From Zero to Running Hero: How to Make Running a Lifelong Habit

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Beginner Runner
Photo of author

Written by :

David Dack

It was a crisp morning when my trusty alarm clock chimed at 6:00 a.m. As a dedicated runner, I’ve always prioritized my sleep, aiming to get a solid 7-8 hours of shut-eye every night.

My morning routine is a well-oiled machine. By around 10:00 p.m., I’m already snuggled in bed, ensuring I’m well-rested for the next day’s adventure. When that alarm sounds, I’m raring to go. Within minutes, I’m up, dressed in my running gear – sneakers, socks, a comfortable tee, and my favorite workout shorts.

At precisely 6:15, I step out the door, ready to embark on my morning run. Today, it’s all about tempo training. But tomorrow, it’s a different story. I’ll rise at the same early hour, but my focus will shift to yoga. Later in the day, you’ll find me at the gym, tackling a CrossFit WOD. I prefer evening gym sessions – they somehow boost my productivity.

My exercise routine has become second nature, etched into my daily life. There’s no resistance, no forcing myself out of bed, no teeth-grinding to get going. It just flows naturally. Of course, there are moments when life throws curveballs, and I might stray from my routine. But rest assured. I always come back stronger than ever.

A Very Common Struggle

Let’s face it: forming an exercise habit is no walk in the park for most people. Many folks start off with good intentions, whether it’s running, eating healthier, reading more, or reducing screen time, only to find themselves stopping and restarting repeatedly.

But fear not! What I’m about to share with you today will provide the keys to breaking free from this endless cycle and transform your running routine (or any other workout regimen) into a lifelong, ingrained habit.

How To Make Running a Habit – Start Small

A common mistake many new runners make is pushing themselves too hard right from the beginning. This approach can lead to injury, burnout, and frustration. To build a sustainable running habit, it’s crucial to begin with manageable and realistic goals.

Starting small, such as incorporating a walk-run method or going for a short run around the block, can make the early weeks of running more enjoyable and achievable. Remember the mantra, “A short run is better than none.” This mindset is especially helpful for beginners.

Whether your goal is weight loss, completing a 10K, or simply being able to jog for 20 minutes without getting out of breath, ensure that your initial goals are realistic and attainable.

The Walk-Run Method

For beginners, the walk-run method is an excellent approach to establishing a running habit. Here’s a beginner’s running program that incorporates this method.

Additional Resource – When it’s the best time to run

Come Up with a Running Plan

Deciding to start running is a significant step, but it’s equally important to support your decision with a well-thought-out plan. The saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” attributed to Benjamin Franklin, holds true for managing exercise routines.

To ensure your running journey is successful, create a detailed plan covering every aspect related to your running routine. This includes choosing a running route, deciding on the time and type of run, and even preselecting your music playlist or any other elements of your training routine.

As crucial as planning your runs is, don’t forget to plan your rewards as well. These rewards can be anything that motivates you, whether it’s a post-run smoothie, a massage, or a relaxing hot shower. These incentives will keep you motivated on your path to achieving your long-term running goals.

Write It Down

Research supports the effectiveness of planning in achieving fitness and health objectives. An experiment conducted at the University of Hertfordshire revealed that individuals without a plan struggled to achieve their New Year’s resolutions.

Once you’ve determined the components of your running plan, write them down and place them where you’ll see them regularly. Be specific about the details, including:

  • Running distance
  • Running time
  • Running duration
  • Type of run
  • Walk/run ratio (for beginners)
  • Training pace
  • Running route

I have written a comprehensive guide to running program design.

You can find it here.

Also, prepare in advance your running shoes, clothes, water bottle, and running backpack, preferably the night before.

This helps eliminate any excuse to skip the run.

Turn Your Plan into a Ritual

Once you’ve established a solid running plan, the next step is to turn it into a daily ritual. This concept draws inspiration from Tony Schwartz, the author of “The Power of Full Engagement,” a renowned book on productivity and personal management. If you’re serious about making lasting changes in your life, this book is a must-read.

But what exactly is a ritual, and how can it benefit your running journey?

A ritual consists of a specific set of behaviors that you perform at the same time every day or on specific, designated days. To create a ritual, you need to define the precise behaviors related to running that you’ll engage in. Once these behaviors are defined, commit to performing them at the designated times.

By establishing a fixed time for your running routine, you eliminate the need to expend mental energy on when to fit it in. Additionally, rituals often carry a sense of spirituality or religiosity, making them more compelling, even for individuals who aren’t particularly religious or spiritual.

Creating a running ritual helps you solidify your commitment to regular running, making it an integral and non-negotiable part of your daily or weekly routine.

Additional reading – How to Prevent Overuse Injury

Set a Specific Time for the Ritual

Selecting a specific time of day for your running ritual is crucial. You must determine whether the morning, midday, or evening is the most suitable and feasible time for your runs. Once you’ve chosen a time, it’s vital to stick with it consistently, regardless of any obstacles or distractions.

For example, I’ve committed to running every day at 6:15 a.m., and I find that maintaining this consistency greatly contributes to my success, whether I’m going for a run or practicing yoga.

To enhance your chances of success, treat your runs with the same level of importance as you would an essential work meeting or a family obligation. Make it a non-negotiable commitment by scheduling it into your calendar. This approach demonstrates your dedication to the practice.

As a helpful strategy, develop a habit of marking your calendar with a prominent red “X” on the days you plan to go for a run. This visual representation can serve as a powerful motivator, and ideally, you should aim for three to four big red “Xs” on your weekly calendar. This level of consistency will reinforce your commitment to your running ritual.

Run First Thing in the Morning

Our lives are incredibly busy, filled with long work hours, childcare duties, the captivating but time-consuming world of social media, and various daily obligations. Balancing it all can be challenging, but there’s a strategy to help you maintain your running lifestyle even in the midst of a hectic schedule: run in the early morning when your willpower is at its peak, and the rest of the world is still asleep.

Research supports the idea that individuals who consistently exercise prioritize morning workouts. Therefore, it’s advisable to establish a morning running routine before the hustle and bustle of the day begins, especially before your children wake up. But how can you make this adjustment to your schedule?

It’s relatively straightforward. Start by setting your alarm an hour earlier than usual. If you prefer, you can have a light snack before your run. Once you’ve completed your run, follow it up with a refreshing shower and a nutritious breakfast. By doing so, you’ll already have accomplished more than many people do in the morning.

Remember that being a morning person is not an inherent trait; it’s a habit that can be cultivated. Running in the morning will not only boost your metabolism but also enhance your productivity throughout the day, which is pretty cool, right?

picture of Calf Pain

Lay Out your Running Gear

If you have a run scheduled in the morning, make sure to get your running gear ready the night before.

Doing this will help you head out the door with minimum friction, as there’s nothing worse than waking up early and having to hunt through a dark room in a semi-awake state for gear that you need.

This is especially important if you’re not naturally a morning person: if your running gear is nowhere to be found, you’re much more likely to drop the whole plan and say that you’ll run another time.

So, what do you need to lay out? Your clothes, from underwear and running socks to your hat.

Earphones, shoes,  watch, hydration belt, headlamp, reflective vest, gels, even post-run rewards—everything that’s needed for your run, in a nutshell.

For more discipline, try sleeping in your running clothes.

If you’re an efficiency freak like me, this is your best option.

Make it Regular

Once you decide on a running ritual, do your best to never skip a workout.

If you skip a day, the process of exercise habit formation only gets harder.

It’s all about keeping your momentum going, especially during the first few weeks.

The easiest way to keep your resolution going is simply not to stop.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

It’s a basic physics law, and you should use it to your advantage.

If your ultimate goal is to run three times a week, then schedule your three runs on non-consecutive days (On Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, for instance) and do your best not to miss a day.

Pick A Time

Once you establish your running ritual, strive never to skip a workout. Skipping a day makes forming the exercise habit more challenging. Maintaining momentum is crucial, particularly during the initial weeks of habit formation.

Remember the basic physics law: “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” Leverage this principle to your advantage. If your goal is to run three times a week, schedule these runs on non-consecutive days, such as Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Make a commitment not to miss a day.

Consistency is key, and it’s easier to stick to a routine when you keep it going. Choose a specific time of day for your runs and try to stick to it. For example, if you prefer running in the morning, aim to run at the same time every morning. Establish a routine of at least five workouts per week, including three runs and two cross-training sessions.

On rest days, remain active. Go for long walks, hikes, or bike rides. The principle is simple: keep moving during the early stages of habit formation to solidify exercise as a regular part of your daily schedule.

Prioritize your workout schedule by treating your running sessions as appointments that cannot be canceled. By prioritizing your fitness and health, you ensure that your exercise routine becomes a non-negotiable part of your life.

Make it Pleasurable

Running shouldn’t feel like a dreaded ordeal; it should be an enjoyable experience. While working on building your exercise habit, focus on the pleasure and fun of running rather than solely on end results.

Here are some ideas to make your running more enjoyable:

  • Treat yourself to some new, colorful running gear that makes you happy.
  • Run with a friend, your dog, or both for added companionship.
  • Explore new routes and locations to keep things fresh and exciting.
  • Choose pristine trail routes that immerse you in natural beauty and fresh air.
  • Use a running app to track your progress, helping you stay motivated.
  • Take in the beauty of the sky and appreciate the solitude.
  • Create an upbeat playlist of your favorite songs to keep you energized and distracted from fatigue.
  • Use the time to listen to an audiobook, podcast, or radio show, making the most of your run.

There are endless possibilities to infuse joy into your running routine, so find what works best for you and make each run an enjoyable experience.

Recharge—Have a Recovery Day

Recovery is crucial for your body’s well-being and performance. It provides an opportunity to rest and readapt to your training load. To support your running habit, consider having a designated recovery day.

I highly recommend taking one day off from intense exercise every week. On this day, prioritize rest and relaxation. If you feel that you need some activity, limit it to a gentle half-hour walk to keep your body moving without exerting too much effort.

The key is to engage in some form of activity every day except your designated rest day. Ideally, this activity should be something you enjoy, and that maintains your habit of staying active. Don’t hesitate to explore other exercise routines in addition to running, as they can also contribute to the development of your exercise habit. Incorporate activities such as strength training, swimming, cycling, and yoga into your routine to keep things fresh and enjoyable.

Give Your Running Ritual Eight Weeks

Be patient with yourself and commit to at least 66 days to establish your new running habit. Habits don’t develop or change overnight; they require time and dedication to become ingrained in your daily routine.

Research conducted at The London University College suggests that it can take six to eight weeks to form a lifelong, lasting habit. Therefore, aim to stick with your running routine for a minimum of 50 to 60 days.

Once you reach this point, you’ll begin to notice significant changes. Your running habit will start to feel like a natural part of your daily life. You’ll build enough cardiovascular endurance to run comfortably for around 45 minutes, experience weight loss, and see tangible improvements in your body and overall well-being. Keep persevering, and the results will be worth it.

Life is Messy Y’know…

A word of caution: Life is unpredictable, and there will be times when your running routine faces obstacles. Whether it’s due to injury, demanding work hours, family commitments, or holiday celebrations, these challenges can disrupt your plans. Remember, it’s not personal; it’s just a part of life.

Perfection should not be your goal, as striving for it will only lead to frustration. Accept that you may miss a day or two (or more) occasionally. When these disruptions occur, don’t beat yourself up or lose sleep over them. Everyone makes mistakes, and life can be unpredictable; it’s a part of the human experience.

Forming a habit, like maintaining a running routine, is a skill that requires consistent practice. Think of it as a muscle you’re training; the more you work on it, the stronger it becomes. So, if you stumble along the way, pick yourself up, brush off the dust, and start anew. Embrace the warrior spirit and never give up on your running habit.

Track Your Progress

You cannot make progress without measurement. This is one of my all-time favorite sayings related to productivity and management, and it holds true when it comes to physical exercise. Whether you choose to track your progress with pen and paper or using a dedicated app, keeping a record of your runs is essential for maintaining your fitness routine.

Being analytical about your exercise regimen pays off. By maintaining a record, you’ll start to notice training trends that can help you determine what works best for efficient and successful training. After all, how can you decide what to do next if you don’t have a record of what you’ve done in the first place?

Progress in your fitness journey can take many forms, from being able to run longer without fatigue to lifting heavier weights or even experiencing improved fitness in how your clothes fit. These are all signs of progress, and they’re something to be proud of.

The Things to Track

It’s important to track various aspects of your exercise routine and achievements, whether you maintain a workout journal or store the information digitally for periodic review. Here are some key things to track:

  • Running Workouts: Log the details of your running sessions, including distance, duration, pace, and any specific notes about the run.
  • Heart Rate: If you monitor your heart rate during workouts, record this data to track your cardiovascular fitness.
  • Running Goals: Document your running goals, both short-term and long-term, and track your progress toward achieving them.
  • Running Times: Keep a record of your best running times for different distances to monitor improvements.
  • Mileage on Running Shoes: Note how many miles you’ve logged on your running shoes to determine when it’s time for a replacement.
  • Running Performance: Track your performance in races or time trials, including race results and personal records.
  • Cross-Training Activities: If you engage in cross-training activities like strength training, yoga, or swimming, record these sessions.
  • Weight: Monitor your weight regularly to track changes, especially if weight loss or maintenance is a goal.
  • Body Measures: Measure your body dimensions, such as waist circumference or body fat percentage, to assess changes in your physique.
  • Before and After Pictures: Take photos to visually document your progress over time.
  • Meals: Keep a food diary to track your daily meals and calorie intake, which can be helpful for nutrition and weight management.
  • Weather: Note the weather conditions during your runs, as weather can affect performance.
  • Sleep Patterns: Record your sleep duration and quality to ensure you’re getting adequate rest for recovery.
  • Weekly Mileage: Summarize your weekly running mileage to gauge your training volume.
  • Calorie Intake: Keep track of your daily calorie intake if you have specific dietary goals.
  • Aches and Pains: Document any injuries, aches, or pains to help identify patterns and seek appropriate treatment or adjustments to your training.

How to Make Running A Habit – The Conclusion

Have you considered starting the running habit? Do you run regularly? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

Featured Image Credit – Ed Yourdon through Flickr.

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45 thoughts on “From Zero to Running Hero: How to Make Running a Lifelong Habit”

  1. Loved this! I’ve been running for 4 yrs now and kind of been in a slump. I know all the things you put in this article, but had kind of frgotten them. Thanks for the reminder! And new motivation!

  2. I’ve never run, but always loved the idea of running. I have exercise-induced asthma, which is another reason I’ve been more a spectator. I found, and copied, the Run-Walk Eight Week plan and hope to start that soon. I want to invest in a better pair of shoes before I begin running so that I won’t have to stop in the middle to replace the ones I have.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this out, it will be a very helpful reminder and resource to come back to.

  3. Great advice! I’m just getting started & needed this. Weight is not coming off like I had hoped but it’s only been about 3 weeks. Thank you!

  4. I used to workout habitually and then, just like you said, took an extra rest day…then another…and here we are! I’ve just recently started trying to reform the habit, but I feel like it’s much easier to break than to build. Great tips!

  5. Thank you for this post! I especially loved #11 . . . that’s the one that always gets to me and I need to keep reminding myself of. I’ve been running for three years and just ran my first half marathon back in May (which was an amazing feeling to accomplish!). I seem to be able to train for a certain goal but struggle with the day to day “ritual”. Thank you again!

  6. Great article. I have been a runner and was at eight to ten miles a day. I then went back go school and haven’t run in two years. I ran track in high school but never races. I decided to get myself motivated I would enter races. Ran my first a month ago. So fun! I run also because of fibro n depression. Running for me is life!

  7. Thanks for this. I ran my first race in December and afterwords, I got caught in # 11. I went back to school, working full time, 2 kids, life just got busy. I ran maybe once every couple of weeks but not enough. I love # 3. I really think that if I use this mindset I will be able to get back on track.

  8. Thank you for the motivation!! I’m not a runner, at all and just barley quality as someone who works out, but this article will change me for the better! You made it sound so effortless, easy and very rewarding to go just for a run! WoW, can’t believe I just said that;) Can’t wait to hit the pavement and go forward to a new me! Thank you again!!!

  9. I absolutely love this. I have been researching a way to get healthy and I know it is not one dimensional. I have to exercise, eat better, etc….This blog can be used for people who maybe aren’t runners but walkers or do any other type of exercise. The point is to make it a habit. Great info and insight. I will use this.

  10. Thank you so much for this article!! Im trying to start my running habit this information will help me a lot. I started walking last week to lose some weight. Did you match any specifically diet with your running routine?

  11. All good tips but I suggest running with a group of like minded people. I’ve been running for about 5 years now, completed one marathon but I always lost my mojo for a month or two because of boredom.
    I’ve now started running two or three times a week with a group of men and women from our local athletics club. It’s just for fun and to keep in shape. 5-10 kms mixed up with some light speed training. Loving it and my PB for 5km is slowly improving.

  12. I really loved this text! I got so excited that the time i was reading these lines i was already planing my running! I have already started to run many times, but always something happened that made me stop. Your 11 steps are all i needed! Thanks a lot! I’m anxious to get started!

  13. I have “run” a 5K earlier this year; meaning I walked it in 1:08. I was extremely please with myself as I had not run nor walked in the two months before it. Then summer hit hard with the heat indexes for most days going over 100 degrees and zapped all energy from me. I also have some medical issues at play. Now that it is fall, I am mapping out walking to jogging to running routine where I can participate in several 5K’s that are hardier than the one I have already completed.

    Thanks for the reminder of how and what to look for!

  14. I have gone to the gym at 5:30am for 10 + years so that part is certainly a habit. But I decided at 55 that I want to run my first 5K and I’ve been using an app to get there. I’ve never been a runner but I’ve always wanted to be. I’m struggling with running 3 days a week and making that change to my already solid habit of doing other types of exercise – it’s easy to talk myself into the same old thing once I get to the gym. But there were several great tips in your article and I will put them to use immediately! Thanks much!!

  15. I used to be a regular runner many years ago….now, after two kids and what seems like a life time, I’d really like to get back into it. The main problem is, I work an odd schedule. I work 10pm-6am two nights a week and 7pm-3am three nights a week. Should I still try to run first thing in the morning, or after I sleep?

  16. Best article yet I’ve read. I’m almost 4 weeks in a running routine. Never liked running. Yesterday I made it to my first mile of running. Then I reassessed my next goal. I’m already feeling the mental benefits of running. just patiently waiting for the weight loss. It’ll come. I know it.

  17. Thanks a bunch…

    This insight and advice is really informative for those of us who struggle mindfully… I’ve always struggled with my weight but I turn 30 in a couple years and I want to change my diet and health lifestyle. Looking forward to constructing my exercise plan… 🙂

  18. Hi I use to run 10 miles and even a half marathon in One hour 31 mins but that was 20 years ago. Been contemplating getting back into it. Finally got some good running shoes and starting back in the the morning ! Half excited and half nervous. Thanks for the tips hopefully I can gradually get myself back into it. I’m only a stone overweight so hopefully lose that in a few months. Thanks again for tips 🙂

  19. Love this, reminds me to continue my running. Up until june I had the ritual of walking/Jog intervals bright and early every chance i got until lumbar injuries from past incidents began to rise, still i pressed on being hard headed. Anyways I even got my mother in on walking daily and that was a success story for me. I hated exercising, but loved it after a college course. Lost 35 lbs when I got to it a few years back. From the injury of herniated disk which was severely inflamed to the towering effect of nerve damage in my right leg I have been out of my routine for roughly 2.5 months and just started pressing back into where I used to be. Its hard and discouraging when injury takes place but its not over just yet. I will rise again little by little. Thank you for the post.

  20. Every one can do running in the morningaround the village or at the park, run along with a circle of riends to make it more enjoyable. Doing it every morning as a daily habit then afterwards you and your friends can join a RUN FOR A CAUSE PROGRAM in your community, you will not only enjoy and lose weight at the same time. you also have the chance to help other people. Itn’t it great, 1 hits in a row.. That was awesome.

  21. This is the philosophy I adopted 5 years ago and I live it everday!! Running keeps my stress in check and I really think it keeps me sane. I get up before the rest of the family and do 5 to 6.2 miles each AM. Motivates me to take on the rest of the day!

  22. I have been a couch potato for 10 + years. I am sedentary & am 65 or more pounds overweight. I am really tired of feeling tired all the time & tired of being so fat. It is uncomfortable. I am trying to read up on what to do to start. I want to become a runner but I can’t start running at this wt. I have just decided today again, to walk. I can walk a level mile at a medium pace without problems. Usually I have in the past walked 6 was before running because if I hurry it my knees hurt worse & worse. So I have to start slow. Than I can start running. Thanks for your article.

  23. Totally a great article – it gave me the motivation to try and I’ve been doing this for the last month and it’s definitely getting easier! Waking at 515am to go for a run seemed impossible but I’ve actually enjoyed it and hope to keep it going! It really is a great start to the day and I’m seeing results Thanks for the good tips!

  24. Great advice! I started running about two years ago after my second daughter was born. I made the mistake of doing too much too fast and had 3 stress fractures! Now I have a 7 week old and am starting to run again slowly. With 35 pounds to lose my knees hurt and I’m slow but I’m out with my double stroller at least once a day. I look forward to wearing short shorts again! Lol.

  25. I’ve been overweight for years and I’ve just started my fitness journey. I’m currently able to walk 3-4 miles a day and I’ve started adding short bits of jogging to my walks. I get winded very easily, my legs don’t mind the jogging but my lungs start screaming at me after only a few yards. I’m hoping that the more I do it the easier it will get. Do you have any advice for someone who is overweight and trying to get into running?

  26. This made so much sense to me. I loved this article.
    It has given me freedom to do this and not feel like
    A failure. Thanks

  27. Hey, this was a really motivating and realistic article about habit formation. I’m not planning to run immediately. I’ll start out walking for an hour everyday. The habits I want to form are eating healthier and exercising regularly. I started yesterday. I hope I can keep with this.

  28. Great post! I think my biggest struggle for making running a habit is the monotony of it. The suggestion you gave to mix it up seems obvious, but it was definitely an “ah-ha” moment for me. Plus, mixing it up will help me more motivated and more willing to go out and exercise because it gives me more variety to succeed. Great thoughts!

  29. Enjoyed the article – here is my struggle; I have been running for 17 years but I don’t get better because of my lack of consistency. I have run 6 marathons, numerous halfs and many shorter distance races. I just ran Disney on January 10th, and haven’t run but 2 miles, maybe 6 times since then. I am slow, over my ideal weight and overall just not feeling good about my running. Disney was my slowest marathon yet. My goal for this year is to be more consistent, so your article is right on target. I just need to make it a habit and stop letting everything and anything get in the way of my running.

  30. Hi I’ve been seriously thinking about running and have gather just about everything you can think of to get myself going and nothing has happened, if I read your encouragement letter as I like to call it chances are I’ll be a runner soon…?? thank you…now I’m going to start, one more thing thank you for reminding me it’ll take 50 days to make the habit..I needed that!

  31. This inspired me to start running again. I haven’t ran in over four years after having my daghter at 43. Thanks for the advice.

  32. Just happened upon this, thank you for the inspiration! I’m a fairly new runner in my late 40s and I’m planning my first 10k next month. I’m totally excited! I think one of the things I like most about running is that you can do it almost anywhere.

  33. Hi! So I have been trying to get myself to run more often but I gave up after I had gained all the weight I had lost over a three month period of time. I love running but lately college responsibilities get in the way. What do you recommend?

  34. Absolutely striking! To the core. I hate running and have always hated it. I’m39 , with three kids, a husband and two teaching jobs. I’m an ex lifeguard and a basketball player so some kind of sports activities have always been on my every day list but since the birth of my third child 4 years ago, not so often. I’m trying to get back into the game and struggling immensely. My clock is set to five am and I have a very down to earth running plan which I always change while doing it. It is quite achievable, my goal is 24 minutes of constant running starting with a 1min walk to 1 min run and so on. It is probably known to u. My muscles can survive the run, but my lungs ache horribly but I-m not a smoker. so I change the run to fast pace walk. i have been doing it for the last two months. There is definitely something wrong with me but mentally. I will try to overcome this and these kind of texts certainly help in achieving this goal. Thanks. I will hopefully get there….sometime

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