Why am I getting worse at running? 4 Possible Reasons

You’ve been getting better for a while now you’re feeling pretty good about yourself and that’s awesome. Rightfully so too. You’ve been putting in the work, getting faster, getting leaner, just all around becoming a better runner. But suddenly it’s started. You notice it’s happening, you’re actually getting slower now, but why? I’m Jessie Funk and on today’s episode of Runner’s High, I want to give you my top four reasons that you may actually be getting slower when you’re running.

Now, number one is really the culprit that got you into this predicament because it is the thing that helps you get faster, and that is from training hard. And really it becomes a matter of overtraining, your training too hard and not allowing your body to rest. Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our bodies work when we load them up with more kind of stress than they can deal with. We rest, they compensate for that stress to try to overcome that load, and we get faster.

But if you get to the point where you aren’t allowing yourself to recover and get to the point that your body can deal with the stress that you put on it, it starts to accumulate all that stress and you lead yourself into a place we refer to as overtraining. Overtraining often results in slow times, fatigue, sometimes illness, irritability or anger, and even depression.

There’s a lot of things that go along with overtraining. It’s your body kind of trying to scream at you saying hey, something’s wrong. You need to do something different. This isn’t good. It’s trying to force you to do something differently.

Now, ultimately, this can be a kind of self-fulfilling downward spiral where you’re not getting faster so you train even harder and it pushes you further and further into that deep dive, that overtraining where you’re going to just make things worse and worse. And eventually, most likely you’re either going to burn out mentally or become injured and be forced on the sidelines.

Now, I did a whole other video, it’s pretty short on how to avoid overtraining. So, if you want to check that out, hit that subscribe button in the bottom right-hand corner, and go see that at the end of the video. I’ll leave a link at the end of this video.

The second most common reason that you’re maybe getting slower, it’s actually kind of a duh moment when you think about it, but it really slips our minds and it’s happened to me as well. And that’s if you’re trading volume or intensity has decreased. Now, if you’re like me, you respond well to mileage. My fastest times both when I was just running in college, and post-college in the triathlon world have come when I’ve been doing the largest volume of training ever in my lifetime.

So, when I did those things I was able to achieve my fastest times because that allowed me to train at a higher intensity, at a higher volume later on in the season. And all that together means fast times.

Now when you decrease those volumes, it’s very hard for you to maintain that same kind of fitness as you were previously. It sounds simple, but when we don’t think about it, our brains kind of think about I should be able to go this fast, I shouldn’t be this time.

There’s this idea of should. It’s really an insidious idea of what we should be able to do, but you’re not necessarily taking into account all the stress of family life of work, your hobbies, anything else going on. And then on top of that, the decrease in volume that you may be experiencing or the decrease in intensity of your workouts. The big thing to remember here is that everybody’s different.

And I’ve talked about this a lot on this channel but you have to figure out how to measure you against you and that is it. Then you have to think about where am I in my life? Where am I in regards to training versus everything else that’s going on? And you have to kind of sort out your priorities. It’s tough to let those things go because racing is often very important to us.

It’s important to me, it’s probably very important to you, you’re hanging out with me here on this channel. But you also have to keep in mind that racing isn’t everything. And it’s taken a long time for me to get to a place where I can say that.

So, if you’re not there yet, I totally understand. But keep in mind that eventually, you just gotta let it go. I won’t start singing Disney songs, but you know it, it’s probably gonna be stuck in your head now. You’re welcome. But you have to know that just, you have to let it go at some point where it’s okay that maybe you’re not as fast as you were at your peak because you’ve reduced training volume or intensity because of the other factors in your life.

My third reason and this is something that as you’re getting older, you may be thinking about and that’s exactly it is, if you’re getting older, you’re probably going to slow down. Well not probably, you are going to slow down, it’s inevitable. It’s something none of us if we’re lucky are going to avoid because we continue to get older.

Now, I’m 31 now and that’s even hard to get in my head, it’s not even in there, right. But it’s something I’m thinking about dealing with right now, am I getting slower because as I mentioned my training volume has decreased? Or is it because I’m getting older or both, altogether?

We know based on evidence from scientific studies and times and just trends over time that endurance peak comes somewhere between the ages of 30 and 35 for most people, men and women. Sometimes women peak a little bit earlier, but that’s a good age range to say this is when endurance peak comes. Now that isn’t to say that you’re going to run your best 5K in that age.

Sometimes 5K runners are going to be younger because that power component is so important in a 5K. But endurance, in general, is going to peak early to mid 30s. There are a few exceptions every once in a while we’ll see somebody go 39, 40 but they are just that, exceptions.

So, unless you’re an exception to the rule, or you got started running late in life, know that that’s probably going to be a limiter over time and something we all have to deal with as we get older. So, much like the last one, you gotta let it go and know that inside of that you’re going to be as fast as you’re going to be within the constraints that you have to work with, which includes your age, based on your training.

So, you put the training in, do the best you can, and it is what it is. It’s a little cliche to say that, but it’s kind of a catch all just to accept the reality of how things are rather than trying to fight them when there are certain factors like age, which we can’t really get around.

My last reason, you may be getting slower when you’re running, kind of has to do with number one that overtraining, but it’s actually nutritional deficiency. And this is something that really plagued me my senior year of high school. I wasn’t eating right.

And in my case, not only was I not eating right, public school lunches are not known to be the most nutritional things, I wasn’t eating enough and that means that I wasn’t getting both the calories I needed overall, and the nutrients I needed to keep my body fueled and repaired so they get to operate at optimum efficiency. Say that five times fast. So, what you have to do is make sure you’re getting enough to eat number one, but number two, make sure you’re eating the right things.

And this isn’t to say, I’m perfect I know personally, lately I’ve struggled. I’m shooting this right as things are starting to open back up post COVID-19, and I struggled eating too many sweets. It’s just kind of a comfort thing at this time. And even though you may not be going through a global pandemic whenever you’re watching this, we all struggle with things from time to time.

But you have to be honest with yourself and say, what’s important to me? Is it more important to me like some ice cream or is it more important to me that I eat well, so I feel good and I can run faster? That isn’t to say ice creams are important. I’m not trying to say one or the other is more important. There is some balance.

And my friend, longtime supporter Barb Lindquist, who is a former pro triathlete, her rule is 90/10. Basically, if you eat well 90% of the time, 10% of the time you have treats, you’re gonna be just fine. You don’t have to be psychotic about a super strict diet.

Sometimes having a treat is a good way to kind of keep yourself in balance. And if you’ve watched any of my episodes from the first season of the smart athlete podcast, most of the people that I asked, what would you choose for recovery food, end up choosing a junk food because they’ve put in all the time, work and effort, and it’s time for a little reward.

So, take that to heart, know that eat well most of the time you can have those treats. But make sure you’re getting enough to eat, and plenty of nutrients so that you’re fueling your body for performance, so you can feel good and continue to get faster. So, those are my top four reasons that you may be getting sore when you’re running. If I didn’t cover your situation, leave me a comment down below.

Let’s see if we can figure out together what’s going on with you and get you back on track. If you want to check out that video on overtraining I did, it’ll be popping up on the screen here shortly. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

4 thoughts on “Why am I getting worse at running? 4 Possible Reasons”

  1. Hey! Weird situation. I used to run a sub 7 minute mile just 6 months ago. After taking 3-4 months off of running… But still staying very active my endurance has gone down dramatically. I can’t seem to get under a 9:30 mile time and each week I run a mile my time gets worse and worse. Muscular wise I don’t feel fatigued but I’m so gassed because I feel like I can’t breathe

    1. 3-4 months off is a considerable amount of time to take off and still try to maintain best possible times. I personally wouldn’t expect to be able to run an equivalent to a current best time after 2 weeks off. Regardless of if you’re staying active with other activities. The other activities are good for your overall health, but that doesn’t really speak to your running fitness which is specific to… how much running you’re doing. If you are seeing worse and worse times week by week most likely you’re overtaxing your body currently and it isn’t able to recover. Without more info it’s hard to get too much into the nitty gritty – but if your lungs currently feel like the limiter then most likely your aerobic capacity is your limiter – which makes 100% sense having taken 3-4 months off. The prescription will often be the same as with many people getting back in to running – LSD. Long slow distance. Be consistent, build your mileage, your mile time will come down just from spending time running more miles at this stage of the game. Happy to discuss more if you have more details.

  2. Hi,
    I did the couch to 5K end of last year and have been running, slowly since. I’m 64 so not expecting to do more than 3 miles really and would be happy with that.
    I’ve been managing 2-3 miles a couple of times a week, until about 3 weeks ago when I just couldn’t run for more than 5 minutes!
    So for the past 2 weeks I’ve been back to week 4 of the program and really struggling. Nothing has changed that I’m aware of, I still swim do yoga Pilates and gym the rest of the week. Any suggestions you have would be great thanks

    1. When you were struggling to get to 5 minutes – can you be more specific to why you were struggling? Was something painful, were you short of breath, did you feel tired, did your legs feel like big cinder blocks you’re carrying around, etc.? Starting there would help us try to figure out what might be happening with you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.