Training consistency: Staying on the straight and narrow

Do you maintain your training routine over the long haul, week in and week out, month in, month out? Or do you fall off the wagon?

Are you one of those people who wish you had the discipline, the time, the diligence, the constitution, the focus, to train every day, five or six or seven days a week without fail? Or do you wish you were one of those people?

Here are a few tips that'll help you stay in a groove.

Don't do too much during each workout

And don't think there's any mileage that qualifies as "too little to do any good." As I write this I find myself getting into pretty darn good bike shape right now. Know how I'm doing it? I'm riding just about every day, an average of under an hour each day. I alternate harder and easier days.

I have two routes. My easy route is, predictably, over easy terrain. It takes me right about an hour to ride the 18 miles of this route. On the other days, I ride up a climb that is 5 miles long, and I ride a mile-and-a-half to get to it. I climb about 1,200 feet of vertical during this ascent, and the 13-mile round trip from home takes me about 50 minutes.

Sometimes I climb using a normal technique, and often I do it using what I call a "stand-up drill," which is fairly explanatory. I climb it all out of the saddle. Not so hard, really, when you've done it a few times (at first you might only be able to stand for a half-mile, the next time a mile, then two miles, and so on; pretty soon you can stand for 5 miles of climbing or longer).

Riding for less than an hour each day isn't very much, is it? I'll bet many of you don't think it's even worth getting on the bike unless you're going to be riding at least 90 minutes or two hours.

Frankly, that's why many of you don't ride regularly enough, because you think that way. Me? I'm not encumbered by those self-imposed minimums.

Likewise, if your daily run is only 3 miles, fine. You're running 3 more miles than a lot of other people. I ran my fastest-ever 10K, 32:48, off of 4-mile runs five days a week. Of course, many of these were quickly-paced 4-mile runs.

When Liz Downing completed an undefeated season of duathlon in the late '80s, her average weekly mileage was 11 miles. You don't have to do a lot of miles. You just have to do them regularly.

This advice is not contrary to doing the virtual camps and big credit card weekend trips. But you can't do these sorts of high-mileage efforts all the time.

The threat is not in being unable to complete a scheduled 250 miles of bike riding over a three-day weekend. The threat is in falling off the routine -- in doing nothing much in between these big weekend training extravaganzas.

Leave something in reserve

Not only should you keep your efforts short (if you're having difficulty keeping to a schedule) but you should always leave something in the bank.

Fine -- go hard on your hard days, but don't go all-out. Going at 85% or 90% of your max heart rate for 20 or 30 minutes is not going to slay you for the rest of your day. But going 100% for 20 or 30 seconds will slay you.

I might go race pace for a lot of a workout, but I never go all-out. I do not try to win the KOM or the sprint for the city limit sign or whatever it is you do in your town. You've got other things to do during your work day, and wiping yourself out isn't doing yourself any favors.

Taking the field sprint at the end of your group ride has the equivalent effect on your work day as downing two or three beers. If you can't down the beers and work effectively, don't contest the sprint either.

Get a workout in early

It sets the tone for the day. Ironically, I'm more likely to do an evening workout if I've done a morning workout first. Plus, if you're not going all-out, and if you're not going a long distance, your morning workout won't render you worthless at work.

Have your gear in order

How often have you gone out to your garage anticipating a ride and found that you have a flat tire? I always have a second set of wheels handy, all ready to go in case of a situation like that. I have spare tires, spare tubes, everything I need, and I usually stock up on that stuff when deals present themselves.

I usually have one or two pairs of new running shoes handy. An extra set of orthotics. Extra goggles. Thing is, it's very easy for me to fall off the wagon.

I'm probably clinically depressed. Maybe I've got A.D.D. or I'm obsessive/compulsive. I don't know. I've got a lot of things wrong with me; I know this about myself. I therefore have to guard against these things by knowing my limits, or my triggers, and planning against failure.

It's easy to move me off my schedule. So I make sure to prepare for any eventuality.

Schedule group workouts

It's easier to show up for a workout when you're expected. Whether swimming, cycling or running, the more workouts you can do with at least one other person the more likely you are to keep to your schedule.

Never feel guilty about doing your workout

There is nothing more important than your workout. You must believe this, and be firm in this belief. Sure, on any given day you'll come up with one thing or another that on its face seems more important. However, the accumulation of these disparate needs and issues will quickly push your workout from "most important" to "least important" if you let them.

Pretty quickly everything becomes more important than your workout. By then, you're off the wagon. Those who are successful at staying on their schedules realize what a trap this is. They know that the only way to escape this is to treat their workouts as golden and untouchable.

Guess what? The other stuff always gets done.

Dan Empfield is the publisher of the online triathlon journal, and is the founder of bike- and wetsuit-maker Quintana Roo.

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