What's the #1 way to become a better cook? Cook every day.
Want to improve your cello-playing ability? Practice early and often.
Aiming to be a better runner? Then (wait for it!): run consistently.
Whether you are an elite or sub-elite runner looking to shave a few seconds off a fast PR or a total running newbie, just trying to break a 10- or 11-minute mile, consistency will afford you more gains than the latest fancy-pants training trend or a pair of sub-2:00 sneakers. Making running a regular habit – and not talking yourself out of doing it – is the easiest way to improve both your running and your mental grit.
As is the case in many areas in life, sometimes, consistency sometimes even trumps talent. People who get out and run regularly –- when it's raining, snowing, cold, hot; when they don't feel like running; when they just had a blowout fight with their spouse; when they are majorly stressed out at work, when they are sore from the previous day's workout –– develop the mental grit and discipline that some naturally talented but less-consistent runners lack.
I've been running sorta-seriously for 7 years now. While I may not be the fastest or the most talented person on the course, I will say that I have been extremely consistent. And more than anything else, I think this has helped me improve.
I trained for several marathons while I worked a stressful job as a creative director in advertising – where they days were long and the weeks were longer. Advertising is not a 9 to 5 gig. Clients' needs dictated my end of day, which was sometimes 5:30PM and sometimes 9PM, especially when I worked with West Coast clients. Still, I routinely got up at 4:30AM to squeeze in 13-mile midweek training runs and speed sessions.
Was it hard? Of course. But I felt so much more energized after running, knowing that I'd had "my" time and that I prioritized what was important to me. Not only was it good for me as a runner, but my ability to handle job stress also improved. After my run, I could handle almost anything at work: dueling deadlines, client crises, equipment malfunctions, employee freakouts – even all at once. I was good to go because I got in my run. Had I not run, I'm certain I would have been more stressed, plus I would have been upset at myself for not running.
When I look back over old photos, I see images from all kinds of runs: great runs; shitty runs; frozen hair runs, 3-layers-of-clothing-I-can't-put-my-arms-down runs; windy runs, business trip runs; 95%-humidity-sweaty-Betty runs in teeny-tiny clothing; track workouts in downpours; runs when 4 of 10 toenails were missing; speedwork on the treadmill when it was too icy to run outside; vacation runs – including runs in the Caribbean heat and humidity, the Icelandic chill and darkness, and the 110-degree desert (where, no lie, where I was once chased by a coyote!).
Instagram is flooded with shots of people who log in their runs. And I admire their consistency. I like watching their background images change throughout the seasons while their grit and determination remain stalwart.
The perfect days when all the stars align are a gift – days when you wake up super motivated to run, when the weather is perfect, when people are nice, where you feel no job stress, and you run like a Kenyan stud. When they come –– once or twice a year -- cherish them. The other days, embrace your health and be grateful that you can run. If your run sucks, then embrace the suck. It's but just one run in a sea of runs in your life. A bad run is better than no run.
Regardless of innate running ability, consistency is a skill that every single person is capable of improving. So, get out there and run.