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September 14, 2012

Runners at the Lee Valley 10k in 2011

It should go without saying that consistency is at the heart of making improvements. It should do, but it doesn’t. Evidently.

People don’t like  being told that the surest way to improve at something is to do it consistently. Otherwise why would marketers have such a high success rate with drop-a-stone-in-a-month diet fads? Why consistently eat sensible portions and exercise regularly for a lifetime if you can make do with a binge-and-purge approach? Drop pounds quickly, and while your body’s still recovering from starvation mode, proclaim the benefits of the diet before regaining the weight and repeating the cycle. Surely the same net effect as consistently eating well and exercising?

Consistency for runners means stringing together tough sessions and recovery runs, running long, running fast, consistently pushing beyond your comfort zone. Do this with a structured training programme over a period of months and you will improve. It’s simple, but it’s not a magic formula that will get you into sub-3 shape in one five-minute workout a week. You want that shape, you get out what you put in.

But consistency isn’t always achievable. Work, commitments, or plain old bad timing, gets in the way. Perhaps that’s why people are willing to take shortcuts. (Seriously, read the article in that link. It’s a long piece, but the lengths the guy went to are extraordinary. Some might argue that had he put as much effort into training to run a sub-3 as he put into making it look like he had run a sub-3, he might actually have done it honourably.)

So with the focus on running long for the Olympics (either running home with Home Run, or running or cycling to or from work), I missed the all important ‘sessions’ from my training schedule. Then, for whatever reason, I’ve just not been able to regain momentum with consistency. Most of my runs have been commuter jaunts (characterised by standing at traffic lights and dodging pedestrians, but also with a shorter gain to avoid damage from carrying extra weight), with a few sessions thrown in with no real repeat value. And now I’m going on holiday, where I’ll squeeze in a few runs (which will be slower and focus on maintaining fitness rather than building speed or stamina, and which will also invariably involve scouting out nice cafes, bars and restaurants that we can visit), but nothing substantial.

I’ve realised that in order to train consistently, I need to know that I can repeat sessions over the next few weeks for them to be worthwhile. Once back from holiday, I’ll be able to recapitalise on this. I’m Home Running once a week, so that’s a decent 2-hour slow run to maintain stamina. Even when I’m commuter running, I will be able to stop by Regent’s Park track for speedwork. At the weekend, I’m looking for at least one hard run of an hour or so to practice marathon pace.

Although I’ve not been consistent over the last month or so, I’ve got a decent base of consistency built up over years. Yes, the first sessions (the hard stuff, like knocking out 10 or more 400s) back are going to hurt like hell. But my speed and endurance will rebuild quickly because running isn’t the cabbage soup diet.

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