Extreme fitness
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Consistency is the key to long-term improvement in running. Photo: May Tse

ExplainerHow to train to run more consistently, avoid peaks and dips in motivation

  • Consistency in training is more important than a few sporadic great sessions, but can be hard to achieve
  • Here are some tips to help you achieve greater consistency in your training programme and avoid being at the whims of your motivation

When it comes to sustainable improvements in your running, consistency over time is the key – and is far more important than a few heroic sessions here and there.

A block of hard sessions will see you improve your speed, but becoming very fit only to lose those gains and have to work your way back up again is frustrating.

There are a few ways you can help yourself be more consistent in your training over a long period. Here are our top tips:

Don’t beat yourself up

Consistency is measured over months, not days or weeks. So, don’t beat yourself up if you do miss a session or even have a bad week. We can’t all be professional athletes with no other commitments.

Don’t beat yourself up and get stressed if you miss a few sessions. Photo: Shutterstock

A common barrier to consistency is that after missing one or two sessions, a runner’s motivation plummets and they miss the next session too. The spiral begins and suddenly they are out of their routine and losing all their hard-earned gains.

Avoid the spiral by shrugging off a bad patch and getting back out on the track, road or trail.

Go slow

Running fast is stressful on your body. In the short term, you might see a spike in your performance but it is not sustainable over months and your consistency will suffer.

Top tips for trail running: go slow to go fast

Include plenty of “easy” runs in your programme. This will improve your aerobic capacity and practice time on your feet without the stress of going all-out, so that you can train regularly.

Going too fast too often is likely to result in an injury, which could spell the end of your training for an extended period of time.

Using a heart rate monitor can be a great way to know what “slow” means, so that you don’t accidentally go too fast.

Cross training and strength sessions

Mixing up your sessions is good for your mind and your body. The variation will keep things interesting and it will also allow you to improve your fitness while reducing the risk of injury.

Try mixing up sessions by including cross and strength training. Photo: Boat International

Try other sessions, like cycling, rowing, swimming or hiking. This will reduce the load on your joints and tendons, so that you can train more regularly without an overuse injury.

Strength sessions will improve your running by making you faster, and even improving your VO2 Max. They will also make you more resilient to injury.

Run with friends

Having a running buddy will keep sessions interesting and also hold you accountable. It is easier to drag yourself out of bed if you know your friend is waiting for you. And the shame of dropping out when someone else is depending on you for their session can be a powerful motivator.

Running with friends or joining a running group is a great way to stay motivated. Photo: Nora Tam

There are countless running clubs as well. A large group of like-minded runners who meet at specific times is a great way to stay motivated and be accountable.

Hire a coach

A coach will help you achieve all of the above. They will keep you motivated with a varied programme, hold you accountable, tell you to do strength training and give you specific exercises – and also manage your load to ensure you are not going too fast too often.

If a coach is too expensive, a cheaper option is to find – or purchase – a generic programme online. The structure will help you maintain your consistency.

Be realistic with your race entries

Racing is fun. And addictive. But signing up for too many races, or signing up for a distance you are not ready for, can hinder your consistency.

It can mean you do too much, or train too fast. It may mean you get injured, or that you find it too hard to motivate yourself to train between the highs of racing.

Pick and chose your races carefully to avoid burnout. Photo: UTMB

Build towards specific races you really want to run. Give yourself a break after the race to recover and to avoid burnout, then get back to training for the next one.

Listen to your body

If you feel a niggle building – a bit of knee pain, for example – back off from running. Miss some sessions or switch sessions for cross training.

It might sound like this advice is contradictory: don’t be consistent, miss sessions and don’t follow the programme. But the balance is important. If your body is telling you to back off and you don’t, you may get injured and miss far more sessions in the long run.