Do you remember when you first started running? You could do no wrong. You got better no matter what you did, even if you know now that it wasn’t very sound training.
Now, if you’re an experienced runner, every bit of improvement takes a monumental effort.
This, in a nutshell, is the clean slate phenomenon. When you’re first starting something new, almost no matter what it is, you improve by leaps and bounds. As time goes on, improvements become more difficult to come by.
This is why new runners improve so rapidly but more experienced runners require much more work to get even close to the same improvement.
To take this phenomenon a step further, think back to the last time you excluded speed work from your running for a while. Remember what happened when you added it back in? Yes, the first workout was brutal. Then you improved rapidly for a month or two before leveling off.
You were practicing a “new” skill that you hadn’t practiced in a while and were, once again, experiencing the clean slate phenomenon.
Why does this matter? For two reasons:
First, if your training is lacking something, don’t get too worried. Add it back in and, within a month or two, you’ll gain some major ground.
Second, there are times when we need to keep this in mind. If you add something into your training and see rapid improvements, that’s wonderful but don’t expect to keep improving rapidly for the long term. What works for the short term may not be the best option for long term development.
So be sure to take advantage of the clean slate phenomenon. As a goal race nears, use that last 2 months, give or take, to add in something that has been lacking in your training. However, don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that, just because adding some element to your training created big initial gains, this means keeping it around will bring continued rapid improvements. It’s not always that simple.