As runners we all know the importance of developing consistency in both the short and long term. Consistency forms a huge role in long term aerobic development and the stress adaptations necessary to building resilience physically and physiologically. But what does consistency look like? And are there better ways to manage your training load.
It's common to see recreational runners running inconsistently during the week and running long on the weekend, before returning to a cycle of inconsistency as the next week rolls around. The long run is an important component of the training week, but shouldn't be prioritised at the expense of long term development. This process often leads to niggles, injuries and forced time off. So what are we talking about when we identify something as an issue of too much load, or not enough load?
Q: Too much load?
Runner A spends a month running a 3 hour long run on the weekend, taking multiple days off to recover, running once or twice during the week for 45 minutes with discomfort, before repeating the process into the weekend long run.
Problems: too much structural load during the long run, little to no focus on long term development resulting in poor resilience to the demands of running. Increased risk of form breakdown resulting in injury.
Benefits: this approach may suit a time poor athlete in the short term.
Runner B spends a month running a 90 minute long run on the weekend, before running easy again on four days for 45-60 minutes each session.
Problems: possibly less adaptations from the long run depending on race distance and position in the calendar. Potential increase in total running volume for the week which would require progressive overload. We have to 'go backwards, to go forwards' here.
Benefits: developing consistency through an increase in frequency which results in an increase in the amount of easy running volume during the week. These combined = structural resilience (bones, tendons, muscles) and aerobic development.
A: Possibly not enough load!
Too much load in a concentrated manner challenges your training tolerance and forms a recipe for structural breakdown. Spreading your running volume and intensity throughout the week provides the opportunity to adapt to the stress of each session, incorporate rest days or easy days between workouts and sets the framework to increase the amount of running you are able to tolerate.
What does consistency and training tolerance look like?
A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests we need to look at the balance of injury prevention and high performance in a different manner. There are many takeaways from the study, one of the most important being the relationship between injury at lower workloads versus higher workloads. The study suggests that athletes at higher training loads have fewer injuries than those who operate at lower workloads. This phenomenon is played out in sporting organisations like the AFL, who track athlete load during games and then adjust the following weeks training as a result, often 'topping up' athletes who performed under individual thresholds.
So how can we apply this to our running?
Start by looking at the big picture. Instead of thinking about the importance of an individual session to your upcoming race, think of things on a macro scale and how they contribute to your long term development. Each run you do adds a layer to the big picture.
Starting with a 'little and often' approach provides the structural framework to progress your running. Resting is a part of training too, not the absence of it, so continue to incorporate rest days which allow your bones, muscles, joints, tendons and nervous system the chance to adapt to the stress.
Find how much you can tolerate and structure a program that elicits the best responses for you, the individual.