Running can be frustrating. If you are doing it right, the gains are slow.
And by ‘doing it right’ I mean increasing mileage gradually. Increasing your pace slowly, over the course of weeks, and months (if not years).
While slow progress is still progress, when gains are so slow they are nearly imperceptible, it can feel like all your work is for naught.
When it is hard to see your progress, or if you feel like you aren’t making progress, it can be tempting to quit.
Feel Like You Aren’t Making Any Running Progress?
So what should you do if you feel like you aren’t making any progress with your running?
Make Sure Your Expectations Are Realistic
Before you determine if you are or are not making sufficient progress, let’s make sure your expectations are realistic.
Progress in running should be slow. That maybe won’t make you feel better, but it’s true. You can’t go from couch to marathon runner in a matter of weeks.
Expecting fast results (and working too hard trying to accomplish them) will likely only lead to burnout or injury.
- Work with a qualified running coach to make sure your running goals and expectations are realistic.
Are You Sure You Aren’t Making Progress? Define Progress Objectively
Know – exactly – what you are trying to accomplish.
‘Be a better runner’ is a great thing to want to become, but it’s vague. There is no way to measure if you are making progress or not.
While I have touted the benefits of vague goals, if you are looking to make and measure specific progress, you need to have something to measure against.
‘Getting better’ is entirely subjective. What’s ‘better’ for you? Faster? Stronger on the uphills? More regular runs? Running longer distances?
- Specifically define what progress and success looks like. If your goal is something like ‘run faster,’ that is a goal you will never reach, there is always a ‘faster’ to achieve. But if you set a specific goal: ‘I will run a 9:00-minute mile,’ one day, you will do that. Then you can set a new goal. Progress!
Don’t Move The Goal Posts
This is a variation of setting specific, objective goals: don’t move the goal posts.
As you make progress, it’s easy to make that new accomplishment your new standard, your new normal.
When you start running, you may consider running a mile a success. After a few months, you can fairly easily run a mile and you will then (often unconsciously) consider running two miles a success.
You may never view yourself as successful or see yourself as making progress because you keep changing what it means to be successful – you moved the goal posts.
When you move the goal posts, you may think you aren’t making progress because you never finish a goal – there is always more you can strive for.
- Once again, specifically define what you consider success and progress. When you accomplish that goal, acknowledge it, celebrate it, and consciously re-define success and progress.
Set Small Goals
Setting big, monster goals can be inspiring. Those major goals can look and sound impressive. But they also take a long time to accomplish. You can lose sight of where you are and what you are doing.
If your goal will take years to accomplish, even if you are making progress, you may not see it since you’ve only made a drop in the ocean.
- Break down your goals and measures of success into tiny little pieces that you can accomplish in a short time. These tiny goals can give you proof that you are, in fact, making progress. They keep the forward momentum going, building confidence while you continue to work towards your big goal.
Look At All Measures
If you are looking at only one measure, you may miss seeing your progress. The most common example here is weight loss. If you only look to the scale to determine if you are getting in shape, you may quickly become discouraged when a regular workout regimen results in zero pounds being lost, or sometimes pounds even being gained (I gain weight every time I train for a marathon).
But if you look to other measures, such as body measurements, body fat percentage, or something as informal as how clothing fits, you’ll likely see progress.
In running, if you only look to running a particular pace as success, but then run on a really hilly course, you’ll maybe be bummed at your slow time (most people run uphills much slower than a flat, fast course), missing your progress.
- For each measure of success and progress you have, develop as many measures of success in as many categories as you can.
While I generally don’t suggest looking back, one exception is to look back at far you’ve come.
Think of where you were and what you could do months ago.
You very likely have made progress that was so gradual you didn’t even notice it.
- As you start, benchmark where you are starting from. Intermittently compare where you are currently to where you started from. You may be surprised.
Get a Second Opinion
You may just be too close to your own progress to see it.
I know I can see where I’m falling short every single time, but I often totally miss where I am succeeding.
Having someone else look at your progress (or lack thereof), can help. A fresh pair of eyes can see what you are blind to. They can push you past where you thought you could go otherwise. They can objectively see what you could do better.
- Hire a coach or get an accountability partner to provide a fresh pair of eyes to your progress.
Do you ever feel like you aren’t making any progress? What do you do?