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“Practice makes perfect” goes the old adage. If you want to be good at something, you have to commit your time and energy to it in order to adapt and thus experience improvement.
Photo courtesy of The North Face
The key elements of a successful training plan are just like the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle—find them and it’s easier to fill in the rest.
Through my experiences as a running coach and elite runner, I’ve identified four training “corner pieces” that will help you to develop reliable and predictable performances: simulation, effort, consistency and lifestyle. Last month, I discussed effort (you can read that post here); this month’s segment is consistency.
As I have said before, the corner pieces are not groundbreaking findings; they are simply tried-and-true training techniques that, when interlocked, will help you achieve running success.
The Third Corner Piece: Consistency
“Practice makes perfect” goes the old adage. If you want to be good at something, you have to commit your time and energy to it in order to adapt and thus experience improvement. Apply the adage to running. As simple as this premise sounds, many aspiring—and even veteran runners—struggle to implement the necessary efforts to fully allow this principle to unfold. If you want to become a better runner, it’s not enough to just run, your training plan must also be consistent in both volume and intensity.
Fitness gains are made through the process of adaptation. The more you repeat a specific movement or type of activity the more conditioned your body becomes to that particular effort. In other words, the more often you run a certain workout, your body learns to recognize the particular demands associated with it, and then expects and welcomes them the next time you perform that workout. In addition to repetition (running regularly), gradually increasing duration (time spent running) also yields fitness gains because it enables your body to efficiently utilize energy stores while improving your running economy.
For example, when we first started working together, my client Rachel was running five miles four days a week. Rachel wanted to train for a half marathon with the goal of besting her current time of 1:57. She expressed discouragement in her inability to run the second half at a pace that would put this time goal within reach. Clearly, Rachel was in great five-mile race shape, however, her longest run was five miles, making the additional eight miles of a half-marathon a real struggle.
Her body was not used to running that far and was not responding positively to the additional demands. Once she started varying her mileage and incorporating weekly long runs of 10 to 15 miles over a period of eight weeks, her body learned to recognize that the long run was now a staple in her training and she was gradually able to complete the long runs feeling as good as she did during her five milers. After eight weeks of training this way, Rachel entered a half-marathon and dropped her personal record to 1:46.
While her mileage was consistent from the beginning, it was consistent only for a limited distance and any attempted runs beyond that recognizable length felt challenging as her body had not yet been exposed to the additional stimulus (mileage increase). Once she applied a consistent dose of longer runs to her daily training routine, her body was able to efficiently respond to the increase in race distance.
When I speak of intensity and how it relates to consistency, I’m referring to 1) the frequency at which varying-pace workouts are performed, and 2) keeping your pace as consistent as possible within the parameters of those specific workouts. For example, if you are training to race a 10K, it’s important to not only frequently run 6 x one-mile repeats, but to also run them at (or just below) your ideal (and realistic) goal 10K race pace.
Just as you would not expect to have perfectly sculpted biceps if you only did a handful of bicep curls once every two months, so should you not expect to get faster if you do not perform regular speed work.
One important thing to note: Intensity isn’t always as “intense” as we think. Your recovery runs and regular training runs (the runs in between hard workout days) should be run not only at a consistent pace, but one that is sustainable for your body day-in and day-out. These runs are the foundation of your training plan. If you run hard every day, while consistent, you will eventually reach your personal point of diminishing return and your performance will diminish.
Your body must recover between hard workouts. One surefire way to minimize unnecessary rest is to run every workout at the proper pace. If your pace is inconsistent, you risk running too fast and needing more time to recover, or running too slow and not stressing your body enough to reap the physiological benefits to make you faster.
The body is resilient, but it needs continual stimulation to perform optimally. The more you implement consistency in both your mileage and the proper intensity for each workout, your body will not only respond by becoming increasingly efficient, but also by increasing your propensity to handle more stress … which is of course just a fancy way of saying you will become stronger and able to run longer.
A good workout to develop proper uphill running form and increased leg turnover is 10 x 1-minute hill repeats on a hill with a 6- to 10-percent grade.
After warming up for 20 minutes, designate a starting line at the base of a hill, then run for one minute at 5K race effort. After the minute is over, immediately turn around and jog easy back to your designated start line. Your recovery is the amount of time it takes you to return to the start line. Immediately repeat.
Follow the workout with a 15- to 20-minute cool down.
Megan Lizotte is a decorated elite distance runner and online running coach at www.hgrunning.com. She is a three-time World Mountain Running Championships competitor, two-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and 2011 USATF Trail Marathon Champion.