The second type runs a race at approximately an even pace throughout. The third type of runner starts slowly, picks up the pace, and gets faster throughout the run, often achieving a negative split.
The experienced runner may believe further improvement will develop by continuing to follow the same racing strategy, and training at increased mileage and greater intensity. After all, she reasons, it was a certain strategy that led to improved performance so far. Yet we evolve as runners, and a different strategy may better suit the runner we have become, not just the runner we were in the past. Experiment with a different race plan, be patient, and measure the results objectively.
More: A Lesson in Feel-Good Training
Overtraining—Sometimes Less is More
A third reason for reaching a plateau in performance comes from overtraining. This is often difficult to discern by experienced runners, in particular, those who've shown continued improvement in performance over the course of a training season or a few years.
Improved performance often results from increasing the number of training miles logged and the intensity level of workouts. Yet, for each of us, we reach a saturation point where our bodies and minds find that we need to reduce our training, at least temporarily, for further improvement. Fewer miles, slower pace, better results. Yes, sometimes less is more.
More: 7 Ways Runners Can Avoid Overtraining
Fortunately, we have indicators when we overtrain, provided we listen to what our bodies tell us. When we pay attention and adapt quickly, we discover that the reduction in training is short-term. The consequences of not listening to our bodies' signals usually lead to continued poor performance or, worse, an injury.
There are several physical indicators of overtraining. Of course, most of us look to increased muscle soreness or the beginning of an injury—stress fractures or tendonitis as a primary sign. Other signs to monitor before significant injuries occur include our resting heart rates. Each runner should determine his resting heart rate at the beginning of the training season and periodically reassess throughout the training cycle. It's quite common for our resting heart rates to slow, as fitness improves, until we reach our natural low point.
More: 5 Signs of Overtraining
When we overtrain, our resting heart rates creep upwards, a preliminary marker of pending trouble. Even an increase of two or three beats per minute is a warning sign. Additional signals are wide variances in eating, sleeping or moods. Each runner is different and may exhibit different signs of overtraining, but these markers—increased resting heart rate and behavioral variances—signal the need to reduce training temporarily.
Finding That Elusive Personal Record
Experienced runners are attuned to training and logs, and generally how we feel. By paying attention to more subtle nuances—running inefficiencies, the best racing strategy, overtraining indicators—and responding appropriately, the elusive personal record is achievable.
More: How to Become a Smart Competitor
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