Ron Hill doesn't have to think about running today. It's a given; he's going to do it. After 38 years of running every day without a break (which through to the beginning of December 2002 amounted to 13,880 consecutive days) he's not about to miss his run today. Or tomorrow. Or the day after that.
You, however, probably need a plan for today’s run. Without a plan, it's just too easy to skip a session. You have pressures at work, shopping to do, appointments to keep, things to deal with at home.
And more. Always more. Which makes it hard to put together a consistent training programme.
But consistency is the most essential piece of every training programme. It's the one thing - perhaps the only thing - that every coach, physiologist and medical expert agrees on.
Without consistency, you aren't going anywhere. You're not going to get faster. You're not going to run further. You’re not going to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, finish that marathon or achieve any of your other running goals.
With a consistent training programme, on the other hand, the sky's the limit. You'll feel better and run better every day. To help you become more consistent, here are 25 ways to add more consistency to your running.
Run with others
There's nothing like the social pressure of knowing that a friend or a group is waiting for you to make you head out the door. It's also often more fun than running alone, especially if you're doing a long run or speedwork.
Try something new
The fitness world is full of new, fun-filled events, and they don't all require a three-week trip to Borneo and a survivor diet of grubs and lizards. Don't let yourself get bored with an endless string of 5Ks and 10Ks. Try cross-country fell running and even triathlons and adventure races.
Run like a tortoise
We can't lie to you. This isn't a sport of instant success and miracles. Patience pays off, often in a very big way. At the beginning of a marathon-training programme, many participants can't imagine themselves running more than five miles. Twelve to 16 weeks later, the cheers of the crowd and the unbelievable exhilaration of reaching a marathon finish line are theirs. Stick with the programme, and prepare to be amazed.
Take a break
To every thing, there is a season. You don’t have to run every day; every week or even every month. Many top runners visualise their training year as a mountain range. It has peaks and valleys. The valleys are recovery periods when they let their running taper off, so that they can build all the higher in their next training period. For healthy, consistent training, your body needs regular - that is, weekly seasonal and annual - recovery periods.
Eat a healthy breakfast
We can't emphasise this one enough. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it fuels you for the entire day. To skip breakfast or eat a skimpy one is like failing to rehydrate and refuel after a marathon. You wouldn't do that, would you? Well, your night's sleep is like a marathon to your body; because you don’t get any fuel while you’re sleeping. So carbo-load at breakfast. And add a little protein.
Get cosy with frozen vegetables
This isn't a nutrition tip. It's an injury-prevention tip. If Paula Radcliffe can take ice baths after a hard race, you can cope with a bag of frozen peas against your sore knees for 15 minutes. Nothing reduces inflammation and holds injuries at bay like ice. Don't like veggies? Fruit works, too. Try a small bag of frozen blackberries or strawberries. Or one the many commercial cold wraps (you can find a good one at www.coolwrap.co.uk) - some even have handy Velcro straps.
Find a coach
Maybe the kind who yells at you every once in a while, but probably not. A coach's first job is to motivate you in a way no one else can. Their second job is to map out your training. And their final job is to prevent you from straying from that programme, probably by running too much or too fast. You can find a coach by joining a club, asking around, calling specialist running shops and checking the internet.
Join the 'X' revolution
Despite the many proven benefits of cross-training, we still know too many runners who only run. We love running, too. We know all about the 'specificity-of-training' rule, but we still skip the occasional run to get in some cross-training. Mainly strength training, cycling, elliptical training, yoga, stair-climbing, pool-running, rowing and walking. Why? Not because we think these routines will make us faster in our next half-marathon, but because they make us fitter all-round and less prone to injury.
Keep a log
Your training log is a great source of the kind of motivation that builds consistency. It beckons to be filled in, reveals the secrets of your training and racing successes, and a look back through it can provide lots of inspiration.
You don't have to race to be a runner, but there are so many good reasons to enter races. RW contributor Jeff Galloway says that entering races - especially marathons - 'scares' people into training the way they should. But we also like the sense of community you get from races. They help you realise that you belong to something big, and that there are more people than you imagined who share your running and fitness goals. Besides, it's good to go for a burn-up every now and again.
Pay attention to your shoes
Some things should be obvious, and this is one of them. But it's worth repeating, if it keeps even one of you from getting injured. Most shoes wear out after 400-600 miles. You often can't see the wear, but your knees, hips, back and Achilles tendons will feel it. Give your old, worn-out shoes to a local charity shop, and get yourself to a specialist running shop for a new pair.
You want to get something done? Do it early in the day. Everything gets tougher later in the day, as various tasks and responsibilities start ganging up on you.
Practise good posture
Not just when you're running, but all the time. This is especially important if you have an office job and are sitting at a computer all day (like us). Make sure your keyboard and monitor are properly positioned, and sit straight but comfortably in your chair. Some RW staff have started sitting on those large Swiss exercise balls, which encourages good posture because you have to use your legs and stomach muscles to keep from falling off. Good posture can improve your running efficiency and decrease injury risk. Ergo: better consistency.
Use the fridge
In two ways. First, be sure it's always stocked with those key foods you rely on
for healthy nutrition and snacking: sports drinks, low-fat yoghurt, fruit, nuts, fresh vegetables, etc. Take your pick. Second, put something inspirational on the outside of the fridge: a picture of you and friends at a race, a training plan, a great quote.
You've got your office calendar, your diary, your Palm Pilot, your napkin with the scrawled list of stuff you absolutely, positively have to get done today. So use it. Be sure to include your run. Carve out an hour in your day. The experts all agree that exercise is one of your most important daily activities. Make it happen.
Join our website community
RW's website forums are packed with people giving each other daily encouragement. Don't be shy - visit our Beginners, General and Training folders to see which suits you best.
Select and organise the running kit you need the night before a morning run. And keep a complete bag of running gear (and a dry shirt and towel) in the boot of your car or under your desk. You never know when you'll he able to use them.
Run on different surfaces
See how many different surfaces you can run on in a week: Tarmac, gravel, trail, grass, track, treadmill. Each stresses your leg muscles in a slightly different way, helping to prevent overose injuries. If possible, avoid concrete, the hardest and least accommodating surface for runners, altogether.
Take a trip
Reward your training and racing successes with a running holiday. Why not run an exotic international marathon? Sports tours companies, such as 2:09 Events, can offer guaranteed entry to those difficult-to-enter events. Alternatively, organise your running partners into a training team and head off for a weekend training camp.
Run before you get home
If you can't run in the morning or at lunch, at least try to run before you get home from work. Stop at a favourite park on your way home from the office, and go running there. Or arrange to meet some friends for a run at 5:30pm. Once you’re at home, it's hard to get out of the door again.
Eat your fruit and vegetables. Get plenty of sleep. We know — you've heard all this stuff before, so we won't nag too much. But remember that the simplest, most basic advice often makes the biggest contribution to improved consistency.
Adopt a runner
Sometimes the most motivating and rewarding thing you can do is to reach out to someone else. It could be someone close: at work or even in your family. Or your club might receive occasional calls from new runners, or those who want to begin. Offer to help. Beginners don't need a mentor with a PhD. They need encouragement, a personal connection and the kind of basic training, nutrition and injury-prevention experience you already possess.
Start a running streak
We don't mean that you should run every day like Ron Hill. In fact, we really don't advise that. But we like the idea of running the same road race every year. Or you could run one marathon a year, every year. Or you could 'collect' marathons by racing a different one each year.
Establish a pre-run routine
You warm up at the start of a race and at the beginning of a run, but it's also helpful to warm up for your warm-up, so to speak. Follow a routine. Sixty minutes before your run, reach for a carbohydrate drink. At run-minus-30, get up and take a three-minute stroll to loosen the legs. At run-minus-10, listen to a favourite song. Include any other short activities that work for you. Psychologists say these routines help us develop the healthy patterns we want.
Don't obsess about it
It would be great if every day went exactly as planned, and every run fitted in perfectly. But life has a way of playing tricks on all of us - good and bad. Don’t worry about the runs that you miss. When all else is said and done, the best advice is often simply to run with a smile on your face, and to enjoy and appreciate every session. Come to think of it, that’s always the best advice.