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Consistency: The Key Ingredient to Building Endurance

by CJ Hitz January 30, 2020 3 min read

Woman free climbing on a cliff with mountains in the background.

It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing twelve years since I began running in the spring of 2008. Within those first three years, I was fortunate to meet a man who is considered an endurance legend throughout northwest Ohio, George Isom.

As of this writing, George is currently 84 years young, married 63 years, dad, grandpa, former ultramarathoner, Ironman triathlete, school board member, and motivational speaker.

I’ll never forget a nugget of wisdom George shared with me as I was beginning my running journey,

Running Coach George Isom
“CJ, there are no miracles in distance running.”

The principle of reaping what we sow is certainly relevant to any effort requiring endurance. A Hail Mary might occasionally work on the football field (think Doug Flutie), but don’t expect that kind of miracle while participating in a 5k, half-marathon or marathon.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about endurance, it’s that it can’t be faked for long. Things have a tendency of shaking out fairly quickly. We know when someone has put in the work.

As heavyweight boxing great Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Consistency is Key to Seeing the Plan Succeed

With any runner I’ve coached over the years, long-term consistency is something I try to stress the importance of early on. We can’t rush the process of building endurance. When we do, it usually leads to an injury which leads to a loss in overall fitness while we rehab.

Long periods of consistent, injury-free training will yield greater returns than any short-term fancy workout we experiment with. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for hard workouts during a training block but we also want to get to the starting line healthy.

I would also prefer seeing an athlete doing some kind of activity everyday rather than taking two or three days off due to overdoing it in a particular hard workout.

I like the following analogy by coach David Roche where he compares building endurance to building a wall,

“Each day, you have a brick to add. On workout days, that brick might be 20 percent larger than normal. On race day, it might be 50 percent larger (or even more). But every time you take more than one day off in a row, a mini sledgehammer smashes out some of what you have built. (Other things chip away at the wall as well, like poor nutrition or sleep.)”

I’ve found that building the endurance wall slowly over time helps prevent unnecessary burnout and injury. Students who want to do well on a big test usually find that studying the material consistently over time yields better results than trying to pull an all-nighter while cramming for a test.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way while trying to cram high amounts of volume and intensity into short windows of time leading up to certain races. When we overload our bodies, they have no other choice but to buckle under all that weight.

For those new to running, erring on the side of caution is wise. I like to encourage newbies to try running every other day in order to slowly build consistency. By taking no more than one day off at a time, the body gets into a consistent routine while allowing just the right amount of work and recovery.

As our bodies make the proper adjustments (muscles, tendons, joints) over time, we’re ready to run five or six days while taking one or two days off. But try refraining from taking two days off in a row unless you’re recovering from injury or sickness. Implementing some easy cross-training like cycling or swimming might be a nice option instead of taking complete rest days.

Whether we’re playing the guitar or lacing up our shoes for a run, any skill in life requires consistency and dedication. And while we may not see many miracles on the road to building endurance, we’ll certainly be rewarded for our consistency.