One of my favorite quotes ever about running comes from Robert deCastella, who, back in the day, ran pretty fast: “The only secret is that it is consistent, often monotonous, boring, hard work. And it’s tiring.”
The single thing most likely to help you improve in running is consistency. It isn’t beet juice. It isn’t V02 Max workouts, or the long run. It isn’t a GPS watch. It’s consistency.
Finding consistency – especially in a practice that ultimately makes you really, really tired – doesn’t sound much like something one might want to do. Life happens and there’s countless times when work, family or other obligations preempt a scheduled run. A little injury—could be over-training, accident, recurring muscle issue—keeps you down for a couple of weeks which is just enough time to replace consistency with discouragement.
It seems as if there can almost always be an excuse to break our desired pattern of consistency. Coming soon with these 90-plus degree temps that usher in the Austin summer is the struggle to find energy or motivation to go outside and train, knowing you’ll return five pounds lighter from lost fluid but you had to carry all of that in your shirt and shorts. Not only is it a physical drag, but a mental one as well.
Knowing that consistency is key, here are a few things you can focus on to build that pattern of successful, healthy running:
Get stronger. There was a time when all you had to do to run fast was just run. But that was then and now we know better. Injuries come from imbalances in the body structure, so we need to make our bodies stronger so that we can run more so that we can run faster. I’m a big fan of making the strength work part of your daily run practice so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle during the busyness of our daily lives. Rarely do we have a dedicated block for strength training, so instead let’s work it in to the regular schedule.
If you do have the time to dedicate to strength work, it is best to add it in to your workout days, so you can make the most of your recovery or easy days. But if you don’t, then 10 minutes a day is all you need. A 10-minute circuit routine, combining strength and flexibility exercises, is a great way to finish off your run or workout. Lunges, step-ups, squats, and planks are four really simple exercises that you can rotate in with dynamic stretching from day to day and give yourself a fundamentally sound strength and flexibility program.
Hit the dirt. Getting off the pavement and onto the trails is a great way to build consistency in your practice. We’re not talking the trail around the lake downtown, but places like the Greenbelt.
First, it’s fun. Hopping roots and rocks, crossing streams and ducking branches is way more fun than making hard rights and lefts and waiting at intersections and dodging cars. Second, a run on the Greenbelt or along Bull Creek is almost entirely shaded, so the sun doesn’t feel so oppressive. And you’re forced by the terrain to go slower so you won’t die a slow run death near as much. On any given day it’s at least 10 to 15 degrees cooler thanks to the tree cover.
As you hop, skip and jump over rocks and roots you’ll notice you’re using different muscles than normal, which also makes the body more resistant to injury. But do keep your eyes down and focused as an easy way to break consistency is stumbling over that stone you didn’t see while looking around at nature.
Share your practice. Get a coach, find a group. Training with others is almost always more fun and it makes the summertime suffering a bit more enjoyable. The group dynamic and energy will help you improve your running and in turn you will help the group. It’s a win-win. You have accountability to the group and the group to you. Make sure it is a group that your goals fit those of the group and vice-versa.
Finding a coach that will work with you – as an individual – can recharge your running. Even though you know just about everything there is to know about running through your years of experience, a coach can watch and observe objectively and make changes accordingly.
A great example of someone who found a coach, listened to their advice and stuck with it is your 2014 Boston Marathon winner. He also took home a silver medal from the 2004 Olympics and cemented himself as a legend in distance running. Meb Keflezighi – same coach since 1994.