In Pursuit of Consistency

In my column last month, I wrote about how I’d like to aggregate marginal gains in pursuit of improving upon my past Hardrock 100 performances at this year’s race. That’s all well and good, but, by definition, those gains are marginal. In my humble opinion, there’s no simpler or more effective path to strong running than consistency. Whether you’re a sprinter, a middle-distance runner, or an ultramarathoner, get out the door and run day after day and you’ll run well.

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If you’re newer to running, newer to a sub-discipline, or simply haven’t approached the natural healthy limits of your running, consistency is an effective way to build volume. And, for most of us, slowly and smartly increasing our training volume (averaged over time) is a good way to become better runners–whether that’s stronger, faster, or having better endurance. Beyond volume, if you include speedwork, hill work, or the like, being consistent with it over seasons and years is a ticket to success on that front.

Now, there are plenty of caveats to be had here. By all means, focused, quality training is beneficial. So are rest days, rest weeks, and rest months. Periodicity is your friend. You know what’s not your friend? Obsession and overtraining. Maintaining consistency isn’t an excuse to run yourself into the ground. There’s plenty of this in our sport. Be careful out there.

While I’ll touch on this again in a bit, consistency need not and, in fact, should not be synonymous with boring. It’s not a call to run the same X-mile out-and-back in your neighborhood, unless that’s your jam. Unless you’re particularly sadomasochistic, you’re probably going to want to include all flavors of variety in your running to enable your consistency. Really.

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Okay, so what are some ways to build consistency in your running?

  • Consider yourself a runner. It sounds simple, but asserting your values or identities helps you make them a reality. Call yourself a runner. What does a runner do? Well, she or he runs often. That’s a good start. Continue identifying as a runner even during life stretches that don’t favor your running, both the mindset and the fitness (and consistency) you maintain through these times will make being a consistent runner easier during the more facilitative times.
  • Set a goal. I prefer setting a long-term goal, whether it’s performing well at a far-off goal race or an annual-mileage total, to intermediate goals. I personally don’t find as much motivation in setting a goal along the lines of “I’ll run six days a week or 200 miles this month” if there’s nothing bigger attached to it. Plus, I can find it confining (and occasionally frustrating) when life gets in the way of those short-term goals. Some flexibility is good for me.
  • Commit to running. I can rationalize the difference between considering oneself a runner and committing to running even if one can use their self-identity to effectuate the commitment and vice versa. I suppose I find the commitment to running helpful when my life becomes busier and I need to balance various commitments. It’s here I can pull out the commitment to running and elevate it in the hierarchy. You can also share this commitment with supportive friends and family so they can aid you in keeping that commitment.
  • Streak if it helps. For a very long time, I’ve used 10-day to three-week stretches where I’ve run every day to build routine in consistency when returning to regular running after some deviation, whether due to injury, other commitments, or a recovery period. More recently, I’ve bumped up the duration of these running streaks. I’ve not missed a day in a couple years and it’s been incredible for the consistency of my running.
  • Find ways to enjoy running. As mentioned above, most of us need to enjoy at least some aspects of our running to continue with it in earnest. Contemplate the various parts of running that you enjoy and cultivate them. Is it time in nature? Is it time with friends? Is it ‘me’ time? Is it time to explore? Whatever those enjoyable aspects are, seek them out.
  • Keep yourself healthy. If you aren’t healthy, you aren’t running… as least not much or well. Do what you need to stay healthy. Although there are common themes, the details are so different from person to person. You might promote your healthy running and lifestyle through sleep, stretching, strength work, active rehab, stress reduction, diet, and so many other modalities. You know what you need to do, so do it.

Why am I thinking of this now? A year-end look at the Elevate plugin connected with Strava showed I’ve increased my annual mileage for five-straight years with what I’m guessing are my biggest mileage years ever the past three. I’ve also run every day since early December of 2016. There have been ups and downs during that time, but if I consider my average fitness across any of these past three (and maybe five) years, it feels like it’s the best it’s been since the early 2000s.

I quickly realized that while I remain committed to aggregating marginal gains, it will be my continued commitment to consistency that will be primarily responsible for any big day(s) in the San Juans this July as well as any other big running goals I set for myself in the coming years.

Call for Comments

  • Where has consistency benefited your running?
  • What have you found helps you maintain consistency with your running?

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There are 10 comments

  1. Anakin

    Thanks for this Byron. Great article and much needed perspective and advice as I stumble back to routine and, well, consistency after injury!

    Keep up the great running and adventures!

  2. Henry Bickerstaff

    Well said. What helps me maintain my consistency in running is doing an hour of Pilates three days per week for the last six years. Prior to that I often had nagging niggles. Running at the same time every day 5 AM has also helped with my consistency.

  3. AT

    Wow, had no idea you had such a run streak going. The idea of running even for a week straight for me was always confusing, like it seemed counter intuitive. As I am getting older though, I am finding that my running endurance for a lack of a better term has gained efficiency, and by simply slowing down allows the body to adapt more quickly. For some, this maybe common sense, but from a former sprinter’s perspective, running “slower” has been a learned habit over many years.

    Love your work and all that irunfar is..all the best to you and the gang..

  4. Jeff Brooks

    I like the streak idea. I’ve done it starting Jan. 1 for the last few years. I started the day after Christmas this time around and it really helps regain focus after a month of goofing off. Trying to do this outside in northern New Hampshire adds a little more difficulty which means more satisfaction.

  5. John Vanderpot

    Amen!

    (I’m pretty sure I spent the best 10 days of 2019 camping on the left-hand side of the middle photo — but what’s all that white stuff there now?)

  6. Ric Moxley

    I know this is off the topic of the content of your article, but the photos – wow beautiful. Can you please tell us where these were taken? thanks!

  7. Franck

    Run commuting is what has allowed me to achieve a consistency in my running I was never able to achieve before, with or without a major goal in mind.

    It has come to the point where the “easiest” way for me to get to work is running. My life is setup this way completely. I wouldn’t even know where to park my car or how much it would cost if I were to drive to work nowadays.

    I totally feel the point you mentioned about consistence not being equal to boring. I’ve been run-commuting for ~8 months now. Initially I’ve been keeping to the same path most of the time. Now I’ve begun to change it up, just for kicks. I’m looking at the Strava heat map and I’m trying to color as many different roads as I can, en turn darker those I’ve ran only a few times. So not, consistency doesn’t need to equal repetitive or boring in any way – only if we make it so.

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