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Hitting a Training Plateau

Hey y'all - I am very new to this endurance training thing... I was a Division 1 basketball player in college, but needless to say, training to perform repeated 90ft sprints is quite different than any long-distance running. In the absence of a gym, I have decided to give running a try and (surprise) I love it! 

Anyway - I am now hitting a plateau in my training. For a week+ I have been crashing at the 3.5 mile mark (running ~8:00/miles). I'm currently running about 12-15 miles/week complimented by some self guided yoga and body weight exercises. Any advice for breaking through this barrier? My short term goal is a 10K, but I could easily see this growing into a passion that leads to marathons. All advice is welcome. 


3 Replies

Hi @cmfletcher!

Choosing a 10K as a stepping stone to a marathon is a great way to assess your base pace and fitness for training. 

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, my suggestion to help you both increase your running pace and distance is to run more miles, and run them more slowly. I really like this article from On Running about why slower running can help promote faster running on race day. It's incredibly detailed and discusses two main factors that can contribute to faster runs--how your body uses up its energy stores, and how your muscles can develop to help support long and fast efforts.

So, how fast or slow should you run? Depending on where you look, there's different opinions; however, most marathon training plans encourage nearly all of your running miles--70 or 80% of your total week's miles--to be run at an easy effort. You can gauge an easy effort if you have a heart rate monitor, and if you know your maximum heart rate. Generally easy runs should be no more than 80% of your maximum heart rate. 

An even easier way to assess how easy or fast to run is by feel. You can use the "Happy Birthday" test. If you can easily sing the song while running, that's an easy effort. If you're struggling to sing the song without giant breaths, that might be a moderate effort. And if you can barely squeak out the words at the end of your 3.5 miles, that would be a hard effort. If an 8:00 mile is your 5K pace effort, then an easy effort could be as much as 1:30-2 minutes slower. 

As a former D1 basketball player who's most likely accustomed to doing all of their running at anaerobic efforts, it may seem like slow efforts are just "junk miles." Sometimes I still think that way, and I've run several marathons!

But then I think about Eluid Kipchoge, who is the world record holder in the marathon, and the first person to break the 2-hour marathon barrier. When he set the world record in the Berlin Marathon, he ran most of his mile splits around 4:30-4:39, which is blistering fast. Yet many of his training miles are done at an 8 minute pace. So if the fastest long distance runner alive can run slow, I figure I can too. And so can you! 

I hope these resources help. And we're looking forward to helping you when it's time to run that first marathon! Enjoy the miles!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

^Exactly this! I was a figure skater for most of my life and played club Ultimate Frisbee in college so most of what I was doing was sprinting and cutting, high-intensity for just a few minutes at a time followed by a break and more of the same. Doing a 5K was extremely out of reach for me for a really long time until I started slowly building up the mileage and took my tempo down a notch. Building slow-twitch muscle strength takes some time. If you're running 5 days/week you might also consider running 4 days/week instead to give yourself more recovery time before a longer run, especially if you run harder but shorter during your other days. Another thing I notice when I do my runs is that if I don't hydrate enough the day before I feel totally wiped by the time I hit mile 2 or 3. It's also easier for me to run longer if I am not listening to fast music because it's natural to pick up the pace when you're listening to a fast song! When I switched from listening to my favorite high-tempo Bomba Estereo songs to chill Ben Howard music it was a bit of a slog at first but now I look forward to the vibe and the place in my mind I can disappear to during my long training runs. FYI I'm early in my running as well and haven't yet done a full marathon; I was supposed to run Big Sur Marathon this April and pushed through all the training (including two 20-milers) but did not want to push myself to do a full on my own at this time. I got into running like 6-ish years ago and used to hate running because I only ran on roads; as soon as I signed myself up for a trail 5K and performed well that's when I decided I actually liked it. If you're running on roads but have trails accessible near you, you might switch to those for a bit so your mind is taken off the miles and focused more on navigation/your footfall/what's around you. Running is like 80% mental and 20% physical--maybe that's an over-exaggeration but I think others would say the same.

Nice! Thanks for the tips, fellas!