Six Ways to Commit to Running

A woman and man run together in the winter

It can be challenging to get into running (or get back after time off). But a few simple ideas can jumpstart your drive to get out the door.

Here are six ways to commit to a healthy running habit:

1. Find Meaningful Motivation

“You have to have a reason, whatever it may be,” says Carol Eaton, who committed to healthy habits—and saw dramatic weight loss—after finding herself out of breath when climbing stairs. Why do you want to run? Do you want to be healthier? Do you want to win a race?

Think about why running is important to you and keep that goal at the forefront of your mind. Whether you want to fit into last year’s jeans or comfortably play with your grandkids, a strong sense of motivation will help you create your running goals and tackle them. Pick something realistic that you will stick with.

A man smiles as he runs on a track with a woman cheering him on.

2. Find a Plan that Works for You

Think about other challenges you have tackled in the past. What type of approach made you successful? Many runners find that it helps to follow a scheduled training plan, focus on fundamentals, and train for specific distances or events.

Joining a training group (even a virtual one!) with a coach takes the guesswork out of what to do each day and can provide accountability and structure that most runners need.

You can always personalize your schedule to work out at the time of day that works best for you and your body, or rearrange the days if you find you need extra rest.

3. Get the Right Running Gear

It’s hard to run your best if your shoes are two years old and your big toe is poking through. The same is true if your shorts chafe and you can’t find a comfortable running bra. Go to your local store and let an expert fit you for shoes. They can help you find comfy, moisture-wicking socks and apparel as well. Getting quality running gear will make you more comfortable and bring more joy to your running.

While you’re at it, make sure you know how to stay hydrated and get the proper nutrition. Running is a simple sport that requires little gear, but having the right pieces can make or break your training. If you’re properly outfitted, you’re more likely to rock each workout and approach a goal race.

Three runners work hard as they run a race

4. Register for a Race or Plan a Time Trial

Races keep you honest, even if they are virtual. They provide excellent motivation to train, and the competition can bring out energy and strength you didn’t know you had.

It’s easy to continually say, “I’ll start running tomorrow.” But the clock starts ticking when you have a race on the calendar, and it helps to plan ahead if you want to have a good experience. There is nothing like a race to prove that you are stronger than you thought. Tanisha Arseneau (Huntsville, AL) describes the motivation she felt to train for a half marathon in difficult conditions. “I didn’t want to waste my money,” she says. “And I didn’t want to go to the race and not be able to finish.”

Even if you don’t feel ready to compete, a race can be a fantastic “rust buster,” or way to get out of your own head about training and show yourself where you stand.

A race or a time trail can serve as a useful benchmark for your training. Many experienced runners will kick off their training with a two-mile time trial that they repeat every two to three months. It helps to show how training has progressed and can be used to dial in paces for upcoming workouts.

Use these efforts to push yourself beyond running comfortably, and see what you can do with a little bit of pressure to perform at your best.

5. Pick a Benchmark Workout You Know You Can Complete

Find a running workout that is challenging but also fits your strengths. Completing it will raise your confidence and allow you to mark your progress as you improve.

Some runners enjoy the challenge of tempos or threshold runs. Others can’t stay focused for that long and prefer the variety they will get in an interval or fartlek workout.

Seeing your own improvement (even if it's small) is a huge motivator to keep you coming back for more.

6. Focus on opportunities rather than threats

When confronted with a challenge, your brain immediately deems it a threat or an opportunity, affecting your expectation of the outcome and your approach to the situation. That expectation is incredibly powerful in determining the outcome of the situation. If you view it as an opportunity, you are more likely to be successful; if you see a threat, you put yourself on defense, trying to protect yourself from pain or loss.

Take control of your wiring by mentally pausing to recognize when you perceive a threat. Focus on what you can control and keep moving toward your goal. Simply noticing the threat can help you take control of the situation.

Alex Schwartz, safety and training director at the North Carolina Outward Bound School (NCOBS), says that students and instructors in NCOBS programs learn to focus on opportunities and manage expectations in order to have success on their challenging outdoor courses. “Expectation has a huge impact on outcome,” Schwartz says. “The belief that you are in control and can be successful impacts your success. We want to set students up for success and give them transferable life skills. We are teaching them an approach to challenge where they focus on what they can control. Effort and attitude are most important determinants of success.”

How does this transfer to running? If you’re nervous about a tough workout or race, it helps to pay attention to gains throughout your training. Think about the training you have put in so far. Focus on what’s ahead of you, not behind. If you’re in a race, don’t focus on the people who might catch you. Rather, think about the finish line and the things that you can control, like your breathing, form and level of effort.

This article was updated on December 21, 2022.

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