Consistency in running

I recently wrote about the importance of patient and consistent pacing in producing good race performances. While those thoughts have merit in racing, they are even more relevant and important in training. Consistency is definitely the key to sustaining and improving your running performance levels. In this article my coaching partner Mark Gorski gives his thoughts on just how vital this consistency ingredient is to successful running.

Mark is a former elite 1500m runner who owns specialty running shoe retailer Melbourne Running Company. He also coached Australian runner Clint Perrett to a National Cross Country Championship. Mark works with me providing coaching advice to recreational and competitive runners.

As a runner who has covered the metric mile in 3.39 and suffered his fair share of injury set-backs and disappointments Mark knows a great deal about what’s needed to run fast. But more importantly he’s learned the hard way where mistakes can be made in preventing, managing and treating injuries while you’re pushing the envelope in competition and training at a very high and intense level.

More Dr Phil moments needed

Mark isn’t the type of person to talk about his achievements and is also reluctant to talk publicly about the ins and outs of where things may have gone awry over the journey. It’s a measure of how hard this stuff is to discuss because when you’re that focused on a big goal that never quite materializes it’s easier just to forget it and move on.

It is probably the reason why you don’t hear much from other runners who didn’t quite get to where they were striving for. So while Mark is unlikely to have a Dr Phil moment any time soon, I’ll continue to chip away and see what else I can extract from his valuable knowledge bank that we can all learn from.  Whether you’re an aspiring Olympian, or someone like me who’s just trying to improve their own relatively modest level of performance, there are valuable lessons to be learned.

Would be elite national and international runners need to hear more of the stories about what went wrong. It’s easy to celebrate the success of the runners and coaches that produce Olympians or in even rarer cases medalists at major championships, but how much does that really teach you?

Of course there is merit in examining success, but placing too much emphasis on one small aspect or another may well be misleading. The reasons for success are complicated and the many thousands of runners worldwide who reach a very high standard of running but fall agonizingly short of the goals they’re striving for is testament to the likelihood of good luck as much as good management being the reason for some achievements. In this case the successful ones may be representative of a survivorship bias rather than the product of some perfect recipe for success.

It’s probably easier to identify and examine the causes of failure than understand the complete drivers of success. Running interruptions through injury and illness are clearly major impediments to success. In short consistency in training is the element that should be the guiding principle that you use to test and analyze each potential forward thrust as you strive for elusive and hard fought improvements.

One thing we’ve discussed often and completely agree on is the need for gradual progression and long term consistency in your training – this includes running and other interventions such as strength and coordination work. So in between fitting out runners into the latest and greatest footwear, Mark has dashed off a few thoughts on just how important consistency is in running.

Consistency by Mark Gorski

It seems to be part of human nature to ask the question “what’s the magic secret?” This question is echoed through all facets of life whether it be in the work environment, sporting endeavours or simply how to deal with day to day issues. Most of us have uttered the phrase at some stage only to be given a short term and ultimately unsatisfactory answer.

I don’t profess to be a guru as far as a life coach is concerned and to be honest I find the title itself a bit egotistical, but for most of us running is such an important part of our day to day life that any major alteration to this routine seems to affect us. Nearly all runners have been through the injury, treatment, recovery process at some stage only to fall into the same traps that caused the issue in the first place. Surely there must be a secret to success, a magic potion, the one thing that solves all and makes us superstars?

In pursuit for the magic formula a vast number of runners simply look at the training schedules of the elite runners around the world and copy what they do. Most elites run everyday therefore I must as well is an all too familiar thought process. What their programs don’t tell you about are the years of consistent running and strength work that are the ultimate driving force behind their success. There I’ve said it; I’ve used the magic word, consistency!

Nearly every personal best, whether it be at the Olympics or at your local fun run is a result of good solid consistent training. If you ever get the chance to chat with some of Australia’s former marathon greats such as Rob de Castella and Steve Moneghetti, who are both regular ambassadors for many of the Fun Runs around Australia, ask them the same question that gets bandied around your training group, “what’s the magic secret?”. I guarantee if both these guys had all their training diaries handy at the time of questioning they would pile them one on top of the other, point and say there, there’s the secret! Day after day, week after week, year after year of solid, consistent, mostly injury free training.

The content of these training diaries is not what the majority of runners need to be concerned about, programs should be tailored for the individual’s needs, it’s the fact that they are piled up full of the running and strength training that their bodies adapted to slowly over the years. This consistency ultimately led them to be medalists at the highest levels of our sport.

The lesson in all this is: you are far better off in the long run if you have 12 months of consistent solid training rather than 2 months hard then 1 month off because you have cooked yourself and got injured.
I spent most of my competitive life either injured, recovering from injury or about to be injured! I had one 12 month purple patch of consistency and wouldn’t you know it, all my best racing was done at the end of it.

Make sure you give you body enough time and recovery to allow it adapt to new training stimuli and importantly your program should encompass some functional strength and conditioning training and running technique improvement to minimise the risk of injury.

Don’t let time and unhappy reflection be your teacher. There are key things that can be implemented into your program now that will keep your risk of injury to a minimum and hopefully help pile up those diaries!

Probably the easiest thing to implement is a longer term view and more patient approach. Artificial deadlines, internally or externally imposed pressure only encourage runners to strive harder than their bodies are ready for. You’re ready when you’re ready to progress and this rate will be different for each individual.

In the real world this means not smashing that next session until your body is recovered, not doing that extra repetition on sore tired legs because your ego gets the better of you and definitely not adding too much volume in the short term. Other training mistakes such as trying to make up for a missed hard session by doing more next time are equally likely to do more harm than good in the long term.

Another way of looking at the world is to view consistency itself as a training goal rather than chasing higher mileage and faster training sessions. If you’re constantly pushing yourself too hard and getting injured, think about setting yourself a goal of not getting hurt for 12 months. You might be surprised by the results!

Conclusion

Probably the best way to round out this discussion is to think on this great quote from Kiyoshi Nakamura, the coach of the great Japanese marathoner Toshihiko Seko, likening success in distance running to rain falling and eroding a hole in a stone. It’s a great quote, but I’m not sure I’d ever recommend Seko’s training regime!

On some days the rain falls hard, on other days it falls gently, and on some days it does not fall at all. But in the final analysis, the process cannot be rushed, and we must wait patiently for the natural order of things to run its course before we can admire the final product. The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.

Written by and Mark Gorski

Image: Rob de Castella and Waldemar Cierpinski Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0814-017 / Mittelstädt, Rainer / CC-BY-SA

2 Responses to Consistency in running

  1. Adrian January 30, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Great read! Consistency is my number one goal for this year. Looking back on last years training it’s a roller coaster of inconsistency, one month good, the next bad. The hardest thing is restraint though.

    Btw – how’s the adios 2 review coming along? Really interested to see how you find them.

    • Brian January 30, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      G’day Adrian, thanks for the comment and feedback. It’s sometimes hard to view a year of uninterrupted running with no great increase in mileage, intensity or huge personal record as progress but for a lot of runners it’s a great goal that can lead to good break throughs with patience. Adios 2 review is on the way, just need to get a long run done in them – Mark loves them, I’m still sitting on the fence! Brian