Rarely do we take a meaningful amount of time and step back from the bustle of our daily lives to reflect on our accomplishments and progresss.

Landscape

But it’s a valuable tool that can help you stay on track with all of your goals. Author Chris Guillebeau performs his own annual review to evaluate his personal and professional progress.

Have you ever thought about doing it for your running?

Analyzing your running goals, successes, and failures of the past year is a valuable way to truly understand what works for you (and what doesn’t), what you actually enjoy doing from a training perspective, and how you can improve your running to stay healthier or run new personal bests.

You might do this already for your races – I previously published an article by Greg Strosaker about the value of a race post-mortem. This is very similar, except it’s for your entire year’s worth of running.

Admittedly, I’ve only done this a few times and the last review was in 2010. I consider each year that I’ve missed my annual review a wasted opportunity to learn more about myself as a runner. So today I want to encourage you to learn what a good annual review looks like.

Why 2010 Was a Pivotal Year For Me

Everything changed in 2010.

My views on running were refined after my 2008 IT band injury that left me a cripple for six months. After slowly getting back in shape, my fitness grew by leaps in bounds in 2010. I set an annual mileage record (my first in three years) by nearly 200 miles and I won four races

From 2009 to 2014 I trained with no significant injuries until an Achilles injury sidelined me for over a week. But going 5 years with no major problems was an ENORMOUS milestone for me because I used to be chronically injured.

These changes are highlighted in my 2010 Analysis, a comprehensive review of my training that shows you what worked, what didn’t, and how you can learn from my own training to help you become a better runner.

It includes:

  • My complete annual mileage history from 2005 – 2010
  • All of my injuries per year (including my “famous” ITBS from 2009)
  • 3 of the most important lessons I learned – and how you can apply them in your own running
  • My 2010 goals (very few were met – but that’s ok!)
  • Where I screwed up

The full analysis is available in the Runner’s Gear Bag, a private area on SR that includes a bunch of free downloads and resources. If you’d like me to email you the link, just sign up here.

But today I want to give you a preview of the analysis so you can see what really helped me. Enjoy!

I’m Not Perfect – Here’s Where I Screwed Up

Running isn’t all flowers and puppies every day for me – don’t mistake my success for perfection. There are setbacks. Let’s look at my 2010 screw-ups.

I wasn’t being consistent with core workouts in March, then I ran a 3k time trial in spikes on the track. I hadn’t been wearing spikes so it was a new stress for me. Then I skipped my normal post-run recovery. Then I danced all night at a wedding in dress shoes while drinking. Clearly, I wasn’t making the best decisions. The next day I had to cut my run short because my left arch was tight.

Lesson learned: realize when you’re introducing too many new training stresses into your program and not recovering properly. You can’t burn the candle at both ends.

Another moment of idiocy happened last September, when I was doing thirty second sprints on pavement in old spikes. I took the spikes out of the shoes, but the sole was very stiff. Several of the sprints were slightly downhill and I was going at max effort. It felt awkward but I pushed through it, ignoring the fact that I was awkwardly sprinting in uncomfortable shoes downhill. Doesn’t sound smart does it?

I tweaked my left glute and IT Band that day, but with a very aggressive treatment plan I beat that small injury in a matter of days. Still, in hindsight I can be a total idiot.

Lesson learned: if you’re doing something really hard or fast, and it’s uncomfortable in a bad way, then stop! You have to live to run another day. You should always be thinking about your training using “the third eye” – meaning, think about it from an outsider’s perspective. Would a coach support what you’re doing?

If you make these mistakes, don’t get down on yourself. Do everything you can to heal: sleep more than usual, cross-train if you can every day, strengthen the weakened area, take ice baths, use a foam roller or golf ball to massage the injured area, and eat as healthy as you can to give your body what it needs to recover. The more perfectly you can execute a recovery plan, the faster you’ll get back to training.

Get the Whole Review Now

You can get the entire annual review by joining us here. There are six more sections that include the three biggest areas of improvement that helped me stay healthy and run more than ever before (plus a lot more).

Learning from your mistakes is just the first step. Once you find out what you did wrong, then you can fix them to become an even better runner. But more importantly, look at the types of workouts and training that you enjoy.

What kinds of runs motivate you?

What makes you feel alive?

How can you do more of what works and less of what doesn’t?

An annual review might be one of the most productive tools you have to improve. Use it and learn more about yourself. You might just surprise yourself at what you discover next year!

Get the full annual review here.

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Isn’t it funny that when something isn’t working, most of us just “buckle down” and try harder (even if you’re lost doing the wrong thing)?

maze

But often “what got you here, won’t get you there.” So if you’ve hit a plateau and are stagnating, running the same times and getting frustrated, doing more of the same isn’t the best approach.

Instead, stepping back and taking a big-picture look at your running can give you a clear picture of what needs an upgrade. Most of the time, I can look at a runner’s training and instantly spot 3-5+ areas of improvement that would dramatically help their race times or injury problems.

Recently, I got this note:

So, my big question is “have I ever run a step in my life??”   
 
I’m almost embarrassed about my dismal results from Sunday’s race. I didn’t even look at my “official” time, it was that bad. I thought it started out pretty good but I just did not have any energy. It was just an incredibly sucky performance.
 
Anyway, I’ve been reviewing my stats from the last several weeks and am seeing a lot of this crappy work. It’s like I have no juice in my legs.  

Does this sound familiar?

Have you ever been running just fine and then all of a sudden you have no juice in your legs? Like you can run 9:45 miles just fine but if you try for 9:30 it’s like the energy was drained from your body at the starting line?

Most runners inevitably hit a plateau or feel like they’re working hard but going nowhere. The culprit is usually a combination of lifestyle, weather, or training issues.

Your Lifestyle Is Slowing You Down

This is the most overlooked problem that runners experience because we tend to think if we’re training well, we should be racing well. But that’s simply not the case when a variety of lifestyle issues can make us feel like ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag on every run (possibly my favorite quote of all-time).

SLEEP! Are you sleeping enough? Most of us aren’t and the value of sleep can’t be overlooked. You don’t get faster when you’re cranking out a long run or during a track workout. No, you get faster when you recover from and adapt to that stress – a process that takes a lot of sleep.

This is how the Stress – Adaptation Principle looks in action:

Stress Adaptation CycleSee how your fitness dips after a “training stimulus” (or in other words, a tough workout)? If you don’t recover by sleeping a lot, you’ll never supercompensate and get in better shape.

How stressed are you? Your body can only deal with so much stress – both physical and mental. If you’re training for a 20-mile charity walk while trying to start a new business, now is not the time to pile 5k training on top of your other stressors!

There won’t be a chance for your body to adapt to your workouts if there’s too much other stress in your life. Make sure to remove outside stress whenever possible during periods of heavy stress and racing so that you’re giving yourself every chance to perform well.

Your diet might be terrible. Lately I’ve written more about nutrition and weight loss on Strength Running because I think it’s critical for achieving your running potential. There’s typically three culprits when it comes to poor performance:

  • You’re not eating enough. I’ll use a great quote from Mark Sisson here: “Sometimes over-training is just under-eating.” 
  • You have low iron levels or are borderline anemic. This is more common in women and rare overall for most runners, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re feeling particularly sluggish.
  • You’re chronically dehydrated. This likely isn’t a problem for most runners, but monitor the color of your urine. Fun!
  • You need to eat more carbohydrate. It’s the body’s preferred fuel source for high intensity activity so don’t be fooled into thinking you can diet or cut carbs while running a lot – you can’t.

Respect the Weather

During my first visit to Washington, DC I attempted a tempo workout in 90 degree heat with virtually 100% humidity (I could see the water vapor in the air).

After 5 minutes of hard running, my chest felt like it was being compressed by an invisible vise. I was soaked from head to toe with either sweat or dew – I couldn’t be sure – and I kept thinking the paved path I was on had magically turned into soft sand.

After another minute, I quit. I had never before experienced such brutal conditions and stopped a workout so suddenly.

Combine running in the heat with humidity and strong sun exposure and you have a recipe for misery and suffering. There’s no way around it: you simply can’t run as fast in summer conditions. And when they’re severe enough, they’re more challenging than being at 7,000 – 8,000 feet elevation!

But running in the winter has its perils as well: ice, snow, slick surfaces, and sub-zero temperatures conspire against you as well. While it’s not as difficult as summer training, running through Arctic conditions isn’t ideal.

No matter what the weather throws at you, it always helps to run by feel and worry about time and effort, rather than distance and pace.

Is Your Training “Smart?”

If poor lifestyle habits are the most overlooked reason why you’re not improving as much as you’d like, poor training habits are the most common and important reason why you’re not getting faster or staying healthy.

Last year I recorded a video Q&A where I explained three elements of smart training for injury prevention that you can watch here.

But in terms of improvement rates, there are three more critical pieces to getting faster that many runners are ignoring.

#1. Not running long. Are you running a long run every week? Is it “long” compared to the distance that you’re training to finish?

There’s a reason that many runners affectionately call their weekend routine the “Church of the Sunday Long Run” – it’s the most important run of the week (especially for beginners). Running long builds endurance, helps make faster paces more sustainable, and gradually improves your ability to recover.

After a few weeks of skipped or missed long runs, your fitness declines and faster speeds seem more difficult. You’re simply not building the endurance base you need to support your other workouts.

A “normal” run of 5 miles may now be a lot closer to your long run – and it will feel that way! So do yourself a favor and prioritize the long run – it makes a huge difference.

#2 No pace variety. Runners also tend to do most of their training at the same pace. If you don’t ever run fast, you won’t ever run fast. You can click here to tweet that if you think it’s profound :)

But after you’re done tweeting, think hard about that: without varying your speed, you’ll inevitably fall into a rut and have only one gear (most likely, SLOW!). There’s three great ways to introduce more speeds into your running:

  • Do a faster workout 1-2 times per week, like a simple fartlek workout
  • Run your easy runs SLOW and your distance and long runs moderate (but still comfortable)
  • Run strides a few times per week

By fixing this one pacing mistake you’ll feel a lot better on your runs and get a helluva lot faster.

#3 Low volume. The more you run, the faster you’ll get. Applying that simple truth is what turns many average runners into significantly more competitive runners.

An enormous part of my job is getting runners to run more safely and without injuries. In fact, my little secret is that Injury Prevention for Runners is so much more than a “prevent injuries” program – it’s a “get faster” program designed to help you do it without getting hurt.

And I do that by helping runners run more. Instead of being scared of mileage increases or running more days per week, runners can rest easy knowing that the structure of their training is smart enough to drastically cut their injury risk.

Now of course many beginners or injury-prone runners have no choice. But we can do more than we think: our capabilities are more impressive and our limitations are not that constraining. As long as you’re training smart, you can probably run a LOT more.

What Slows You Down?

These are the most common trends I’ve seen after studying the training of thousands of runners over the last few years. And as I look at my own 16 years of running experience, the races where I’ve failed to perform well are usually set in a training period where I’ve made these mistakes.

But what about you?

What training mistakes, running bloopers, or poor decisions make you run slower?

And more importantly, what helps you run FASTER? When are you performing at your best, full steam ahead?

Leave a comment below and let the SR community know about your running so we can all learn from one another.

Run strong!

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When Are You Ready to Run a Marathon?

July 9, 2014

Tweet A few weeks ago a runner emailed me and said: “I started running a few weeks ago and I’m up to 9 miles per week with a 4 mile long run. I’m also working on increasing the run portion (I’m walking every few minutes) of all my runs. I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon […]

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The 13 Weirdest Things Runners Do

July 2, 2014

Tweet If you run, you’re probably a huge weirdo. But don’t worry, I am too – and there’s safety in numbers so I’m glad you’re here! After running for 16 years, my life has become progressively weirder. Not only do I do things that normal folks think are unbelievable / weird / crazy / stupid, […]

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The 5 Traits of a Good Running Coach (and when you should think twice)

June 26, 2014

Tweet In the fall of 2001 after the season’s first home cross country race, I went on a four mile warm-down with a few other runners from the Varsity team. After the run as we were recounting our battle stories from the race, one of the track coaches walked by and asked why we were at […]

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Everything You Need to Know About Running in the Heat This Summer

June 19, 2014

Tweet Summer training ain’t easy. With skyrocketing temperatures, high humidity, and scorching sun it can feel like it’s impossible to get in a good run. A long run or fast workout is hard enough. What about a RACE? Like a friend of mine always says: In the heat, I don’t compete! Even if you just run […]

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What’s the Ideal Runner’s Diet Plan? Matt Fitzgerald Says…

June 16, 2014

Tweet The other day I had dinner with a registered dietitian who also has a Masters in Public Health. After my second Coke, I felt the need to explain that I don’t normally drink soda. Even though I was all jacked up from the the sugar and caffeine rushing through my system, I felt guilty. Yes, […]

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Inspiration on Tap: The Runner’s World Heartbreak Hill Half & Festival

June 11, 2014

Tweet I’ll admit: I’m in a slump. Motivation is low and the only inspiration to run I’ve had recently was when the scale showed an extra ten pounds. The desire to train after any marathon, particularly an overwhelmingly emotional one like Boston, will likely be small. It’s normal. You feel like you’re in a rut and […]

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6 Workouts That Make Running Fast Easier

June 5, 2014

Tweet The best way to get faster actually has nothing to do with speed. Just run more and you’ll gain the endurance to run faster races. But instead of standing on my soapbox yelling about high mileage all the time (my wife has warned me to keep my voice down), I’m going to share several types […]

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Exercising vs. Training: How Bill Ran a Marathon PR After Surgery and a Stress Fracture

June 2, 2014

Tweet Exercising and training are very different. Do you know how (and why it could be the difference between a huge personal best and another “so so” race)? Exercising is for general health, well-being and even for fun. It makes you feel good. A few examples include fitness classes at the gym, recreational leagues like softball or kickball, and running casually […]

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