Progress isn’t linear – a concept that has been covered in many forums. A simple Google search turns up many results from inspirational and positivity sites to 1800s-era quotes from T.S. Elliot. Even President Barack Obama gets a nod, quoted as saying, “but progress isn’t always a straight line or a smooth path.” While I’m always seeking progress in my training or work, some consistency would be nice. And it’s something I’ve struggled with.

progress is not linear straight line consistency

Lessons from Ultrarunning on Consistency and Progress

I am preparing myself mentally for another 50-mile run. This weekend, I’ll head to Custer, South Dakota and meet a few more like-minded crazy runners whose idea of fun includes putting one foot in front of the other for hours on end.

If there’s anything I’ve picked up from the past three years of striving to run longer, I hope I’ve learned a few lessons about consistency and progress. I know I’m still young and naive in my running pursuits, but there are a few things I’ve discovered through trial and error.

Consistency starts with 1

If there’s anything I REALLY wish could improve my training, consistency would be at the top of my list. I love the long run, being out on the trails for hours. But I struggle to get out the door many days, even for 3 miles.

Buying a house. Keeping up at the office. Trying to balance (or a semblance of) a social life. All demands on my time. All excuses for not training today. But one thing remains certain – I never regret a run once I am out the door. If I could just be consistent in my training, progress would come quicker, right?

I can’t get to mile 50 without first getting to mile 1. Yes, I missed a day on my training plan. My pace isn’t where I want it to be. I can choose to dwell on the past or I can figure out how to move forward from here. There truly is no better time to start than right now.

consistency progress training running road

Progress is not linear

In a time and world where we’re seeking instant gratification, it can be difficult to have the patience for progress to reveal itself. I’ve dealt with this at work and on the trail where results are demanded immediately.

I’m a big believer in the long-game. And I am guilty of being impatient. No matter how much noise and distraction, I need to focus on where I want to be. Have that end goal in mind and figure out what it takes to get there. Then, establish a plan. I’ll deviate from that plan, but I need a place to start and an eye on the finish line.

trail running consistency training

Focus on the immediate task

In training, I’ve realized progress doesn’t always mean one foot in front of the other. Yes, a race is won one step at a time, but sometimes that requires moving back. Recovery is a huge part of ensuring we can keep moving forward. As frustrating as that might be.

Running 50 miles isn’t a sprint. If I focus on the entire distance, I’m overwhelmed. If I set my mind on the segment ahead, it’s a much easier bite to chew. 50 miles, 6 miles (or one climb) at a time is a much easier beast to tame.

lake dillon colorado trail running

Don’t overlook accomplishments

Last month I failed to finish a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. I’ll get around to writing about the DNF, but what I did accomplish shouldn’t be overlooked.

I had the pleasure of running into David (@MountainRoche) and Megan (@MegRoche33) Roche following a local trail race last month. I follow their adventures online and certainly look forward to any coaching wisdom David has to share in his column on Trail Runner Magazine. He’s a frequent guest on running podcasts I listen to and is very relatable in what he has to share.

Briefly, I mentioned the previous weekend’s DNF and my own disappointment in not finishing. I had only made it 3/4 of the way before being stopped by a time cut-off. Granted at that point in the day, I had run more time and WAY more vertical than ever in my life.

David was very quick to point out that we shouldn’t overlook what we do accomplish in feats like that. He’s right. It’s not something to be disappointed in when I’ve run that far or climbed literal mountains. Sure, I didn’t accomplish the goal to cross the finish line. Yeah, that’s fuel for me to return next year, but I still did awesome things.

How do I find consistency?

I don’t know all the answers and there is certainly a ton to learn. But what I do know is that if I do not start today, I will never make any progress. As I head out to run 50 this weekend, I’ll soak it all in. I’ll enjoy the drives across Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota. And I will certainly enjoy the views, the people and the experience of another day on the trails.

What advice can you share? How do I find better consistency in training and working to reach my goals?

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