You know you’re running your best when you have a balance between hard and easy days. But you also need to strike a balance between consistency and variety so you can reach your potential as a runner.
First comes consistency: a steady base of miles run at an easy, aerobic pace. This base accumulates over months and years of your running career, ensuring you’ve undergone the adaptations in your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones that will keep you strong and running without injury.
This consistency is important day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. You’ll do best when you’re running about the same number of days per week and same number of miles per month (roughly; of course, you’ll have some variety here) consistently over years. A base of consistent running will have some cyclicality to it, but there should be no major fluctuations. Consider the penalty you pay, either in muscular pain or in a more serious injury, when you make a drastic jump in your mileage.
Once you’ve mastered consistency, you need to introduce variety. This can be variety over time, adding longer runs or over space, running on different terrain (track, road, hills, flats). It can also be both in time and space, changing your pacing in interval workouts. This variety provokes your body into new adaptations and thereby improves your running.
This variety is important day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. Variety appears in your daily workouts as you run various paces, including your easy warm-up and cool-down. It shows itself in the week when you alternate between harder and easier workouts. Or its in the month when you build progressively on key workouts week to week, then take a lighter week to absorb and integrate the work of your training.
Variety appears in the year when you cycle through various blocks—base, build, peak, taper, recovery—as you target your key races. And it comes up during your career as you build from shorter to bigger races, and back again, changing focus according to your interests and abilities.
If you overdo the consistency, you’ll hit a plateau and drift into a rut; if you overdo the variety, you’ll never have time to master the adaptations. Find the balance between consistency and variety, and you’ll be able to hit your stride as a runner.