The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fail within three weeks. People fall back to the old habits they’re trying to break, habits built over a lifetime.
I’m not the guru on habits that others are. To learn more about how habits form and can get formed, you may want to read up from others who specialize on the subject.
James Clear just released a great new book on the subject called Atomic Habits, full of actionable advice and tips on how to form and maintain positive habits. Clear’s also written some great articles on the subject that are worth a look.
One of the classics on human habits is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, a fascinating narrative of personal cases that revealed how the brain is wired to form and follow habits. Even people who suffer permanent brain damage and lose memory still retain old habits. Definitely worth a look.
That said, a lot of people take up an exercise goal as a resolution. Gyms get their most signups during the New Year. The gyms are crowded for a few weeks, then people flake off.
Ditto the trails on the weekends, as people decide to start running. I won’t go as far as to call the Lakefront Trail “amateur hour” (that’s Wrigleyville during peak drinking hours, to be honest). But there’s a lot of newcomers during the first few weekends in January. Then the pull of old sedentary habits (not to mention intimidation from the cold!) keeps them from coming back once February rolls around.
So you want to start running as your resolution? Or come back to running? You want the habit to stick beyond Martin Luther King Day? Or you decided on a whim to register for a spring race like the Shamrock Shuffle and now you’ve got to train for it?
Here are some ideas that can at least give you a fighting chance of sticking to the habit:
Don’t work too hard to dress the part. You want the act of running to be as easy and accessible as possible. You also want to safeguard your wallet in case you do give it up.
Don’t go out and spend a ton of money on an elaborate set of running gear or a bunch of new pairs of shoes. Sure, get a good pair of running shoes if you don’t have any or your current ones are old. But all you really need to run is a good pair of running shoes on your person.
(I will, however, recommend you find running shoes that fit your work environment if possible. This eliminates the need to change shoes!)
If you’ve got to change into a bunch of new gear to go run, that’s an extra barrier to forming the running habit. Think about when you decide to order out for food instead of cooking. It’s usually because the process of cooking requires so much more work than just paying someone to make food now, or than buying something frozen and heating it.
Running is similar. It’s easier to drive/bus/train/walk home and do nothing than it is to change clothes, find a running route, go to it, physically run, etc.
While workout gear is socially acceptable, and some clothes are not suitable for running, you can run in most clothes. Most people will pay no mind if you run in black slacks. From a distance they look the same as most running pants.
Basically, you want to reduce the barriers to running. The less gear you need to put on to get going, the better.
Commit to a running a short, easy distance every day. An issue I have with starter workout plans like Couch To 5K is that building in days off entices you to skip workouts later. Your ingrained habit is to not run. Giving you an immediate taste of life with your old habit after the hard work of a workout tempts you to skip a subsequent workout at the first sign of any fatigue, pain or simply not feeling like it.
Also, people overkill when trying to start a new workout habit. They try to do everything in their excitement, and that just tires out your untrained body. That soreness and fatigue often carries over to your next scheduled workout day, and now you’re tempted to skip it.
Running a shorter distance like one mile is a lot easier on you, even if it seems too easy. Ideally, it IS too easy! You want it to be something you can readily do tomorrow.
If you can get out there every single day and run one mile, you’ll have done more running than someone who runs 2 miles three days a week. And most of all, by running every day you more quickly instill a habit that is easily repeatable.
A good resource for this approach is Kasha Speas, who commits to running at least one mile every day, even when tired and sore, no matter how slowly she has to go to do it. Over several years she has progressed to doing 10-15 mile runs.
Go very slow, as slow as you need to. This isn’t new information to loyal readers, but I swear by running long and slow most of the time.
Most runners, even experienced runners, run too fast and too hard in their regular runs. Speaking of habits, people fall into the habit of bounding into fast running, and then wonder why running is so hard.
Shorten your stride and take your time. If you’re starting to get tired, slow down. Shorten your stride, and take your time. Focus on just covering the distance at first. If anyone wants to talk trash about how slow you’re going, ignore them unless they actually want to fight (haters gonna hate; they probably wish they had half the motivation to exercise that you do).
Get your form right. Injuries and pain mostly come from faulty running form, straining the wrong parts while running. I’ve written elsewhere on this but below are some basic starting tips:
Your glutes and core muscles should do most of the work, followed to a lesser extent by your hamstrings, quads and calves. Your knees and ankles are not muscles. They should not be straining to bear your weight.
Your feet should not be slamming into the ground and making a lot of noise. This indicates a lack of muscle control and balance. And it’s hurting your bones and joints. This is where stuff like shin splints, IT band pain, ankle/knee/hip pain, etc come from.
Slow down enough that each step touches the ground with as little noise as possible.
Find a time of day you’re comfortable running and always run then. Some people can easily run in the early morning before work. Some people prefer to run after work. Some people can sneak out of work during their lunch break and run then. Crazy people like me run home from work.
There will be a time that’s most comfortable for you to run, and if unsure when that is for you, then experiment with running at different times. One will feel more comfortable than the others, and that’s the best time for you to run.
Consider a free fun run group to run with at least once a week. Nothing builds commitment like a social group. The bigger the town or city you live in, the more likely there’s a running shop in town that hosts a free weekly fun run. They usually meet around 6-7pm on a weeknight and run about 3-5 miles as a group.
As mentioned above, your best time of day to run can vary. Maybe this isn’t your ideal time to run, and if so you can totally skip this tip. But many people prefer to run in the evening or after work, and for them a fun run group might be perfect.
Don’t worry about maintaining pace with the group if you’re a bit slower. The most important thing is having a group to meet with before and after the run, and having a committed, organized time of week to run. If you’re able to keep up with and run with others, great.
Eat well. Sleep well. Running will tax your body when you’re new to it. The crappier your diet and the less sleep you get, the harder it will be to bounce back and the more painful running will seem.
Eat a protein rich diet with lots of clean, whole foods. Get to bed at a decent hour (at least on ‘school nights’, Sunday through Thursday) and turn off your devices, so that you get a lot of rest.
The growth in any physical training comes from recovery, which is more about sleep and diet than about taking days off from training. Give yourself the room to grow and improve at running, and it’ll be more fun… and easier to stick with.
If you skip a day… absolutely run at least a mile the next day. Don’t beat yourself up about slipping and missing workouts. Instead, beat yourself up about getting back out there the next day.
Actually, don’t beat yourself up at all. It’s painful. Pain hurts.
Just get out there the next day and run a mile, even if you didn’t plan to. That will do more to help keep the habit going.
There’s all sorts of other tasks at hand when it comes to running goals… improving endurance, preparing for a race, etc.
But for many the hardest part is forming and sticking to the habit of running. Most who try to start end up quitting in short order. The first couple of times I started running (long ago), I quit after a few weeks. I get it.
If your New Year’s resolution is to start running, your first goal is to make it into a repeatable habit. Start slow, start easy, and focus most of all on making it easy to do every day. Do that for a few weeks, and it’ll be a lot harder for you to fail or give it up.
P.S. For more information, check out my three tips to beginning runners.