There is a common thought in running that consistency is the key to improving running and achieving results. While I believe there is some truth to this overall I believe it is flawed and the idea of consistency is a misconception. Ultimately consistency is crap and variety and focussed training are more important.
The definition of consistency is ” to steadfastly adhere to the same principles, course, form, etc.” In running this basically means to do the same workouts on regular basis until you improve. I am certainly an advocate of having structure in your training and it is one of my simple beliefs to run variations of my three key workouts each week to build focussed speed, strength and endurance.
Where I believe consistency is crap is that a training program needs to have variety and flexibility in structure so that the runner is able to take time off if sick or sore. Also variety in the workouts that are planned that keep the runner enjoying running and improving and reassessing their training to continue to improve.
A lot of coaches will program a structured six day per week program with a single rest day. These programs will usually have a long run, tempo, interval run and various recovery runs to keep the runner running consistently and improving. The long run will build in volume through a period building up to a race preparation and the other runs will likely stay fairly static in both the style of the session and the day they are run on so it keeps the running consistent. Gradual improvement is likely to be seen and runner will ultimately likely do quite well at the race they have entered. There is also a likelihood that the runner can’t run all the runs programmed due to family, work, illness, injury or factors outside their control. In this case they will lose consistency with the program and either try and make up these missed sessions or believe they’ve had a negative impact on their training.
My philosophy to training has been built over experience, I have no qualification as a coach and don’t profess to be one. but I have run for a long time and seen what works well for me and what doesn’t. Sticking to a structured plan that involves running similar workouts on a very consistent basis doesn’t work for me. I believe that style of running training is boring and doesn’t allow the runner to rest when needed, do a completely different exercise if thats what they want to do or enjoy their running to their full potential.
My philosophy to training doesn’t completely abandon consistency however. I run my three key runs consistently, when training for a race every week unless I am sick or sore. I may change the day during the week if life gets in the way and stop me from doing whats planned however ultimately these runs are done consistently as they are the key to building speed, strength and endurance and this is needed to improve running. From here I believe in an anything that adds variety is acceptable whether running or choosing not to run should be enjoyed. If I choose to run on any of the other four days of the week they are run only at aerobic pace and many times I choose to not to run to keep my body rested and ready for the next key workout. If I choose to run I stay at an aerobic pace to allow recovery, recently I am enjoying some hikes in a weighted vest (about 6kg). These have added variety to my training and give me something different in my program. Being ready to run the key sessions is the key and running these sessions as planned is better than busting myself on the next run because the plan says consistency must be there.
Training at the beach is another way to add variety
There is a quote from Clyde Hart – Coach of Michael Johnson. He once said ” Time has shown me that the aerobic benefits far outweigh the anaerobic benefits. You put money in the bank when you train. To me, anaerobic is withdrawing money from the bank and aerobic is putting it back in. If you go out and do a lot of anaerobic running you might as well be racing.” I find this a very true quote and that running should kept aerobic as often as possible. My program only allows me to train at an anaerobic pace to build strength and speed.
If a runner attempts a key session and the body isn’t recovered and ready the key session will be compromised and hinder improvement. Consistency isn’t the key, nailing the key sessions and enjoying running is the key.