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Digital Running Club » Ask the Experts, Columns » Ask the Experts: Getting Slower

Ask the Experts: Getting Slower

I’m noticing an alarming trend. Despite upping my mileage and adding speed workouts to my training, my race pace is taking a turn for the worse. I am 15 lbs lighter than I was last year. I’m not injured. What’s going on?

Pat O., Boston, MA

It’s certainly frustrating when hard work doesn’t pay off and it’s doubly frustrating when that hard work leaves you worse off than you were before. Unfortunately, there are several things that might cause this situation:

Are you properly fueled? Eating a solid breakfast of whole foods will keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day. Processed foods (especially processed carbs and sugars) tend to rapidly raise your blood sugar leading to a crash. Also remember that increasing your mileage usually requires a greater caloric intake to sustain your activity. That fact that you’re 15 lbs lighter this year means you have less fat to burn for energy. Maybe you need to start eating more. Also, be sure to take in plenty of protein following your workouts so your body has the necessary building blocks to recover.

Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on mental and physical performance. The general rule is 8 hours of sleep per night, but some people need more. In addition, “8 hours” means 8 hours of actual sleep, not 1 hour of watching TV in bed, followed by 1 hour of tossing and turning followed by 6 hours of sleep. Make sure your sleep is restful. If you find you’re restless at night, take steps to improve your sleeping situation.

  • Make your room darker and cooler.
  • Get a better pillow or mattress.
  • Avoid caffeine before bedtime.
  • Give yourself an hour to relax and unwind from the day before going to bed.

Your mental state has a big impact on your physical state. If you’re stressed about work, money, family, relationships or whatever, it’s going to affect your runs. Everyone goes through a tough spell every once in a while. Don’t let your runs stress you even more. Use your runs as a relaxing time. Leave your watch at home and go for a run without any regard for time or distance, just run to let your mind unwind. Sort things out over those meaningless miles and you might just find yourself picking up the pace.

If you’re working too hard trying to get faster, you may be doing yourself more harm than good by overtraining. Remember that you don’t gain fitness by running speed workouts and long runs. You gain fitness while resting after speed workouts and hard runs. What constitutes rest varies based on your fitness level. For some it means doing nothing. For others, it’s an easy run. If you’re experiencing negative returns on your efforts, perhaps it’s time to incorporate a few rest days or cut back a little on the intensity. Although allowing yourself recovery days following your hardest workouts is always a good idea, it’s sometimes smart to allow for a recovery week every so often. Cut back your weekly mileage once every 3-5 weeks. You won’t lose any fitness, but you might gain the speed you’re looking for.

In running – as in life – working hard with negative returns calls for a re-evaluation of your goals and your plans for achieving them. Be honest with yourself and examine your training program relative to the rest of your life. Sometimes a subtle change is all you need to find your way back to success.

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Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at

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