7 ways to find consistency with your running
Most things in life take time to get good at. They take dedicated practice. Yet most of us can run without any practice because we learnt the skill when we were young. Because of this, sometimes we choose to believe there are ‘natural’ runners out there and that we have a limited given skill level.
However, we all have the ability to improve greatly through consistent practice. Our fitness improves and so does our technique. We build mental resilience too which is a vital component to running success.
But what does consistency look like? Do we have to be running every day of the week? Do we need to be running 100 miles a week?
What is our potential?
We all have a potential which far exceeds what we’ll ever actually achieve. Even elites may never quite accomplish what they are physically capable of because so many things have to fall into place for a ‘perfect’ outcome.
Just think what lengths Eliud Kipchoge had to go to to break the 2 hour marathon mark. It was physically possible for him but only by optimising his environment with pacers that shielded the air resistance.
Mere mortals like us will never get close to what we could achieve because most of us do not have the time, money or inclination to train as elites would do. We have jobs, families and other commitments.
However, we can achieve a more limited potential that is still much higher than most of us believe. It is governed by how much time and effort we want to commit to it.
Initially, the returns from a relatively small time investment can be huge. After a while, it takes a lot of extra time for small gains so it becomes a question of how far you want to go.
But whatever level of commitment you choose, being consistent week to week speeds up your progress and minimises your risk of injury. The latter is possibly one of the biggest barriers to runners achieving their goals. So how do you get consistency?
Don’t overcommit yourself
The temptation can be to stretch yourself too much at the start. This can either be due to what you think is required to be successful or by watching what others do. I now run 6 days a week every week but that has been built up slowly over years of running 3 then 4 then 5 days a week.
Choose something that is easy for you to achieve. If 3 days seems like a lot, could you run 1 or 2 days at the start? If an hour is too much, could you do 20 or 30 minutes of running each time?
You can always add more days and more minutes to your weeks in the future. The key is to get started with something that you can manage right now.
Put your plan where you can see it
Make yourself a plan by factoring in your weekly commitments and fit your training around them. Preferably, you can find the same slots every week that you will be able to do your training in. If not, then it is even more important to plan.
Make sure you can see your plan especially in the early days. It is easy to forget to do a session at the start if you don’t have a visual prompt. And if you miss one, that’s when you can miss more and the whole plan falls by the wayside.
Print your plan out and stick it where you will see it every day. Maybe in your bedroom, or on the fridge or next to your desk at work. Do it where you need the prompt.
Alternatively, if you are more in favour of a digital reminder, add it to your calendar or add it to your reminders. Again, time the prompts to when they will have the most effect.
Make it easy
Structure your training at times which will give you the most chance of completing it. If you know you only have an hour window at lunchtime between two important meetings then it might be better to plan to do it earlier or later in the day.
If you know that you’re usually tired after work and not in the mood for a run then try and go before work.
Have your gear ready to go where and when you need it. There’s nothing worse than rooting around to try and find a pair of running socks or gloves if you’re in a hurry. If you’re running from somewhere other than home, be sure to check the weather and take everything you’re likely to need, preferably packing your bag the night before.
If food for after your training is an issue (for instance if you’re running at work), make yourself a lunch or snack the night before so that you don’t have to cut your run short to get food from somewhere else.
Work towards something
Consistency is much easier if you’re working towards a goal. The goal could be a race or time trial, a new distance or it could be simply adhering to your plan. In fact it can be useful to have both outcome goals and process goals.
An outcome goal is simply what you want to achieve at the ‘end’ of the training. The ‘end’ here could be a literal end if you decided not to continue running but is more likely to be the end of a block of training.
This could be running a certain distance, or a certain time for a distance. It could be achieving a certain weekly time or distance goal.
A process goal is almost more important. It is what you want to achieve week to week with your training. Sometimes this can be less tangible but it could be along the lines of enjoyment, keeping your consistency going or a weekly improvement in some area.
If we only ever focus on the outcome then it can make week to week training much harder and also increase the disappointment if we don’t quite make our outcome goal.
Keep challenging yourself
As alluded to, having some goals will help maintain your consistency. However, a lot of people respond best when they are challenged. If you set all your goals to be very easy then it is possible to become disinterested.
Find new ways to keep your training interesting and challenging. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of what you can do as long as you build to it sensibly and within the framework of your training.
Build new training stimuli like elevation, new terrain, more distance and more intensity slowly into your training but keep reviewing which areas you would like to change and improve on.
But you need to ‘win’ as well
You can’t keep pushing all the time. That can lead to overuse injuries and becoming burnt out. Remember to keep a high proportion of your training easy. Have some down weeks to recover physically and mentally.
You don’t always have to be on the edge of your capabilities even in harder sessions. Sometimes, accomplishing a session whilst feeling you had a little more to give can be a powerful mental tool for future sessions.
If you are constantly struggling in every session it will sap your enjoyment and increase your doubts of your own abilities. Find a balance to your training that is challenging but where you are able to prevail more often than not.
Keep enjoying what you’re doing
Ultimately, you can follow everything above but if you are not enjoying your training your consistency will wane in the end. Hopefully following everything above will sustain both your enjoyment and your consistency.
Of course there will always be the odd session that didn’t go to plan or you didn’t feel 100% on but if that is happening more often than not then you need to change something up. Go back through the list. Is your training sustainable, working towards a goal, challenging but also manageable?
By staying consistent with your training you greatly reduce the risk of injury caused by sporadic high and low mileage weeks. You will also raise your base fitness to a much higher level allowing you to build and excel at your running in the future.