On a chilly (read: below freezing) December morning, I and nearly 5,000 other people were jumping and jogging in place at the edge of downtown Cleveland’s Public Square eagerly waiting for the clock to strike 9 a.m. I was about to run in A Christmas Story 5K/10K Run: my very first 5K. (You can read about my experience here!)
I’ve never been too fond of running, but I’m generally athletic and highly competitive, so I didn’t simply want to finish the run: I wanted to do well. And since I knew next to nothing about training for a 5K, I turned to my trusty friend Google to help me craft a training regimen.
That’s when I found this article on Active by Coach Jenny Hadfield, co-author of the best-selling Marathoning for Mortals and the Running for Mortals series. As I read through the 5K training tips Hadfield offered in the article, I was struck with a thought: Wow, this is a lot like content creation. Don’t believe me? Read on!
A 5K equals exactly 3.10686 miles. For us non-regular running folks, that seems really, really far. The key to starting your 5K off on the right foot (pun intended!) is to start from where you are, rather than where you want to be, Hadfield says. “Running too much too soon is the number one reason most newbie runners quit.”
It’s highly common for professionals new to content creation to tackle too much too soon. As our data show, the more often you publish high-quality blogs and other content, the more leads you attract to your website. Your ultimate goal may be to write and publish one new blog every weekday and one new piece of content every month, but taking on this much work when you’re new to the discipline (or even when you’ve taken on a new client or project) will likely lead to burn out. Take it slow, and work your way up.
“Learning to pace is perhaps the most challenging aspect of running,” Hadfield says. “When you run too hard, the fun factor drops, injury risk goes up and the chances of returning for another run are slim to none.” She continues, “The key to running successfully is to dial in an effort level that is comfortable while you run.” As I said above, I can be pretty competitive, so before I even laced up my running shoes, I knew I was going to have difficulty with this part of training. I want to run a 7-minute mile even though I know my body is more comfortable just below the 9-minute mark.
I’ve been known to take that same attitude with content creation: I want to bust out four blogs or two downloadable guides every day, and darn it, I’m going to do it come hell or high water! The problem is that’s not necessarily a pace where I’m most comfortable, especially if the topic I’m writing about is more complex and involved. Forcing yourself to write too fast a pace often results in lesser quality content. Sure there are times you simply have to bite the bullet and write, but for the most part, you want to find your comfortable pace and stick with it.
Training for a 5K involves more than running—you need to include total-body strength-training exercises, too. “Developing strength supports your body as you run mile after mile. It will also improve efficiency and form,” Hadfield says. “Mix up your routine,” she advises. “Variety works a lot more muscle groups and keeps your workouts fresh and motivating.
This is like content creation in two ways. The first is the strength-building aspect. Of course the best way to improve your writing is to write, but that’s not the only way you can improve. Reading is another way. “Reading exposes us to other styles, other voices, other forms and genres of writing,” says Belle Beth Cooper on Buffer. “Importantly, it exposes us to writing that’s better than our own and helps us to improve.” Working toward industry certifications and attending industry conferences and workshops are two other ways to build content creation strength.
The second is mixing up your routine. Yes, Google loves in-depth articles, but that doesn’t mean you should exclusively produce long-form content. I’ve always been of the opinion that you write something until it’s done. Sometimes that means it’s 2,500 words; sometimes it’s 250. Or sometimes your topic works better as a short video or an infographic. The point is to vary what you produce. Don’t exclusively run.
If you’ve ever watched a 5K or marathon, high school or college track event or even the summer Olympics, you’ve likely noticed each runner has his or her distinctive style. While there are proper breathing, posture and foot strike techniques for running, there is no one correct way to run. “In many ways, running is like shopping for jeans,” Hadfield says. “There is no running style that fits everyone.”
No matter if you’re just getting started with content creation or have been drafting marketing prose since the birth of modern content marketing, it’s a best practice to study what other content creators are producing. Along with practice, it’s how you get the general technique of the discipline down. However, what works for one content creator doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. That’s why you have to create your own writing style and voice. Need help? Start here with this blog from Cori Padgett on Copyblogger.
People underestimate just how big a difference food makes in training for a 5K. (Or everyday life, for that matter.) Your food is your fuel: Skip a meal, and your engine is running on fumes. Eat calorie-dense junk food or fast food, and your engine won’t run as efficiently as it could. “If you are…just not feeling strong while running, it could have something to do with how you fuel your body day to day,” Hadfield says. “Eat smaller, more frequent meals well balanced with fruits, veggies, lean protein and even fats.”
The same goes for content creation, except with content creation, you don’t fuel yourself with food—you fuel yourself with more content. (OK, you fuel yourself with food, too. We’re big fans of snacking at Kuno.) The only way to produce quality content is to ingest various quality content. That means staying in the know of industry trends by subscribing to authorities like HubSpot and also broadening your diet to include worthwhile non-industry reads like classic novels. And while the occasional tabloid blog or magazine won’t throw off your writing entirely (just like the occasional dessert won’t), it shouldn’t be your main source of fuel. If you only read garbage content, that’s all you’ll produce.
How do you think content creation is like training for a 5K? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Lisa Gulasy applies her unique experiences in agency and journalism to manage, create and edit blogs, eBooks, whitepapers, email campaigns, web copy, press releases and more. Lisa also manages overall strategy and daily engagement of social media personas. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.
Photo Credit: Nate Cordwell