How Routines Help Performance
Jeff Gaudette—My college coach began each cross country season with an impassioned speech that helped lay the groundwork for our upcoming season. In that speech, he reminded us of the little things we needed to do each day to be successful. His principal advice, and the motto that stuck with me to this day, was to “live like a clock”–meaning, develop a routine that works with your schedule and to be religious about following that routine as closely as possible. I attribute this advice to a lot of my success as both a college and professional runner, and I think it can help you run faster as well.
Establishing and sticking to a routine is one of the easiest ways to remain more consistent in your workouts and to improve performance on race day. “Living like a clock” results in less missed runs, greater physiological adaptations during workouts, better recovery, and improved eating and sleeping cycles.
Here’s how implementing your own regimented routine can work for you:
Perhaps the most critical factor to improving your running, both for your upcoming goal race and for the long term, is consistency. The longer you can string together successful workouts without interruption, the more you increase your chances of success at your upcoming races. An established routine helps you better schedule workouts and makes you less prone to missing them.
Dedicating yourself to a routine not only acclimatizes the mind and body to running hard at a certain time, but it also transforms how you think about, and schedule, your week. A routine will instinctively condition your mind and body, as well as your family, friends and co-workers, to know that the morning or evening, Tuesday, Saturday or some other day, is when you do your hardest workout. While it may be difficult to adjust to at first, you’ll soon find you, your family, and co-workers scheduling around your toughest workout(s) of the week, which they know is set in stone.
While running in the afternoon has been proven to be the most ideal time for maximal efforts, research has shown that when athletes exercise at the same time each day, the body responds by optimizing performance during those hours.
This means that if you run at the same time each morning, even if it is early in the morning, your body will adapt over time to help you perform your best. However, if you constantly fluctuate the time of day you run, you lose this potential benefit and will increase the frequency of sluggish workouts or days where you just feel off.
Better Sleep Patterns
Another benefit to running at the same time each day is better sleeping patterns. If you’re a consistent evening runner, your body will adjust to the increased production of cortisol (which is released during a hard workout) and enable you to still fall asleep at a decent hour. If your running time is constantly in flux, you don’t have a chance to adapt to falling asleep with higher cortisol levels and you’ll toss and turn trying to fall asleep. Likewise, if you run in the morning every day, you’ll be more consistent with getting to bed early and less prone to hitting the snooze button.
Furthermore, maintaining a consistent routine helps you recover properly between hard sessions. When you fluctuate the time of day you run, you’ll often be completing runs and workouts on less than 12 hours total recovery between sessions. Our body doesn’t reset overnight, so when you run later in the evening on Sunday night and then run early Monday morning, your body is operating on limited recovery time. While having an occasional (or even a planned) short workout turnaround isn’t an immediate cause for concern, frequent swings in training time can lead to inconsistent workouts or increased chance of injury due to running on tired legs.
Healthier Eating Habits
Finally, developing a routine leads to better eating habits and reduces the risk of bathroom breaks or cramps ruining your workouts. When you run at the same time each day, you can accurately predict when you’ll be hungry and provide yourself with healthy food choices. When you frequently change the time of day you run, your metabolism shifts and you don’t always know when hunger will strike. This is when you succumb to the easy-to-reach donut or convenient drive-thru window.
Likewise, scheduling your runs at the same time each day enables you to develop an eating schedule that provides the fuel you need to train hard, yet won’t turn your stomach upside down. Furthermore, after a few weeks on a consistent routine, you’ll find yourself going to the bathroom at almost the same time each day, which drastically reduces the chance of mid-run stops.
Developing and sticking to a routine isn’t an easy task. It requires dedication and persistence, but if you’re looking for that extra edge in your training or you desperately need to find a way to be more consistent as you begin running, living like a clock is the best place to start.