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In Pursuit of Consistency

How consistency benefits one’s running.

By on January 8, 2020 | Comments

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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Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.