I’ve always enjoyed running, but I used to have a hard time sticking with the habit. I followed a pattern of running regularly for a couple of months, then forgetting about the hobby for half a year or more. By the time I’d start back up, all my progress would be lost.
These days, I’ve broken the pattern and learned how to make running a permanent part of my life. In order to stick with running long-term, I had to change several things about how I approached the hobby.
If you’re finding yourself in the same place I was — enjoying running but struggling to stick with it for more than a month or two at a time — then these tips might help you as well.
Start So Slowly it Feels Ridiculous
One of the biggest mistakes that new runners make is starting out too fast. They run too often and too quickly, leading to burnout and sometimes injury.
When I started running, I had heard the advice to run slowly, but I didn’t realize just how slowly this meant.
Most forums recommend a “conversational” pace, which means running slowly enough that you could carry on a conversation as you go. This is good advice, but when running alone, it’s easy to start going faster than that without even realizing.
Lately, I’ve had an easier time sticking to a slow pace by using a running watch and actually checking my pace regularly.
How do you know what pace is best for you though? The easiest way I know of is to start by timing yourself running a mile or a 5k as fast as you can. Then, use an online calculator like this one to get a recommended “easy” pace that you should use for most of your runs.
Your “easy” pace might feel ridiculously slow, especially if you’re a beginner. That’s typical though, and these slow runs really are the best way to improve.
Have Concrete Goals
All of my failed attempts to start running had one thing in common — I didn’t have any concrete goal that I was working towards. I just had an abstract desire to run faster.
This time around, I always make sure that I have some concrete goal in mind. When I started, it was simply to run 5k without breaks. Once I hit that, my goal was to run 5k in under half an hour, then in under 25 minutes.
I’ve also set distance goals for myself, but my 5k time has remained my main motivation. These days I’m aiming to get it under 20 minutes, although I’ve still got a ways to go.
A lot of other runners use specific races as a goal. They’ll sign up for a 5k or marathon that’s a few months away, and structure their runs as training for that race.
The important thing is to have something concrete in mind, to keep you getting out the door week after week.
Track Every Run
There is a joke in the running (and biking) communities that “if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.”
Strava is one of several popular phone apps that allows you to track your runs using GPS. Like many other runners, I’ve gotten in the habit of using Strava for literally every run I do.
Tracking runs helps me stick with the habit in a few different ways. For one, it gives me motivation, because I can constantly see how I’m improving. I’m obsessed with looking through the data, seeing how my times and distances change.
It also helps me notice when I’ve gone too long without a run. Instead of having to think back over my runs, I can just pull up a calendar with every run I’ve done over the past few weeks.
Don’t trust yourself to remember to keep running. It’s very easy to simply forget the habit.
I often stopped running because I just didn’t remember to run often enough. I’d go half a week between runs without even realizing how much time had passed. After my runs got less frequent, they’d eventually end altogether.
Tracking your runs can help you notice when this happens, but sometimes I’ve also found it helpful to actually schedule reminders into my calendar.
Another good way to remember to run is to leave your running shoes right by the front door. This way you see them every day as you leave the house and get home, providing you with a constant reminder to run.
Be Prepared for Setbacks
I saved the most important tip for last. I find it easy to keep up with running when everything’s going well. When my times are improving each week, and my legs are feeling great, I have all the motivation in the world.
When it gets really tough for me is when I have setbacks — an injured leg, a busy schedule, or just a bad week.
Unfortunately, these kinds of setbacks are inevitable, and it’s important to be prepared for them.
Part of being prepared is just mentally acknowledging that setbacks happen. Know that you shouldn’t be discouraged when your running goes worse than usual.
Another side of being prepared is having an actual plan for what to do when you can’t run as well or as often.
At the end of last year, I hurt my leg and had to ease back on running. Any other time, I would have let this turn into half a year or more away from running. This time, I created a plan, giving myself a set date to start running again. It worked, and I was able to get back into running relatively quickly and without losing all my progress from the previous year.