Are you looking to improve as a runner and see how much better or faster you can run? While there are many programs and plans you can follow, one thing I’ve found they all have in common can be boiled down to one key ingredient – consistency.
To improve as a runner, you will need to be consistent. Sticking with a regular routine of running and strength training will steadily build your endurance and strength. Over time, the benefits of being a consistent runner will be evident as you are able to run faster, easier, and/or farther while experiencing less injuries.
Consistency is key to any success whether it be work, relationships, or developing a skill like running. While it is a very simple concept, it can be a challenge to regularly hit all the scheduled key runs and strength training workouts week after week. If you aren’t seeing the results you would like, read on for practical tips to help you become a more consistent runner.
What does it mean to be a consistent runner?
Consistency means showing up week after week, month after month. It means you will do the scheduled workouts even when you don’t feel like it and other things are crowding it out. It means you will find a way despite the excuses.
Consistency does not mean being unreasonable or inflexible. It’s okay to skip one or more workouts if your body needs a break from running due to illness or injury. Not taking the needed recovery time can lead to more time off and/or a worse injury spanning weeks or even months.
It can be difficult to know the difference between laziness and exhaustion so listening to your body is important. You may need to adapt on occasion but being consistent in following a plan as outlined can protect you from overtraining, exhaustion, and injury.
If you want to perform your best as a runner you will need to be consistent with key runs AND a strength training program each week. Most runners looking to improve, myself included, will probably admit lacking a degree of consistency in one or even both aspects of training.
Why consistency matters for improving performance?
Most coaches say the most important factor in a runner’s training program is consistency. Besides coaches, many amateur and elite athletes also agree that consistency is the secrete sauce to improving their running performance.
You probably already know that consistent running each week for months at a time will make you better as a runner. You may just need to be honest with yourself and examine your schedule to see if you really are being consistent in your training.
It’s been illustrated that an athlete is like a brick wall. Each workout session adds bricks to your wall. It’s not one training session that will make the difference, but the accumulation of many sessions or bricks over time that make you a stronger runner.
If you want to run faster, longer, and/or easier, consistency is needed each week with key runs such as tempo, long runs, and speed drills. Following a training plan with these key runs included should help you see improvements over the course of several weeks.
Adopting a consistent strength training program will allow you to achieve even better and faster results than running alone. As an extra benefit, you will be reducing your risk of injury by strengthening bones, muscles, and ligaments that support your running (see my fun core strengthening ideas here).
Why consistency so difficult?
Understanding why consistency is so difficult can better equip one to overcome the challenges that derail our best intentions. With a little insight into the challenges you face, you can be more prepared to overcome them and succeed.
Distraction is probably one of the most common factors that can break any good routine. We can easily become sidelined by other events or new circumstances that demand our attention and energy.
Loss of focus and lack of commitment or discipline are also common reasons we fail to be consistent. Forming a good routine or getting back to a good routine is a LOT harder than sticking with an established one.
All the above tend to happen when we focus on immediate results. Believing are efforts are not getting the desired results, we ultimately lose our motivation to keep up the routine.
How to become a more consistent runner
Be convinced that the benefits and gains come from continued sustained effort. You need to really believe that is true for yourselves. It’s inevitable, you will improve if you show up day after day, week after week, and even year after year.
Once you’re convinced you can get better, you need to define what that means for you. This is where a running goal or goals come in.
Clearly identifying a goal or goals provides the motivation that is needed to be consistent. If we aren’t specific about our goals, then going out there twice a week for a run may be enough to maintain your current fitness, but you aren’t likely to improve.
Keeping your goal in mind each time you are tempted to skip a workout can help to overcome any challenge that arises. When unavoidable things happen, as they always do, you will be more creative and determined to find a way to get our workout in.
A few hacks that I found helpful:
1. Define your goal(s) and measure your incremental progress. Write down your goal(s) and a reasonable timeframe for achieving the goal. Set a realistic plan toward the goal and track your performance (see my article on improving aerobic performance). Signing up for a race that corresponds with your goals is an excellent way to keep you on track and focused.
2. Make the difficult workouts more enjoyable. Performing repetitions of relatively boring exercises or worse yet, slightly painful ones can be less than attractive, so find hacks to help you enjoy the process. Many prefer to go to a gym to strength train as they find the atmosphere more enjoyable and motivating. A simpler approach would be to listen to a favorite track of music for the duration of the exercises. It’s amazing how music can impact your mood and your energy levels (see my article on other benefits of music).
3. Reward yourself each week or month you keep to your training routine. This may include buying a new piece of clothing for running or workout equipment. Finding rewards that will reinforce your routine serves double duty, but even indulging in a sweet treat is better than nothing.
4. Get a coach. I have this down as the last resort, but this is probably the wisest of the above suggestions. Most are hesitant to dole out money, but when you invest your money you are more likely stick with the program. This may be just the motivation and commitment you need to establish a good routine with both your running and strength training program.
You will see improvements as a runner if you are consistent. This means being consistent not just by going for a run, but with the kinds of runs you do and a strength training program to support your running.
Anything worth doing takes effort, but it’s not the one-time event that makes us better. It’s the continued practice week after week that leads to improvement. Consistency in training is king in training and it is at the core of greatness.
“Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” Aristotle