It is true with anything, if you work at something consistently, you’ll see results. It’s more true with running than with anything else. It’s been said many times. There is no secret formula or ingredient, no single workout, no special coach, or magical combination to improve your running. Whether you are novice or elite, the same is true: consistency is key.
The most important and beneficial things always seem to be the toughest. It’s easy to push yourself during a track workout with 30 other people at the track. That’s just one workout! Even if you go weekly to a track workout, that’s just one a week! Pushing yourself to the limit on race day (in many ways) is not even the hard part. You have to put in a lot of work before you get to race day. Your limit on race day is only a reflection of the work you put during the months leading up to it. It takes a consistent effort. The hard part is getting out of bed early the day after track when your friends aren’t around, or the day after your long run, or the day before, or all of the above.
Aerobic Fitness. The more time you spend in an aerobic state, the more fitness you gain. You don’t have to bust your butt (nor should you) every time you run. Most of the time, you just have to be running.
Running Muscles. While cross-training can be a good supplement to avoid overuse injuries, build muscle, or just change things up, the more time you spend working running specific muscles and motions the stronger your running will be.
If you don’t use it, you lose it. Aerobic fitness and muscle strength builds on itself. One speed workout or tempo run every 3 weeks doesn’t allow your muscles to move forward at a steady rate. One lazy week every month or a few lazy days per week between runs can slow or (depending on what level you are at) even halt progress.
Becoming consistent takes time. It takes motivation. You’ll have to find what works for you. You’ll have to find what motivates you. You’ll have to be consistent in your pursuit of being consistent.
Three things that work for me:
Big Picture. I think of my goals, both short term and long term. I know that to reach them I can’t afford to be inconsistent.
Schedule. I get into a pattern with a good rhythm that can be challenging, but also works well for me. If I have to move a run to another day or cut a run for injury or time constraints, I can either work it in or just forget it, but I have the schedule to fall back on next week.
Break Boring. I recognize the temptation to fall away from something I’ve been consistent with and I trick my mind into being motivated to get back to it, i.e. new shorts, the use of my iPod, new route, new workout, etc. Basically, anything I can easily change to make what has become mundane with consistency NEW and EXCITING and INTERESTING and FUN.
HOWEVER, if you’re consistently running on an injury or overcooked legs, that is a detriment to your training. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO FOCUS ON LONG-TERM CONSISTENCY OVER SHORT-TERM CONSISTENCY. If you are unsure whether to run through a certain injury or fatigue, it is always best to take off a day or two (or more even), skip a workout, or cross train a little bit on the front end than overdo it and miss more time later on. This is always a tough call to make because we all want to be as consistent as possible and every situation is different. Every injury is different, every training cycle wears on us in a different way or at a different rate. We often think about how we don’t want to slow our progress and more often we are in denial that we are in need of a small break. BUT with a focus on the your long-term goal and using CAUTION when questioning a certain pain or fatigue level, you’ll actually be more consistent throughout your training cycle because you won’t be forced to take more time later.
I’ve done this right so many times and I’ve done it wrong so many times. I’ve run through injuries that I shouldn’t have, but I’ve never regretted taking a day off to save myself from injury. I’ve run workouts while sick, but I’ve never regretted postponing a workout and running easy until I feel better. While consistency is a key component of gaining fitness, it is an ongoing battle to focus on long-term consistency rather than the short-term.