Two runners are discussing their previous year of training. Hard Trainer proudly proclaims that he ran 5000 kilometres over the past 12 months. Consistent Performer only ran 4000 kilometres over the same period.
Who had the better year of running?
And, for fun, let’s assume that they started the year at the exact same fitness level. They are also identical twins with the exact same genetic disposition for improving as runners.
Which of our twin runners won their annual New Year’s Eve 5k Showdown?
Instinctually, most of us want to say that the runner who ran 5000 kilometres is obviously fitter than the comparably lazy runner who merely ran 4000 over the same time span.
The correct answer, however, is “it depends”.
Consistency Equals Compounding Fitness
More important than how much you run, is how you portion that running. Through consistent training, and stringing together workouts week after week, month after month, you can reap the benefit of compounding.
Interrupted training however, means that you miss out on compounding fitness. To illustrate why consistency is key to progressing as a runner, I will turn to my immaculate drawing skills.
First, let us look at Hard Trainer’s year of training.
A Year of Running Training Interrupted by Injury
Ever ambitious, Hard Trainer started the year with a bang. His goal was to run a whopping 8000 kilometres. It would be a stretch, sure, but he wanted to give his running a real go this year.
As you can see, he lasted three months before ending up on the injury list. The result was three months of rehabilitation, and no running. Through this period he lost not all, but a significant amount of the fitness gains he had accumulated through the first three months.
Starting up again, Hard Trainer put in one month of what he considered half of his normal training volume. After that, he was flying again.
All in all, he finished the year strongly. His relative fitness increase for the year was 11. Although he’s not happy about the months away from running, he’s glad he gave it a go. But would he have been better off with a more cautious approach?
Let’s look at the training year of his identical twin, Consistent Performer.
A Year of Uninterrupted Running Training
With a more conservative approach, Consistent Performer was targeting 4000 kilometres for the year. And he achieved it!
By staying well within a total training he knew he was capable of handling, Consistent Performer strung together a full year of consistent training. And the reward is fitness off the charts.
His relative fitness increase for the year was 12. That’s one notch higher than his identical twin who ran an extra 1000 kilometres over the course of the year.
Consistent Performer handily beat Hard Trainer in their annual New Year’s Eve 5k Showdown. He claimed the bragging rights at the family party, despite running fewer miles.
Hard Work is Not Enough
Your takeaway after reading this should be that hard work is not enough. You have to be smart in your approach, to ensure consistency.
It is only through consistently putting in the work that you can reap the rewards of compounding fitness. Every extended break reduces your fitness base, meaning that you have to spend a corresponding amount of training time to get back to the previous fitness level.