Inconsistency and the art of ‘winging it’

Feb 15, 2021

Inconsistency is a principle that plagues a vast majority of runners on their training journeys. One of the foremost reasons for athletes seeking my services as a coach is, because up to that point, they were merely “winging it”.

I am going to look at inconsistency and why it’s the enemy of performance improvements.

First: The definition of inconsistency or “winging it”:

a. Not regular or predictable; erratic: inconsistent behaviour.

b. Lacking in correct logical relation; contradictory: inconsistent statements.

c. Not in agreement or harmony; incompatible: an intersection inconsistent with the road map.

There are a bunch of words above that would equate to the fact that you are winging it through your training and I will use those words so that you can decide if you are “winging it”.

Let’s start.

The Bigger Picture

Is your training – Unpredictable? 

Do you wake up in the morning and decide if you want to run? Is your training as unpredictable as the weather? Maybe you don’t run if it’s cold or if it’s too hot to run or  if it’s raining. Maybe it’s your sleep cycle. You didn’t sleep well, so it’s a no to running. Maybe you had a heavy night out, so the hangover means no to running. All these things could render your training unpredictable. Now the key is not to abolish the unpredictability but to lessen it because there are factors that may be out of your control, such as weather and illness. There are however those things that are within your control, such as the night out. This does not mean that it’s out of the question but rather put a limit on it and adjust your training adequately to take it into account. Bring back the predictability into your running by setting up a basic plan to follow. This doesn’t mean that it will be rigid, but it does mean you have a plan to follow which will tip the predictability scale to the better side.

Is your training – Erratic?

Do you wake up in the morning and decide what distance you will run? How fast or slow you will run? Whether you will do track, hills or tempo running? This is an easier one to maintain as most often you can do the workout that is scheduled…if it is indeed scheduled. Working from day to day without really knowing what’s coming up is great for race psychology but does absolutely nothing for your performance improvements. Kick out the erratic “all over the place” running and set up a schedule to follow and stick to.

Is your training – Logical in its aim to get you to your goals?

Do you decide not to do a long run in the week? Maybe skip hills just because you don’t feel like it? This would make little difference to you if you were training for a 5km or 10km goal, but it would make a big difference if you were training for a marathon distance or further. Is your training moving logically towards your goal with all the right workouts? (In saying this, a 5km or 10km goal would have its own set of logical workouts and plans to get you there to a successfully.) Follow a logical progression and add the right workouts, training blocks and rests to your training to make sure you get to the place you want to be. Please be aware there are many different methods of training that would get you to similar logical outcomes, so you must choose one that works best for you. This takes planning, so it is important to have a road map set out so that you will have a logical outcome.

Is your training – Contradictory to the goal you have chosen?

 This is very similar to the above paragraph and as simple really. Are you only doing 10km runs in the week, but you are training for an upcoming marathon. Where is your long run? Your training plan is contradicting your goal. As said above, make sure the right workouts are in your training at the right places and right time, so when you look at your training is does not contradict your next goal.

Is your training and your goal – Incompatible or not in agreement?

 These are more phrases that can be linked to the above paragraphs. Make sure you understand the principles of your training, why you do certain workouts and ensure they are compatible with the goal you have chosen and the outcome you are looking for. Make sure there is an agreement between your schedule and your chosen goal that will take you there successfully – and this brings me to the next word.

Is your training – Harmonious?

Does your training all fit together like a puzzle and run like a well-oiled machine? Is there a harmony between your training schedule, your body and your goal? Make sure you are in control of your training so that your improvements can roll out smoothly like an orchestra playing a harmonious symphony.

The smaller picture

So far I have covered mostly the bigger picture – the totality of your training plan and its outcomes.

What about the smaller inconsistencies? Your pacing, total training times and distances, your total race times or your psychological outcomes of each of your sessions.

Being inconsistent in your individual sessions is as much of a problem that is posed in the bigger picture. Here are some tips on improving these.

  • Learn to pace correctly. Teach your body to feel your pace and know exactly what pace you are running at. You will become more independent of your watch as you get better at pacing and your runs will also become more harmonious.
  • Stick to the allotted training times and distances and to the mandate of the workouts. Do not add or take away unless the additions or subtractions are appropriate.
  • Stick to the pacing you have decided for your races. Diverting too much could put your finish time aspirations at risk.
  • For the most part, stay mentally tenacious, no matter the outcome of a training sessions. Stay positive and smile during your sessions. This helps you stay on a more psychological high on average through your whole training cycle.

So why is all the consistency better for your training? It’s a brain thing mostly. Your brain likes patterns and it builds habits to fulfil the need for the patterns. If you build a structured training plan based on your goals, your brain will institute habits so you can do your best to action the plan.

Having a plan also makes your life easier. You can organise all your other life events better when you have a training plan that specifies what should be done and when. Each session should have a mandate that you can follow. This helps with being able to pace properly and complete the session adequately.

Consistency is key to the success of any athlete wanting to improve and meet their training goals.

You should have a well balanced and structured yet flexible training plan that challenges you and will help you to reach your goal. This allows you to just focus on your training.

 Clinton Hunter

Coach Clint is a qualified running coach based in Johannesburg. He trains athletes of all levels from complete beginners to top athletes in disciplines from track athletics to ultra running on road and trail. He is also passionate about Running form & Posture, training the mind,  functional and sport conditioning and fitness training. Read more about Coach Clint here


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