How to Turn Running Into a Habit

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

If you’re looking—or even struggling—to form a running habit, then you’ve come to the right place.

Wanting to make running a habit and actually making it a reality are two different things.

In reality, changing behavior is tricky and adopting a new type of lifestyle is easier said than done—especially when it comes to healthy living.

Whether you’re a beginner runner or coming back to the miles after a long break, this blog post will provide you with a set of practical strategies that you can use to form a running habit that lasts.

What’s A Habit?

First things first, what’s a habit?

In essence, a habit is a type of behavioral pattern that we perform consistently and repeatedly. This behavior can be a routine, an action, or even a lifestyle.

For a technical definition, check the Meriam-Webster Dictionary: “A behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiological exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.”

Habits consist of often unconscious decisions you make and actions you perform regularly. Researchers out of Duke University reported that habits account for roughly 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day.

In fact, your life is basically the sum of your habits. How fit or unfit you are? How healthy or unhealthy are you? How happy or unhappy? Etc. These are all a result of your habit. Yes, habits determine everything.

All in all, habits develop automatically, and the more often we engage in a certain behavioral pattern, the deeper it’s embedded in our brains. Examples include driving a car, brushing our teeth, or loading the dishwasher.

For example, you don’t have to think about the complicated and intricate movement you need to drive a car—you just get the key, turn the engine, and start driving around.

In other words, a habit is a behavioral pattern that can be formed via frequent repetition. The rest, as we’re going to see later, is just details.

Why Running Routines Often Fail

As you already know, forming a new habit—especially a healthy one—is usually really hard. For example, most people who take up running for the first time won’t make it past week two.

The reason? Developing a new habit relies on changing behavior. Change take self-control, motivation, and a long-term approach—and not everyone is willing to do the work.

Here are some of the common pitfalls many people fall into when trying to build running habits:

  • Doing too much too soon

  • Not having a specific running plan

  • Failing to set achievable goals

  • Never actually committing to the change

  • Not having the right reasons to start running

  • Relying simply on willpower and motivation to get them out of the door

  • Etc.

Now that you know a thing or two about habit formation let’s actually dive into some of the strategies that can help.

Set The Right Goals

Forming a running habit starts with setting the right goals. In fact, the fastest way to get injured or burned out when trying to form a running habit is to do too much too soon—that’s the classic beginner mistake.

For example, if you set a goal of running 45 miles when you’re still a complete beginner, you’ll, eventually, set yourself up for failure.

Here’s what to do. Make sure your running goals are ambitious but achievable.

If you’re a complete beginner, shoot for the goal of being able to run for 30 minutes at an easy pace without panting for air.  To get there, follow the walk-run method in which you alternate between intervals of jogging and walking for 20 to 30 minutes.

As you improve your VO2 max and endurance, aim to increase the jogging portion while spending less and less time walking until you can run non-stop for 30 minutes. See, it’s really easy once you break it down into manageable chunks.

In other words, find a way to get started with running two minutes at a time rather than worrying about running for one hour.

Set A Time

Besides choosing the right running goals, the other thing that keeps people from logging the miles regularly is not setting aside time for it.

For these folks, running isn’t a priority. It’s instead of one of these things they’ll get to do if they’ve enough time and energy for. But they never do because life, somehow, always gets in the way.

Here’s the truth. If you don’t decide on a specific time, you’ll be prone to put it off until you have more energy or time and then postpone it again until the next day.

The more often you do this, the trickier it will become to turn your running into a habit.

Choose the times you know you can squeeze in the miles, even if it’s just 20 minutes. Plan to run first thing in the morning, at lunch break, late after dinner—you decide. It’s your life, after all, and you know what works best for you.

For example, if you’re a morning person, set the time of 5:00 am every day and do your best not to vary from that time. The same thing applies any time of the day.

What’s more? Treat your miles as you’d a work meeting or doctor appointment and put it on your calendar.

For example, if you plan to run during your lunch break three times a week, block that time out of your calendar and let others know that you’re fully booked. No excuses.

Training Groups are another great way to schedule a set time for running. Plus, your fellow Training Group members will hold you accountable and motivate you!

Focus On The Process, Not The Result

A common mistake that compromises healthy habit formation is getting obsessed with the destination instead of enjoying the journey.

These folks always focused on the result. They want to lose weight. They want to improve their 5K time. They want to run a marathon. They want a six-pack. You get the picture.

Next, they’d train for a few weeks, then give up because things are not improving as they’d imagined.

Here’s what to do: focus on the process. Instead of having an end goal, invest your attention and energy in establishing the process of working out on a regular basis. Don’t worry about the end results

For example, rather than worrying about running a whole marathon or getting a six-pack, focus on running three times per week (if that’s your goal). Show up first, worry about the results later.

In other words, for the first few weeks, it’s more important to stay consistent with training than it is to make progress.

Make Running More Fun

Whether you’re taking up running for the first time, or trying to maintain your routine, rewarding yourself for your effort is a great way to keep you consistent.

Don’t take my word for it. Research published in the journal Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology reported that rewarding oneself even for the tiniest success can strengthen the desire to exercise and pave the way to making a habit of working out.

Here’s what to do.

Set a reward system for completing your new habit. This creates a positive association with your cue and helps you stay committed to your efforts.

What’s more?

Just completing a run can feel good, and if you stick with it long enough, you’ll start craving that accomplishment feeling. As your running habit gets stronger, you’ll need the reward less and less. In fact, you’ll crave the run itself and the reward it brings.

Track Your Progress

As I explained earlier, building healthy habits is hard. It requires you to basically reshape your behavior while resisting falling into old patterns.

To make the process one step easier, I’d recommend that you keep track of your new running habit.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, increase strength, or training for your first 5K, keeping track of your daily efforts has a huge impact on behavior change, therefore, habit formation.

Tracking helps because it’s tangible proof of your progress—or lack thereof. You get to see all the times you’ve gone for a run. This makes more likely to stick with it for the long haul, especially once you start improving.

You cannot improve on what you cannot measure. This applies really well in the world, too.

For these reasons (and some more), monitor your progress, including your run duration, length, mileage, and any other performance or weight goal. You can use an online app, or better yet, a training journal.


There you have it. If you want to make running—or any other form of exercise—a habit in your life, then today’s post will put you on the right track. Just remember to show up, set the right goals, stay consistent, and eventually, things will turn your way. The rest is just details.

David Dack is an established fitness blogger and running expert. When he’s not training for his next marathon, he’s doing research and trying to help as many people as possible to share his fitness philosophy. Check his blog Runners Blueprint for more info.


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

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