Active.com says that every person has a certain genetic potential for running. It dictates your ability and strongly influences how fast you’ll be able to run. It’s what separates a five-hour marathoner from a Boston Qualifier, and a Boston Qualifier from an elite athlete.
But most runners think their potential is achieved far more quickly than it’s actually reached. Most runners will never reach their genetic potential because they won’t maximize their training for a long enough time.
Most runners need at least three years of consistent, challenging training to see what they’re capable of achieving. And once you catch a glimpse of what you may be able to achieve, there’s at least another decade of development left for you to continue improving.
Instead of worrying about your genetic potential or thinking you’re doomed to never get any faster, it’s more productive to think about the elements of your training that can be improved.
These improvements are what will enable you to continue progressing and getting faster. Here are three important ways runners can continue improving.
Improvement #1: Consistency
Consistency is the “secret sauce” to running success. It’s what makes your half marathon pace this year your marathon pace next year.
But most runners are horribly inconsistent. They take long breaks from their routine, skip workouts or long runs, and frequently miss runs because they’re not disciplined.
To see your potential, you must become consistent. Elite athletes run ten or more times per week, every week, almost all year long. That’s an extreme example of the consistency needed to see what you’re capable of achieving as a runner.
So do a long run every weekend. Run consistently as many days per week as you can. Take 2 to 3 breaks from running per year, but otherwise always be running. It’s the surest way to improve.
Improvement #2: Run More
The majority of runners don’t run enough weekly mileage. There’s a reason the pros run 100+ miles per week—it’s necessary to achieve your potential.
You obviously don’t have to run that much, but you must run a lot. If your mileage is 10 to 20 miles per week, you’re nowhere close to realizing your potential. Your body isn’t experiencing enough stress to adapt and become stronger and faster.
While you shouldn’t bump your mileage up too quickly, make a commitment to running 10 to 20 percent more per week over the next 6 to 8 weeks. This simple change to your training can help you gain more endurance and ultimately race faster.
Improvement #3: Run Faster
To run faster, you have to run faster. Sounds snarky, but it isn’t. To race fast, you sometimes have to train fast.
But most runners don’t do faster workouts such as goal pace repetitions, tempo runs and fast intervals. Instead, they run the same pace for most of their runs and get stuck in neutral and never improve.
Training must be balanced—some days are short, some days are long and some days are fast and difficult. Incorporating a well-structured speed workout into your training can be a helpful way to boost your fitness and get to the next level.
If you’ve already been running a faster workout each week and aren’t particularly prone to running injuries, then you can add a second workout. This should be spaced evenly between your long run and first workout.
Although few runners ever meet their genetic potential, that’s OK because it always gives you something to improve, build upon, and focus on to get better at running.