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Why Am I Getting Worse at Running?

Even in our most pessimistic moments, we expect to make progress towards our goals. This is why we set goals in the first place. But, what do you do if you feel like your running goals have stalled? Are you finding yourself asking, “Why am I getting worse at running?” Instead of throwing your running shoes at the neighbor’s cat, let’s look at some of the reasons why your progress is suffering and how to combat it.

You're Running Too Much

Yes, running too much is a real and serious thing. If you don’t believe me, check out my post about identifying the signs and symptoms of overtraining. When you run too much, you don’t allow your body time to repair and prepare for the next workout. Although it seems counterintuitive, it’s actually during your rest days that your body is doing the work necessary to build muscle, strength, and endurance. So, if you’re skipping rest days, you’re liking skipping progress towards your running goals.

At least one day a week, take a rest. Really. Rest doesn’t necessarily mean you need to sit on your couch all day, but it does mean that you shouldn’t push your body to the limits. As Anthony says in his rules, whatever you do on your rest days shouldn’t get in the way of the next day’s workout. So, if your yoga class was so intense that you’re sore the next day, it doesn’t count as rest. 

If you don’t believe me, take a few days off and then go out for a regular run. I’d be surprised if you didn’t find it easier to maintain a faster pace after a few days of rest.

Rest days aside, when you’re working out, it’s important to switch it up. When you love running, it’s hard to put aside days for cross training. Believe me, I’d rather spend every day on the road than even one day in the gym. But, it’s important. Failing to cross train and focus on working your muscles in various ways can lead to overuse and injury. 

If you really want to step up your game, check out the book

You Need to Take a Break from Running, but Dial Everything Else In

In addition to a regular rest day, it’s a good idea to stop running completely every once in a while. This can be as short as a week, or as long as a month. The idea is to let your running muscles have an extended period to recover and rebuild themselves. While you may believe that your muscles will be getting lazy, they actually will be getting the rest that they need.

In order to assist with muscle recovery, use this running vacation to be strict about everything else. Eat a clean diet, get lots of sleep, and eliminate as much stress from your life as possible. The better you can take care of your body during this rest period, the faster your muscles will recover and grow. Soon, you’ll realize that you’re not getting worse at running, you simply needed a break. If you’re at a loss for how to cook the healthy food that your body needs, check out my post about the best cookbooks for runners.

You're Running Too Hard

As with the point above, your body can only take so much wear and tear before it starts to push back against you. While speed workouts are important for progress, they need to be done in moderation. After too many days of hard runs, you’ll likely see your pace decrease and your level of fatigue and exertion increase. This is a red flag that you’re pushing it too hard and would benefit from a break.

Be sure to schedule easy runs into your weekly routine. While it may feel like a waste of time, easy running is beneficial to your aerobic capacity and will lead to gains in speed over the long term. In addition, easy runs give your body a chance to enjoy running! When all of your runs are hard, you’re spending a lot of time in pain, which isn’t enjoyable. While it can be fun to challenge your body at times, do this too many times in a row and you’ll begin to hate the sport.

If you’re the type of person that has a hard time gauging pace, and you don’t want to risk falling in a pothole by staring at your wrist all the time, the Garmin Forerunner 235 makes it quick and easy to keep track of your pace while running. I’m a big fan of my Garmin and rely on it for every run and race. Be sure to check out my review of the Garmin Forerunner 235 for more information about all of its great features. 

You're Running Too Easy

Yep, running too fast AND running too slow can stall your running progress. While you need easy days to relax and simply enjoy running, you also need to remind your body that you have a goal to achieve and that it needs to get with the program in order to do so. If you never push yourself, you’re never going to progress. Even the MAF program, which is known for slow running, encourages periods of fast running to increase the diversity of training your body is put through.

If you’ve tried it, you know that running slow is harder than it seems. When you’re accustomed to running fast, putting on the breaks can be a mental and physical challenge that initially feels awkward and unnatural.

If easy running is a problem for you, I recommend using a heart rate monitor to keep track of your exertion level. 

While not a perfect indicator, your heart rate gives you valuable information about how hard your body is working to get you through an activity. If you aren’t running through a haunted house or away from an axe murderer, it can be fairly accurate in indicating your need to speed up or slow down to hit the sweet spot of your easy running zone.

So, how do you find this sweet spot? According to Phil Maffetone, you want to start out by subtracting your age from 180. If you’ve recently suffered a serious illness or injury, you’ll subtract 10 from this number. Only subtract 5 if the illness or injury was minor. On the other hand, if you’ve been training for more than 2 years, add 5. Here’s an example:

Phil Maffetone’s 180 formula

Age: 40

Base number: 180-40=140

Serious illness or injury: 140-10=130

Minor illness or injury: 140-5=135

Training experience: 140+5=145

The number you end up with at the end is your easy run sweet spot number. On your easy days, plug this number into your heart rate monitor and don’t push yourself beyond it.

For a great and economical heart rate monitor, check out my review of the Polar Ft1. It’s what I use on my easy days and has been a great addition to my box of running gear.

diana fitts fremont marathon
I won this marathon, but that was my face the entire time. It was miserable. Running isn't always easy. I've learned that there are times when pain equals progress and I need to push myself.

You Need a Training Plan

While I’m a big believer in following our instincts as far as exercise is concerned, when pursing running goals, guidance can be helpful. Talk to a personal trainer or running coach to see if your current training plan is suited for your goals. In addition, it’s helpful to have a training plan to refer back to when your instincts are cutting it. It may not be that you’re getting worse at running; it’s just that you’re following the wrong plan. Here are some of my favorite running plans that are worth checking out.

You Need a Mental Reset

There’s a difference between getting worse at running and not getting better as fast as you would like to. If I have plans to win the NYC Marathon next year, you bet that my mind will tell me I’m becoming a worse runner every day that I remain hours from this goal. While our goals aren’t always so distant from reality as this example, it proves the point that expectations and mindsets can have detrimental impacts on our perceptions of progress.

Make sure that your goals are challenging enough, but not so challenging that they deflate your motivation to move forward. If you’re struggling to do this, What Next? takes you through the steps of finding that perfect balance whereby goals are difficult, yet enjoyable to pursue. Because, success is all the more attainable when we’re having fun and crafting meaningful lives in the process.

I’d also suggest investing in a running journal that lets you log your daily progress. There are times we are inching towards our goals and we don’t even realize it. Don’t care about the inches? Well, it’s the inches that eventually add up to the yards we need to reach success. Grab one of these journals and practice celebrating every inch. You may find out that you aren’t getting worse at running after all.

1 thought on “Why Am I Getting Worse at Running?”

  1. Another thing I’ve observed is that not having proper hydration also makes it harder for me to run the following day…Taking a couple of days of break also works for me as explained above…

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