How to Build a Running Habit That Sticks

Starting a running habit can feel overwhelming at first. From finding time for workouts to choosing the right shoes and gear to physically pushing yourself to new levels, there’s a lot to consider when pursuing this new, sometimes scary activity.

But running is also incredibly rewarding. Increased physical fitness, improved mental health and meeting new friends are just some of the ways that running can change your life.

In order to build a running habit that sticks, there are several things to keep in mind. Here are our top tips on how to get and stay moving.

1. Set a SMART goal

Setting goals is a huge part of what motivates us to get out the door and run. What’s your why? SMART goals can help you answer that question.

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. Instead of setting a goal to run longer distances, narrow it down. What distance would you like to accomplish? When would you like to accomplish it? Is this an achievable goal, given your current fitness level? Instead of saying “I want to run longer distances,” a goal like “I want to complete a half marathon by the end of 2022” can help you hold yourself accountable.

Learn more about SMART goals here.

2. Schedule rest days

A woman lays on a bed.

A common misconception in the running world is that you need to run every day in order to achieve your goals. Many people embark on ambitious run streaks, never taking a single day off. We’re here to tell you that rest days are just as important as runs.

When you carve out time to let yourself rest, you’re allowing your body to heal from all the training you’ve undergone and gear up for all the running to come. Incorporating regular self-massage and stretching can go a long way. Schedule a 20 minute date with your foam roller…and don’t just use it as a pillow when you get back from your run.

We recommend taking at least one full rest day per week. Some runners have a hard time taking it easy, so it’s a good idea to schedule your rest days in advance and stick to them.

Learn more about the importance of rest days here.

3. Start small

One of the most important things to keep in mind when starting a new running habit is to start small. Not only will this decrease your risk of injury or illness, it will help you mentally prepare for the bigger goals to come. Small wins lead to bigger wins. For example, if your ultimate goal is to run continuously for one hour, getting through a 30 minute run will help you in your pursuit of that goal.

Time and time again, new runners want to start with an extreme and exciting goal, only to be disappointed when they don’t reach it right away. This discouragement can lead them to give up on the sport entirely.

If you’re just starting out on your running journey, starting small can help you slowly build confidence and work up to those bigger goals that got you interested in running in the first place.

4. Be kind to yourself

A woman sits and smiles on a yoga mat.

It’s a common reflex for runners to beat themselves up if they don’t reach their goals. But no one is perfect. Skipping a workout or missing out on a PR doesn’t make you any less of a runner. It’s important to be patient and give yourself grace as you pursue this new and exciting habit.

Instead of getting caught up in self-criticism and judgment, use these opportunities to practice self-compassion. Rather than thinking about what you could or should have done differently, think about how you’ll overcome these challenges in the future. And don’t forget to be proud of your efforts so far.

5. Schedule your workouts

One of the best ways to hold yourself accountable is by creating a schedule and sticking to it. Instead of hoping to find time during your busy day to squeeze in a run, plan ahead by blocking time in your calendar. Wake up early or bring your running clothes and shoes to work to change into after.

Joining a running group and committing to showing up at a certain time and place each week can help you stick to your schedule too. Once you find a routine that works for you, you’ll be surprised just how easy it is to stick with it.

6. Find an accountability buddy

Three runners run through a park.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - your running friends are your best friends. They hold you accountable, keep you motivated and encourage you to chase your goals. Even the toughest workout can seem not so bad with your favorite running buddy by your side.

If you’re new to running or you haven’t met any other running friends yet, head into your local Fleet Feet. Most stores host group runs and some even have training groups led by experts.

While getting a new running habit to stick will take some additional willpower up front, if you follow these tips, running, and all the fitness and changes that come with it, will become more automatic. And who wouldn’t want that?

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