Progress is not linear

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original Blogs.


What a typical runner’s progression might look like

In the spring of 1996, I lowered my 5K PR from 17:06 to 16:08 in two races. Afterward, I could consistently run in the low 16s. However, lowering that PR just wasn’t happening for the remainder of that track season or the 1997 season.

Then, after a year away from track for reasons that had nothing to do with running, I returned in the spring of 1999 and progressively worked my PR down to 15:43. Sub-16 became routine. I took my 10K PR from 34:12 to 32:57 in a single race. A mid-33, a short time earlier over 30 seconds faster than my PR, would now be a bad race.

What did I do in 1996 and 1999 to get those improvements? Nothing special. What did I do in 1997 to seemingly stagnate? Nothing bad. That’s just how running works.

Like it or not, progress in running is not linear and does not always come directly after the work that leads to the progress. It’s just not as simple as run X miles per week, do Y set of workouts, drop your PR by Z.

Most of the time, progress come with a trend line that looks more like the stock market than the gradual ramp we would like. Even though our work may look more like that gradual ramp. Even when our training is consistent and not all over the place, our progression may be.

It may be simply the seasonal fluctuations. You peak, run a big PR, then you back off the peak and begin building back up for a higher peak. It may be life. Added stress knocks you down a peg. It may even be the weather. A hot spring or windy summer may make PRs harder to come by. Sometimes it’s less hard to describe, such as why I had a very good 1996 but 1997 for me was less impressive in terms of PR improvements.

Whatever the case, if you know you’re doing good, fundamental work, keep the faith. Don’t overturn everything just because the PRs aren’t coming as easily. Evaluate but don’t panic. If the PRs come incredibly easy, remember that it’s not just the past 3 months that brought them. It’s the culmination of years worth of work.

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