6 Ways to Make Running a Habit

Want to run more, but lack the follow through to actually get out there and do it more than once a month (or less)? Here, Lisa Reichmann and Julie Sapper, the coaches behind Run Farther & Faster in the Washington, D.C. area, offer tips for making running a regular part of your life.

Habit Helper 1: Sign up for a Race

Maybe you’ve never even been to a road race, yet alone participate in one. But whether you’re a regular runner or you’ve never jogged more than a mile, committing yourself to a major goal (like finishing a 5K, or running it in a certain time) is a highly motivating way to stick to your routine.

First, there’s the financial commitment: Once you plunk down the cash to compete (note: most races offer a discounted entry fee if you register in advance), you’ll be more motivated to make it to that starting line. Plus, “Having a concrete date on the calendar in front of you also provides you with a framework to plan your training towards a specific goal,” says Reichmann.

If it’s your first time toeing the line, pick a small, local race (even better if you can practice on the course leading up to race day). Reichmann and Sapper also encourage runners to share their race plans with friends and family, for added incentive to train. “You’ll be more motivated to keep it up if you have others supporting you,” says Sapper.

Habit Helper 2: Track Your Progress

Whether you like to use an app or keep things old-school with pen and paper, logging your workouts is key to keeping up your activity. “Tracking your training gives you a visual reminder of what you’ve accomplished—and guilt if you haven’t logged a workout in a while. And it’s also a way to know if you’re doing too much—or too little,” says Reichmann, who advises that you don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% per week to avoid injury and burnout.

And because you can also record other factors, like time of day, weather, what you ate, and how much sleep you got the night before, “You can start to track trends and figure out what works for successful training and racing,” says Reichmann.

Habit Helper 3: Get Social

When it comes to running, there’s motivation in numbers. Joining a running group or enlisting friends or co-workers to join you for a daily or weekly jog around the park can be just what you need to make running a part of your routine. “Running with people with similar goals is often more motivating than running alone, as you know there is someone else relying on you to show up,” says Reichmann. “Just be sure you’re running with someone who matches your pace. If [the pace] is too fast or too slow, this can lead to injury.”

Branching out online can also up your enthusiasm to get out there, says Sapper. “Many of our runners use social media to post their runs. The praise and encouragement from others keeps them going on the more challenging days.”

Habit Helper 4: Start off Slow

You may be pumped to pound the pavement at a blistering pace when you’re first starting out, but to keep running part of your life for the long term, slow and steady is the way to go. “Give yourself permission to run at a comfortable pace, which is how your body develops endurance,” says Reichmann. “Running at a conversational pace is actually how your body develops endurance, and it helps avoid injury.”

For new runners, Sapper and Reichmann stress the importance of working up to a goal distance as opposed to trying to hit that mark straight away. “Thinking about running a 5K can be daunting for many new runners,” says Sapper. “Instead, take it a day at a time and just try to do a little more each day than you did the day before. These small progressions will add up, and, before you know it, you will be running farther distances.”

Habit Helper 5: Keep it Fresh

Who says you have to run the same route day in and day out? Even if you’re a creature of habit, mixing things up with your runs can keep you coming back for more. “Exploring new running routes allows for a change of scenery,” says Reichmann. “Research local routes, grab a friend, and go explore.”

Another way to fun it up? Treat yourself to new gear. It could be brand new shoes (head to your local running shop to find the perfect pair for you), funky-patterned tights or a neon-colored top. “It doesn’t hurt if it’s cute so that you look forward to putting them on for your run,” says Sapper.

Habit Helper 6: Plan it Right

Whether you’re juggling your career, your kids, or both, it’s easy to let life get in the way of exercise. But if you plan your workouts like you plan meetings or playdates, you’ll be able to find time to get them in. “Sit down at the beginning of each week and put your runs into your calendar,” suggests Reichmann. “Be realistic. If you are not a morning person, don’t schedule the runs for 6 a.m., when you know you will likely sleep through your alarm.”

Other tips for keeping running at the top of your to-do list:

  • Be flexible: “Even if you don’t have the entire hour you planned to devote to running, get out for as long as you can,” says Reichmann.
  • Be prepared: “Lay out your running clothes the night before a run if you plan to run early in the morning, or pack your running shoes and a change of clothes if you plan to run at work,” says Reichmann.
  • Be open: “Let others know about your goals, and seek their support,” says Reichmann. “Ask a spouse, parents, friends, family, co-workers or neighbors to help so that you can carve out time for your training, and honor your commitment.”