On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Today I am going to discuss the issue of plateauing.

As an aside, because I'm feeling very stream-of-consciousness right now, do you know how many undergraduate papers begin with something like that?  No matter how many times I preach that one should avoid the first person in formal writing?  I just graded 120 of them, and it's more than you would think.

I had one student who began every paper this semester - all 12 of them - the same way:
"In this paper, I will endeavor to discuss the assigned reading for this week."

And so, in this blog post, I will endeavor to discuss the issue of plateauing.

That's how it works, isn't it?  We don't get better all at once.  We get better in fits and starts, slowly here, a lot there, a step back there.  I know that rationally, and I can see and feel it in my own training.  I got faster for a few weeks, quite a bit faster, and now my paces are stepping back as my legs have gotten tired.  A few weeks from now I may still be here, or I may be faster.

There are lots of variables that go into training.  Some are fleeting: sleep the night before your run, your hydration level, the weather.  Some are things that will change, but are less fleeting: your weight, that time of the month (for women), your training level.  But sometimes, there are things that are just out of your control.  Sometimes you have a bad day or a good day and there's no explanation for it.

I don't want to get all metaphysical - although I know many runners who are attracted to Buddhism, and I understand that.  It's just not in my nature to be overly contemplative, I guess.  But the road to improvement has peaks and valleys.  Ebbs and flows.  And lots of plateaus.  It's hard to recognize where you are on the road until you reach the next phase.

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