While there are endless hacks to accomplish just about anything these days, running requires a simple, focused dedication that can’t be achieved with shortcuts. Runners and coaches may disagree on the exact workouts that make you faster, but the three essential ingredients of improvement are almost universally accepted.
These essential ingredients include:
The concept: To make progress as a runner, you must first be consistent. No runner can improve when his or her training is constantly interrupted, either by injury or inconsistent training. Above all, consistency is the “secret sauce” of training that allows you to put in the regular training that leads to improvement.
Like many sports, your progress as a runner is cumulative. Training builds on itself over weeks and months and years of training. Consistency is a simple concept, but dedicating yourself to consistency requires effort. To remain consistent, you need physical ability (by staying healthy) and mental discipline to keep going even when your motivation falters.
Training application: Consistency is a two-way street — you get out of it what you put in.
In order for your training to be consistent, you have to commit yourself physically and mentally to what you want to accomplish. Motivation may be a good spark to get you started, but discipline and perseverance are what get you out the door when the weather is terrible, or your schedule gets hectic.
Make sure you address both the physical and mental aspects of consistency. Setting short and long-term goals (for training and races) can help you put in the work even when your progress isn’t obvious. An individualized training plan gives you the framework to stay physically consistent with your runs while taking into account your time constraints, strengths and weaknesses.
The concept: Once you’ve established a consistent running habit, your training must progress for continued improvement. Your training plan must adapt to accommodate changes in your mental and physical fitness. As stated above, running is cumulative, but this growth has to happen gradually — it doesn’t happen overnight.
Like consistency, progression has both a physical and mental aspect. The principle of progression calls for periods of stress (Think: long runs and harder workouts) followed by periods of recovery (short or easy-paced efforts). As you push through challenging efforts, your mental toughness develops and adapts to these new stressors. But it’s also easy to lose this mindset if you don’t practice it regularly.
Training application: While races are an ideal way to test your fitness, you don’t need to rely on them to check your progress. If you’re unable to race due to cancelations from COVID or other reasons, know that you can use training PRs to set you up for racing PRs. Even if you can race regularly, your training should be the first place you look to for progress.
Training PRs come in the form of weekly, monthly or annual mileage goals. If you’re a trail runner, you may add an elevation goal to the mix. Or maybe your focus is injury prevention, using consistent strength training to stay healthy. Goals can even be related to better nutrition and sleep as both benefit your running and overall health.
The concept: To modulate simply means to alter or vary. Consistency and modulation may appear to be at odds with each other, but they each play an important role in your running. While consistency takes the long-term view, variation should occur in the types of runs you do each day, and in the blocks of training you perform leading up to different types of races.
Depending on what you’re training for, your workload must vary over time. Focusing on the same goal or always running the same distance or pace can lead to boredom and burnout. “Periodization” is a training term that refers to targeting specific areas of fitness at different times, geared toward maximizing your performance. Training types may include base building, a strength phase, sharpening or peaking, tapering and recovery.
Training application: Every plan varies in the exact structure of your training, but most follow the same general rules:
- The beginning of the season is less intense with mostly easy running.
- Your mileage and long runs build over the course of the season.
- Training gradually becomes more specific to your race goal.
- The final few weeks peak in intensity but reduce mileage.
- A period of recovery follows your goal effort.
While different training blocks provide some variety, it’s also important to vary your goals over time. If you’re always training for a marathon, you’ll focus on the same types of workouts each year. Mix it up by training for a fast 5K or a hilly trail ultramarathon to push your body in different ways. This helps keep you fresh along with pushing you toward greater overall fitness.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Running must be consistent, progressive and modulated. If you’re looking to run further and faster with less effort, make these three ingredients part of your short- and long-term training plan so you can stay healthy and have a better relationship with running.
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.