Simplicity – Consistency – Fun
With almost everything in life, if you want to improve, you need to be consistent. If you want to learn an instrument or a foreign language, you need to practice regularly. If you want to open a successful restaurant, you need to serve delicious food and provide excellent service every night. If you want to be a better distance runner, you need to run consistently. And in order to run consistently, you need to be able to run consistently! Sound redundant? There’s a reason for it.
One of the great qualities our bodies inherited from our evolutionary ancestors is the ability to adapt to stress– to physically become stronger as a reaction to physical stress. This is why rock climbers build tough, leathery callouses on their hands, and it’s why bodybuilders gain muscle by lifting heavy weights. But there is a very important component to this- rest and recovery.
Running is a high impact sport and therefore, not the friendliest on our joints. Overuse injuries are the scourge of many beginners who love the endorphin-filled rush but are too eager to run more than a few times a week, as well as veteran runners who dive recklessly into elite levels of mileage with the dream of chasing a PR, qualifying for Boston or even the Olympic Trials.
Simply put, ‘easy’ runs are easier to recover from, and with enough training, one can safely run at an easy effort for several consecutive days, weeks, and in the case of some very dedicated runners, even months or years. But if you tried running as fast as possible every day, the body will not have enough time to heal between workouts, and injury, exhaustion and good old fashioned grumpiness await you.
On the other hand, running only once a week, or running a different type of workout every other week won’t be particularly effective, either. The body needs frequent, repeated stimulus (also known as consistency!) in order to know it’s supposed to adapt. So it’s important to run easy enough to be able to run at least 3 times per week, and feel as if you can maintain that weekly regimen for 18 weeks (the average length of a marathon training plan) if you had to.
The bottom line is, the only way you can maintain consistency in your training is to train at an intensity that physically allows you to. Seems simple enough, no?
But let’s say you’ve been running consistently for some time and you’ve reached a plateau, perhaps just short of a time goal. In this case, what you need is variation!
In long distance running, variation can come in various forms– a change in weekly mileage, a change in intensity, a different kind of workout, or even a different route. In a good training plan, every week is designed with variety in mind. If I tell you to run four times per week, I might tell you to go for two easy runs, one tempo run and one long run. This will be more effective than four easy runs because it ensures the body is experiencing different kinds of stress throughout the week. When combined with consistency, you are very likely to notice improvements in your speed, running economy and recovery. When you find yourself in a rut, you can always make your easy runs longer, swap out your tempo run for other forms of speed work, or run a more hilly route for your long run, for example. Treat it like an experiment: focus on changing one variable at a time and see what is most effective for you. If you change more than one variable at a time, you may not understand what led you to success or failure, or worse, you may over-stress your body. As a general rule of thumb, you should increase either volume or intensity, not both, at any given time.
If it isn't already clear, there is a lot to think about and manage in an effective training plan– a great reason why you should have a coach! Having one allows you to just focus on the running... which is hard enough if you ask me!
Perhaps most importantly of all, I believe that in order for any training plan to work, it needs to be fun. If you aren't making excuses to go for a run, instead of making excuses to get out of having to run, you aren't having enough fun. One of my goals as a runner and as a coach is to find the things that give meaning to our running and make it enjoyable.
Even if running isn't a lifestyle for you, and you only plan on lacing up to cross a marathon off of your bucket-list, you'll fare much better if you can get excited about running 16 miles in the heat of summer, or do an interval workout in below freezing temperatures. As your coach, I'll do my best to help you find joy along the journey– just don't be surprised if it becomes a lifestyle eventually!