This Is Why You’re Not Hitting Your PR: Lessons Learned From A DII Program

This article is sponsored by SOS Hydration.

By: Jessie Brunett

Seasoned veterans, newborns to the running world and intermediate runners all have one thing in common: the desire to improve. It’s the beckon call of your running shoes at the door that may do it for you, others are motivated by personal records or PRs. You may be familiar with PRs solely based on the professional running circuit, but personal records aren’t just for Olympians. In fact, setting one for yourself can be the difference between plateauing and reaching your fastest self in a training run or race.

Running is a unique sport, and it needs to be treated as such. If you want to be faster, you have to understand that you need to develop your running gears and that means training to hit that PR zone every time and avoid the dreaded plateau. 

Why do we plateau in the first place? I’ve experienced this too many times. Whether your goal is to finish a race, break a record, or you’re just looking to get faster, your training is the culprit. At a DII powerhouse, I experienced my share of PRs and plateaus only to take a step back years later and realize why I only peaked a few times in my career. After months and years of diligent training and cross training, doing everything right, I couldn’t run faster than my past PRs and my motivation to do so declined. We’ve rounded up a few theories as to why you may be plateauing and burning out instead of peaking and your training is the problem. 

1. You Don’t Build Easy Days In

At first glance, easy days in running seem like a shoe in. But, it is likely that most runners aren’t taking the easy days as easy as they should. Most of us run faster or take on too many miles too soon, which can lead to plateauing and burnout. While you may find running easy to be counterintuitive to hitting your PR, it’s beneficial to overall performance. Making sure there are adequate easy days in your training can help build your running gears for effective pacing in racing later on. It may be easy to want to go faster to be faster, but going on easy runs maximize the benefits of training so that your PR is attainable. 

Need specifics? Aim for 2:00 a mile slower than your race pace, and if you need to go slower, listen to your body! On easy days, my team was encouraged to run longer at 8:30 mile pace all the way up to 10:00 a mile pace. We were encouraged to assess how our body was feeling and adjust accordingly. The point is, easy runs are necessary to attain personal bests. 

2. Your Mileage Is Too High

I’ve seen this time and time again. In an effort to be like the greats, you amp up your mileage in an attempt to get faster, slim down and overall become fitter, but this is actually stopping you from hitting your PR. Running is different from other sports, more training doesn’t necessarily equal success. Running too many miles can stress your entire body which can cause you to underperform or become injured. We repeat the mantra: listen to your body. If there are lingering pains, feelings of fatigue or your heart-rate is staying elevated, it is best to back off the mileage to gain the results you seek. 

Need specifics? Add progressions to maximize your training. Instead of upping your mileage add combinations of intensity, resistance, and alternate speed and recovery days. The best I’ve ever felt during training consisted of varied runs and workouts throughout the week. Instead of running the same distance and pace everyday, 2-3 times a week I had easy runs to look forward to, 2 times a week I challenged my body with track intervals and high intensity, 2 times a week I used resistance and ran up hills or mountains. The change in training helped my body adapt to new challenges so when race day came, I was ready for anything. 

3. Strength Training The Wrong Way

As a runner you’d think you’d need to be light as a feather to be at your fastest, but studies have shown that just lifting for your bodyweight is not as effective as working in an actual strength training routine. When you’re lifting a little more, your body and muscles adapt and become stronger. 

Lifting heavier actually helps runners to recover because it helps rebuild muscle tissue lost from miles of running. Running is the focus, so don’t make lifting a priority, but use it as a tool to help your body become stronger. 

Need specifics? Smaller sets with heavier weights.You can handle more than you think. Remember, running builds endurance, lifting weights helps you protect and rebuild muscles. Use strength training as a tool rather than a focus. My coach often helped ‘weight room’ mornings so it became a daily routine prior to running later in the day. Sometimes a morning run would come first and the weight room later. Do what works best for you, but don’t be afraid of weight-training, it is more beneficial than you think. 

4. Cross Training on Auto-Pilot

Running takes a lot out of you. It not only requires whole-body sacrifice, but it can drain your mental energy too. Cross training is a great way to mix it up and give your mind and body the break it deserves, but often runners take it too literally. When you think of cross training you think of cardio machines(elliptical, stationary bike), but more often than not, the cardio machines aren’t doing you any favors. If you want to hit your PR, you need to do more: drills with agility ladder, side shuffling, lateral bear crawling, body weight exercises that work your whole body to becoming stronger because it is teaching your body to adapt to all sorts of directions & motions. 

Need specifics? Take control of your recovery, practice self-care by using foam rollers and deep tissue massage and use cross-training to maximize the benefits of full-body workouts. Try HIIT drills, agility ladders, bear crawling and body weight tabata exercises to keep cardio and strength up when you aren’t putting in the miles. My coach always built in training sessions with HIIT drills to maximize endurance and overall strength. I found that my running form improved and my kick at the end of races became faster. I attribute it to cross training. 

5. Not Taking Inventory Of Your Training

It is too easy to follow what other people are doing, but maybe Galen’s diet and exercise plan really aren’t for you. Have you really assessed your nutrition and training plan? Are you taking time to recover? How much are you sleeping every night? While running is just half the battle, your PR depends on other factors to become a reality and if you’re training consistently but not eating or sleeping well it could be the difference between hitting the same time or improving performance. Choose wisely. 

Need specifics? Inventory of nutrition, sleep and training are equally important to maximize performance. Limiting screen time, eating to fuel rather than for weight and keeping track of how you’re feeling during training can all help you achieve the personal record you’ve always wanted. I wish nutrition and sleep were more of a focus in college, but training took priority. What I mean is that sleeping early and eating well were encouraged but not tended to. For someone like me, I never knew how to eat for fuel, but assumed eating less would help me run faster. The opposite is true. Sleeping and eating well are underrated keys to unlocking your fastest potential. 

It is harder than you think to achieve PR status and continue to improve in a sport that demands everything. It can be easy to get caught up in doing everything right instead of doing what is right for you. If you want to improve your performance and hit your PR, training changes could make all the difference but these changes are nothing without commitment. Stay on course, experiment and have fun with it. PRs are attainable, you just have to find your own way to get there.