How Much Can I Improve?

When questioned about average yearly improvement, I often use my own teenage times over 1500 metres as an example. I ran at the local athletics club once a week from age 5. It was athletics on Wednesday nights during the summer and cross country on a Saturday afternoon in the winter. During college I started training with a school coach, twice a week. However, it is interesting to look at my improvement over the next 6 years. Starting in Year 9 with a 1500m time of 5m20s I improved each year to 4m40s, 4m20s, 4m6s, 3m59s, 3m48s. During that time I changed from the school coach to a private athletics coach and training increased from 2-3 times per week to 7 days and sometimes two sessions per day. As time went on, the volume and the intensity increased and as a result I kept on improving.

At 19 years of age and with a 1500m time of 3m48s I decided it was time to move up in distance. I considered myself too slow to be a 1500 metre runner. The important thing was that I had persevered and tried to improve over the shorter events. Having 15-20 athletes running 4 laps around a track, teaches you an awareness of how to race and how to finish. Quite often these races don’t always help you produce your fastest times but they are valuable in other ways, such as how to run your best in a wet, windy, slow or fast racing situation. As a result of moving up in distance we increased the volume (distance) of the longer runs.

The person who wins the race is usually the fastest. Therefore running faster must be the goal of any training schedule. Don’t get fooled into thinking, because you are slow, you need to move up in distance to seek other goals. If speed is your weakness, then train to improve it. If you drop off the pace at the end, then train to improve that. Focusing on the weakness will help you improve running times.

Top athletes still learn, even after 10 or 15 years of training and racing. A good coach realises that a change in stimulus broadens the training perspective and helps the athlete to be continually challenged so that they continue to grow and improve. There is no general rule for improvement. But if you are not improving each year, either in training or racing, then you must look at what you are doing and what you can change. Everyone loves a personal best - even by just 1 or 2 seconds. If your 10km or half marathon time is not improving then consider running some shorter races. Try and run a 5km race 30 seconds faster than half your 10km time. Because conditions on the day do not always allow you to run your best during a race then also take into account your best training days over your favourite courses to gauge whether you are improving or not.