As we run into to February I hope you’ve had an opportunity to think about your routines within, and outside of, running. Perhaps you’ve even completed some of our challenges! The second half of this month’s series is going to build on the same theme of routine by touching on sustainable habits and building a foundation for long-term running success.
Tying back to the first article, the greatest predictor of long-term success is consistency over time, so the biggest take away from this article is going to be developing habits and building foundations that are sustainable over the long term. We’ve all felt that excitement of starting something new, diving in head-first and investing significant time and effort, only to burn ourselves out and lose interest. To use a baseball analogy, running is a sport that rewards getting on base consistently rather than trying to hit a home run every time you step up to the plate.
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” Colin Powell
In the first installment of this series I noted that “we’ve probably all felt the disappointment of not meeting our own expectations when the day-to-day grind of pursuing our best intentions becomes overwhelming.” We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term and underestimate what we can in the long term. Is setting a goal to run every single day of the week sustainable? Perhaps in the short-term for some, but over a long enough period of time that may become unbearable. I often take a step back when writing training for athletes to ask myself “Is what we’re doing today sustainable for years to come?” and “Does this workload make sense given the athlete’s training history?”
Starting small and building momentum over time is a far better approach than going ‘all-in’ on day one. Is your goal to run your first marathon in the spring, your first 5k? Perhaps the first habit to develop is consistently running 4 days per week. Eventually you will get to those speed workouts and long runs, but for now we just need to develop the sustainable habit of running regularly at an easy effort over reasonable distances.
Now that we’ve covered establishing routines and thinking about sustainable habits, the first purpose of training, regardless of goal race distance, is to build a foundation. Before we can think about those 30km long runs or fast track sessions, we need to prepare the body and mind so we can complete them successfully. Some would call this ‘base training’, but what I really mean is setting an absolute baseline weekly training load (frequency x duration x intensity) that develops all aspects of running. I would almost consider this to be “pre” base training!
To start, I’d recommend figuring out how many runs per week are sustainable for an indeterminate amount of time. For example, if you think that this would be 4 runs per week, ask yourself if you can manage 4 runs per week for the next 6 months (rather than the next few weeks). Then, the distance of these runs should be reflective of current fitness and shouldn’t leave you so fatigued that you’ll need to take extra time to recover. For some, this could mean four 30-minute runs per week. For others, this could be a lot more. Remember, we’re only looking to set a foundation that we can sustainably build upon over time.
Our challenge to you this week is reflective. Think about your relationship with running so far in 2022 – is what you are doing sustainable over months or years? Are you building a foundation for continued enjoyment and success in the sport or are you burning the candle at both ends without realizing it? I regularly find taking a step back to look at long-term sustainability to be helpful in guiding athletes along the path to reaching their potential. Running is a sport that really rewards training over prolonged periods of time so keeping that in mind is important.