I’m going to let in you on the secret to health and running success, whether your goal is to lose weight, run your first race, or qualify for the Boston Marathon.
I guess “secret” is not the right word, since many successful runners and healthy people practice it, sometimes without even realizing it. “Secret” implies some sort of magic formula only available to a select few, while these two things can be practiced by anyone.
Discipline and consistency are the two keys to health and fitness. You may achieve some goals without them, but when you’re chasing lofty goals or making big changes for a healthy lifestyle, you cannot get far without discipline and consistency.
Discipline and consistency go hand in hand. Without discipline, it’s hard to be consistent in your actions. Without consistency, the mental muscle of discipline will weaken over time.
People who are disciplined do not skip workouts or slip back into eating an unhealthy diet, because they are able to control their behavior to adhere to the guidelines and goals they set for themselves. A disciplined runner follows her training plan, even if she is tired and sore or would really rather just sleep in on Saturday morning. A disciplined healthy eater adds vegetables to his dinner, even when he just would rather eat fries instead.
Discipline leads to consistency. Discipline helps you make the right choice for your goals today, then tomorrow, then the next day, and so you become consistent in your behavior. Discipline keeps you consistent, also, because you do not let your emotions or obstacles prevent you from pursuing your goal and making the right decision.
Why is consistency so important for healthy living and for running? Nothing will help you achieve your goals more than repeatedly doing the actions that lead to those goals. Say you want to run a marathon. While nutrition, cross-training, and recovery are essential to a strong training program, it’s running that best prepares you for the race. The more frequently and consistently you run, the better you are prepared to run 26.2 miles. Running becomes easier, both physically and mentally, the more consistently you do it.
Disciplined runners are the most consistent in their training and therefore the most successful. With the rare exception of some crazy-fast person, the most successful runners are those who get their runs in each and every day; the elites are the prime examples of this. For disciplined runners, they run whether it means braving the snow, logging miles on the treadmill, or running circles on that one little paved loop, just as long as they complete their prescribed workout.
Any good training plan will emphasize consistency. It doesn’t not matter as much whether you run four, five, or six days a week, but that you run those number of days each and every week. This adapts your body much more efficiently than running two days one week, five days the next week, and then skipping a week. Likewise, one tempo run won’t make or break your race, but consistently doing tempo runs in your training will help you run a faster and stronger race.
Consistency also applies to healthy eating. It gets a lot easier to make the right food choices, whether it’s adding vegetables to your meals or cooking in rather than ordering out, as you repeatedly do it. As you are consistent in healthy eating, you begin to appreciate the flavors of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain. The more consistently you eat healthy foods, the more you’ll notice how they positively affect your mood, well-being, and energy levels.
For runners, consistency and discipline matter just as much in the off-season as they do during race training. Consistent running provides you with a strong base; when you have a strong base, you can push yourself to run harder in training and race faster. There may not be the same motivation to get out there and run when you are not training specifically for a race, but that is where discipline comes into play.
So how do you develop the characteristics of discipline and consistency? With discipline, you focus each day on doing what you need to do to achieve your goal. If your goal is to run a marathon PR, then you develop discipline by following your training plan each day. Practicing positive self-talk and eliminating the voice of doubt in your head will help you be more disciplined. You can also increase your discipline when you stop making excuses. Get your run in first thing in the morning or right after work before you have time to talk yourself out of it. Reaffirming your actions will also help you become more disciplined. If you mark on your calendar, share on Instagram, or record in your training journal each workout, then you are less likely to skip future workouts because of that visual reminder of how much you have already done.
Consistency will naturally come out of discipline and be fostered by discipline. To continue with this example, consistency means doing each run as described on your training plan, which will guide you to run regularly each week. By practicing discipline to follow your training plan, you then are also practicing consistency because you are running regularly. As you become more consistent, your marathon training runs become more of a habit. You will probably find yourself actually wanting to do your runs and feeling off if you skip them, which further reinforces consistency.
Question of the Day:
How do you stay disciplined and consistent in your training?
Do you struggle with discipline or does it come naturally to you?