One of the most gratifying moments of coaching is sharing an athlete’s joy when they accomplish their running goal. As a varsity cross-country and track coach I collaborate with athletes on their running goals prior to every season. There are usually a range of objectives but the number one target is always to run a personal best time. When the challenge of meeting that expectation isn’t achieved, the obvious next step is to ask the question why?
After running 29:51 for 10 km and representing Canada on numerous occasions, Sergio has been an athlete who has struggled for the past year to run personal best times. So together we started to look closely at the following:
The first place to start when you are not meeting your target times is to look at your overall training program. Are you running too much (overtraining) for the distance you are racing or not running enough? In order to see improvements in your aerobic fitness, the average runner would need to train at least four days a week.
It’s also important to train your body to run at the pace you need to reach your time goal, so adding some intensity in your training may help. I often remind athletes it is important to train consistently – one awesome workout isn’t what’s important. It’s being able to combine many good workouts together that gets you closer to your goal.
If there is one thing I have learned as a coach it’s that recovery days are just as important as training days. Cross-training has helped athletes stay healthy and adds a mental break from running. Yoga/stretching, massage, foam rolling and enough sleep can all help muscles recover so you can be at your optimum. Time off and/or focusing on a different race distance can help give your body and mind a needed break.
Nutrition & Refueling
If you are not taking in enough calories or lacking the proper nutrition, it’s hard to ask your body to perform. Adequate pre- and post-workout meals and fluids provide you with the fuel to get you through a workout and help prepare you for the next one. Iron deficiency is a common problem with distance runners. Making sure levels are regularly checked is also important.
So what did Sergio and I come up with? Both volume and intensity seemed to have negatively affected his results. After running his personal best time, increasing how much he ran seemed like the logical thing to do. So he went from running a total of 100 km a week to running 120-130 km a week. However Sergio had one pace when he ran his mileage and as a result he was not recovering from one workout to the next. He became frustrated and lost his love of racing. So, we decreased his mileage, took a break from his main competitive event and improved his iron levels. Sergio is now back, feeling better than ever.
Running personal best times is never easy and there are no guarantees. When you set your time goals, remember it is a result you hope to achieve, so it’s important to be realistic. No matter what level of runner you are, improving your times takes a combination of doing a lot of things right. Just ask Sergio.