Being the Best (Runner) You Can Be: Part 3

‘When do habits which appear as excellence to others become normal to me?’


Habits protect the process. The process takes care of the outcome.

What threatens the process?

Instant gratification and boredom are the two major threats to the process and subsequently, the performance outcome. It’s hard to tell which comes first. Many athletes don’t reach the stage of boredom because their need for instant gratification ensures they are injured or ill. These athletes are often perceived as highly motivated due to their eagerness to return to the sport. Depending on your point of view, these athletes may also be viewed as highly ill-disciplined. It could be argued that it is easy to stay motivated for short periods in any sport. Assuming the athlete makes it far enough, boredom is the next threat to the process. As fitness improves, the current training regime becomes less appealing. To inject novelty, we increase the load or change the type of work too quickly. Having just come off the back of 2.5 years of consistent running, I can tell you the biggest challenge associated with consistency is coping with the boredom required.

How do habits protect the process?

At the beginning of a run programme, the athlete can develop ‘good habits’. All habits are just that, difficult to break. A set of habits designed to negate the dangers of instant gratification is a cornerstone of consistency. Habits also help to navigate the phases of training where boredom occurs because at this point you just can’t help but do the right things.

To develop good habits, it is important to forward plan (See Part 2). Plan a conservative 8-week training programme. Stick to it. What will you do in the event of an urge for more training? Add optional extra training sessions. The optional extra training sessions should not be running. They should be training sessions that enhance other components of fitness associated with running. A need for more cardio should take place in the form of cross-training. This will satisfy the itch for extra training and get you through the boredom. Meanwhile the core running components are being delivered consistently amongst it all without the risks associated with sudden increases in loads.

Habits Increase Headspace

Once you know the general structure or outline of your week, you don’t have to think so much, just turn up. As discussed previously, it is important that this outline is flexible enough to be responsive to the demands of your life and the response of your body to the training load. To give an example, during the first year of my most recent running comeback, Monday was prehab day. It allowed me to recover from the long run and focus exclusively on what needed to be done to keep me injury free. If I had the headspace and I was tempted to do an extra run on this day, I added a 30-minute cross-training session that evening. Whilst living in New Zealand, I generally had the headspace to always train twice a day. I designed a programme with my usual running and all extra sessions were a mixture of cross-training and conditioning sessions. These are good habits which allow you to be your best regardless of headspace demands. This is because you are adding and subtracting low risk training.

Habits on Training Camp

There is more time available on training camp and therefore, a higher risk of negative training practices if your habits are not well refined. There are two potential pitfalls:

  1. Doing too much of the same. If the only habits you understand involve running and you increase it, injury is a major risk. The reason being that running is a demanding, repetitive movement activity, that requires multiples of body weight to be decelerated by muscles, joints and tendons.
  2. Doing what you normally do and not being quite sure what to do the rest of the day. A novel environment (sunshine being the main novelty) can lead to athletes not being sure if they are on a training camp or a sunbathing holiday. This can interfere with adaptation to training and have negative consequences on that evenings session.

If you have developed a flexible set of habits, on training camp you simply carry on as normal with the exception that you can always do that extra prehab or cross training programme in the evening. Below is an example of how my training habits allow me to fluctuate between environments of high and low headspace. The main focus ensures that what needs to be done, gets done, as a minimum each week.

In the 4th and final part of being the best you can be, I will draw together the 3 elements: the internal locus of control, headspace and habits to design a training programme.