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As an athlete, I have been told for years that consistency – the constant day in, day out rhythm of training – is the key to long-term success and enjoyment. However, it has been the one thing that I have sorely lacked.

Especially this time of year.

With all the stress over the holiday season, it has been so easy to say “you know what, it’s okay,” take the rest of the year off, enjoy the cookies, and pick back up again in the new year.

Sound a bit familiar? It has been my story for the past six years. I get through my racing season, keep up lighter training … and BAM, the holidays hit, and I leap off the fitness train for the cookie wagon, for no other good reason except, well, mmm cookies (oh. and the stress).

Trust me when I say it’s no fun getting and being fit, taking two months COMPLETELY off, and then trying to get back in shape in January. That first month is relatively easy, with shiny new resolutions, but when February rolls around, the “Monday of months” as Garfield put it, the weather gets even colder, the sun disappears, and motivation wanes to almost non-existent.

In order to break the cycle, I decided to try things a bit differently this year.

I took my off-season break after my last big race of the season, Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz, which was in early September. I believe in the rejuvenating power of an off-season break, as your body needs one. However, for me, I didn’t take this to mean no exercise. I reframed it as “fitness,” and made it fun. I swam, cycled, or ran only if I felt like it and if it was fun. I hiked. I spent time in the gym strength training or on cardio equipment I haven’t been on in ages, like the elliptical or the rowing machine.

When October rolled around, and it felt like the break was going to last until January again, I did a few things:

– I committed to at least 10 minutes of activity a day.
– I started a regular (consistent!) strength training schedule.
– I set up a mini fall schedule of six races (five 5Ks and a two mile race) from October 7 through December 2.
– I started run training with heart rate. I’d been frustrated with my run for over a year, and I figured the best way to change things was to start over.

So, if I wasn’t racing, I was doing my runs based off of heart rate. This meant that a run that would normally take me 15 minutes? Was now taking me 20. This started off as extremely difficult, knowing what I USED to do, but as soon as I wiped that notion of USED TO out of my head, I actually started enjoying the rebuilding process.

Over the course of the fall, I stuck to my running schedule of about every other day … and I also watched my 5K time fall two minutes over the course of those eight weeks.

I’m still sticking with the HR training, knowing that it will make those cold, usually slower, winter runs so much easier mentally, and am excited to keep it going and see how I run in my next race, which will be sometime in the spring.

As the holiday crazies heat up, join me today in moving your body for at least 10 minutes every day and staying consistent into the new year. Now is always the best time to start something, and hey, you’ll probably be more likely to stick with it since it isn’t a New Year’s Resolution and just a silent pledge to yourself to be consistent in your daily life.