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how do they happen for you? Is it a long gradual process over a period of time? Is it rapid for a while then it levels off? Or do they happen in "steps"- you improve for a while and then plateau for some time before moving up a step ? When/how often do you get break-through races or workouts?

I was pondering these questions over the past few days after that breakthrough workout I had last Thursday. For me it seemed that I experienced a plateau despite consistent training over the past 6 weeks or so (and I was wondering whether I had gone stale or not) and then suddenly on Thursday, the breakthrough happened. Basically I was able to maintain the pace I ran at on the previous Saturday's 5k (5:50ish)in Thursday's run, which was a 10k race pace workout...I ran 2x2.3 miles at 10k effort. Sure, it could be a mistake or "false positive" (I'll find out for sure at next week's 10k)....but at the same time I was thinking that 6 weeks should be an appropriate length of time to start noticing improvements.

Your thoughts?

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They used to be fairly rapid and then level off. At my advanced age improvements are slow and hard to come by.
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I think looking back at past races and times shows how much I improve. I probably won't be able to see changes day-to-day, but if I take the time to see how fast and comfortable I can run a certain run one day as opposed to the first time I ran it, I will definitely see the difference.
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at the beginning i could saw day to day changes - i could run more, had more and more air in my lungs...
but when you go through the beginning phase, then comes a phase that is much more constant and I believe the changes you can see are not as obvious as those at the beginning.
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I think the most improvement that is seen is at the beginning, or at least that's how it happened to me. You will see your ability to improve day to day or whichever days that you run. Just keep going and going and training, sometimes you won't even notice how far you've improved cause you'll just get used to getting better and better as you train and as time passes by.
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I think most people see improvements within a few weeks (running farther distances, or running the same distance but at a faster time..). I know I made the most improvements after my first year of running, but if you run on a consistent basis, you'll see improvements pretty fast.
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As my main goal in improving is to extend my distance I see that by looking at the graph my training log provides. It rises slowly but steadily, week by week. My training is the same way, a very slow increase of miles weekly (as to not get injured - that happened before.)
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i find that great improvements are part mental and part physical. the physical part comes over weeks and weeks of training, but oftentimes the improvements come in big chunks as i break through my mental plateaus and reach a new level of racing/training.

the problem is, sometimes the plateaus last months and months. sometimes you train for a year without improving, and sometimes you even go backwards!

running is a magnificent thing, isn't it?
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