6 Ways to Make Running a Habit

Sarah Wassner Flynn
by Sarah Wassner Flynn
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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.”

About the Author

Sarah Wassner Flynn
Sarah Wassner Flynn

A longtime runner and triathlete, Sarah has been able to blend her passions for endurance sports and writing into a freelance career. She’s covered everything from profiles on Olympic gold medalists to tips on training for your first 5K for numerous media outlets. When she’s not writing about races, Sarah is usually training or competing in one. She also writes kid’s and teen nonfiction books and articles for National Geographic and Girls’ Life Magazine. Sarah lives just outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, Mark, and their three children. Follow her on Instagram (@athletemoms) and Twitter (@athletemoms).


48 responses to “6 Ways to Make Running a Habit”

  1. This advice is fantastic! I most strongly agree with 1 and 4. I started out in January 2013 unable to run a mile. I signed up for a 5km race with my super-athletic colleagues, and there was no way I was going to walk any part of it. I built up the miles, and managed it in 36 minutes. A year later, I did the same course in 25 minutes and I have done five half marathons and one full marathon.

    I started out running way to fast, and learning to slow down to catch my breath – without stopping – took away all the feelings of panic I used to have when I ran. My speed increased by itself. Sometimes progress would plateau, but I kept at it and didn’t try to do too much to force results.

    I really like that I can run now – that it is something I can use to stay healthy, and keep my weight in check. Good luck to everyone who is just starting out!

    • Avatar Tyler Mueller says:

      I think this is some goodadvice for individuals who are starting to take running up as a habit. A lot ofus think we can just pick up an activity and go full speed. Just like anythingit will take some training to get your body use to the activity. With that being said starting off slow will help out significantly because it is preparing your body, and giving yourself a chance for improvement. I feel if a person sees they’re making improvements they will enjoy the habit they are doing even more and continue to stick with it. Glad running is a habit that can help you stay healthy, and hopefully others can use your advice and take up

  2. Avatar Tyler Mueller says:

    This is good advice for individuals who don’t like to exercise or more specifically run on a regular basis. Another thing I would suggest is find a running partner. Young kids are great because you can push them in a stroller, a dog works great, or even your significant other will help you out. I feel if you have somebody you love running with you the time will go faster. Another thing I would suggest would be to run for an activity. Like myself I love playing basketball. If you enjoy a sport you can get a lot of running out if as well. I do suggest if you struggle with running, sleep in your workout clothes so when you wake up in the morning you have no excuse not to go for a run or get some type of exercise. The final thing I really enjoyed from this article was signing up for a race. I think this will make you love running because you’re surrounded by other individuals who love to run as well, and it puts in a little competition. Thanks for a great article and some new suggestions!

  3. Avatar Alison Mulhare says:

    I think you have to be very careful of the 5k run you sign up for.

    I started jogging and built myself up to be able to jog 11k and then started signing up for 5k’s and it really demotivated me because I was always coming in last at around 38mins.

    Actually I wasn’t last, the walkers were after me!

    It really put me off and I actually ended up giving up, I was better off sticking with my own jogs.

    Now over 2 years later (had a baby!) I’m going to start again!

    • Avatar Laura Mcalpine says:

      The fact you were running it was great. But some shorter runs have faster runners,choose runs with thousands of runners or a 10k and you will feel more achievement and not be isolated at that pace

    • Avatar Julie Lynn Collins says:

      Alison, part of the problem is calling yourself a “jogger.” It’s a dated and rather insulting term. You ran a couple of 5ks at an easy pace. Don’t be discouraged – you’re a runner, not a jogger. Get yourself a running stroller and get back out there! You will love it and your baby will, too!

  4. Avatar Sue Springett says:

    Having refused to ever run for 15 yrs, in knew I had an uphill struggle. My family laughed at how short my “runs” were. 6 weeks on and I’m now at (nearly) 2 miles and have learnt how to run too. My goal is a weekly 5k park run without embarrassing myself. My slow and steady improvements are encouraging, taking each on its own merits.
    You’re right, the mix of planning, realism, a goal and new kit (new shoes) has kept me on track when 6 months ago I thought I was too old to ever do this!

    • Avatar Kimber Leigh says:

      Sue, I’m not trying to be rude in asking, but I am 44 you mentioned you “thought you were too old to do this” are you older or younger than me?
      # need motivation

      • Avatar Denise says:

        I started running at 44! I’m now 45. Just do it! 😉

      • Avatar Robin says:

        I’m going to be 49 next week and just started training using the c25k app and love it. I’ve never ever run before on my life. But I’ve hit a weight loss plateau and am frustrated. Hopefully this will help. I’ve been on week 2 of the app for 3 weeks. Don’t feel ready to move on. Taking it slow and steady and hope to be able to run a 5k before I’m 50!!!!

    • Avatar oksunny says:

      good job. I recently started running too! I love it 🙂

    • Avatar Joanna Hickey says:

      Good for you, I want to run but my family think I can’t either, so I’m doing a but of jog and walk reps atm….will see how it goes!

  5. Avatar Dylan Marshall says:

    My first race ever was a 10k and I finished in 1:09:04. I have since done 2 5ks at 28:04 and 28:41. What keeps me going is the competition and that I’m signed up for about 6 races into next year right now. I’m going to do at least one a month. I want to be in the top of the racers but it is going to take some time. I’m just under 30 and I’m one of the slowest in my age group, at most races. However, this serves as motivation for me.

  6. Avatar Ruth Bleth says:

    Well, for me, the best thing is keeping a record. It helps me see my improvements over time.

  7. Avatar Becky says:

    I have made running a habit by fitting it into my routine, 3 times a week I take a backpack to work and run home! It means I don’t have to motivate to leave the house again once I’m home (which is something that would stop me before) and it’s a journey I would have made anyway!

  8. Avatar Kelly Alexa Gorton says:

    Not sure about the first one. I signed up for a half marathon taking place in June, have been training since February and still can only just struggle 10k. As a result, I’ve just withdrawn from the race. This absolute failure has made me so demotivated, especially when I see people on social media bragging about PBs and the rest. I broke down in tears at the 8km mark today and couldn’t stop. I can’t even keep a log of my progress because it would be a horizontal line at best.

    • Avatar oksunny says:

      no way! Im super jealous of you. I ran my first 5K two weeks ago and Im training for a 5 mile in Sept. Dont get demotivated. I wish I was where you are.

    • Avatar Jessi Skinner says:

      Your goal was so big I would probably get discouraged too! Start of small. I would say get thru a few 5k’s and then move on to 10 and so on. I am very new to running. I am 2 weeks in. I have walked a 5k and I am currently doing a couch to 5k program. I have signed up for a couple 5ks this summer and fall and I am excited to see my times get better and better. I may not be ready for a half marathon until next spring and thats ok. What is important is to do your best and have fun.

    • Avatar Joseph says:

      Kelly, you are expecting way too much from your body, especially if you are not a runner. It took me 21 months to go from couch to my first half marathon. During that time I lost 60 pounds and in order to keep the weight off I took up running, even though I have never been a runner. If your running a 10k in 3 months you are doing great. In addition to running, if possible go to a gym and work the cardio equipment. I had the most success with the elliptical machine. That will substantially improve your cardio system. good luck and don’t give up. Sounds to me like you are doing great!

    • Avatar Elizabeth Brady says:

      Kelly, try not to feel too disheartened when you have already achieved what so many people don’t and that is just actually committing themselves to doing something in the first place. I’ve ran on and off my whole life with periods of doing nothing except one or two runs a year to times I’ve ran regularly 4-5 times a week with distances ranging from 2.5 miles to 13 at the maximum. The older I get coming back to running after a period of inactivity can be a killer or at least feel like it. I think you’ve achieved a massive amount and I think if anything you probably gave yourself a tough target straight off. What about focusing on a distance between 5 and the 10k you say you are struggling with. Aim to continue training in that distance and set smaller goals or say improving you time gradually till you start to feel comfortable. The more comfortable you feel you’ll know you’ll be able then to look to continue working harder to improve you time in that distance or to slowly increase the distance itself. I am no running guru… not even close but that sort of thing has in the past and I’m currently using it to get back into regular running myself. Please don’t throw the towel in but instead enjoy the sense of self achievement and pride at what you’ve already achieved. Good luck.

    • Avatar sherry says:

      I have been running for about a year and just ran my first 10k, when the rest of the group I usually run with were doing 1/2 marathon! My accomplishment seems small compared to theirs but I had to learn to set my goals for me not for others. Small progress is better than no progress so please don’t give up! “Run often, run long but never outrun the love of running”

    • Avatar HeidiYO says:

      “Comparison is the thief of joy” -Theodore Roosevelt

    • Avatar smokemonster says:

      holy moly your progress is AMAZING!!! Do NOT be demotivated!! Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. (If it makes you feel better, if I compared myself to you, I’d start crying. Haha) Set some smaller, creative goals and build up to another half-marathon! That one in June just ain’t ready for ya. You’ll find another one!

  9. Avatar danisa says:

    tell me how to run if ur chest is huge.. is there a specific bra you can buy that will support well enough, so i can run without pain??

    • Avatar Cathy Valdiviez Baumbusch says:

      Danisa, there are some good bras out there for large breasted women. Try the Shock Absorber bras.

    • Avatar westendgirl says:

      Search for Anita Active Bras, got fitted at a bosom buddies store. Now I know my size and can but on amazon.

  10. Avatar Fibonacci Girl says:

    How do you “learn to run”? I am about 100lbs overweight 5’2, 36 yrs old and have bad ankles, back and knees. I NEED to do something and have a treadmill at home. If I run, everything lifts up and down and hurts. I feel out of breath a few minutes into it. What is the correct process to walk, jog or run for a heavy person?

    • Avatar Rachel says:

      When I started “running” I was 60lbs heavier then I am now. My knees hurt, my right hip hurt, and I felt like I couldn’t breath. I remember telling my husband that I’d rather risk messing up my joints then stay fat. I started out with small goals like, 5 houses then worked up to a half a mile until I got to 3 miles and was able to run my first 5k. So much of running is mental. If you can control your mind then you can control your breathing and for me, that’s the biggest part. Your legs are the biggest muscles on your body, they can do the work! Like the article says, sign up for your first 5k. I used couch to 5k, I put a dry erase board on my refrigerator with a race countdown and my daily weight, and put my scale next to the refrigerator.
      You can do this! For me it’s been 6 years and now I can run 10 miles, but best of all, I’ve shopped in the regular clothes section for 5 years!

      • Avatar smokemonster says:

        Love your story – so inspiring!! Congrats on all your awesome progress!!!

      • Avatar Dianne Bridges says:

        Thank you for this post. I am starting today. Overweight and I need a spark thanks for the frankness and openness. #IGNITED

    • Avatar Rachel says:

      Also, I basically wore spanx under my clothes and two sports bras until my weight was low enough to tolerate the jiggle.

    • Avatar Monica says:

      I am also 100lbs over weight and 5’2 I’m 28 what I found that works for me before starting to jogg/ run is swimming. I signed up for a 24 hr gym with a swimming pool and have been going for a few days. I hope to someday jogg a 5k but for the moment swimming works out my cardio and no stress on my knees 🙂

    • Avatar smokemonster says:

      When I started jogging a year and a half ago, I was 70 pounds heavier (I’m 5’6″, 32 years old. I still would like to lose 10 – 15 more pounds). But, I was determined and I used the ‘5K Runner’ app and I LOVED it!! I definitely recommend getting an app that builds up gradually. I never thought I could do it. I would always look ahead in the app to see what runs would be coming up in the next week or two, and thought there was no way I’d be able to do it. But, the app really built up perfectly and I was able to do them all. I will say this though – in the first couple months of my weight loss, I just focused on my diet because I needed to get myself in a better place before I started jogging. So, if you’re not already eating a healthier diet, try that and just try walking first – maybe for a couple months or so. Then use an app and go from there. (Oh, and find a good show to watch while you’re on the treadmill. If I don’t distract myself, I’ll just focus on the discomfort and quit! Haha) Just my two cents based on my own experience. Hope it helps! From one math nerd to another (basing that assumption on your username) YOU GOT THIS!!!

    • Avatar Florence Flowers says:

      one step at a time I too was $111,000 I still have 74 pounds to lose I lived in a cul-de-sac I would get up in between shows and what walk because of set one time and try to be back before my show star at first I sweat like someone had poured a bucket of water on me and I was out of breath the positive was I did it sometime at the beginning I would miss some of my show I did not make it back but it made me hydrate I began to drink more war and it got me out of the house and moving at first it was just every Monday and then on Tuesday and Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays I would walk in place in the house Saturday and Sunday I would not do anything just rest and was probably that I was moving as I practice walking in the house each week I would add a day outside and would walk faster I started monitoring my water intake and by the end of the month I was doing two circles and what do have super fast walk the other half walking mom. Is one step at a time one day at a time at your speed but just get moving each day I ask myself how bad do I want this for me you can do it

    • Avatar Angela says:

      I’m about 80lbs overweight, 5’6.5″, and 26 years old. I first started running (read: interval jogging, lol) a couple years ago, and at first it was incredibly daunting. I could only run for 30 seconds before I’d get winded and it felt like fire in my lungs. I used Couch To 5K’s program (commonly called C25K), and with my mother-in-law’s guidance, learned that when you’re first starting out, don’t run like a gazelle. 😛 Keep your strides low and your pace comfortable enough to hold something of a conversation. It took me three weeks to work up to C25K’s Week 1, which was jogging for 60 seconds and walking for 90.

      So basically, start off slow, don’t lift your feet too high, and be patient with yourself. 😉

      (Non-ninja edit: I lost about 25lbs and ended up being able to jog for 30 minutes straight before I fell off the wagon for the last year. I’ve restarted C25K after gaining those lbs back, so I’m basically back in the same boat that I started.)

    • Avatar Shelah israyl says:

      Start slow walking, good does, knee support and healthy eating to lose weight. All the weight makes it more difficult

  11. Avatar Claire UK says:

    What about Park runs. 5K runs. Run by the running community for the running community and best of FREE.

  12. I absolutley love the news letter that comes out. Especially this one as I am trying to get back to Running. I just have one BIG problem, to find the right sports bra. I have been reading below to look for a high impact type of sports bra, however what is a good one? I been looking all over the web and there are no 38 DDD. My guess is they can’t imagine anybody with big boobs to run. This really is a big obsticle. Even when I cycle they hurt. I have been told to go to Vicotoria Secret, but they will have to order them first too….nothing in this size in stores. Is there anybody out there that has a good support bra in a big size that they can say this one is super good out of experience?

    • Avatar Jen says:

      Oh goodness, Victoria Secret?? Yeah, cuz they understand big boobs… #sarcasm. 😉

      I’m a 38F, and I cannot even believe how much I love my Lane Bryant sport bra. I’d recommend trying the different styles on in-store to see which fit you like best. The one I got, I feel secure without being strangled.

  13. Avatar Greg Dahlen says:

    personally i think walking is better, I know enough people who have hurt their knees running. I walk about three miles a day, to work, errands, recreation. I would like to advocate my diet: for about six years now, I’ve been living on milk. Every day I drink about two gallons of skim cow milk, and hardly eat or drink anything else. It has been great for my health, I do excellently on my yearly physical, I maintain a weight of 160 pounds at six feet, one inch. When you get lighter this way, you feel more like exercising.

  14. Avatar JED says:

    I just started walking/running 2 days ago. I walk for a minute, run for a minute, take a drink of water & do it all over again. I started out 1 mile & next week I will try for 2 miles. I don’t like being sore otherwise I won’t do it so I’m trying to go slow. I have lost 35lbs since Jan. 22nd being on the Ideal Health Program & want to be in the best shape I’ve ever been when I turn 50 on June 21st. Gee I sure don’t feel like I’m going to be 50. That seems so old! Good luck to everyone on here!

  15. Avatar Abi Gail says:

    I struggle with consistency. In a week i can work in 3 up to 4 runs… then the next barely make 2… then the third..none… and so goes the cycle. What’s crazy is that I can tell the difference in my demeanor when I DON’T run. You’d think that would be sufficient motivation to put me back on track… but with 3 kids and a full-time job… maintaining consistency is by far my greatest struggle. I refuse to give up–regardless of how discouraging it is to “start over” every other week or so.

  16. Avatar Aileen says:

    I don’t normally respond on blogs but I felt compelled to share my story. The single biggest reason that I turned from a walker, then fast walker then jogger to now runner is the ENNELL bra. I feel like it literally compelled me into feeling physically comfortable (zero bounce) therefore I felt I could mentally overcome any hurdles. I started slow. Learn to walk Vancouver Sun running schedule – tick; learn to run schedule – tick then learn to run faster which I am doing now. I had to repeat the running one 3 x before I stuck with it. Just don’t give up on yourself. Getting started and keeping going even if I had to redo certain weeks but not giving up (just taking a wee bit longer than planned) has been so rewarding. I started this all at 52 and am now 53. good luck to those at the start of the journey…. it is so worth it.

  17. Avatar sp611661 says:

    I am 67 …how do I begin …as much as the mind wants to run ….the body is telling my mind to ….well you know the rest …..

  18. Avatar sp611661 says:

    I have just read a few posts which has encouraged this old girl to stop finding excuses and just give it a go …..I also need to lose at least 14kl …hoping running will help …..at the moment I walk from dot A..to dot B, and I am ……well you know the rest

  19. Avatar Wennox says:

    Hi, I’m 57 and started running 12 months ago. Never ran before. I was a larger woman than I am now, still a work in progress
    My boobies are quite humongous and I had to hold them when I first started. Then I found
    1. Some good sports bras that don’t let anything move:) you have to look at what they’re for and the type of support they give when you buy them
    2. Skins compression leggings. I wear the A200 long tights, summer and winter. They’re great.
    3. A good pair of shoes for heavier runners . Have a Google and see what suits you
    Good luck. I started by being proud to run 30 secs on the treadmill.
    I regularly run 3-5km now a few times/week and am slowly trying to increase my distance.
    It’s changed my life

  20. Avatar Steph says:

    I have been running at the track, on fields, in tennis courts, in ladders at home with personal trainer, and I started at 20 min. Now I can easily run 30 min after being consistent for a few months and taking it slow and easy. I even run at the rubberized park pushing my 1-yr-old while my 2-yr-old plays. I wish I had thought of that strategy earlier. Multitasking Hot Mama Workout I call it 🙂

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