Consistency and Variety

Last night I gave a presentation to Team UNC Wellness, our local multisport club, on training for the run. As we head into our North American off-season, it’s a good time to move focus to running. Weather often precludes more than maintenance riding, and that’s OK, because bike fitness comes around pretty quickly in the spring. Depending on your swimming background and goals, one or two swims a week can hold your technique in line. But running demands greater devotion, because it is an impact sport.

I framed run training in light of two principles: consistency and variety.
First, you must establish consistency. Run regularly, three to five (or, OK, six) times a week, with mileage that doesn’t jump by more than 10 percent per week (and a long run that doesn’t grow by more than ten minutes per week). This is the sine qua non for running. You have to be consistent to see progress.
Once your consistency is established, though, you must introduce variety in order to see progress and avoid plateaus and boredom. Variety operates across space and across time. Vary the terrain on which you run; don’t include only road or only treadmill running. Trails are ideal, and the track is good, too. Hills afford variety while building strength and lightening the load of impact (running uphill, at least). Variety plays out over time on levels from the huge to the small, from your lifetime running career to what you’re doing in a moment.
Here’s the breakdown, as I see it.
  • Variety over your career includes choosing progressive goals, from getting through your first races, to getting faster at short distances, to moving to longer races, to getting faster there, and so on.
  • Variety over the course of a year (macrocycle, in Joe Friel’s terminology) includes one or two cycles targeting peak races.
  • Variety over the course of a month (mesocycle) includes weeks that build on each other progressively.
  • Variety over the course of a week (microcycle) includes workouts targeting various energy systems: endurance, neuromuscular efficiency, strength, speed, race pace.
  • Variety over the course of a day includes a warm-up/cool-down run at a pace easier than the rest of the workout, and may include other paces according to the workout’s goals.
Variety is the spice of life, and, combined with consistency, the key to progress in running (and in many other areas).
One of the athletes asked me to explain “neuromuscular efficiency.” Here, I mean any run whose goal is to improve economy of form. These include:
  • Cadence runs, where the goal is to teach yourself to take 180+ footsteps per minute, timing twenty seconds and counting steps with one foot, with a goal of hitting thirty.
  • Strides, on the track or on a grass field, for 100m or diagonally across the field.
  • Pickups in an easy run, each lasting twenty to forty seconds, or simply thirty step cycles.
  • Short hill repeats of ten to thirty seconds.
  • Drills, drills, drills.
If you are looking for progress in your run training, review your training log for signs of consistency and variety. If one is lacking, work to improve it this fall and winter, and you’ll be running stronger by spring.