you closer to your goal?
People may be reluctant to change, but how is a person’s dedication differentiated from just being stubborn?
Improvement = perseverance
No improvement = stubbornness
When you hit the no improvement “wall”, you’ve got nothing to lose but to try different training methods, nutrition, listen to others. Play around with new techniques, and make it fun in the process. Actually, it is one of the great positions to be in, enlist the help of other runners if you can and learn from them to see what works. Break through the non-improvement spiral.
Are you running and participating in races too much, or too little? This could also be a determining factor. Change the workload of training/races.
For myself, I can say that a change from running to incorporate other activities like cycling and swimming helped improve my times, as did short distance speed work and a change in nutrition balance. Quality sleep was another big factor.
Others have recommended trail running, stamina building long distance running, weight training, yoga… and the list goes on.
Conversely, self assessment is also vitally important for the times you have improved. What did you do this time which was different to the last time and why? Can it be repeated? Write it down for next time, keeping a log of races is a good way to track.
As you can tell, there is no single prognosis, as it is rather specific to the individual, but if you have a goal, then believe in it and make it happen! Be flexible with your training, and keep improving.