There are two types of people in the world: those who don’t go for leisurely runs, and psychopaths. At least that’s what the former of the two thinks, and I used to be in this category. I was the type of person who could run for a mere thirty seconds before I was out of breath and had to stop because of chest pain and an unbearable stitch in my abdomen. I always despised running, and as a youth in my tennis squad I dreaded the group fitness sessions where my lack of fitness was on full display. I always performed pathetically compared to my peers in tests of endurance and speed, and I secretly hoped it would pour with rain at the end of our session so hill sprints or the beep test had to be postponed. Fast-forward to today, and it’s a completely different story. Whilst I’m certainly not winning marathons (or even running them), I have developed a consistent running routine that I find genuinely enjoyable. Upon reflection of my own experience, here are some tips that have helped me over the years to commence and maintain my running habit.
Set Small Goals
Once you’ve decided you want to try and become someone who runs regularly, it’s useful and motivating to devise a plan to get started. There are various apps, such as Couch to 5k, Strava and Run Keeper which you can utilise to build up your running habit. My advice for starting is to set small, incremental goals for each individual run. Whilst you may have the overall long-term goal of running a half-marathon, you will need to plan your specific running distances that will help you build up to this. For example, when I first starting running for leisure, I started very small. I told myself to just run for two minutes straight. If you are finding this difficult to begin with – that’s perfectly fine. We all need to start somewhere. I would recommend reducing your pace as much as possible as you start your running journey. Each run you can try and go for a little longer. I like to time my runs as opposed to going a certain distance, but you can measure it whichever way you want. As long as you are improving over time, then you should be able to run 10 kilometres straight in no time.
Make it Interesting
There are certain people who enjoy running just for the pure pleasure of it. I am not one of those people. I must listen to music as my feet hit the pavement, or I find the experience incredibly difficult. If you want to start running but your previous experiences tell you it’s dull, I suggest making it as interesting as you can. Music is an obvious suggestion. Create a playlist of songs you find motivating. Another thing you can do is take a friend with you. Having an “accountability partner” means you’re less likely to conjure up excuses to bail, and you are more likely to push yourself physically when you have someone running next to you. I would also recommend choosing running paths with pretty views so even if you feel like you’re dying, at least you have the sunrise over the ocean to peer out to.
Just put on your shoes and tell yourself you’ll run for 5 minutes
A lot of the time, it’s the thought of running that sounds particularly unappealing. We mull over the process in our heads – the panting, sore muscles, painful chest. Once we think about it too much, we tend to talk ourselves out of going. My advice is to put your shoes and gym clothes on and run out the door without thinking too much. Just get started. It’s often the hardest part of the experience, and being in a mental battle with yourself can be exhausting. If you’ve made a commitment to yourself that you’ll start your running program at 6:00am the following day, you just need to put your shoes on and do it. Bringing it back to a previous point, once you have your shoes on and you’re ready to do, just tell yourself you will run for 30 seconds and that’s all you need to do. Once you start running, it’s likely you will keep going beyond your initial goal because you’re outside already and probably not despising the experience as much as you anticipated.
Set up your environment to make it easier to run
On a similar vein, if you want to start a new habits and stick to it, it can be really useful to adapt your environment to make it easier to perform the habit. Examples of ways you can adapt your environment to facilitate the formation of a running habit include:
- Lay out your running clothes and shoes on your bed-side table the night before you intend to go for a run. If you’re heading into the colder months, ensure you place your jacket at the front door before you leave.
- Organise your running playlist on Spotify or save podcasts you want to listen to in advance. Don’t underestimate the power of an up-beat playlist in motivating you for exercise.
- Choose wisely where you run. If you can, go for a run in the streets near your house. Going to the gym and running on the treadmill, or driving somewhere to run creates an unhelpful barrier and may reduce motivation in the moment. Instead, just put in your shoes and run out the door without even thinking about it so you don’t have time to convince yourself not to. Alternatively, if you have a favourite running path elsewhere but it’s a bit of a trek to get to, try and devise another reason to be in the area that you can’t back out of, such as a coffee date with a friend.
- Use contextual cues. It is easier to form and sustain a habit if that particular behaviour is paired with a preceding one that you do regularly. Therefore, try and schedule your runs with consistent parts of your routine. For example, once you finish your coffee in the morning, this is when you decide it’s time to go for a run. The last sip of the coffee is linked to the commencement of your run, and therefore you are more likely to stick to this habit.
Do the hard thing first
This principle should be applied to most things in life – work, cleaning, exercise, conversations etc. It’s tempting to delay difficult tasks because you don’t want to face the repercussions or you think you’re not ready to go through the ordeal. However, I can guarantee that if you start living by this principle of completing the hard tasks first and getting them out of your way, you will spend a lot less time thinking and your productivity should increase significantly. Running is such a tempting activity to delay. You wake up in the morning in the middle of winter. It’s dark outside, and you’re so cold that not even the jaws of life could pry you out of the warmth of your bed. You tell yourself you’ll run immediately after work so you hit snooze on your alarm and roll over to fall back asleep. But 5pm rolls around and you’ve had a shocking day at work. You need to stay back and finish a few tasks. Once you’ve left the office, you’re so mentally drained and starving that you race home for dinner and to wind down after an arduous day. Your running goal is all but forgotten.
On an alternative day, you pull yourself out of bed early and go for a jog. It’s difficult at first, trudging through the thick fog with a congested chest and hands so cold it’s painful. But as you keep running, your breath slows and your feet hit the pavement in a methodic rhythm. The sun is peeping over the horizon and the empty streets and crisp air create a calming autumn atmosphere. Afterwards, you feel energised and clear-headed. You’re ready to tackle the tasks at work and you use these endorphins as the basis for a productive day. By completing the hard task first, or the thing you usually procrastinate on, you reduce the noise in your mind – that incessant debating about when or where you’ll do what you’ve been saying you’ll do. You feel a sense of accomplishment and rejuvenation which allows you to complete other tasks more effectively. Importantly, you show to yourself that you’re someone who sticks to their plans and achieves goals, and who no longer makes excuses and procrastinates.
Use the endorphins and positive feelings as motivation to maintain the habit
From personal experience, the fundamental factor that has consistently motivated me over the last few years to maintain my running habit (about two to three times a week) is the concept of intrinsic motivation. This means that I reflect upon how good I feel after (and sometimes during) I have completed my run. Panting in the sunshine with a feeling of self-accomplishment is extremely satisfying, and I always use this feeling to encourage me to get outside and run. Whilst I have fitness and physique-related goals, these external forms of motivation do not provide the consistent encouragement that intrinsic motivation does. When my mood is low, or when I am feeling sluggish or lethargic, I recall how uplifted my mood becomes once I finish a run. From someone who has struggled with mental health problems, there is no greater form of motivation than wanting to feel better, and running can significantly elevate my mood.
if you want to start running but just keep telling yourself you’ll do it tomorrow, I really recommend applying these tips. You can become the type of person that wakes up at 5:00am and jogs for 10 kilometres, if you really want to. If you’ve utilised all of these suggestions but still find yourself absolutely hating running – then that’s okay! Maybe running isn’t for you, but I am certain another form of exercise is. Even if you despise exercise in the moment, the feelings afterwards is what we are all chasing, and you can certainly apply these tips to any other form of exercise.