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The holy grail of running isn’t to run the fastest or farthest. It’s not a particular race distance or coveted title. It’s the ability to run consistently. Consistency is a challenge for any runner, regardless of experience or commitment level. There will always be things that interfere with your running routine: fluctuating stress, endless to-do lists, a need for more sleep, the family’s needs. But you can run consistently despite these obstacles, because it shouldn’t be about choosing to run at the expense of something else. Rather, running is what happens in support of everything else in your life, from your health to your mental state to your ability to show up for the important people in your life.
“Aerobic training is to endurance what mindfulness is to consistent running,” says Marty Kibiloski, marathoner and leader of running and mindfulness retreats at Colorado’s Shambhala Mountain Center. “It is the foundation upon which you can achieve greatness. Without them you are vulnerable to setbacks and distractions.”
Here’s how to use this concept to run more consistently in the face of three common obstacles.
I Don’t Have Time
Often, what feels like a lack of time is actually a lack of attention. To focus your attention on one task at a time, pause throughout the day to ask yourself whether the choice you’re making right then aligns with your goals.
For example, when you allot three hours to complete a project, the scope of the work will expand to fill all three hours. What if you gave yourself just 2.5 hours to complete the same task? You’ll probably find the focus to get it done, buying yourself a free half hour.
When there really is no time for your usual long run, go for a short one instead. It may not be the full workout you’d hoped for, but even 20 minutes of easy running maintains consistency, supports your aerobic fitness base and keeps your body primed and fresh for your next long run.
I Don’t Have the Motivation
Low motivation is a type of mental fatigue that may arise from a physical state called “stress overload,” a precursor to overtraining syndrome. It often accompanies physical fatigue that arises because the body is unable to build fitness.
“The workout is applying a stimulus, but if you don’t rest, you don’t benefit from that stimulus,” says Brad Stulberg, co-author of the newly released book, Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. “For a lot of people, ‘rest’ tends to be harder than ‘stress,’ so it helps to think of rest not as something completely passive but something actively beneficial.”
Learn to discern when you are in your personal training “sweet spot,” or that zone in which your body is able to build or maintain fitness and you feel energized and motivated to run. Stay there, supporting your recovery with more sleep, better nutrition choices, relaxing play time or other restorative activities.
I’m Always Injured
Being sidelined by injury takes a mental toll on any runner. Whether it forces you off the trail for four days or four months, the loss of control over your ability to run is stressful, especially if it happens over and over.
An injury usually occurs at the weakest point in the kinetic chain, for example, the foot, knee, hip or back. Rather than thinking of that point as a weakness, consider it as an aspect of your body’s natural biofeedback mechanism conveying useful information about what it can withstand and what it needs to meet your training demands.
Address your particular point of mechanical vulnerability and end the injury cycle by investing more attention in your rest and healing through whatever treatment is necessary.
Elinor Fish is creator of the Mindful Running Training System and leads women’s mindful-running retreats around the world through her Colorado-based company, Run Wild Retreats + Wellness. www.RunWildRetreats.com