If you are like many runners, sooner or later you encounter a “plateau” in your running. You’re stuck in the same place. What to do?
Fortunately, there are a number of plateau-busting strategies. Former Austin running coach Greg McMillan (now in Flagstaff, AZ), widely considered one of the best coaches in the United States, has seven great tips sure to get you to the next level.
The first strategy McMillan recommends is to change your routine. Sounds easy, but think of how ingrained your routine becomes. Maybe you do a Tuesday night track workout, a Thursday tempo run and a long run on the weekends. Sounds good, right? But what if you never stray from that? McMillan recalls one runner who he advised to drop his Tuesday-Thursday routine, and instead do one hill workout per week for four weeks before returning to his old routine. Upon returning to his routine, the runner not only did better at his old workouts, but went on to set a PR.
McMillan also suggests changing up your “phases.” That means to approach things in a different sequence. For example, you might try starting your marathon training by building a speed work base before adding in long runs. Another strategy—especially for older runners—is to add more rest. McMillan calls it spreading the stress. “Add an additional recovery day or two between your hard efforts,” he says. “Sometimes that’s all you need to give a little bit more time for your body and mind to absorb the training. Or try a ‘mini-break’ in your training. That can break things up just enough so that when you come back to your training, cycle, you break through the plateau.”
The fourth strategy he believes in is to take a proper break after races. “You see serial racers—jumping into one race after another,” he says. “A longer break allows you to rejuvenate and come back into your training cycle re-invigorated.”
The next strategy he advises is to work on your running form and leg speed: drills, exercises, leg-turn-over work. “It’s like you approach your running with a ‘new body’ and that translates to higher quality training,” says McMillan.
Number six is to change your mentality. “Runners are so goal driven, and can hold too tightly to their goals and put too much pressure on themselves. Sometimes it’s important just to step back and remember why you truly run—make sure it’s fun and exciting.
And finally, reduce your training until your racing improves. “This especially applies to people who are in mid-season, and may be doing a race series. I tell those folks to reduce their training volume by 20% and to scale back their hard workouts. So the volume is less and the intensity is less, even though you’re still doing your training program. Keep doing that until you see that your races start to pick back up. At that point, your body is recovered, and you’re going to break through that plateau. Then you can jump back into your regular training and go out there and attack those races.”
“So if you find your struggling with hitting a plateau, try one or more of these strategies in your training, and see if you can break through to that next level,” says McMillan.