“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.” ― Aldous Huxley

Now, as marathon runners, one of our aims is not to die and another is to be consistent in our training. Huxley goes someway to being honest about the fact that for a human being, being consistent is actually a tricky thing.

Why do we find it hard to be consistent? It’s raining. My ankle hurts. I ran out of clean kit. It’s icy. The kids woke me up early. Work kept me late. I’ve been invited to a trendy noodle bar. I’ve been invited to a family knees up. I’m hungover. I’ve gone off running a bit. I’m questioning the point of marathon training. The guys at club will all run too hard and I’m really knackered. I was going to run with Dave but he cancelled short notice. I’m on holiday for gods sake. I’ve been falling asleep on the sofa a bit much recently. I’ve got a cold. I might get the flu. I recently had a cold and I don’t want it to come back. I can always do today’s run tomorrow. I went to a spin class instead. I went to the dentist and my mouth is numb. I’m starving cos I missed lunch. The 5th major storm of the year, (handily named Ebeneezer so we know it’s the 5th) has hit the UK.

Need I go on? list your personal top 50 excuses and reasons for not going on a run if you like.

Why be consistent? OK so what we’re looking for is a training stimulus from a run. The body will react to this with adaptations and improvement. If we dont train, the reverse happens the stimulus the body gets is “chill I don’t need to run as much so you can focus your energy and nutrients on other stuff” and the adaptation is “cool I’ll store some fat for later, back off on upgrading the muscles, liver, heart, lungs, blood etc”. The result is sometimes called “de-training”. The adaptations we have worked hard for reverse – Blood plasma changes, lung function decrease, mitochondria in the muscles die off and and are not replaced……

What happens when I get a bad cold and can’t train? funny you ask, it just happened to me. Strava can track your fitness and fatigue, it’s not an exact science but its better than guessing. It is a blunt instrument, for example I’m currently at the same “fitness level” as in 2015 London Marathon when I ran a 2:55 and there’s no bloody way I could run that today as I haven’t done the miles recently. I trained regularly in October (the bars at the bottom) but then had to take a week off for a nasty virus. Here’s the Strava graph of my fitness and fatigue

oct nov JT

The gradual line (grey shading) is my fitness level. You can see it drops when I don’t train. But look at the dotted line into the future this is what’ll happen if I don’t train at all the next days! I’m at 74 on Wednesday, if I don’t train till Sunday then I’ll drop to 69!

The spiky line is fatigue (up is tired) you can see this dropping a bit when I take a day off or run easy.

So I took a week off and the result is I got fresh legs but it took approx 10 days training to get back to where I was before I got ill.

What are we aiming for then? Imagine you run a 50 mile week, then a 55 mile week, then a 60 mile week all to plan perfectly. You can imagine what your fitness graph would look like. Congratulations take an easier recovery week and your fitness will creep up a bit still and your fatigue level will drop. Ready for another training block.

The aim should be to train as much as you can without your fatigue level getting too high. How high is too high? That’s personal and depends on lots of things like age, diet, sleep, running background (how many years have you been at it), immune system. Over training is a blog post in itself. Like this

How can I, a human being, be consistent? For every excuse or reason not to train you need to come up with a plan, a strategy to either stop the situation arrising or deal with it if it does.

Now for some this is simple. Leave the daps by the door and just do the runs. Don’t question it. Put running first. A weekly check in with a mirror to remind yourself you’re a machine can help. This works, but it’s not sustainable for real human beings with jobs and families.

If you find yourself missing run cos life got in the way, some people will solve it by running first thing int he morning. Hungover and missed a run? check out the things your going to where booze is involved in the future – commit to how will you change your approach to them. Weather bothers you? buy better kit. Need to juggle the training plan about a bit to fit life? GO for it, but remember the MAX 2 concurrent hard days rule DO NOT snap yourself trying to catch up on missed training. Because then you’ll need a few weeks off and your fitness line will plummet.

You can work out your own issues and solutions. The thing is to actually do that, manage yourself a bit. It starts with being honest about your habits and genuinely committed to your goals. It move through not beating yourself up for missing runs, or expecting yourself to be a robot. And ends up with you being pragmatic, running as much as you can, focusing on what you can do, and judging your success on how much training you do over the whole cycle. Not how hard you ran a set of repeats.

I think this is the true thing I’ve gained from several years trying to improve over 26.2 miles. To be honest with myself, not to fight myself, to run because I love it and it does me all sorts of good. Not to force myself to train, or be unrealistic about what I can do. This simple ability to understand and manage my own human being has flowed over to other parts of my life too. But this is not a self help blog, so I’ll spare you the details.

Yeah, but how will it feel if I actually get my hammer and nail this consistency thing? Get a little buzz when you hit a PR on a strava segment? Of course you do, they barely had to think about designing that into strava. You’re a human, it feels good to better yourself. That’s how your ego is wired.

What you need to work on is the big warm fuzzy feeling when you look in at the end of a week at a full set of runs. The hell yeah I’m a marathon training master when you get to a recovery week and have a neat set of weekly mileages that grow week on week. The oh yeah I know exactly what I’m capable of in today’s marathon feeling cos I ran consistently for 4 months and I’m going to sit in a pack to halfway and beyond knowing its my marathon pace all bloody day. I’m going to wave at a few people, grin, chill, soak it all in free of the ‘I missed some training’ anxiety. I’m going to gut it out for the last 10K and fight for the time all that work deserves. I’m going to have a huge emotional release at the finish as all the hard work has actually done what I knew knew it would. But I’m quietly chuffed that I did all that work, despite my reasons and excuses.

Kudos to you consistent marathon runner.

2016 totals

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