Getting Out of the Rut

Jeff Clark | May 01, 2011

Athletes from elite through late onset (like me) get into ruts. You start out running, and for several months the improvements are steady. Then you stagnate. The improvement stops. Your results may start to get worse. Two typical responses are to quit trying to improve or to try harder at the same thing, but chances are neither will work.

There is a third alternative. Back off for a week or two. A lot of athletes cycle. They cycle up for a preplanned length of time. They may peak for a race; then they rest. Elite marathoners usually run two marathons a year, with four cycles between races.

Think of your body as a rubber band. If you pull it out of the bag and stretch it as far as you can it will break, but if you let the rubber band relax and stretch it again, it will go a little farther.

Even for moderate athletes, backing off for a week has benefits. Our marathon training group has down weeks. We are preparing to run a half marathon. Our first long run was three miles. Then we increased a mile per week until we got up to 6 miles. We backed off to four miles for a week then went back to six. Then we increase again, and so on.

If you walk 30 minutes a day and are happy with it that’s great. You may want to be able to walk two miles in 30 minutes. You are stuck at 1.75 miles and can’t get over that hump. Maybe take a few longer, slower walks and a shorter, faster one occasionally. Your body gets used to routine. Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Each one of us decides what we want from exercise. I always have my long goal, to finish a marathon when I am 70. My midterm goal is to run 13.1 in less than two hours. These goals are not about putting my head down and working as hard as I can. They are about thinking, planning and seeing the big picture. Sometimes the best way to achieve a goal is to back off and take a break.

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